Helen Maroulis and Kyle Snyder, both Montgomery County natives, both brought home gold medals for the county after their victories in the 2016 Olympics.
The Rockville-native Maroulis won the first-ever Olympic gold medal for an American woman wrestler while Snyder also set a first in the Olympics, becoming the youngest gold medalist in U.S. wrestling history.
“I’ll tell you what stuck out: her tenaciousness and the fact that she was such a good student of the sport,” said Kelly Ward, a native of Silver Spring and an undefeated station champion wrestler for John F. Kennedy High School in the 1970s who briefly coached Maroulis as a kid at the Naval Academy.
Maroulis won her gold medal defeating three-time gold medalist Saori Yoshida from Japan 3-1 in the 53kg freestyle.
Her path to Rio was not as straightforward as Snyder’s.
At Magruder, she was the first girl to place at the Maryland wrestling championships, placing sixth.
Maroulis earned a world champion title in 2015, and won silver and bronze medals in 2012 and 2013.
Although she was the champion of her 53kg class in the U.S. Olympic trials earlier this year, she had to go to Mongolia to compete again, this time internationally for an Olympic berth.
According to Ward, an NCAA Division I-A title winner at Iowa State University, Maroulis separated herself from other wrestlers by high school because of her technique and being “a really great student of the sport.”
“She’s head and shoulders the best female we’ve got by far on the Olympic Team,” said Ward. “I would say Helen is as technically sound as most Division I males.”
Ward recalled how when she was still a kid, she was unusually attentive during his wrestling classes.
“She was watching everything very closely,” he said.
Ward laughed as he told a story about watching Maroulis earn third place during a state match won in overtime against a wrestler from Sherwood coached by Scott Beattie.
“Scott comes over toward me and looks at me with this melancholy look and says, ‘That was his date from the prom,’” said Ward.
To earn his gold medal in the Rio Olympics, Snyder toppled Azerbaijani two-time Olympic bronze medalist Khetag Goziumov, defeating him in a close 2-1 victory.
Snyder earned accolades in high school wrestling with an undefeated record of 179-0 in three seasons at Our Lady of Good Counsel before finishing school in Colorado Springs.
He attended Ohio State, where he won in 2016 and placed second in 2015 at two NCAA championships. He was also the Big Ten champion in 2016 and the runner-up in 2015 for the Buckeyes.
On top of his accomplishments in college, he is also a one-time World Champion, which he earned in 2015, among other awards.
“His whole focus has been on getting to Rio, and he has accomplished it,” said Patrick Bates, athletic director at Good Counsel.
Bates said that after one of Snyder’s competitions, he came back to Good Counsel and spoke to the student body about his self-discipline and how he used it to accomplish his goals.
“I think he set the bar pretty high for our athletes,” said Bates.