No Challenge Too Small For Kyle Dake

By Aimee Berg | May 15, 2013, 10:42 a.m. (ET)
Kyle Dake (red) wrestles Trent Paulson (blue) in the 74 kg freestyle weight class during the challenge tournament for the finals of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Wrestling at Carver Hawkeye Arena on April 21, 2012 in Iowa City, Iowa.

NEW YORK – As the campaign to keep wrestling in the Olympics beyond 2016 continues, the race to make the (un-endangered) 2016 U.S. team is already underway. One of the most compelling plots on the road to Rio involves Kyle Dake. Just two months ago, the 22-year-old from Cornell University became the first man to win four NCAA Division I wrestling titles in four different weight classes.

As Dake leaves collegiate folkstyle wrestling for international-style competition, it will be the most highly-anticipated and closely-watched transition since 2002 when Cael Sanderson graduated from Iowa State with a 159-0 record and tried (successfully) to win Olympic gold in Athens two years later.

To heighten the intensity of Dake’s transformation, the Ivy Leaguer told on Tuesday that the weight and style he’s committed to for the next three years is 74 kg/163 lbs. freestyle, the same category as 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs of the U.S.

“If I want to win an Olympic gold medal,” Dake said, “I’m going to have to beat the best guy eventually, and that’s the point. To me, it doesn’t matter if he’s from the United States, Russia, Iran or Azerbaijan.”

Dake’s choice of weight class doesn’t surprise Burroughs.

“He’s competitive,” said Burroughs. “He didn’t get to this level of success by backing down from anyone.”

Dake hopes to prove that to the masses today when he begins his post-collegiate career in Manhattan – just two days after taking his last final exam at Cornell.

This afternoon, Dake will make his senior international debut at an exhibition between the U.S., Russia and Iran in Grand Central Station dubbed, “The Rumble on the Rails.”

(In the afternoon session against Iran, Dake will face 31-year-old Hassan Tahmasebi at 74 kg. At night, against Russia, Burroughs will wrestle junior world champion Magomed Kurbanaliev.)

Kyle Dake appears at a press conference prior to the
"Rumble on the Rails" event in New York City on May 14, 2013.

After this, the sociology major will skip his Cornell graduation to compete at the University and Cadet Nationals in Akron, Ohio -- “a little bit of a practice tournament” that overlaps with his commencement – before the World Team Trials in Stillwater, Okla., in late June.

Summer vacation has also been scratched.

“I’m just going to keep training,” Dake said. “Training’s fun, so that’s kind of my vacation.”

He plans to keep working with college coaches in his hometown of Ithaca, in upstate New York, but extra help is on the way.

“We don’t want to give away who we’re getting,” Dake said, “but we’ve got a guy lined up to work with me individually.”

On the business side, the 5-foot-9 athlete has already signed contracts with companies that make sports apparel, tools, and wrestling videos, and he is taking advice from the actor Billy Baldwin.

“He helped me get my manager and stuff,” Dake said of the film star. “I see him all the time. He’s a [SUNY] Binghamton guy,” who wrestled for the Bearcats in the early 1980s.

Baldwin and several other celebrities are expected to attend today’s event at Grand Central station, to support the effort to keep wrestling in the Olympics.

Dake is confident that wrestling will ultimately be saved when the IOC revisits the idea in late May (when it chooses up to three sports to include in 2020) and – hopefully – at the IOC’s general assembly from Sept. 7-10 when the committee votes on which of those sports to add to the Olympic program.

Therefore Dake said he doesn’t feel extra pressure to make the 2016 team in case it ends up being his first and last shot at the Games.

“I’m not too worried,” Dake said. “I’m just excited to compete and really focus on freestyle. This is the first year I’ll have the opportunity to do that.”

Nick Marable (red) wrestles Kyle Dake (blue) in the 74kg freestyle
weight class during the challenge tournament for the finals of the
U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Wrestling at Carver Hawkeye Arena on
April 21, 2012 in Iowa City, Iowa.

If he makes the 2016 Olympic team, he would also have an opportunity to earn a $500,000 bonus given to any U.S. wrestler who wins a gold medal.

“That would be a nice little paycheck,” he said.

Dake has already competed in one Olympic Trials, in 2012, as a wild card entry. He lost in the 74 kg./163 lb. semifinals to Trent Paulson. He knows he still has a lot to learn.

Freestyle and collegiate wrestling “are completely different sports,” Dake said. “The takedowns are similar but in freestyle, for example, you get the push-out. That’s huge. Collegiate is more about control in taking people down, and controlling them all the way down. Freestyle is all about explosion and controlling the mat rather than controlling the person. The biggest difference is tactics.”

One athlete who believes Dake could not only make the Olympic team but possibly snap Burroughs’ 52-0 international winning streak is Jake Herbert, a 2009 World Championship silver medalist who used Dake as a training partner in London last summer during the Olympics.

“I think Burroughs’ first loss will come against domestic competition, from a guy like Kyle Dake or Andrew Howe,” said Herbert, who competes in freestyle at 84 kg/185 lbs.

Already, a Dake-Burroughs matchup would be compelling for their contrasting styles.

“Burroughs is so fast and explosive,” Herbert said. “Kyle is more of a control wrestler, hard to score on. If you get a point off him, you really have to earn it.”

Burroughs agrees. “[Kyle]’s a bit more defensive. I’m a little more offensive; I like to attack and score as much as possible. Not to say we’ll clash, but I think it would be a good matchup for both of us.

“I definitely think he has a great future; It’s just difficult because he has the best wrestler in the world in his weight, in his country,” Burroughs said – meaning himself. “It will be tough; I’m looking forward to a lot of good competition.”

Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.