Kyle Dake competing in the 79 kg. gold-medal match at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships on Sept. 22, 2019 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
No American has been more adept at excelling in multiple weight classes than Kyle Dake.
He captured four NCAA wrestling titles in four different weight classes for Cornell. He’s been successful internationally in three separate weight categories.
And now, after winning back-to-back freestyle world titles for Team USA at the non-Olympic weight class of 79 kg., Dake is changing weight classes again. That’s because each wrestling discipline will have six weight classes at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, whereas each has 10 at the world championships.
As a result, three Americans who won world titles last month in Kazakhstan will need to switch classes in order to qualify for Tokyo, and their decisions could set up some blockbuster showdowns for the Olympic berths.
Many wrestling observers have expected Dake to move back down to 74 kg. for the 2020 Olympic year, but he also could move back up to 86 kg.
“I am still weighing my options,” Dake told TeamUSA.org Tuesday. “I am going to make the official announcement next week.”
Dake placed second at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling to J’den Cox at 86 kg. before moving down to 74 kg. in 2017. He then moved up to the new non-Olympic weight class of 79 kg. last year and captured world titles in 2018 and ’19 and that weight.
No matter whether he goes up or down, the 28-year-old Dake will face strong opposition in his quest to earn his first Olympic berth.
Jordan Burroughs already has clinched a spot in the 74 kg. finals of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling by virtue of winning a bronze medal at last month’s world championships. Burroughs, 31, is a two-time Olympian who won gold in 2012 in London. He also owns four world titles, with the most recent coming two years ago, and won bronze medals at the last two world championships.
Burroughs beat Dake in the finals of the 2013, 2015 and 2017 U.S. World Team Trials.
In their most recent matchup, Dake beat Burroughs in the first match of their best-of-three series at the 2017 trials. Burroughs rebounded to win the next two matches to take the series in front of his home fans in Lincoln, Nebraska.
If Dake goes 86 kg., he could face a rematch with Cox, who faces the same conundrum of having to switch classes for the Olympic year. After Cox beat Dake at the 2016 Olympic trials, he won an Olympic bronze medal at 86 kg. before earning a world bronze medal in the same weight class in 2017. Cox then moved up to the non-Olympic class of 92 kg., capturing world titles in 2018 and ’19.
Cox also has said he will announce what weight class he is going for in 2020 but has not released anything yet.
If Cox elects to move up a weight class, he would have to battle 2016 Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder at 97 kg. Snyder also owns two world titles and placed second and third in the world the past two seasons.
Moving down is hardly a cakewalk, either. David Taylor won the 2018 world title at 86 kg. but missed the 2019 world championships with an injury. That means should Cox go back to 86, he might have to get through both Taylor and Dake.
Meanwhile, on the women’s side, Jacarra Winchester won the 2019 world title at 55 kg., but in the Olympics she’d likely have to go to either 53 or 57 kg. Dropping to 53 kg. could set up a showdown with fellow American Helen Maroulis, who dominated the sport while sandwiching the 2016 Olympic gold medal between two world titles. Though she sat out the 2019 season while recovering from concussions and other injuries, she has said she plans to compete for 2020.
“It’s a great time to be a USA Wrestling fan,” Dake said. “We have world champs at 74, 79, 86, 92 and 97, but we only have six Olympic weight classes. There is excellent depth at the weights below me and above me. You could have David Taylor and J’den Cox above me at 86 and have Jordan Burroughs and Isaiah Martinez below me at 74. There obviously are some really good wrestlers at both weight classes.”
Dake said he walks around “at about 182 or 183 pounds” when he is training and eating clean. The 86 kg. class translates to 189 pounds.
“In 2016, I was walking around under 180 pounds,” Dake said. “I’m bigger and stronger now, and I’ve made a lot of improvements as a wrestler since then.”
Dake had considered dropping down to 74 kg. during the 2019 season but ultimately stayed at 79. After being sidelined with an injury for a majority of the season, he returned late in the year to defeat Alex Dieringer to make his second straight U.S. world team.
“I was off the mat for a long time — it was definitely different,” he said. “I knew where I needed to be to reach the level I needed to. I was still confident because of what I had done the previous year, but it took a lot of work to put it together. Winning worlds gives me a boost going into the Olympic year. I’m excited to see what happens.”