Exclusive: Kyle Dake's formula for wrestling greatness

The double freestyle wrestling world champion was forced to wait his turn in the United States, but his sacrifices made it all worthwhile.

By Andrew Binner

There is only one route to wrestling excellence, according to Kyle Dake.

The American's key word is sacrifice.

A small elaboration: have a plan, stay disciplined, and execute.

But saying is easier than doing, and the 79kg freestyle wrestling world champion has a formula that has helped him stay at the top of the game and inspired him to his second world title in Nur-Sultan.

"There can be no excuses"

The process of Dake's 'priority filter' is relatively simple.

The 28-year-old analyses every decision he makes, in terms of whether it helps his wrestling and well-being, or not.

Anything that will benefit his performance is embraced, while all other thoughts are ignored.

“Is this helping me achieve my goal? If the answer is yes, then I will do it. If the answer is no, then I probably won’t do it. Most people aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices for greatness," Dake told Olympic Channel.

"When I walk though a grocery store, I would love to have that cookie and the ice cream. Will that help me achieve my goals? I'll then say 'no, no, no', and walk past these things" Kyle Dake to Olympic Channel.

"There can be no excuses."

Where many athletes sometimes indulgence in fast food, and spend 'six hours a day on their phone or watching Netflix', Dake opts for home-cooked meals, spending time with this wife and daughter, and studying how to keep his mind and spirit healthy.

Four years, four weights, four titles

Another important part of the process, is creating conditions that make it easier to make healthy choices.

The father-of-one keeps himself motivated by surrounding himself with people who always expect more from him.

"If I had realistic expectations, I probably would have been a couple-time All-American at a small D-I school rather than a four-time national champion and four-time Academic All-American at Cornell University. And now world champion, going up against guys they said I could never beat — go beat them," Dake, aka Kid Dynamite, told the Ithaca journal.

“That’s just the way I was raised, to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to.”

He attributes his this work ethic and discipline as the key factor behind achieving his college goal of becoming a four-time NCAA champion.

Tough competition at home

Trying to win an Olympic medal for any country is very tough.

But for Team USA wrestlers, it's even harder because just making the squad is so difficult.

Dake was considered one of the greatest college wrestlers of all time, but lost out to Olympic and four-time world champion Jordan Burroughs when trying to make the United States World Championship teams in 2013, 2015 and 2017 at 74kg.

Dake was also edged out for a place on the Rio 2016 Olympic team when he lost to eventual 86kg bronze medallist J’den Cox.

"I knew what I had to offer and I knew there was a place I could reach with my wrestling," Dake told Olympic Channel of his motivation to keep making world teams.

"I still feel that I haven't reached that place and keeps me motivated. I wanted to prove that I could compete on the world stage and be the best in the world. I have always had that mindset.”

Finally becoming world champion

When United World Wrestling expanded the number of weight classes to 10, the door was opened for Dake to finally land a spot on the national team.

He was selected for the 2018 World Wrestling Championships at 79 kg, and took his opportunity with both hands.

Seeded four going into the event in Budapest, the American did not concede a point en route to the final, demonstrating an array of explosive lifts and turns.

It was more of the same in the final, with Dake recording a 2-0 win over Rio 2016 bronze medallist Jabrayil Hasanov to take gold without being scored against.

Today, Dake is known as one of the hardest wrestlers to score a point against in the world, due to his exceptional defensive ability.

And worryingly for his rivals, he has got better.

"Since 2018, I've made big improvements in my conditioning, my speed and my footwork. I now attack both sides of the body more."

A second shot at world glory

Dake's preparations for the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in Nur-Sultan were hampered by injury, and question marks started to appear over his chances of qualification.

But he showed why he was the world champion by edging much-fancied Alex Dieringer in the final 4-2, to book his place in Kazakhstan.

The victory also meant Dake was the number one seed for the event, and favourite to retain his title.

A difficult path to Tokyo 2020

Despite being a world champion, Dake's place on the United States Olympic roster for Japan is far from a given.

His world title came at 79 kg, which is not an Olympic weight category.

That means Dake will drop down to 74 kg, and likely lock horns again with Olympic champion Burroughs at the 2020 US Olympic trials.

"I'm pretty excited. I have put myself in a position to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

"I know it's going to be difficult, but that's why it's fun. I don't do things because they're easy. It's going to be hard, but it's fun to try and overcome these challenges" - Kyle Dake told Olympic Channel

Knocking Burroughs of his perch is just about the hardest job in all of wrestling. But with growing confidence and a relentless drive to achieve his goals, if anyone can do it, Dake can.


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