May 14, 2013

O’KASICK | One Last Round

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Steam vapors clung to the sauna’s glass door. Through the fog, a hazy figure lunged back and forth in strained rhythms.

It was a Friday evening at the Friedman Wrestling Center in late March. The Red’s season had just concluded, but one grappler continued to toil away on the mat just as he has done practically every day of his life since he was old enough to walk. When the sauna’s door later swung open, senior Kyle Dake emerged and gasped for the cool air.

Just earlier that week, Dake had made history by winning his fourth NCAA championship at his fourth weight class, a first-ever feat that will be all but impossible for anyone to repeat. Perhaps no other collegiate wrestling match had ever received as much hype as Dake’s finals showdown with Penn State’s David Taylor. After Dake’s hard-fought victory, ESPN’s SportsCenter even interviewed him for their lead story.

So less than a week after all that glory and spotlight intensity, the kid from Lansing had returned to a darkened and nearly empty gym on a Friday night and later conducted a killer kettle bell workout in a sauna with a temperature that would make the devil sweat.

That’s the stuff of legends.

Going Out Swinging

Like Dake and more than 6,000 students graduating with degrees of various levels, I will be bid adieu to Cornell in less than two weeks after receiving my Master’s degree. For my final “Fight Life in Ithaca” column, I have only a few more punches left to throw.

On that Friday in March, I happened to be getting ready to train with the Cornell University Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club (CUBJJ) in the Friedman locker room, as Dake came out of the sauna.

“Man, I thought you said you were going to take a break,” I told him after congratulating him on his latest NCAA title.

“Well, the US World Team Trials are coming up in June,” he said.

Dake finished third at the US Olympic Wrestling Team Trials in 2012, and, in truth, the World Team Trials next month offer the outgoing Cornell wrestler an even greater challenge than winning his fourth collegiate national championship. Among a field of the world’s top grappling talents, the king of Dake’s 74-kilogram weight class happens to be the 2012 London Games gold medalist, Jordan Burroughs.

Burroughs had, in fact, originally inspired Dake to move up to the 165-pound weight class this season to shoot for the four titles in four classes record. Burroughs, a former Nebraska Cornhusker and two-time NCAA champion, is undefeated in international freestyle wrestling and arguably the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the world.

Wrestling powerhouses like Russia, Iran, and all the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia combined have most likely pooled their sports science resources to form committees and think tanks with the sole responsibility of developing a theory and technique to stop Burroughs’ double leg takedown.

When asked about the prospect of facing the Olympic champion at the Team Trials in Stillwater, Oklahoma this June, Dake shrugged and gave a nonchalant answer: “Yeah, he’ll be there.”

Follow our Big Red legend June 20-23 on The Mat, as he aims to win another tournament and take down another titan.

Save Olympic Wrestling

Dake has aspirations to compete one day in the Olympics, but if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) continues its current course, wrestlers will no longer be welcomed at the Games. In February, the IOC voted by secret ballot to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics, only allowing it to go on for the 2016 Rio Games in Brazil.

Many words full of ire have been written and spoken about the IOC’s unjust and senseless decision to eliminate one of the original ancient Olympic sports.

On a positive note, the worlds of wrestling, mixed martial arts, and other sports have united to lobby the IOC to overturn its decision, which could happen in September. It’s extraordinary to see how political foes like the US and Iran continue to unite under the wrestling banner. Spread the word to Save Olympic Wrestling (saveolympicwrestling.org).

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Original Author: J.D. O’Kasick

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