Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Yianni Diakomihalis headlined the Beat the Streets event in New York City for the second year in a row.

September 20, 2020

Cornell Wrestler Takes on Olympic Champion in Charity Matchup

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A second-period comeback by Cornell wrestler Yianni Diakomihalis brought the annual Beat the Streets showdown down to the wire. But his opponent, 2016 Olympic champion Vladimer Khinchegashvili, eked out the win on criteria against the two-time NCAA champion in New York City on September 17.

Beat the Streets is an organization that aims to nurture the social and personal development of New York City’s urban youth through wrestling. Each year, the organization holds a fundraiser to support the wrestling community in the city, last year attracting a crowd of over 5,000 and raising $1.3 million for urban youth. The Red junior’s 65kg event has been the fundraiser’s headliner for two years in a row now, last time defeating India’s Bajrang Punia — the world’s top-ranked wrestler at the time.

Wrestling fans were eager to virtually watch the Cornell standout spar against another high-caliber competitor in this year’s match. Diakomihalis’ loss to Khinchegashvili was his first career loss to a non-American.

Heeding public health concerns and government restrictions amid the pandemic, Beat the Streets held the event as a virtual telethon this year. The organization prioritized the safety of all participants, and all matches were held outdoors without the physical presence of fans.

Despite the eight-year age difference, both Diakomihalis and his opponent boast impressive credentials. In addition to securing a spot at the U.S. Olympic trials, the 21 year-old Diakomihalis took home gold at the 2019 U.S. Open, the 2019 Grand Prix Yasar Dogu, and most recently at the 2020 Pan American Championships in March.

Khinchegashvili, Diakomihalis’ 29-year-old opponent on Thursday, earned a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and a gold medal in 2016. Since then, the Georgian has found bronze-medal success at the 2018 European Championships and earned silver at the 2019 European Games.

The discrepancy in age and experience didn’t faze Diakomihalis, who entered the match especially eager to get back on the mat.

“You expect to win every time you wrestle,” said Diakomihalis. “You don’t want to put any extra pressure on yourself. I just wanted to wrestle hard, let it fly.”

With an early takedown, Khinchegashvili took a 2-1 lead in the 65kg contest. After a scoreless standoff, the Georgian won a scramble to clinch another takedown, extending his lead by two points. With a quick double leg attack, the Red wrestler lessened his deficit to 4-3, and soon after scored a pushout to bring the bout to a draw.

“He’s tricky and he’s tough to score on, so I knew if I kept attacking, kept putting pressure on him, the points would start to come,” Diakomihalis said. “I just had to keep staying on the offense.”

Despite the comeback, Khinchegashvili earned the match on criteria, having scored two takedowns. Diakomihalis, who expressed disappointment with his performance, intends on using that frustration as fuel to improve his craft.

“I know I can wrestle better than that,” Diakomihalis said. “I just know the more work I put in, the better those results are going to get, so I just have to keep doing what I need to do to get better.”

The pandemic has brought unforeseen challenges to training for Diakohimalis and his opponents alike. With the cancellation of the Olympic trials and a knee injury earlier this summer, the Cornell junior faced a 6-month drought in competition. However, he refuses to use this time off as an excuse, recognizing that many of his opponents have confronted similar situations.

“You can be in really good shape and be really sharp, but it can take one or two matches to get used to competing again,” Diakomihalis said. “I think that’s the boat everyone is in these first matches back … so I’m not really in a position to complain about it.”

For the Red wrestler, the Beat the Streets fundraiser was a warmly-welcomed event as both a reintroduction to elite wrestling competition and a contribution to the youth wrestling community in New York City.

“I am thankful for the event and that I was able to wrestle in it. It’s for a really good cause, so I’m happy to be a part of it. Credit to Vladimer for wrestling a tough match.”