A four-time NCAA national champion, four-time All-American and four-time Ivy League Wrestler of the Year, senior Yianni Diakomihalis has achieved everything a college wrestler would want — plus so much more.
If you asked him 15 years ago if he thought he would be in this position, Diakomihalis said he doubts it.
Diakomihalis got his start in wrestling as a kid after his father, a relatively successful wrestler in his time, wanted his children to learn. His father, a Division III All-American wrestler, did not just want them to learn how to wrestle, but he wanted them to learn the skills it took to become a champion.
“He really wanted me and my brothers to be tough, hardworking, disciplined… he felt like he got a lot of [those skills] from wrestling.”
The more he and his brothers wrestled, the more Diakomihalis got invested and committed to the sport. Over time, as he put it, “I got pretty good.”
“Pretty good” was an understatement to his accomplishments early on. A four-time NYS champion in high school wrestling and only one of two Americans to win two cadet world championships, among his numerous other accomplishments, Diakomihalis was a stellar athlete. He was good enough to get offers from schools all over the country with top wrestling programs.
Due to the success of the program, combined with the high-level academics, Cornell had become an easy choice.
“I could’ve gone pretty much anywhere, [but] with Cornell, I always had that option where I could wrestle and I have a future outside of the sport,” Diakomihalis said. “The system at Cornell, the way that they treat guys, that stuff matched up with me really well.”
Diakomihalis began his collegiate career on high-speed. He began his rookie season on a 19-match win streak, posted an 18-0 record against wrestlers from EIWA schools and went 5-0 in Ivy League competition. He won the Bearcat Open, New York State Intercollegiate, Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite and the EIWA Championship. He capped off his historic season with his first NCAA national championship, becoming only the second wrestler to win a national championship after four-time champion, Kyle Dake ’13.
Entering his sophomore season on an 18-match win streak, Diakomihalis returned to action winning match after match, culminating in his second straight NCAA Championship. He concluded a perfect, 29-0, sophomore year with a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection and as a finalist for the Hodge Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding wrestler.
It would be 973 days until Diakomihalis would wrestle for the Red again, after taking an Olympic redshirt season in 2019 and then the 2020-21 season being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Especially with the pandemic, and the unpredictability of if competition would ever return, Diakomihalis could have left Cornell and gone professional, not risking losing further years of competing and training to COVID-19 or anything else that may have come up.
But he chose to remain at Cornell and with the team.
Chasing Dake and his records was a reason to stay, but really the main factor keeping him at Cornell was the relationships he built with his teammates.
“[Wanting to win four national championships] played a factor, but the big thing for me was the team. I’ve been with them for so long that it would have felt like kind of a slap in the face for me to leave a little early just because things weren’t going the way I wanted to,” Diakomihalis said. “The main factor that kept me around for those last few years was just my loyalty to the guys.”
This loyalty expanded farther than just relationships off the mat. Diakomihalis had stepped into a leadership role, helping the team improve and setting an example of success that everyone could strive to emulate.
“He’s the heart of the team and I think he demands [that] everybody holds himself to a higher standard… to the Cornell wrestling standard, which is really great to see,” said head coach Mike Grey ’11.
And 973 days later, Diakomihalis returned to the mat to compete for the Red for his junior season. He concluded the season undefeated, with a third NCAA championship in hand.
In his final season, Diakomihalis made history by winning his fourth NCAA championship, becoming only the fifth wrestler in NCAA history to win four titles, and only the second Cornell wrestler after Dake.
He concludes his time at Cornell with his name inscribed on most of the record books, as probably the greatest wrestler to ever compete for the Red. On the outside he will be remembered for his accolades, but in the locker room, it’ll be for who he was as a teammate and leader.
“He’s obviously done great things, but I think what he’ll be remembered for is how good of a teammate he was [and] how much he cares about his teammates,” Grey said. “The one thing that stands out for Yianni is [his] selflessness. He’s not egotistical, he doesn’t worry about himself. He worries about the team and while worrying about the team, [he] will take care of what needs [to be done]… that’s what makes him special.”
He has helped the team win, not only with his own success, but the confidence he brings to the rest of the team.
“He gives everybody confidence,” Grey said. “Just being in the room, just being on the bench, people can take the confidence from him and bring it to themselves. I think having Yianni in our corner, especially to the young guys, was huge this year.”
That support was no more evident than this season, when Cornell wrestling returned to Ithaca from the national championship, with two national champions, four All-Americans and a third-place team finish. It was the first podium finish for the Red since 2012.
Diakomihalis has set the standard for what it means to be a Cornell wrestler and helped guide his teammates to success.
“Enjoy the process and don’t be afraid to really invest in this,” he said as his parting message for his teammates. “Be that guy who’s gonna set a higher standard for everyone else.”
Diakomihalis will go down in history as one of the greatest Cornell wrestlers, if not the greatest athlete to don the carnelian and white.
“I think he’s the best wrestler ever. He has the highest winning percentage, he’s a four time national champion, he won a world silver medal while he was in school…those are the things that have never been done before” Grey said. “Yianni’s the best ever to wear a Cornell wrestling singlet, period.”
Diakomihalis remains humble and hopes that he’s remembered for the smaller things.
“I’ve never really considered [my] legacy, I think it’s one of those things that happens organically,” he said.
“When you look back, people will say things about you and all I can do is hope that it’s good. For me, I love the sport, I’ve always cared about the guys on the team [and] five or ten years from now, coming back and they’re like man, that team was good,” Diakomihalis said. “That’s all I’m looking for. I want my teammates to like me, respect me and feel like they played a part in what I did and I want to make sure that I understand the sport as much as I can. And if I can do that, then that’s great.”
While his time competing with the Red has ended, he will remain in Ithaca to train for the Olympics and work with the rest of the team, in a similar role that Dake once had.
“What he’s done for the program, is that he’s set the standard and he set the standard very high. We have young recruits and young guys on the team that want to follow in his footsteps, and I think that’s really special,” Grey said. “He’ll continue to be an example for our team and it’s going to be really great for the program to have the greatest Cornell wrestler of all time to be in our wrestling room every day helping while he’s training for the Olympics.”