Olympic trials shocker: Jordan Burroughs fails to make US Olympic team for Tokyo, falling to Kyle Dake

Correction/clarification: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the years Jordan Burroughs won world titles. He won in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. 

FORT WORTH, Texas — Kyle Dake has won four NCAA wrestling titles, two men’s freestyle world titles and, on Saturday night, he became an Olympian.

And he dethroned USA Wrestling’s king to do it.

Dake swept Jordan Burroughs, a five-time world and Olympic champion, in the best-of-three championship finals at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials at Dickies Arena on Saturday evening.

As such, Dake will represent the United States in Tokyo this summer in the men’s freestyle wrestling competition at 74 kilograms (163 pounds). He defeated Burroughs by scores of 3-0 and 3-2 to make his first Olympic team.

“It feels good,” Dake said afterward. “It feels like it’s been a long time coming for me. I feel like I’ve always been right there. To be able to go out and get your hand raised is something I’ve been missing.”

Burroughs, 32, had made every men’s freestyle world and Olympic team for the United State at 74-kg since 2011. Along the way, he won four world titles (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017) and Olympic gold in 2012.

Kyle Dake, left, wrestles Jordan Burroughs at 74 kg during the fourth session of the USA Wrestling Olympic Team Trials, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)

The New Jersey native also beat Dake to make the team in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Burroughs swept Dake, two matches to none, in both the 2013 and 2015 world team trials finals. In 2017, Burroughs won two matches to one. In those seven meetings, Burroughs outscored Dake by a combined 56-25.

“I’ve walked out of the building as a champion on so many occasions that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be on the other side,” Burroughs said. “This is part of the process. Need to dig deep, dust yourself off, rebuild, then come back and try again.

“It’s been a long journey for me. I’m very thankful for this ride with USA Wrestling. It’s not over for me.”

Now it’s Dake’s turn. He had already made wrestling history by becoming a four-time NCAA champion for Cornell. He’s one of four wrestlers ever to do so, but the only to do so at four different weight classes (141, 149, 157, 165).

The 30-year-old New York native followed his stellar collegiate career by winning world titles in 2018 and 2019 at 79 kilograms (174 pounds), a non-Olympic weight. Back in 2016, he wrestled up at 86 kilograms (189 pounds), but lost in the Trials finals to J’den Cox, two matches to one. Cox went on to win bronze in Rio.

Dake’s world title a year ago placed him in the semifinals at 74-kg this weekend. He rolled through both opponents in Friday’s challenge tournament by a combined 21-0.

Kyle Dake, right, talks with Jordan Burroughs after beating him a second time at 74 kg during the fourth session of the USA Wrestling Olympic Team Trials, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)

That pushed him into Saturday night’s highly-anticipated finals against Burroughs. The two of them have combined for 10 world and Olympic medals, seven of them gold. Bill Zadick, the U.S. men’s freestyle world team coach, called the matchup “epic” before their first match.

“I’ve done some homework, and I don’t know if it’s 100-percent true, but I’m pretty certain that when those two athletes step on the mat this evening, Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Dake, it will be the most credentialed wrestling match ever wrestled (between two Americans) on U.S. soil,” Zadick said.

“I’ve worked with both guys and have great respect for and love them both. It’s going to be amazing.”

The first match followed Dake’s gameplan to perfection. He scored on a crafty step-out point in the first period, then turned a Burroughs shot in the second period into his own takedown. Burroughs got in on only a couple of shots, which Dake defended with ease. It was the first time in 206 Senior-level matches that Burroughs was held scoreless.

The second match followed the same script. Dake again scored a quick step-out point in the opening minute, and in the second period, Burroughs shot in and Dake turned it into his own takedown. Burroughs scored on a shot-clock point and a step-out, but by then, it was too late.

“I’m most proud of my discipline and moving my feet,” Dake said. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to move. Move my feet, move my hands, move my head. I needed to beat him to the bottom on his level change.

“He’s a super competitor. I knew he was going to bring everything he had.”

Burroughs has been largely credited with USA Wrestling’s resurgence on the international scene. He was the country’s only medalist when he won his second world title in 2013. His success fueled a rise that led to a 2017 world team title for Team USA’s men’s freestyle team, the first since 1995.

But for the first time in a decade, Jordan Burroughs won’t be representing Team USA at 74 kilograms. Instead, it’s Kyle Dake’s time — and he knows exactly what kind of results he’s expected to produce later this summer.

“Gold,” Dake said. “I need to perform. I need to go out and compete at a high level. Every time I step on the mat, that’s what I need to do. I’m excited for the opportunity.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

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