2x Senior World Team member Yianni Diakomihalis (photo courtesy of Kadir Caliskan/UWW)
Shortly after Cornell's Yianni Diakomihalis and Kyle Dake won their Final X matchups in New York in June, the Big Red program hosted a reception to celebrate the achievements of all their former and current wrestlers who made world teams. Coach Mike Grey proudly relayed that Diakomihalis and Dake would compete in the senior world championships, then added that Diakomihalis, Vito Arujau and Jacob Cardenas also made the U23 world team.
Diakomihalis raised an eyebrow at the first mention of being on both teams, but he held onto that thought for a couple days until he got Grey one-on-one. What started as an inadvertent slip turned into a legitimate idea and later a concrete plan for Diakomihalis to wrestle at Senior Worlds in September and U23s in October, which is what he plans to do.
"He lists off the U23 team and he says my name again, and I was like, 'Huh,'" Diakomihalis said. "And then I was like, well, whatever. I let it go, then we got back to Ithaca and I talked to him a couple days later. I'm like, 'Hey, did you say I'm wrestling U23s?' And he was like, 'Yeah, why not?' And I was like, 'OK, I guess so.'"
Grey stands by the fact that he wasn't committing Diakomihalis to anything when he made that announcement, but was only maximizing his marketing pitch to an audience that deserved to know the full scope of Diakomihalis' achievement.
At the same time, Grey and his pupil come from a shared belief that any world tournament experience is good experience. Diakomihalis has the highest of goals in freestyle and countless reasons to believe he can get to the top of the international mountain sooner than later.
In order to do that, Diakomihalis can benefit from more mat time against the best in the world, which is a big perk to doubling up and competing in U23s.
"The more you can feel Haji Ajiyev, the more you can feel Musukaev again, the more he can feel all the heavy hitters, the better off he's going to be," Grey said. "So, I think it's a plus for him to be able to wrestle in both these tournaments."
A three-time NCAA champ, Diakomihalis won a pair of Cadet World titles prior to arriving at Cornell and competed last fall in his first Senior world tournament, where he went 1-1 in Oslo, Norway.
Diakomihalis also won the Poland Open in June 2021 and the Henri Deglane Grand Prix in France that January. He has been as busy overseas as any wrestler in America, which will continue through the fall before spilling into his quest for a fourth NCAA title.
Double duty puts a little extra pressure on the training process, but it doesn't mean Diakomihalis is working twice as hard.
Diakomihalis at the Yasar Dogu with Mike Grey (right) and Jeff Buxton (photo courtesy of Kadir Caliskan/UWW)
As much as he has focused on fine-tuning his game, Diakomihalis has also worked to refine his processes. He refuses to borrow the cliché about working smarter versus harder and instead knows that there are times when both are required.
"I feel like now we've gotten really dialed in with the way I'm training, the timing, what I'm eating, how I'm doing my strength and conditioning, how I'm wrestling," he said. "We got really dialed in on stuff in the last year.
"Is it more of a grind or less of a grind? I'm probably not working a lot harder, but it feels more focused than it does more intense because it is so much more focused. I feel like I'm in a really good spot."
Part of Diakomihalis' process to refine his wrestling also applies to his training. Known for his freakish ability to wiggle out of virtually any situation, he can roll, scramble and contort his body in ways that few can. It's what makes him the incredible wrestler he is, but to fall in love with those skills can also prohibit growth while also exposing Diakomihalis to unnecessary injury risk.
The idea now is, yes, to use those scrambling skills because they are a special weapon when Diakomihalis needs them. But, in both his training and competition, he's trying to keep it simpler when he can. To reach another level in his wrestling, Diakomihalis has been stressing more of the fundamentals and less of the flash.
"I think a lot of it for me, it's just really small things, my positioning, how I hand-fight," he said. "A lot of it is on the front end. Once we're in the position, historically, I've done well. I'm a good scrambler. I'm good on the leg. I'm a good finisher, but it's like, my setups aren't great. My head-hands defense has never been great.
"Those kinds of things really matter at the highest level. Yeah, maybe on a lower-end guy, I can just dive in there and grab his leg and figure it out, but the best guys in the world, I'm never going to be able to fly in there and do that. So, it's that front-end stuff, my positioning, how I hand-fight, what I'm doing with my hands, what I'm doing with my feet. That kind of stuff has been a big difference maker for me."
All of that, if Diakomihalis executes, should add up to better attack positions and improved baseline defense.
Diakomihalis came out of his most recent competition at the Zouhaier Sghaier Ranking Series event in Tunisia feeling like he didn't execute those concepts well enough. He lost by an 8-2 final to India's Sujeet Sujeet in the 65-kilogram final and missed a chance to make one final statement before he shipped off to Serbia for worlds.
Diakomihalis has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is capable of beating anybody in the world at any given time. But he also knows that, at 23 years old, *can* is starting to mean less and less.
Diakomihalis' job now is to *do* and string together his best tournament yet. In the days leading up to the front end of his world championships doubleheader, Diakomihalis is comfortable and confident, but his corner understands what's at stake.
"I know this is his second world team in a row, which is great and he needs to continue to do that, but he's got to win medals," Grey said. "I mean, that's it. You're not an up-and-comer when you win medals, right? There's no way around it. You've got to win flippin' medals. And if you do that, then you're no longer an up-and-comer. You're the guy.
"I really believe that this is going to be his year to get out there and get the monkey off the USA's back and medal at that weight class. I just think he's in a great spot right now. His training is going very well. He's in a good mental space and is enjoying himself."