Kyle Dake gains Olympic berth after father's recent death: 'I just really miss him'

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The first question in the mixed zone Saturday night was about wrestling, about whether or how this Olympic trials victory felt different from his last. But Kyle Dake didn't want to talk about wrestling. At least not yet.

Nine days earlier, on an otherwise routine Thursday, the 2021 Olympic bronze medalist had been preparing for practice when his phone rang, and he learned that his father, Doug, had died. He was 62 years old.

"This is the first time I had to do this without him," the 33-year-old said Saturday night, through tears. "I just really miss him and wish he was here."

Dake booked his ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics on Saturday with a pair of narrow victories in the best-of-three final match against Jason Nolf, his teammate with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. It's the latest chapter in a storied career, the attainment of the goal he had been chasing for three years. But it wasn't just his goal, he said. It was theirs − his and his father's.

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"We wanted to get to Big Tens, then to NCAAs, then try to get to... here," Dake said, pausing to collect himself. "I'd be with him a lot. He's just say 'How's practice going? Who'd you wrestle with today?' He was just a big part of this whole journey for me. It's just really hard having him not here."

An obituary published in The Ithaca Voice said Doug Dake died peacefully at the family's home in Lansing, New York but did not specify the cause of death. Kyle said his father had been fighting an illness.

"Went through a lot, trying to help him. Seeing him suffer," he said. "It gives you a lot of perspective on how much of a game this is. You just go out, do your best, be grateful for the opportunity. Yeah, it's just hard. It's just hard."

Dake said his father got "really sick" at the beginning of 2024. He recalled coming home on Feb. 26 at 3 a.m., after winning the Pan-American Wrestling Championships, and hearing from his mother, Jodi, that his dad wasn't doing well. So he and his wife, Megan, packed up their children and went to be with him.

"I'd take care of him," Dake said. "Doctors told us he had a day, a day to live. And he just was like 'what are you guys talking about? I'm not dying.'

"(He wanted) more time. He just wanted to be home, with his family. And every single day that I saw him, we'd just hug each other, tell one another we love each other and that he's proud of me."

Kyle Dake (right) earned a spot on the 2024 Paris Olympic team. Shown here, Dake wrestles Jason Nolf during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at the Bryce Jordan Center April 20.
Kyle Dake (right) earned a spot on the 2024 Paris Olympic team. Shown here, Dake wrestles Jason Nolf during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at the Bryce Jordan Center April 20.

Dake said he's grateful for the support he has received over the past 10 days from coaches and teammates, all of whom reached out to him to offer their condolences or help in whatever small way they could.

One of those teammates, David Taylor, said in a news conference earlier this week that he's probably known Dake as long as he's known any other competitor he's faced in the sport. And as long as he's known Dake, he said, he's known Dake's father − a former all-American wrestler at Kent State who went on to coach wrestling for more than two decades in upstate New York.

"Doug loved Kyle. And Doug loved wrestling," Taylor said. "... There's nothing more that Doug would want than for Kyle to go out and compete at his best."

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While wrestling strengthened their bond and brought them so much joy, Dake said his favorite memories of his father will not be as a coach but as "Grampy" to his three children. And he said his father regularly told him "that he really loved watching me be a dad."

When asked what he thought his father would say to him in this moment, with his second Olympic berth secured, Dake said it's simple.

"He'd say he loves me," he said.

"... I know he's watching me. He's with me the whole way."

Contact Tom Schad at or on social media @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kyle Dake earns Olympics return after father's recent death