Cornell wrestler Vito Arujau poses in his uniform with his world championship belt.

Meet the Undergrad Who’s a 2023 World Wrestling Champ

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Continuing the Big Red’s tradition of excellence on the mat, Vito Arujau ’24 is the first Cornellian to hold the title as a student

By Lindsay Lennon

In September 2023, Big Red wrestler Vito Arujau ’24 was in Belgrade, Serbia, gearing up for his first shot at a world title. He’d already dominated the previous four rounds of the World Wrestling Championship, surging into the finals with his signature swiftness and focus.

Arujau bounded onto the mat and faced his opponent, the reigning featherweight world champ from Russia. A 15-minute flurry of grapples, fake-outs, and takedowns ensued—including a climactic moment when Arujau broke a tie with just 90 seconds left.

Two professional wrestlers and a referee at the World Wrestling Championships in 2023.
One of Arujau's wins leading up to his gold medal match. (Cornell Athletics)

By the end of the exhilarating, down-to-the-wire match, Arujau had prevailed 10-9, taking home the gold medal in freestyle wrestling for Team USA in his weight class (61 kg, or roughly 134 lbs)—in his first-ever senior-level world championship, no less.

“When I’m wrestling, I’m in a combat state, where I'm not really thinking—and the second the whistle blows and the match ends, it’s kind of like waking up,” says the CALS global development major, recalling his winning moment. “I looked up at the crowd, and everything’s coming to light, and I’m realizing: I did it.”

When I’m wrestling, I’m in a combat state, where I'm not really thinking.

At the same event, Kyle Dake ’13—one of the most decorated wrestlers in Big Red history—earned silver in the 74 kg weight class, his fifth world medal overall. While Dake has won gold for USA in four previous world championships, Arujau is the first Cornellian to take the title as an undergrad.

“Vito is truly one of a kind,” says Dake. “From a young age, he could move at speeds that didn’t seem real. I believe this is simply the beginning for him.”

In the weeks leading up to the world championships, another recent Big Red wrestler—Arujau’s former teammate Yianni Diakomihalis ’21, BS ’23—traveled to Belgrade from a training camp in Azerbaijan to help him prepare.

Two wrestlers competing at the NCAA division 1 finals in 2023.
Arujau competes in the finals at the 2023 NCAA Division I championships. (Tony Rotundo / Cornell University)

“It’s a ‘family, not factory’ mentality,” says Diakomihalis. “Obviously, it’s inconvenient to spend two weeks helping someone, but it’s a no-brainer—and it’s understood that he would do the same thing for me.”

The win came just months after Arujau clinched his first national title at the NCAA Division I championships in Tulsa, OK, at 133 lbs. (The NCAA has different weight classes than international tournaments, as do the Olympics.)

Arujau was also named that tournament’s most outstanding wrestler—the fourth Cornellian so honored. The Big Red placed third overall, making it the 14th consecutive year the team has ranked in the top 10 at the NCAAs.

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From a young age, he could move at speeds that didn’t seem real.

Kyle Dake ’13, four-time gold medalist for Team USA

“I’m really proud of his effort and preparation—everything that went into him becoming a world champion,” reflects head wrestling coach Michael Grey ’11, who traveled to Serbia to watch Arujau compete. “It’s a testament to who he is as a person, and how dedicated he is to his craft.”

For Arujau, wrestling is a family business. His father is a two-time world champion and Olympic bronze medalist; his older brother, CALS alum Nick Arujau ’16, was a three-time undefeated New York State champ in high school.

Arujau’s mother and father are from Belarus and Azerbaijan, respectively, and the family emigrated to the U.S. when Arujau was a toddler. He grew up on Long Island and started wrestling in fifth grade—and hasn’t stopped competing.

After nabbing national and world titles, Arujau has set his sights beyond the current NCAA season to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. He hopes to compete in the 57 kg (125 lbs) class, in which he wrestled before going up to 61 kg.

As Arujau explains, it’s not uncommon for wrestlers to change weight classes, for a variety of reasons including an assessment of the current competition and personal needs.

Olympic trials begin in early April, “so we’ll have some good news or bad news very shortly,” he quips.

Yianni Diakomihalis and Vito Arujau at the 2023 NCAA wrestling championships.
Diakomihalis (left) and Arujau at the 2023 NCAA Division I championships. (Tony Rotundo / Cornell Athletics)

Arujau points out that while he was training for the worlds, he was taking 15 academic credits; when he checked what his course load would look like if he converted his wrestling to credit hours, it worked out to around 36.

“It does get very hectic, and I have a lot on my plate at times,” he says. “But the wrestling is the easy part for me.”

After graduation, Arujau plans to stay in Ithaca and continue training; ultimately, he may aim to join the Big Red coaching staff.

“It seems like I’m the one doing all the work,” he says, “but it’s really the coaches doing most of the work.”

A wrestler hugs his coach at a wrestling tournament.
Grey and Arujau embrace at the NCAA Division I finals. (Cornell Athletics)

Like Diakomihalis, Grey notes that the Big Red wrestling program values selflessness and mutual support—so it’s not surprising that Arujau is quick to give others a large measure of the credit for his success.

“Yes, there’s a village of people behind him to help him get the preparation and training he needs,” Grey says. “But at the end of the day, it’s him out there, achieving his dreams.”

Top: Arujau with his championship belt. (Ryan Young / Cornell University)

Published October 31, 2023


Comments

  1. John G St John, Class of 1970

    It has been a joy to see Vito on this amazing journey this past year. It has been a phenomenal trip that couldn’t be be improved upon. Grateful to have been a spectator!
    Go Big Red!

  2. Marlene, Class of 2001

    The supportive ‘family, not factory’ mentality described by Yanni is so inspiring and I’m sure contributes to the multigenerational greatness of Big Red wrestlers. So proud of these athletes!

  3. Taek Kwon, Class of 1996

    Vito embodies the ideals that every Cornell student should aspire to adopt: grit, integrity, humility, persistence. He’s a world champion human being first and a world champion wrestler second.

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