David Taylor, the formerly dominant NCAA wrestler known as the Magic Man, was stuck for five years.
Stuck finishing second or third in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 World Championships team trials in the U.S.’ toughest weight class owned by Jordan Burroughs. When Taylor moved up a division, he suffered the same fate in 2016 (Olympic Trials) and 2017.
At last, at 27 years old, Taylor made his first world team this summer. It helped that United World Wrestling expanded the number of weight classes from eight to 10 (still six at the Olympics), meaning Taylor didn’t have to go through Burroughs, Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox or four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake at trials. But Taylor earned his place, going undefeated internationally this year.
Then in Budapest on Sunday, Taylor completed a breakthrough run through the 86kg bracket, becoming a world champion.
Taylor is the oldest first-time Olympic or world champion for USA Wrestling since 2006, when now-freestyle head coach Bill Zadick did so at 33. Taylor reached the top four years after ending an NCAA career at Penn State that included two Hodge Trophies, given to the college wrestler of the year.
“I don’t know if I ever really believed if I was best in the world, for a long time,” Taylor said.
Taylor had to work from start to finish in Budapest, upsetting Iran’s Olympic and world champion Hassan Yazdani in his first match Saturday. He suffered a knee injury in his second match and said he was kicked in the face in the semifinals. He then dumped Turkey’s top-seeded Fatih Erdin in the final, scoring a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds and getting a 12-2 tech fall.
Upon weighing in Saturday, Taylor looked at his phone screen protector and saw what he had written days before, “2018 World champion 86 kilos.” He knew the great Yazdani was first up in his bracket. It’s time, he thought.
“This flag on my shoulders, looking up, just the chills that I get when I think of that moment [of winning],” Taylor said. “To be able to earn it the way that I earned it, there’s no easy way. … I wrestled every single best guy every single round.”
The U.S. earned medals in all four weight classes with finals Sunday.
The 2012 Olympic champ Burroughs rallied for bronze, beating Cuban-born Italian nemesis Frank Chamizo via tiebreaker by scoring the last point with 26 seconds left. It’s the seventh Olympic or world medal for Burroughs in eight global tournaments, coming one day after he suffered just his seventh defeat in seven-plus years on the senior stage.
“All I thought about [after Saturday’s loss] was Rio, Rio, Rio, Rio,” Burroughs said, referencing failing to earn a medal at the 2016 Olympics. “I was thinking, well, damn, there were a lot of people who thought I quit after I lost to [Russian Aniuar] Geduev [in the Rio quarterfinals]. I’m not a quitter. I’m not a quitter. You can call me what you want, but you can never call me a quitter.”
Nick Gwiazdowski earned his second straight heavyweight bronze, winning both of his repechage matches after a Saturday loss to eventual silver medalist Deng Zhiwei of China.
In the 61kg bracket, worlds rookie Joe Colon earned a bronze medal, two weeks after replacing U.S. champion Nahshon Garrett on the team. Garrett, who beat Colon in the world team trials final in June, is out with a torn pectoral.
Cox and Dake advanced to Monday’s gold-medal matches in the 92kg and 79kg divisions, respectively.
“If it wasn’t for those guys, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Taylor said of Burroughs, Cox and Dake. “When I went up in weight class, it was for the future of my career. It wasn’t just for short-term.”
Logan Stieber, a 2016 World champion, lost his opening match at 65kg. Thomas Gilman, the 2017 World silver medalist at 57kg, lost his semifinal match and will go for bronze Monday.
Olympic champions Kyle Snyder and Helen Maroulis begin their world title defenses on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
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