Former Falcon still soaring: Four-time state champ Taylor gearing up for Olympics

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 07: UFC light heavyweight fighter Phil Davis works out with Penn State 165-weight senior wrestler David Taylor during the ‘20 days to UFC 167’ media tour at the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex on the campus of Penn State University on November 7, 2013 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 07: UFC light heavyweight fighter Phil Davis works out with Penn State 165-weight senior wrestler David Taylor during the ‘20 days to UFC 167’ media tour at the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex on the campus of Penn State University on November 7, 2013 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The last time David Taylor visited Tokyo was in high school. Taylor, then a junior at Graham High School, was on his way to a U.S. Junior World Team event in China and had a rather unremarkable 12-hour layover.

His next trip will be much more memorable.

Taylor goes for the gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics as a member of Team USA’s wrestling team. The 2009 Graham High School graduate captured the 86kg freestyle title (189.5 pounds) at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in April, defeating Bo Nickal in the best-of-three final series 4-0 and 6-0.

“The biggest feeling I really had was probably relief. That’s a tough step,” said Taylor, who competed in his third Olympic trials. “I think I was definitely relieved and happy. Now I can really look forward to preparing for Tokyo.”

Three months remain to train for his matches against the world’s greatest wrestlers. His preparation, however, started much earlier.

Taylor was 8yearsold when his father, David, asked his son to write down his short-term and long-term goals. Among them: win four high school state titles, win four college national championships and win the Olympics.

“At the time being eight, I remember watching wrestling at a high level,” said Taylor, now 30. “I didn’t even know what the Olympics were or how difficult it was or what. I just knew it was the pinnacle.”

The 86kg freestyle matches start on Aug. 4 with the first round and quarterfinal matches in the early session. The semifinals follow later in the day. The repechage and medal matches follow on Aug. 5.

Taylor’s success at the international level includes a 2018 World championship, two World Cup championships (2017-18), two-time Pan American championships (2018-19) and a Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix title in Russia (2018).

Prior to that Taylor won four high school state titles wrestling for the Graham Falcons (2006-09) and two NCAA titles for Penn State University (2012, 2014; he finished second in 2011 and 2013).

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David Taylor of Graham claps as he receives a standing ovation from the crowd after defeating Manuel Cintron of Alliance at 135 lbs. to become a four-time Ohio state wrestling champion Saturday, March 7, 2009, at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

Credit: Barbara Perenic

David Taylor of Graham claps as he receives a standing ovation from the crowd after defeating Manuel Cintron of Alliance at 135 lbs. to become a four-time Ohio state wrestling champion Saturday, March 7, 2009, at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

Credit: Barbara Perenic

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David Taylor of Graham claps as he receives a standing ovation from the crowd after defeating Manuel Cintron of Alliance at 135 lbs. to become a four-time Ohio state wrestling champion Saturday, March 7, 2009, at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

Credit: Barbara Perenic

Credit: Barbara Perenic

“I’ve had a lot of help and mentorship and guidance along the way,” said Taylor, who won the first national title when he was eight. “I think the more success you have the more difficult it gets. Constantly keeping that vision strong and believing in that. You never stop believing and if you get the chance you have to make the most of your opportunities.

“Just like everyone in the (U.S. Trials) I’ve had Olympic aspirations since I was a little kid. … For nine years I’ve been competing on the senior level and I had a breakthrough in 2018 when I won the world championship. I was able to taste that pinnacle.”

Taylor, a Nevada native, resides in State College, Pa., with his wife Kendra and their daughter London. David and Kendra first met at age 10 when they went head-to-head in a national tournament in Nevada.

Taylor moved to St. Paris when he was in the sixth grade. He eventually helped the Falcons win four straight state team titles, a streak that now stands at 20 straight following Graham’s most recent victory in March.

“I did see they won. That is truly impressive the program has been successful for as long as it’s been,” Taylor said.

“During my time in the program we had great teams so I always had really good training partners. We always wrestled at the toughest events. … Living in St. Paris was a big piece of my life for a long time. There are a lot of people who still follow my career and friends I still keep in touch with. I thank them for their support and I look forward to bringing home the gold medal for all the people that supported me all this time.”

A contingent of 28 friends and family attended Taylor’s Olympic trials victory. That won’t be the case in Tokyo. International spectators are not permitted due to the coronavirus pandemic. The threat of the pandemic cancelling the Olympics continues to be a concern.

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Penn State’s David Taylor celebrates after defeating Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell in the 165-pound match in the finals of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Credit: Sue Ogrocki

Penn State’s David Taylor celebrates after defeating Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell in the 165-pound match in the finals of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Credit: Sue Ogrocki

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Penn State’s David Taylor celebrates after defeating Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell in the 165-pound match in the finals of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Credit: Sue Ogrocki

Credit: Sue Ogrocki

“It’s the world we live in. Things could change,” Taylor said. “You can’t focus on that. I can only focus on being prepared. … Life kind of goes on. I’m not really defined by being an Olympian or non-Olympian.”

Taylor, though, is defined by his goals. He continues to visualize his success, something that might have been difficult early in his senior-level career. He finished second or third in the world championship team trials from 2013-17 before finally breaking through.

“You have to believe. That’s the most important thing,” Taylor said.

“No matter what success I’ve had or how much adversity I was facing I always believed in my goals. … It’s very powerful. It’s understanding there are going to be difficult times but you still have to show up the next day at practice and you make the most of it.”

Career Highlights

- 2020 Olympian

- 2018 World champion

- Three-time U.S. Open champion (2015, 2017, 2018)

- 2017 and 2018 World Cup champion

- 2018 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix champion (Russia)

- Two-time Pan American Championships champion (2018, 2019)

- Third in 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials

- Two-time U.S. World Team Trials runner-up (2014, 2017)

- Third in 2015 U.S. World Team Trials

- Third in 2013 World University Games (2013)

- Two-time Grand Prix of Spain champion (2015, 2016)

- 2017 Paris International champion (2017)

- Two-time NCAA champion for Penn State (2012, 2014)

- Two-time Dan Hodge Trophy recipient, as nation’s best college wrestler (2012, 2014)

- 2018 United World Wrestling Freestyle Wrestler of the Year

-Four-time OHSAA individual state champion (2006-2009)

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