David Taylor was walking back to his hotel in Tokyo a little after midnight when he took the phone to do another interview on the biggest night of his wrestling life.
» PHOTOS: David Taylor through the years
Hours after winning the freestyle gold medal in the 86kg weight class (190 pounds) on Thursday at the Summer Olympics, Taylor talked about it all how began. His career took off in St. Paris at Graham High School, where he won four straight state championships from 2006-09.
“In high school, we wrestled in the toughest tournaments, and I had great training partners,” Taylor said, “so I think that was just all preparation for this moment. To be able to wrestle in the big events, wrestle tough opponents and have to navigate brackets and adversity along the way, It was definitely really helpful and the preparation to this point.”
A legendary career, which also included two NCAA championships at Penn State, now includes a legendary moment.
Taylor trailed the defending Olympic champion Hassan Yazdani, of Iran, 2-0. Then after tying the match 2-2, Taylor fell behind 3-2 entering the final minute. He scored a two-point takedown with about 17 seconds remaining to win 4-3 at Makuhari Messe Hall.
“It was exciting,” Taylor said. “I have dreamt about winning the gold medal for a long time, and you run through so many different scenarios and although that wasn’t the easiest one, I think it’s probably one that I probably enjoyed the most. To be able to earn it that way was pretty special.”
Taylor improved to 3-0 in his career against Yazdani, who won the gold in 2016 at the Rio Olympics. Taylor also beat Yazdani at the 2017 World Cup and the 2018 World Championships.
“He’s a great competitor,” Taylor said. “He’s a three-time world champion, an Olympic champion. If I hadn’t beat him, he’d be a five time world champion and two-time Olympic champion. So he’s talked about as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. I think it was an extremely tough, tough match, and I just kind of had to find a way at the end.”
As a crowd of about 50 people cheered at a watch party at Graham Middle School, Taylor heard the cheers of his fellow United States wrestlers and coaches in an otherwise empty arena.
“We have a really strong United States contingent here with obviously all three styles competing,” Taylor said, “and the support staff and everyone was there, so you definitely hear them on the way out. It’s exciting to be able to share that moment with them, and for everyone back home who were watching, it’s been great to have the support that I’ve had this week — the love for my whole whole career, my whole life. People have tuned in and sent me good luck. That was for our entire country.”
Taylor talked to his family on FaceTime after the match. His parents, Kathy and Dave, were with his wife Kendra back at his home in State College, Pa.
“We have a 16-month-old daughter (London),” Taylor said, “and we’re due next next month with another girl, so my family came up and are helping and were there to watch. After I won, I was able to share that moment with my mom, my dad, and my wife, and it was pretty awesome. Obviously, without any of them, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Taylor posed with the gold medal on the podium and was asked what it looks like up close.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s two-sided, which is pretty awesome. You’ve got to got your traditional Olympics on one side and Tokyo on the other side. It’s a lot heavier than what I expected it was going to be.”