In the most thrilling wrestling match of the Tokyo Olympics, Reno-born David Taylor beat Iran's Hassan Yazdani on Thursday morning to earn his first Olympic gold medal. Taylor won the bout, 4-3, in the 86 kilogram (189 pounds) in the waning seconds.
The match pitted the world's No. 1 and 2 wrestlers, who were evenly matched until Taylor, nicknamed "Magic Man," scored the decisive points again Yazdani, nicknamed the "Leopard of Juybar." Russia's Artur Naifonov and San Marino's Myles Amine each won bronze.
In the first period, Yazdani earned a single point to take the lead. He led 2-0, both of his points on penalties, late before Taylor tied things with 2 minutes remaining on a takedown. Trailing 3-2, Taylor scored a two-point takedown with 10 seconds remaining to secure the victory and gold medal.
Taylor is a two-time world champion and one of the best wrestlers in the world, but this Olympic gold stands out as special.
"I've won a lot of medals in my career," Taylor told USA Today following the medal ceremony. "This one feels a little bit heavier."
Yazdani, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in this event and a two-time world champion, entered the Olympics as the No. 1 seed but fell to 0-3 against Taylor, who also beat him in the 2017 World Cup and 2018 world championships. Taylor breezed through the early potion of the Olympics with none of his matches lasting the full six minutes after he recorded three technical falls with wins of 10-0, 11-0 and 12-2.
With his victory over Yazdani, Taylor ran his winning streak to 52 consecutive victories. He also solidified his status as one of the top pound-for-pound wrestlers in the world.
"You've got to want it," Taylor said on the NBC broadcast following the win. "You've got to want to be here. Olympic champion for the rest of my life."
The 30-year-old Taylor just missed qualifying for the 2016 Rio Games, finishing third in the Olympic trials, and suffered a serious knee ligament injury the sidelined him for a year in 2019. He's been dominant since his return to the mat, with the extra year to prepare for the Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic being fortuitous in his recovery time.
Born in Reno, Taylor started wrestling at 5 years old and was wrestling at a high level at 8 years old, by which time he had moved to Wyoming. He trained in Utah under American wrestling legend Cael Sanderson, a four-time undefeated NCAA champ. He moved to wrestling-rich Ohio for high school, competing at Graham High, where he won four state titles and went 180-2 in his career.
Taylor attended Penn State, which was coached by Sanderson, and was a four-time All-American and two-time national champion who reached the championship match in each of his four years with the Nittany Lions (2011-14). He won the Dan Hodge Trophy, as nation’s best college wrestler, in 2012 and 2014, the two years he won the national title. He went 134-3 in college.
While his stint in Reno was short-lived, the city has had a big impact on his life, in more ways than one. He met his future wife, Kendra, when he was paired against her in a match in Reno at a national tournament when he was 10, a bout Taylor won (he still has the bracket sheet as proof of his victory). They've been together for the last 20 years.
"She's just constantly trying to help me, guide me, and hold me accountable if I'm getting distracted," Taylor told Olympics.com of his wife. "My wife, I couldn't do anything without her, she just puts me first constantly, I can't really thank her in really any way but tell her I love her every day and give her a hug."
Taylor is the third Olympic athlete with locals ties to win a medal in Tokyo. Reno residents Bowe Becker (gold in the 4x100 freestyle relay) and Krysta Palmer (bronze in the 3-meter individual dive) also took home medals. Wolf Pack alum JaVale McGee will win at least a silver medal after Team USA basketball advanced to the championship game Thursday.
When Taylor graduated high school, a documentary was made on him called, "The Magic Man of the Mat." That's where he earned his "Magic Man" nickname. And now you can call him a man of Olympic gold, too, after a dominant run to the finals was capped with a win over one of the greatest wrestlers in history.
“To be able to do both in this tournament – dominate people and then find a way at the end – feels pretty good,” Taylor told USA Today. “This gold medal, it’s a lot of people. It’s my family – the dedication and sacrifices they made when I was a kid. My wife, my coaches along the way. These aren’t just won by one person. They should be split-up among a lot of people.”