Graham’s David Taylor: ‘Olympic champion the rest of my life’

Graham High School graduate records thrilling victory in Tokyo

A four-time Ohio state wrestling champion, a two-time NCAA champion and now an Olympic champion.

» PHOTOS: David Taylor through the years

The “Magic Man” David Taylor, a 2009 Graham High School graduate, trailed most of the match but scored a two-point takedown with about 17 seconds remaining in his 86kg (190 pound) gold medal match against the defending Olympic champion Hassan Yazdani, of Iran, to win 4-3 on Thursday morning at Makuhari Messe Hall at the Tokyo Olympics.

Taylor raised both arms in the air as the final seconds ticked away and then screamed in celebration after clinching the victory, his 52nd in a row at the international level.

“You’ve got to want it,” Taylor said into the NBC camera as he left the mat with an United States flag on his shoulders. “You’ve got to want to be here. Olympic champion for the rest of my life.”

NBC wrestling analyst Jordan Burroughs described the scene on the broadcast.

“He was bloody,” Burroughs said. “He had a huge hole in a singlet. But never took his eyes off the goal. He knew coming into this tournament that he wanted to be an Olympic champion, and by gosh, he delivered with amazing performance.”

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.

Taylor, 30, won four straight state championships at Graham High School from 2006-09. He’s one of 32 wrestlers in Ohio High School Athletic Associations to accomplish that feat. He was a four-time national finalist at Penn State and won championships as a freshman and senior.

Close to 50 people, including some current and former Graham wrestlers, gathered at Graham Middle School to watch Taylor wrestle for gold. The doors opened at 6 a.m. to watch the match, which took place on Thursday evening in Tokyo.

“It was electrifying,” said Joycelyn Kastl, an athletic trainer at Graham. “There was a lot of hooting and hollering and jumping up and down and hands clapping and yelling.”

“It was awesome,” said Linda Fullerton, a retired Graham teacher. “It was exciting.”

A video camera was focused on the group, which was seen live on the NBC telecast along with a group of Taylor’s family and friends at his house near Penn State.

“His mother was so excited,” Fullerton said. “I could see her usual pacing, and just listening to them and watching them, it was electrifying.”

It was a tense room as Taylor fought back from a 2-0 deficit, tying it at 2-2 but then falling behind 3-2 before scoring the winning takedown.

“That’s David’s M.O. as a wrestler,” Kastl said. “He always finds a way. So I didn’t doubt, but I was definitely happier when that clock read zero.”

“I was like, ‘Take your chance, David; go for it,’” Fullerton said. “Because you’ve got one medal in your pocket. So you have nothing to lose.”

Both women knew Taylor when he was a Graham student.

“He’s always been focused,” Kastl said. “He just worked hard. He drove to Cincinnati twice a week during his high school career to work with a personal fitness trainer. He’s just very dedicated.”

To advance to the final, Taylor defeated Ali Shabanau, of Belarus, 11-0 in his first match. He then beat another American wrestler, Myles Nazem Amine, who’s competing for San Marino at the Olympics, 12-2 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Taylor beat Deepak Punia, of India, 10-0.

Earlier this year, Taylor said he wrote down his wrestling goals when he was 8 years old at the request of his dad, David. One of them was winning an Olympic gold medal.

“I didn’t even know what the Olympics were or how difficult it was or what,” Taylor said. “I just knew it was the pinnacle.”

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