Some people inspire a certain loyalty in their fans. Their desire to exceed your expectations is so evident in everything they do, that they galvanize you, rivet you, to your seat as they strive to do things that you can only dream about. Rarely do people come along that never fail you, or themselves, in that regard.
Cael Sanderson comes immediately to mind, of course. He never lost a match in all four years of college wrestling. But that sort of outcome is so rare. Far more interesting is the hero who sets your expectations high, only to fail at the worst of times.
In some respects, that is David Taylor, the tanned, thin, impossibly talented college wrestler from Penn State.
David just finished his sophomore season without losing a single match. He was awarded every medal and trophy that the NCAA could think up at the end of the NCAA Championships in St. Louis. We hung around after the matches ended to watch him have his arms stuffed with trophy after trophy. It was a great moment for him, a watershed moment, that stood in such remarkable contrast to a year previous when he'd finished his unbeaten freshman season by being pinned--PINNED!!--by Bubba Jenkins from Arizona State.
I had jumped out of my chair in shock when that happened and my wrestling friends never tire of reminding me of how dejected I was after leaving the finals of the 2011 NCAA Championships. The only thing that could rally my spirits was a good old fashion wrestle off - which we had in my room.
David's 2012 was going great. He was a National Champion. He was a Hodge Trophy Winner (like the Heisman). So, he decided to go to Iowa City to try and make the USA Wrestling team that is bound for London this summer.
David arrived and found that he was going to have to wrestle a very strong group of individuals. In particular, he would find himself matched with Andrew Howe, the 2010 NCAA Champion who had been off on a redshirt year, preparing for the Olympics. Another person he'd potentially have to face was Jordon Burroughs, the reigning world champion and one of the few US wrestlers to win a gold medal in freestyle wrestling in the last few years. Yet, another person whom David would have to walk over was Kyle Dake, the blond Cornell wrestler who has won three NCAA Championships in three years, and is David's best friend.
David did well out of the gate, defeating a guy named Moza Fey, an experienced and much older freestyle wrestler. Below you can see David taking on Moza (David is in the dark singlet). He won, and advanced in the bracket.
Next, unfortunately, David had to wrestle Andrew Howe. This match was significant for David for several reasons. Howe is the same weight as David and will be competing next year at 165 (we now know for the University of Oklahoma). This means that Andrew will be one of the people David will have to defeat if he hopes to get another NCAA championship.
The match did not go well. David was shut out in each of the periods. If you are unfamiliar with freestyle wrestling, each period stands alone. You win, or you lose. David lost period one and period two. So there was no period three. He lost. And he was unable to score on Andrew. A bad sign. The trouble? Howe had spent the past year doing nothing but practicing freestyle wrestling (as opposed to college's folkstyle) but also, Howe was stronger. Just a bigger, more physical guy. Below you can see David struggling with Andrew. Things look okay in the picture, but they didn't end well.
So, David was sent to the wrestle-backs. His best friend, Kyle, also suffered a loss. His was to Travis Paulson, a hot guy who has been out of college for years and has (along with his twin brother) been training for the Olympics for years. Travis beat Kyle in a hotly contested three-period match. Below, you can see the blond Kyle Dake in a dangerous position.
This loss set up a match between the best friends. Wrestling fans had been hoping to see a match between these two guys for years. Everyone knows they are close friends, and that they haven't wrestled against each other in years. So, would Dake take the victory? He's was a three-time NCAA Champion, incredibly limber and tough to score on. Or would our hero, David Taylor take it? The one-time NCAA Champion, forced to fight it out in front of 16,000 fans with his best friend--a best friend who will most-likely be one of the guys David will have to wrestle in order to get another NCAA Championship.
Below is a Youtube clip of the second period. In the first period, Dake gets in his under-hooks and turns David's back to the mat. In the clip below, you can see why Kyle Dake is so difficult to beat. Even when David gets him in a seemingly bad position, he is still dangerous.
So, David was pinned again, before a huge crowd. Before his father. His best friend's father. And the next year looks tough. Our hero will have to find a way to defeat Andrew Howe, and Kyle Dake, if he hopes to get another NCAA. Will he succeed and over-come his opponents? Or will it all end as it ended in 2011 and this spring at the Olympic Trials--with David Taylor, pinned and humiliated?
Either way, I'll be watching.