David Taylor looks on at the Final X tournament during June 2018 in State College, Pa.
A furious David Taylor stormed off the mat.
A frustrated Kyle Dake simply shook his head in disbelief.
The 2017 U.S. world team trials featured another pair of disappointing, gut-wrenching setbacks for the standout American wrestlers.
Considered two of the best collegiate wrestlers of all-time, Taylor and Dake were supposed to be making world championships teams by then. And were expected to be contending for gold medals.
One year later, Taylor and Dake have fresh, new outlooks.
Dake and Taylor, both 27 years old, made the 2018 U.S. world men’s freestyle team, and both are considered legitimate contenders to win gold medals at this month’s UWW World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time,” said Taylor, who is ranked No. 2 in the world at 86 kg. “I’ve had a goal of being a world and Olympic champion since I was 5 years old. I know I’m in position to break through and do that.”
Dake is ranked No. 4 in the world at 79 kg.
“We want to see Team USA win another team title this year, and I think I’m a critical component to that,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome to have this opportunity. I can’t wait to get out there and compete at worlds.”
Dake won four NCAA titles in four different weight classes for Cornell and captured the Hodge Trophy as the nation’s best collegiate wrestler.
Taylor twice won the Hodge Trophy while leading Penn State to four NCAA team championships. He likely would’ve won three national titles, but Dake edged him by one point in the 2013 finals at 165 pounds.
They grew up on the mat together, competing against each other on the national level from the time they were kids. Both made junior world teams, and both were considered top international prospects coming out of college. But with just seven freestyle weight classes for the world championships and six for the Olympic Games, even making an American team was a huge challenge.
Dake and Taylor were stuck behind Jordan Burroughs and J’den Cox in their quests to make the U.S. world team.
Burroughs, an Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, beat Dake to make the 2013, 2015 and 2017 world teams at 74 kg. He beat Taylor in the 2014 world team trials. Cox beat Dake in the finals of the 2016 Olympic trials at 86 kg., then went on to win an Olympic bronze medal.
A year later, Cox beat Taylor in a closely contested battle at the 2017 world team trials en route to a world bronze medal.
“Losing is never fun,” Dake said. “Obviously, I’ve been behind some studs, and that was difficult. I think I have the ability to be the best in the world on any given day. I have always had that mindset. I have my opportunity now, and I’m excited and ready to go.”
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“It was tough — there were times when I wondered if I was doing the right things and if I should continue wrestling,” he said. “It’s hard when you put all of that time and dedication into the sport and not get what you want. It’s not always easy. I had to dig down deep and make some adjustments, and now I feel like I’m wrestling the best I ever have.”
UWW expanded the number of weight classes in each style to eight for the world championships in 2014 before bumping it up to 10 this year. That has opened the door for guys like Dake and Taylor to finally land spots on a loaded U.S. team that won its first world team title in 22 years in 2017.
Burroughs made his eighth straight world or Olympic team this year at 74 kg., and Cox made his third straight team at the new weight class of 92 kg. Dake joins them on his first world team at 79 kg., and Taylor made his first team at 86 kg.
Dake and Taylor have had outstanding seasons, leading the U.S. to a championship at the World Cup.
Dake finished second at the prestigious Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix in Russia, falling 8-2 to Russia’s Akhmed Gadzhimagomedov in the finals. He came back to destroy the competition at the World Cup and at the Yasar Dogu event in Turkey.
Dake is a physical wrestler with excellent defense. He can light up the scoreboard with an explosive array of lifts and turns.
Taylor won the Yarygin before rolling past the competition at the World Cup and Yasar Dogu. He pinned all four opponents in Turkey. He is an offensive-minded wrestler who can end matches quickly with the high pace he competes at. He’s adapted well after moving up from 74 kg. to 86 kg. during this Olympic cycle.
“I’ve felt great the last two years at this weight class,” he said. “Going up to 86 rejuvenated my wrestling career and my love for the sport.”
Taylor showed he can compete at 86 kg. after he scoring a stunning fall over 2016 Olympic gold medalist Hassan Yazdani of Iran at the 2017 World Cup in Iran. Yazdani went on to win a world title later that year.
Once rivals on the mat, Dake and Taylor have trained together this season. A photo on them on Twitter earlier this year spoke volumes. It showed Taylor and Dake standing together and smiling following a workout at Penn State.
“Our time is now,” Taylor posted with the photo. “We are ready.”
Craig Sesker is a sports writer based out of Waverly, Iowa. He has covered three Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.