Almost exactly seven months after winning gold at 86 kilograms in his first World Wrestling Championships appearance, former Nittany Lion standout David Taylor announced Friday that he will not be competing to keep his title this year.
The two-time Hodge Trophy winner and two-time NCAA champ confirmed in a letter posted on social media that he is recuperating from knee surgery after sustaining an injury at the Beat the Streets youth wrestling fundraiser event in New York City on May 6.
He will not be recovered in time to defend his World Team spot against challenger Pat Downey at Final X Rutgers on June 8, he wrote. He will instead be refocusing his energy on recovery and preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“In these past few days of rest, ice, elevation, and solitude, my mind has been resetting, rewiring and refocusing on recovery and my future preparation for Tokyo 2020,” he wrote. “In these moments of quiet, I am grateful. Grateful for the air in my lungs. Grateful for the opportunity to let my appetite for success grow.”
Last year was the most successful so far of Taylor’s freestyle career. Not only did he win gold in Budapest, he also became only the 12th U.S. man to win the prestigious Ivan Yariguin Grand Prix, and also placed first in the Pam American Championships, the U.S. Open and the Yasar Dogu tournaments.
To win his world championship, he had to navigate through a loaded field, which included Iranian Olympic champ Hassan Yazdani, Russia’s Dauren Kurugliev and Turkey’s Fatih Erdin, the tournament’s top seed. For his efforts, Taylor was voted the top pound-for-pound wrestler in 2018 by United World Wrestling.
“The nature of competing as a professional athlete is a delicate one,” Taylor wrote. “One year you find yourself winning the title of the 86 kg World Championship and being voted the best pound for pound wrestler on the earth. In the blink of an eye, you lose yourself in thought over the noisy lull of the MRI machine, hoping that the pain in your knee isn’t what you fear most.”
With Taylor not competing at Final X, Downey will presumably be Team USA’s 86 kg representative this year at the World Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Sept. 14-22, based upon World Team Qualification procedures. USA Wrestling, however, has not yet confirmed that.
“My dream has just became reality,” Downey wrote on Twitter Friday night. “All I can say is I did not want to earn it in this fashion. Injury is the most terrible part of combative athletics. I wanna wish @magicman_psu a speedy and 100% recovery.”
Without Taylor in the mix, there’s still a chance for as many as two former Nittany Lions to make this year’s world team. Both Zain Retherford (65 kg) and Bo Nickal (92 kg) will be competing in a best-of-three series at Final X Rutgers for a shot to represent Team USA. Retherford will be facing two-time NCAA champ Yianni Diakomihalis, a junior at Cornell, and Nickal reigning World Champ and Olympic bronze medalist J’Den Cox.
Taylor, who lives in State College with his wife and trains with the Nittany Lions Wrestling Club, will have his next chance to represent the United States in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics. Olympic trials are reportedly being held April 4-5, 2020 at Penn State.