2021 Olympic champion David Taylor (Photo courtesy of Larry Slater; LBSphoto.smugmug.com)
What a day from the wrestlers representing the United States of America! The earlier session was a rollercoaster ride of emotions, with Gable Steveson and Thomas Gilman putting together dominating performances, while Kyle Dake and Jacarra Winchester were the victims of shocking upsets. This most recent session was all positive for the Americans.
The evening started with the semifinals, a round that featured 125 kg star Gable Steveson. Gable earned his place in the semis after handling 2016 Olympic gold medalist Taha Akgul (Turkey). Steveson's bout against Lkhagvagerel Monkhtoriin (Mongolia) differed from his previous two bouts that were offensive showcases. This was a more controlled bout against an opponent that was set on preventing Steveson from scoring more than generating offense of his own. However the case, Steveson prevailed 5-0 and was never threatened by the Mongolian.
Steveson will advance to the Olympic finals and has a date with the top-seed, Geno Petriashvili (Georgia), winner of every world championship since the Rio Olympics in 2016. It will surely be a match for the ages, as Petriashvili has gone back-and-forth with Akgul for the last six years.
Next up was Thomas Gilman in a bronze medal match at 57 kg. Gilman faced Iran's Reza Atri, an opponent he had previously defeated at the World Championships in 2017. He continued his impressive run and was clicking on all cylinders offensively and defensively. After taking a 5-0 lead at the break, Gilman continued to pressure Atri and wound up with a 9-1 win.
The overall tournament was Gilman's most complete as a Senior-level athlete. He was just a few seconds away from defeating the eventual Olympic champion and didn't wrestle a close bout otherwise.
The Gilman/Atri match set the stage for another battle between the USA and Iran in the 86 kg gold medal match. One of the most highly anticipated bouts of the entire Olympics took place as 2018 World Champion David Taylor met 2016 Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion, Hassan Yazdani. The two had met twice previously and in each contest, Yazdani held a solid lead in the first, but was worn down by the American.
This time, Yazdani was never able to generate any real offense against Taylor. He used his signature underhook for much of the match and took ground, but didn't register a takedown. A shot clock violation from Taylor accounted for the only scoring in the opening period, as Yazdani held a slim 1-0 lead. Taylor started the second with a quick takedown from a high-crotch and looked like he may have found his opening. Largely that wasn't the case and Yazdani shut down Taylor's offense and gathered two more points from a caution and one and a step out.
Trailing 3-2 with under :20 remaining in the match and sporting a singlet that was torn to shreds by Yazdani, Taylor had to make his final push. Although never known for his double leg, the Magic Man pulled one out of his bag of tricks and stunned the Iranian with the maneuver. The takedown gave Taylor a 4-3 lead and most of the waning seconds were spent in the par terre position.
Once again, Taylor had done it! He is now 3-0 versus Yazdani, who is undefeated against the rest of the world since 2016. The gold medal is the cherry on top of an already remarkable career for Taylor. A four-time Ohio state champion, number one recruit in the nation, two-time national champion for Penn State, and a leader of four national title-winning teams, before winning a world title, Taylor has now officially "done it all." This isn't to call for Taylor's retirement, because he clearly is on top of the world and has plenty of good years ahead.
American fans were still giddy with excitement regarding Taylor's dramatic win when Helen Maroulis took the mat in a bronze medal contest against the young Mongolian Khongorzul Boldsaikhany. Maroulis found a weakness with Boldsaikhany's defense from a two-on-one and repeatedly dragged the arm for takedowns. In the final seconds of the bout, Maroulis secured an 11-0 tech, which gave her the bronze at 57 kg.
In 2016, Maroulis made history by becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. This time she added a new entry to the record books, by becoming the first American woman to earn multiple Olympic medals.
While Maroulis' history-making upset in 2016 is already legendary in USA Wrestling lore, this bronze medal-winning performance may be more impressive. In the years following her gold medal, Maroulis battled severe concussions that nearly forced her to retire, as well as PTSD and surgeries on her knee and shoulder.
Not only did the Americans win on the mat, but they also were aided by wrestlers they needed to rely on to enter repechage. Kyle Dake and Jacarra Winchester both saw the opponents that defeated them earn berths in the gold medal match, allowing them to wrestle back for bronze. In both instances, the wrestlers they needed to win, upset more well-known opponents.
57 kg Men's Freestyle
Bronze Medal Match: Thomas Gilman (USA) over Reza Atri (Iran) 9-1
86 kg Men's Freestyle
Gold Medal Match: David Taylor (USA) over Hassan Yazdani (Iran) 4-3
57 kg Women's Freestyle
Bronze Medal Match: Helen Maroulis (USA) over Khongorzul Boldsaikhany (Mongolia) 11-0
125 kg Men's Freestyle
Semifinals: Gable Steveson (USA) over Lkhagvagerel Monkhtoriin (Mongolia) 5-0