Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Olympic Trials Preview: Olympic champ Taylor awaits talented challenger in 86 kg finals series

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2020 Olympic champion and three-time World champion David Taylor sits out until the Championship Series of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials after winning his 2023 World title and qualifying the USA to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Fans worldwide have enjoyed the rivalry between Taylor and Iran’s Olympic and multiple-time World champion Hassan Yazdani, although Taylor holds a lopsided edge over Yazdani. Taylor was a 2021 World silver medalist, the only time Yazdani has bested him. Taylor missed the 2019 season due to injury, the only year since he became No. 1 in the USA that he did not medal.

It took Taylor many years to get his chance at World success. He competed at 74 kg in his early years, with Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Dake were ahead of him. In 2017, he moved to 86 kg and was second on the National Team ladder behind J’den Cox, before making his first World Team in 2018. Taylor was a University World Games bronze medalist, and way back in high school made a U17 World team down at 50 kg. His persistence and positive attitude has paid off big time.

A two-time NCAA champion, two-time Dan Hodge Trophy winner and four-time finalist for Penn State, Taylor finally gets to wrestle for another Olympic berth at Bryce Jordan Center, after the 2020 Trials was moved from Happy Valley to Texas due to the pandemic.

A 2023 World bronze medalist at 92 kg, Zahid Valencia advances to the semifinals of the Challenge Tournament at 86 kg. Valencia competed earlier in 2023 at 86 kg, and he lost in the U.S. Open finals to Aaron Brooks, 10-6. Brooks advanced to Final X to face Taylor. Valencia made a run at 92 kg and was able to qualify for Final X at the higher weight and make the team. Valencia was a 2017 U20 World silver medalist and competed on two other U20 World Teams. He was a two-time NCAA champion for Arizona State.

Aaron Brooks is fresh off becoming the seventh four-time NCAA champion, winning at 197 pounds for Penn State in Kansas City. Just like his college coach Cael Sanderson, Brooks won his first three at 184 and his final at 197. Brooks fell in two matches to Taylor in 2023 Final X, then later in the summer went to the U23 World Championships, where he won the gold medal. Brooks boasts two other age-group World medals, a 2017 U17 World gold and a 2018 U20 World silver.

The journey of Chance Marsteller, who was a youth star who overcame a personal battle with addition to become a 2023 World Team member at 79 kg, continues with his quest to make an Olympic team. A four-time state champion and legend in Pennsylvania, Marsteller was a member of the 2012 U17 World Team. His college career began at Oklahoma State and ended at Lock Haven, where he was an All-American. Marsteller beat Jordan Burroughs to make his first Senior World Team. He has now moved up to 86 kg, where he won two international medals this season.

2019 Senior World Team member Patrick Downey returns to wrestling after leaving for an MMA career. His last major wrestling competition was the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, held in 2021, where he placed fourth. Downey made the World Team the season Taylor was injured. Always tough in freestyle, Downey was also a 2012 U20 World silver medalist.

The December 2023 Senior Nationals finalists, champion Alex Dieringer and runner-up Mark Hall, seek their first U.S. Senior Team. Both have made the Senior National Team multiple times and have been close to breaking through.

Dieringer was a 2013 U20 World silver medalist and a three-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma State. Dieringer was second in the 2017 and 2021 World Team Trials and won the U.S. Open in 2019. Hall was a youth freestyle star, winning a 2014 U17 World title and U20 World titles in 2015 and 2016. An NCAA champion for Penn State, Hall was a 2022 U.S. Open champion and recently won a 2023 Pan American Games silver medal.

Qualifying through December 2023 Senior Nationals were third-place Maxwell Dean, fourth-place high school star Connor Mirasola and fifth-place Evan Wick. Dean was an NCAA runner-up at Cornell, then transferred to Penn State, where he was an NCAA champion. Dean made a U23 World Team in 2019. Mirasola, a Penn State commit, is a two-time Junior Nationals freestyle champion and was second in the U20 World Team Trials in 2023. Wick, an All-American for both Wisconsin and Cal Poly, was fourth in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, and has placed at the U.S. Open four times.

NC State star Trent Hidlay qualified by winning the 2023 Bill Farrell International. Hidlay was second to Brooks in the 2024 NCAA finals. He was third in the 2019 U20 Worlds and second in the 2022 U23 Worlds. Hidlay made the Senior National Team in 2021-22.

David McFadden, a 2022 U.S. Open runner-up, won the Last Chance Qualifier to claim the final spot in the field. A star at Virginia Tech, McFadden competed in the 2018 U23 World Championships. McFadden previously wrestled at 74 kg and 79 kg before moving up to 86 kg in 2023.

Local fans can cheer for four Nittany Lions, Taylor, Brooks, Hall and Dean, plus PSU signee Mirasola.

While weight classes and final athlete registrations are not finalized until the completion of weigh-ins, this cast of 12 wrestlers is the expected 86 kg field for the Olympic Trials.

Fans looking to attend the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in person can still purchase all session tickets and single session tickets through Ticketmaster.

For those unable to grab a ticket, fear not—all the action from Bryce Jordan Center will be broadcast by NBC properties, April 19-20. The Friday and Saturday evening sessions will be televised on USA Network. NBC’s streaming platform Peacock will host live streams of each mat throughout the competition.

Complete brackets and live results for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials will be hosted on Trackwrestling.com. Fans can also follow @usawrestling on the various social media platforms for regular updates throughout the event.

For more information about the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, please visit usawrestlingevents.com.

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