Taylor knows Dake’s biggest challenge at Olympic Trials

Updated: April 18, 2024

Photo: From left, Levi Haines, Cohlton Schultz, Kayla Miracle and David Taylor met with the media on Thursday in Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center, one day before the 2024 Olympic Trials begin in State College, Pa.

By Mike Finn

A Challenge Tournament will take place Friday with the top-two finishers advancing to Saturday’s Best-of-3 Finals, unless a 2023 World medalist already earned a spot in the Championship Series.

Kyle Dake has plenty of challenges to making his second straight Olympic team in freestyle at 74 kilos this weekend at the 2024 Olympic Trials. But no opponent will be tougher for the 2021 Olympic bronze medalist than what fate delivered him last week when Kyle’s father, Doug, passed away in Lansing, N.Y.

And no other wrestler, competing in this weekend’s 2024 Olympic Trials, may understand Kyle’s grief more than David Taylor, the 2021 Olympic gold medalist at 86 kilos and childhood friend of Kyle. Taylor, the former two-time NCAA champion from Penn State, who once faced Dake in an NCAA final, also played a big part in having the four-time NCAA from Cornell move to State College and train with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.

Kyle Dake

David Taylor

“I can’t put myself in Kyle’s shoes,” Taylor said Thursday, a day before the Trials start in Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center. “I’ve known Kyle for a long time, as long as any competitor I’ve had in my life. And doing so, I got to know Doug and his wife Jodie. They are great people and Doug loved Kyle and Doug loved wrestling.”

Doug Dake, 62, when he died of an undisclosed illness on April 11, was also a former wrestler at Kent State and high school coach at Lansing High School and was one of Kyle’s first coaches.

 “Doug always knew what was best for Kyle and always knew that Kyle was going to get there and has become one of the greatest wrestlers that I’ve seen.”

Doug Dake

Despite the loss of his father, Kyle — a four-time World champion — had still planned to make the 2024 Olympic Team and is scheduled to meet the winner of Friday’s Challenge Tournament on Saturday night.

  “During this process, I’ve tried to be there for (Kyle) any way I can, whether it’s shooting him a text,” said Taylor, who earned his third World championship last fall. “It’s tough. I feel for him and his family. Kyle is a competitor at the highest level and there is nothing more that Doug would want than for Kyle to go out and compete his best this weekend. And Kyle is going to do that. He looks ready to go and I know there will be a piece of him wrestling for his dad this weekend.”

The Student and the Coach

On a lighter note, Taylor got a chance to laugh during Thursday’s press conference when he heard Levi Haines, one former wrestler of Taylor’s  M2 Training Academy, speak about how much Taylor helped him win an NCAA title for Penn State last month … and prepare to wrestle at 74 kilos in men’s freestyle.

Levi Haines

“Dave’s the man. I started wrestling him when I was in eighth grade,” said Haines, a sophomore from Arendtsville, Pa., and two-time NCAA finalist. “When I first met him, I didn’t know a lot about wrestling. Dave taught me how to wrestle before I didn’t have many tools. He’s showed me not just about wrestling, but also conduct myself as a person.”

Taylor, a 33-year-old father of three daughters, has made a living from the sport while being one of the world’s top wrestlers, from either his wrestling club or from the money that World and Olympic champs receive from USA Wrestling.

This has been different than the path of many past wrestling greats, who chose to go into college coaching … like Taylor’s college coach Cael Sanderson.

“You can make money (as a wrestler) if you are winning,” said Taylor. “When I started to do other things in my life, I knew that it could create longevity because I wasn’t wrestling solely to support my family. And in doing so, I’ve been able to be a lot more successful in wrestling.

“Wrestling has come a long way and if you want to chase your goals, you can do that and I think wrestling gives you the flexibility to start other things. I hope other wrestlers will continue to do things they are passionate about while they are competing so that it gives them longevity and gives them a choice. I’m in a situation where I have a great choice. If I want to be involved with the businesses that I have, I can do that. If I decide that I want to coach, I can do that. I’m fortunate that I have not been pigeon-holed.”

Taylor’s name has been thrown around that he might be a great college coach.

“Right now, my focus is (the 2024 Olympics) and then we will re-evaluate what comes after that,” he said. “My desire is to help people in wrestling. It would be a big change to do something different. I see what college coaches have to do to be the best at the highest level. It’s more than a full-time job.”

Miracle also wants to ‘Change the Game’

Kayla Miracle, a two-time World silver medalist at 62 kilos, competes in a different sport but is well aware of the hype that Iowa women’s basketball player Caitlin Clark provided for her sport and women’s athletics the past winter by breaking attendance and TV audience numbers.

Kayla Miracle

Now shooting to earn a spot on a second straight Olympic team in women’s freestyle, the native of Bloomington, Ind., also believes that women wrestlers could also make such an impact.

“I know that wrestling is not the mainstream sport like basketball, but Caitlin Clark, CC22, was putting on a show this year,” said Miracle, a four-time women’s college national champ at Campbellsville. “She’s incredible what she’s done as well as what (NCAA team champion) South Carolina accomplished. They drew a ton of attention to women’s sports.”

Supporters of Clark claim she “changed the game.”

Can an American women’s wrestler do the same thing?

“It’s tough,” Miracle said. “I want to be the best ever, but more importantly, I want to be my best self. I want to reach my potential and I’m going to be the one who sets any limits on me. No matter what my coach thinks, my standard for myself is going to be higher. I hope to reach that and hope everyone agrees with that.”

Why Greco?

Cohlton Schultz is the man to beat in Greco-Roman wrestling at 130 kilos after he qualified the weight class for Team USA in last month’s Pan Am Olympic Qualifier and three years after he finished second in the 2021 Olympic Trials.

Cohlton Schultz

The four-time NCAA All-American from Arizona State, who was born Sept. 27, 2000, the day that Rulon Gardner beat Russia’s Alexander Karelin in the Sydney Olympics, knows that fans at the 2024 Olympic Trials may not understand Greco like freestyle.

“Freestyle and folkstyle, all the leg-chasing is great,” said Schultz, the native of Parker, Colo. “There’s not a thing wrong with that, but there’s something to be said about Greco-Roman. When you have to meet a guy in the middle of the circle, chest to chest and figure a way to dump him on his head or take him down or push him out, there are not a lot of options.

 “But it’s a real chess match and the guys who really love the fight, love Greco. There is something beautiful in the little details.”