David Taylor OTT Semifinals

Wrestlers compete at the 2021 USA Wrestling Olympic Team Trials, Fort Worth, Texas, April 2, 2021. (Photo by Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

David Taylor wishes, at least in part, that things played out differently.

He's happy to officially be an Olympian after falling short two other times, and he's happy with the continued push toward progress and improvement he's made.

But it all came at a cost — beating one of his best friends and teammates within the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and Penn State program.

Taylor punched his ticket to Tokyo by beating fellow Penn State legend Bo Nickal two matches to none in the 86-kilogram finals at this year's Olympic Team Trials.

In beating Nickal, though, it highlighted something even greater — the mutual benefit that's always present in the Penn State wrestling room.

"It was a weird emotion," Taylor said. "We had a discussion leading up to it, and we have such a deep room in the wrestling club, especially at 86 kilos, so we're challenged every single day and none of us would be where we are without each other."

Taylor has been in and around Penn State's program for nearly 10 years, and Nickal has been around for nearly half that time.

The two became fast and longtime friends and are among the most successful wrestlers in program history.

They're a combined 254-6 with five NCAA titles, seven Big Ten titles and three Hodge Trophies between them, but they help tell the story of the essence and values of Penn State's program beyond the numbers.

"You know, only one person gets to go [to the Olympics]. So that's tough and it's definitely a different emotion. I would have rather wrestled somebody else in the finals," Taylor said. "Bo's amazing, and I wouldn't be where I am without Bo."

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In fighting through the myriad of emotions he went through and the bittersweetness of beating Nickal to make the Olympic team, Taylor realizes the reality of the situation.

"It was just a matter of going out and wrestling, and understanding that I've been through this process and the heartbreak and keeping it in the back of my mind," Taylor said. "That goal of being a champion doesn't happen if you don't make the team."

Taylor's ultimate goals extend beyond just merely making the Olympic team.

It's a good start, but it's just that: a start.

His ultimate goal is to do something no American wrestler hailing from Penn State has ever done on the Olympic stage and come back with a medal and, in his case, preferably a gold one.

"It's something I've been training for my entire life, and to go accomplish that this year, it feels great, but the job's not done," Taylor said. "Olympian is amazing, but my goal is to be a gold medalist — that's something I've had my entire life, that's my expectation. It's going to be hard, but the first step is done, and I can check that box. I'm going to Tokyo, and now it's time to get ready to go and get ready for the best competition on the biggest stage."

The biggest keys to Taylor's success in his mind are the continued support of his wife and daughter, who got to watch Taylor compete for the first time, as well as staying consistent in all facets of his training.

It's especially important for Taylor during the times of adversity he's faced recently, including a knee injury that sidelined him for 10 months before he came back last year and won a Pan-American Championship on the heels of his 2018 World Championship.

"Consistency is everything. That's really the definition of success, and it's not always going to be easy. There are gonna be days that are gonna be really hard...and I remember that high of winning World Championships and feeling great, but I didn't remember the days that were hard and my wife reminded me just like 'Dave, you didn't always feel great,'" Taylor said.

"You've got to suck it up, you've got to wrestle through those days you don't feel good, and I always did. Maintaining consistency of having the ups and the downs and just continually making progress, that's the name of the game."

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