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US wrestler who pulled out gold medal win in final seconds explains how he did it

David Taylor says "instincts took over" when he needed a takedown in the final seconds to win a heart-stopping final and capture gold in the 86-kilogram freestyle.
/ Source: TODAY

U.S. wrestler David Taylor faced a daunting task with 23 seconds left in the 86-kilogram freestyle final against Olympic gold medalist and world champion Hassan Yazdanicharati of Iran on Thursday.

Get a takedown on one of the best wrestlers in the world or go home with a silver medal.

The former Penn State star, who is nicknamed "The Magic Man" for his late-match heroics, pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the biggest bout of his life when he shot for a lightning-quick, double-leg takedown in the final seconds for a heart-stopping 4-3 victory.

"I texted my coach earlier in the week after watching a lot of the Olympic sports and I said, 'You've got to want to be here, you've got to want it,'" Taylor told Craig Melvin on the 3rd hour of TODAY Friday. "I think that really sums it up. You got 20 seconds left, the gold medal's on the line, you fulfill your life's goal, and you either get it done or you don't, and I found a way. I found a way to get that takedown."

David Taylor celebrated bringing home the gold in the men's freestyle 86-kilogram wrestling final after a thrilling comeback. Leah Millis / Reuters

Taylor, 30, raised his arms in triumph, letting out a primal scream and dropping to his knees with emotion after winning gold in his first Olympics.

"We practice that all the time, what's your best takedown with short time left, and not many times in wrestling do you really get a chance to fulfill that opportunity," Taylor said. "And it was there on the biggest stage, and really my instincts took over, and before I knew it I was blasting through him with that double-leg (takedown) on top. And I was like, 'I just got to squeeze this guy for 15 seconds, I don't want to go back to my feet,' and I was able to secure the win."

Taylor let out a triumphant yell after his comeback victory. Leah Millis / Reuters

Yazdanicharati had won gold in a lower weight class at the 2016 Olympics, and he had won the world title at 86 kilograms in 2017 and 2019. Taylor had the confidence that he could beat Yazdanicharati because he had done it at the 2017 World Cup and again in 2018 on his way to winning the 86-kilogram world title.

Yazdanicharati took a 3-2 lead with 1:30 remaining, and Taylor realized it was now or never. He shot twice for takedowns and was denied before a reset with 23 seconds remaining meant he had one last chance.

Taylor scored a last-second takedown to beat Iran's Hassan Yazdanicharati and capture the gold in Tokyo. Jack Guez / AFP - Getty Images

"We call it a sprint, and I think a lot of times in wrestling as you get too close to the end of a match, people wait too long," he said. "They may start with 20 seconds left. You only get one opportunity, and I started mine at one minute, and I got stopped twice before that (final takedown). And then we came back to that whistle start with 23 seconds left, and your instincts kick in."

Last-second heroics have quickly become a signature of Team USA wrestling in Tokyo. Gable Steveson did Taylor one better on Friday when he registered two takedowns in the final 13 seconds, including one at the final buzzer, to stun three-time world champion Geno Petriashvili of Georgia to win the 125-kilogram gold medal.

The 275-pound wrestler then did a backflip in celebration.

Steveson's victory continued an amazing Olympics for Team USA wrestling, which has won seven medals with at least one more on the way. It's the largest total since they won eight total medals at the 1996 Olympics, and it comes after they won just three in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

All five members of the men's freestyle team are bringing home medals, and three women have also reached the podium. In addition to Taylor and Steveson, Kyle Dake won bronze in the 74-kilogram weight class, and first-time Olympian Thomas Gilman picked up bronze at 57 kilograms.

Defending gold medalist Kyle Snyder will go for another gold on Saturday in a showdown with fellow 2016 Olympic champion and four-time world champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev of the Russian Olympic Committee in the 97-kilogram final.

Tamyra Mensah-Stock won gold in the women's 68-kilogram class, Adeline Gray won silver in the 76-kilogram category, and Helen Maroulis won bronze at 57 kilograms.

Taylor essentially summed it all up as he beamed with the gold medal around his neck on TODAY Friday.

"Can't complain," he said with a smile.