In the early 1970s, Iowa State University was the center of the college wrestling universe and one of its brightest stars was Chris Taylor. This year marked the 40th anniversary of Taylor’s second consecutive NCAA championship in 1973, capping an undefeated two year career at ISU. In between his two ISU championships, Taylor won a bronze medal at the controversial 1972 Summer Olympics. Taylor’s wrestling dominance in 1973 was so total, the Big 8 Conference named him Athlete of the Year. After ISU, Taylor had a brief career in the professional ranks with matches against Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, Baron von Raschke, and others. Mounting health problems led to his early death in 1979. Taylor was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012.
In a state crazy for wrestling, Taylor stood out more than most. As a 6’5″ wrestler tipping the scales at over 400 pounds, Taylor towered over collegiate opponents. The only scale big enough to weigh Taylor was the livestock scale in the meat department. Many of Taylor’s matches were so lopsided, he reportedly waited to pin his opponent until ISU cheerleaders gave their approval. Another story said after Taylor took just one minute to beat the Navy heavyweight, the Naval department offered to give their wrestler the Navy Cross for surviving the match. Despite his incredible heft, Taylor moved lightly on his feet and attracted the attention of ISU football coaches. Their plan to put Taylor on the line was scuttled when a big enough helmet couldn’t be found.
At the 1972 Olympics in the German city of Munich, many felt Taylor had an excellent chance for two gold medals. With cold war rhetoric thick in the August air, two questionable matches blocked Taylor’s path to gold. In the freestyle portion, Taylor lost a controversial decision to the Soviet champion Alexander Medved. The presiding referee, Umit Demirag, penalized Taylor twice for “passivity,” which was the difference in the 3-2 loss. Demirag was reportedly trying to help even out Medved’s size disadvantage. Afterwards, the questionable ruling led to Demirag’s dismissal as referee, but the result was allowed to stand. The match can be seen here. Taylor still managed a bronze medal to Medved’s gold.
In the Greco-Roman portion, Taylor had yet another controversial match against West German Wilfred Dietrich, who Taylor had previously beaten in freestyle. During the match, despite being outweighed by hundreds of pounds, Dietrich successfully executed a suplex throw, which was famously captured in photographs:
At the time, wrestling had a touch fall rule, meaning if the wrestler’s shoulders touched the mat for any amount of time, it was considered a pin. Some observers felt Dietrich pinned himself in the process of making the throw. With the upset loss, Taylor missed out on another medal chance. Other Cyclone wrestlers had better luck: Dan Gable and Ben Peterson both won a gold medal. After the contentious Olympics, Taylor’s post-ISU career led to brief forays in strongmen competitions, wrestling camps, and international wrestling tournaments. Sports Illustrated reported on a 1973 meet against the Russians. In the article, Taylor was “called Joidanyama by the wrestlers (“It’s Japanese and means ‘crazy mountain,’ ” claims Gable)” and was clearly out of shape after his whirlwind ISU and Olympic career.
In 1974, Taylor joined the professional wrestling ranks, which meant giving up amateur eligibility for the 1976 Olympics. At the time, Taylor was one of the largest wrestlers, second only to Andre the Giant’s incredible 7’4″ bulk. In this picture, Verne Gagne, Taylor, and Andre the Giant can be seen making life difficult for Jerry Lewis during a filming of The Mike Douglas Show in Miami:
His professional career didn’t last–after years of increasing health issues, Taylor died in his sleep on June 30, 1979. He had just turned 29. The following ISU wrestling season’s press guide had a tribute written by Taylor’s former coaches:
Note how famous Taylor was: a letter presumably from Europe misspelled as Kris Taylor, USA still reached him on time without any postal notations.