(June 13, 1950 - June 30, 1979)
The heaviest wrestling competitor in Olympic Games history, his influence on the sport remains larger than life.
Iowa State heavyweight wrestler Chris Taylor, the Cyclones’ “Gentle Giant” had an enormous impact on the sport of wrestling, literally and figuratively. He will go down as the heaviest wrestling competitor in Olympic Games history, but his influence on the sport remains larger than life.
Competing during an era with no weight limitations for the heavyweight division, Taylor was a force in collegiate and international wrestling. Taylor stood 6 feet 5 inches and weighed over 400 pounds throughout much of his wrestling career.
Hailing from Dowagiac, Michigan, Taylor began wrestling as a junior in high school. He dropped only one match on his way to the 1967 state championship title at heavyweight. Taylor lost only one match his senior year, in the 1968 state finals.
Taylor continued wrestling at Muskegon Community College in Michigan, placing first at the junior college national tournament as a freshman and third as a sophomore. But it was his career at Iowa State that would turn Taylor into a national and international superstar. Noticed by Hall of Fame Cyclone head coach Harold Nichols, college wrestling's super heavyweight would take the wrestling world by storm.
His two-year career as a Cyclone was nothing short of spectacular. Taylor won NCAA individual titles in 1972 and 1973, leading Iowa State to NCAA tournament crowns both seasons. The Iowa Stater pinned his way through the NCAA tournament in 1973, becoming only the second wrestler to pin his way through a 32-man bracket. Despite this achievement he was not named the meet’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. Taylor's overall career record at Iowa State was 87-0-1 with 70 pins.
Taylor’s Iowa State teammates emphatically attest to his athleticism and affirm that his success was not solely based on his enormity.
After he won his first NCAA title in 1972, Taylor pulled off a rare double for the United States by wrestling in the freestyle and Greco-Roman competitions at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, where he weighed in at 412 pounds. Although he did not place in Greco-Roman, Taylor earned a bronze medal during the freestyle competition-dropping a controversial 3-2 decision to eventual champion Alexender Medved of the Soviet Union. The decision of Turkish referee Umit Demirag to penalize Taylor for passivity and give Medved the match was so questionable that the international wrestling ruling body dismissed him after the bout. Nevertheless, the decision was allowed to stand.
Taylor segued into professional wrestling after the Olympics. He died in 1979 at the age of 29.
For an enduring wrestling legacy that touched the lives of many, Chris Taylor is honored as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the ISU Letterwinners Hall of Fame.
Chris Taylor’s stature makes him the biggest athlete in ISU history. Taylor, a 440-plus pound giant, completed his Cyclone career undefeated with an 87-0-1 mark. Seventy of Taylor’s wins ended in pins. His victims lasted an average of only 2:14.2 before they were pinned.
Taylor earned national championships in 1972 and 1973, leading ISU to two NCAA team titles. Despite setting the record for most falls in the NCAA Tournament by pinning all five opponents at the 1973 meet, Taylor was not named the meet’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. The giant pinned 44 of his 48 opponents that year to set the NCAA record for most pins in a single season.
Taylor added two Big Eight individual crowns to help lead ISU to team titles in 1972 and 1973. He was named Iowa State’s and the Big Eight’s 1973 Athlete of the Year.
Taylor went on to wrestle internationally for the United States in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He earned the bronze medal after a highly controversial semifinal loss. Taylor’s career mark was 239-10-1.
On September 9, 1973, Taylor married Lynn Hart. The couple had one daughter.
He died of cardiovascular complications at his home in Story City, Iowa, at the age of 29, two years after health problems caused him to retire from professional wrestling. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Dowagiac, Cass County, Michigan.
National Wrestling Hall Of Fame. https://nwhof.org/hall_of_fame/bio_by_name/chris-taylor
“From the archives: Chris Taylor, Iowa State's larger-than-life wrestling star”, Des Moines Register, Nov. 7 , 2017.
Cyclone Athletics Hall of Fame. https://cyclones.com/honors/hall-of-fame/chris-taylor/137