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Aaron Brooks defeats wrestling gold medalist David Taylor, who loses his Olympic roster spot

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Aaron Brooks defeated reigning 86-kilogram gold medalist David Taylor in consecutive matches Saturday night at the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials, claiming a roster spot at the Paris Olympics.

Brooks beat Taylor 4-1 earlier in the day, his first loss to an American wrestler in seven years. It set up an opportunity for Brooks to sweep the Tokyo gold medalist and fellow former Penn State athlete.

Brooks capitalized with a 3-1 victory in the pair’s second match, as a stalemate was broken with a Brooks takedown in the first period.

After the match, the two shared a moment in the center of the mat.

“I told him I love him,” Brooks said. “He’s one of the first guys to make (Penn State wrestling) what it is.”

Brooks avenged his losses to Taylor in last year’s world championship qualifier, when Brooks dropped two straight matches to get swept. Since the beginning of March, Brooks has won a Big Ten title, his fourth NCAA title, the Hodge Trophy and a spot in the Olympics.

The trials were held at Penn State’s basketball arena, the Bryce Jordan Center, where the Nittany Lions powerhouse wrestling team also holds occasional matches.

In total, 18 wrestlers made the U.S. wrestling squad on Saturday, with 13 of those wrestlers qualifying directly for the Olympic tournament in Paris. The champions in five classes, 57 kg and 65 kg in men’s freestyle and 60 kg, 67 kg and 77 kg in Greco-Roman, will have to travel to Istanbul for a world qualification tournament for the Olympics in May.

THREE-TIME OLYMPIAN

Kyle Snyder didn’t give up a point in his championship series against Isaac Trumble, cruising to 5-0 and 4-0 wins to reach his third Olympics.

The 2016 gold medalist received a bye to the best-of-three finals to face Trumble, who won the 97-kilogram challenger tournament.

“I mean, it’s different,” said the 28-year-old Snyder, who went to Ohio State and trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. “Like, the first time you do it you’re really happy, now it’s almost an expectation of myself and then the real fun starts when you make the team and you’re competing for Olympic gold medals.”

FINANCING A ROSTER SPOT

Zain Retherford didn’t even know if he would compete for an Olympic spot five months ago.

But on Saturday he defeated Nittany Lion Wrestling Club teammate Nick Lee 2-1 and 5-0 in back-to-back matches at 65 kg to earn a spot on the U.S. national team and advance to an international qualifying tournament.

“I had accepted a job in New York City. My family was going to move there in January, but I just had a pulling on my heart, I couldn’t explain it, to compete,” Retherford said after his second win over Lee.

Retherford accepted a position at the financial firm ABR Dynamic Funds but was given the flexibility he needed to compete. He will have to use a little more time off after his performance on Saturday.

Retherford’s next step will be the Olympic qualifying tournament in Istanbul, starting May 9. He has to finish in the top two to earn a trip to Paris.

OVERCOMING INJURIES

Spencer Lee pinned Tokyo bronze medalist Thomas Gilman in their second match at 57 kg to clinch a spot on the U.S. team and also move on to the world qualification in Istanbul.

Lee’s journey has been far from easy. He’s had multiple injuries.

The former Iowa Hawkeye tore his right ACL as a senior in high school in 2017, before tearing it again in 2019. Then, in 2021, Lee won a national title despite tearing his left ACL only a couple of weeks earlier at the Big Ten championships.

The knee problems seemed to have subsided in 2024, at least enough for Lee to keep his shoes on.

“If it wasn’t for the Iowa Hawkeye program supporting me, I’d be planning to retire to be honest with you guys,” Lee said. “I’ve had such a tough time staying healthy and trying to compete to the best of my ability.”

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Zach Allen is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

Zach Allen, The Associated Press