It had been a long time since Chris Taylor, Iowa State's heavyweight wrestler, had officially weighed in. Thus it was that he recently went to the meat laboratory on campus, there to hang from an overhead rod usually reserved for a side of beef. His weight was registered on a scale connected to the rod: 405 pounds. "Must have been those kumquats I ate last night," said Taylor.
Next week at the University of Maryland Taylor will compete in the NCAA championships in which he is favored to win his division. If he does, the Cyclones may well regain the team championship they had taken twice in a row before being upended last year by Oklahoma State.
Kumquats aside, Taylor claims he eats "no more than an average 200-pound man," never has breakfast, often skips dessert and sometimes does not clean his plate. He does, however, admit to occasions when the only way he can placate his hunger pangs is by devouring three large pizzas.
Taylor is nowhere near as flabby as one might expect. He stands 6'5" and a lot of him is muscle. His measurements are more overwhelming than impressive—22" neck, 52" waist, 60" chest—and he wears a 58-long jacket and 14EEE shoes. He is unable to chin himself, but he can do 25 push-ups and as many situps on an inclined board. He has run the 100 in 14 seconds and can lift 200 pounds overhead with one hand. But his real strength is in his legs, with which he can press 750 pounds. On roller skates, Taylor can whiz around a rink forward or in reverse. He also plays basketball, baseball, football and badminton, hunts, fishes, bowls, swims and lives by the creed that "anything that's a challenge I'll try." For example, he can wedge himself into a coach seat on a plane and, when drying off after a shower, uses only one towel. One last feat: he can see his toes, provided "I lean forward a little and peek over my stomach."
As a wrestler, Taylor is surprisingly agile, has enormous strength and a knack for showmanship. When it is his turn to compete, he trots out to the mat amid booming cheers at home and rumbling boos away. At times, he thwarts an opponent's assault with a flick of his wrist or a shrug of his shoulder, much like a bull removing a fly with a swish of his tail. Such actions draw guffaws from the crowd, which moments later is apt to rise with a collective shriek when Taylor thumps his foe to the mat for a pin. This season he is undefeated, with one draw and 32 wins, 24 of them by falls. Eight of his pins have come in a minute or less, one in 27 seconds.
Taylor's opponents are not the only ones who stand in awe of him. "The fans are afraid of me, too," he admits, a bit sadly. "But then they see someone get an autograph from me and after that they come in bunches." Fortunately, Taylor has a sense of humor about himself. A typical one-liner: "When I went for my Army physical they rejected me. I'm too good-looking."
As a matter of fact, Taylor is not bad-looking, which is how he describes his girl friend, Lynne Hart. "I tell people I've got a girl and right away I see 'em thinking," he says. "They think she must be huge and I can see they're dying to ask me. Sometimes I tell 'em she's 6'8" and 280 pounds. That satisfies 'em. Actually, Lynne's 5'10" and 160."
Taylor sports a stocking cap Lynne knitted for him, but otherwise does little to combat the wintry blasts of Ames, where the temperature has plummeted to -20° this year. And until it gets down to about 15°, he persists in wearing short-sleeve shirts. On a wrestling tour in Russia last March he reluctantly donned an overcoat. "Had to," he explains. "It was 50 below."
Iowa State has had superlative teams under the coaching of Dr. Harold Nichols, finishing in the top three at the NCAAs 14 of the past 15 seasons. In a sense, the Cyclones have been too good for their own good; their fans used to leave as soon as Iowa State clinched. Now they stay for the last bout so they can see Taylor. Attendance at Ames in recent years hovered between 2,500 and 3,000. This season it was up to 5,000. In January 10,100 came to see a match against Oklahoma State—the largest crowd ever to witness amateur wrestling in the U.S. Taylor sent them home happy by flattening his opponent.
How good can Taylor be? Dr. Nichols, a man seldom given to hyperbole, says, "I'm sure he'll make the Olympics this year, and if he has good workout partners he can be as good as the Russian." The Russian is Alexander Medved, twice an Olympic gold medalist and nine times world champion.
When a Soviet team came to the U.S. last summer, Taylor faced the 6'8", 280-pound Medved three times. Although he lost 3-0, 3-1 and 5-1, Taylor was a worthy opponent. That he even qualified to represent the U.S. is extraordinary, for he had been wrestling only since 1968, when he took up the sport as a high school junior in Dowagiac, Mich. Taylor is just 21, and wrestlers do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s.
Overall, Taylor's record reads two draws, 13 losses and 185 wins. In 1970 he came in first in the national AAU freestyle competition and second in Greco-Roman, in which no holds are permitted below the waist. At the 1970 World Games he was fourth in Greco-Roman, and in Russia last year he was second in freestyle.
One result of his fame is a tendency on the part of strangers to test him out. At Iowa State almost everyone feels compelled to say hello to Taylor, but some add a challenge. "I try to be friendly to everybody," he says. "When a guy says, 'If you're so good, why don't you wrestle me?' I say I'm too old or something. I like to leave them feeling good, not angry. I enjoy the recognition, but I don't quite know how to cope with it. I don't mind being a giant, but sometimes I'd like to be 190 pounds or 105 to see what it would feel like. And I'd like to not always have to prove myself.
"But my main problem is clothes. I've got two, three pairs of bells, but it's hard getting things that let me dress with the In crowd. I just hope I don't get any bigger."
Any parent who has pleaded with his child to "please stop growing" can appreciate the plight of Taylor's folks. At 14 he was 6'2", 280. Then he began to grow. Within 18 months he was 6'5", 360. Twice he underwent tests at the University of Michigan medical center. Both times doctors were unable to explain his phenomenal growth, though they did find his heart to be twice as large as normal. His mom is of average size, his dad is 6'2", 225.
When Taylor played high school football, the mother of a teammate was so appalled by his dimensions that she circulated a petition to have him banned from the squad. "It didn't work," he says. "Anyway, I wasn't that much of a player."
Taylor's mother has at least a partial explanation for his ineptitude at football: "His coach told him, 'Chris, all you lack is meanness.' I told the coach, 'I doubt Chris will be mean. Not after all the years I've been telling him to stop being so rough.' "
But Taylor is becoming less peaceable. "I've learned to be meaner," he says. "Not to the point that I stomp on guys, but I am more aggressive. It's been a matter of maturity."
Even so, Taylor often curbs his aggressiveness to avoid injuring an opponent. Instead of dumping his foe to the mat and landing full force on top of him, Taylor usually breaks his own fall by landing on his palms. No one, as far as he remembers, has ever escaped his grip once he has turned him on his back and applied a pinning hold. Jerry Guth, a 206-pound heavyweight from Wisconsin, was recently pinned by Taylor. "Once he got on top I guess I could have moved my fingers," Guth says, "but the rest of me was engulfed."
There have been times, though, when Taylor has been more aggressive than he intended. He has broken one wrestler's neck and injured another's knee. And once, when Taylor's father saw him kneeling on the floor at home, he slapped a hold on him and said, "What're you going to do now?" What Taylor did was hurl his father through the air and up against the fireplace.
On other occasions, though, Taylor has just not been able to force himself to be mean. He toyed with one opponent this season in a way that caused both wrestlers and fans to smile. "Finally he told me it was O.K. to pin him," says Taylor. "So I did." Another time, Taylor took a downright liking to his adversary and gave him pointers throughout the match. Taylor did not have the heart to pin the man, but he did win 32-6. To give you an idea what this score means, it is roughly comparable to a 32-6 baseball game. Let them think about that next week at the NCAAs. Best keep smiling at Taylor's one-liners, you heavyweights.