STILLWATER, Okla. —
When it comes to the Olympics, Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith knows a thing or two about competing at the highest level.
A two-time gold medalist and now three-time coach of Team USA, Smith hopes his experience will help other wrestlers achieve the Olympic dream.
“We all have our duties when we’re with the Olympic team and part of my duty is to work with them technically,” Smith said. “Making sure that we’re paying attention to the little details of our technique as well as reinforcing them. Guys like to be around people who have accomplished what they want to accomplish. Reinforcing them is important. Letting them know that they’ve put the work in and winning is possible. I’ll wear a few different hats. During the training in the next three weeks, it’s extremely important that we realize that we have a chance to get a lot better.”
Smith said this year’s squad is a little more special because of one wrestler — Coleman Scott. The former Oklahoma State wrestler won a best-of-three match in Times Square to earn a spot on the team.
“That made my whole summer,” Smith said. “Seeing him grind through the years and not have a lot of success since college but yet, he’s a fine example of someone who just kept clawing at his dreams and at his hopes. I remember when I signed him out of Pennsylvania what he said — that he wanted to be an Olympic champion. You hear that a lot, then you see kids not grind through it because they assume it’s going to be like winning a state championship. It’s not. You’re wrestling the best in the world. I have great respect to see guys that stay with it and claw it out. Whether they have failure or success, it’s a great benefit for them for the rest of their lives. For me, it was exciting to see Coleman make that team and see the work that he put in. The most satisfying thing is seeing him wrestle at his very best at a time when it was needed.”
As he trains in Colorado Springs, Colo., Scott will be batting against a familiar face — Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver. Smith hopes having the two Cowboys share in the experience will not only help Scott but also help Oliver as he tries to make the next Olympic team.
“It’s going to be a daily routine of preparing and his job in this time is all about Coleman Scott,” Smith said of Oliver. “Jordan will also be in position to help Jared Frayer as well. From day one at camp, he’s with the team doing everything that the team does. It’s a great opportunity for him to see the Olympics. Hopefully, he’s not watching when the next Olympics come.”
While Smith hopes Scott can become the 12th former Oklahoma State wrestler to win gold at the Olympics, he said none of the wrestlers will have an easy task when it comes to winning the gold.
“Russia is the top of the food chain,” Smith said. “There haven’t been any signs that they’re coming down off of that. Iran would follow closely. I really believe that right now, we can put ourselves in position where we’d be right behind those two teams. At the World Cup, we competed against Iran. I do believe we have a chance to pass them. We have proven in past Olympics that we can wrestle our best when it counts. Russia is strong and Iran is strong... We’ve taken it on the chin in 2009 and 2010 and we bounced back in the 2011 World Championships and I think it’s carried over.”
Knowing what’s at stake and having already been a part of five Olympics, Smith said he’s not going to take anything for granted this time around. The intensity Smith brings to the mat at Gallagher-Iba Arena pales in comparison to his intensity during the training sessions in Colorado.
“I just get fired up about the Olympics,” Smith said. “I get fired up more now than I ever have because I have an appreciation for what all these athletes have gone through. They have that spirit, they have that drive, they have that discipline. That’s why I love it. I love it because you know there’s somebody in archery who wakes up every day at 6 a.m. and shoots for four hours, then takes a break to rest and comes back and shoots four more hours. They do that probably 320 days out of the year because they have a dream. They have a goal. It’s not about money or personal gains. It’s about the medal. It’s about being part of the biggest event in sports. For the public when they’re watching these athletes, I wish they all can see their past three, four, five years of sacrifices and adversity they experienced because they’d all fall in love with them.”