The United States brought two of its three returning medalists to the 2018 Thor Masters Invitational — Patrick Smith (72 kg, Minnesota Storm, bronze in ’17) and Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC, gold in ’17) — and neither of them were able to repeat their success from a year ago. The lighter Smith fell into quicksand against eventual champ Maximilian Schwabe (GER) in his first bout and then was jiffed on a couple of passivity calls next time out opposite Daniel Soini (SWE) in a frustrating 4-1 loss.
Both Smith boys (no relation) are rarely called for being passive, and for good reason. Patrick Smith made his mark as one of the highest-paced competitors the US has seen this generation and is known as much for “breaking” opponents as he is for simply being skilled in every area of the sport. Ever since his move up to heavyweight over half a decade ago, Robby Smith instantly established himself as an exciting offensive presence in a weight class better known for its plodders. Plus, due to the fact that he certainly hasn’t been the tallest, burliest big guy going, Robby can hardly afford to be of the passive sort. He cannot willfully engage in “negative wrestling”, because if he does, he’ll get swallowed up by the behemoths who’d much prefer to hang on and wait for their calls.
Which is what happened on Saturday. U23 World bronze Jello Krahmer (GER), who Smith defeated to clinch his Thor Masters title a year ago, repeatedly lassoed up Smith’s wrists but yet somehow, apparently, gave off the impression he was the more active wrestler, at least in the minds of the officials. Krahmer was rewarded with both passivity/par terre chances of the contest and held on to win 2-0. Two-time Olympian Alin Alexuc-Ciurariu (ROU) capitalized on a Smith attempt at a high dive to score the only two pseudo-offensive points in their match, and that was basically all she wrote.
In true captain fashion, Robby took it all in stride and was much more interested in talking about his teammates afterwards than harping on how he and others got hosed in several of their matches.
“The event was great this weekend. Thor Masters always puts on a great show. I’m happy with how the team competed. We had a lot of young guys out here and everyone competed hard. We didn’t get the results we wanted. I thought I wrestled okay, I definitely wish I got on top of that podium this year. But you know, it is what it is. You move forward. I felt great, I was moving my feet great. The strength training is going well, I felt way stronger this time around. It was just a hard tournament.
“Overall, it was a success, to get these young guys some international matches and our veteran guys did their jobs, Jesse (Thielke), RaVaughn (Perkins), Randon (Miranda)… I know Randon isn’t a veteran but he wrestled his ass off. We just keep moving forward and get ready for Nationals now. We’re getting ready for this camp first, we’ll have a nice ten-day camp and then head home to get ready for Nationals. So yeah, I think overall, Thor did a great job putting on another great tournament, and I can’t wait for next year.”
Smith says “move forward” and it’s probably the only logical advice anyone can give right now. But following USA Wrestling/UWW official Zach Errett’s thoroughly laid-out video describing how passivity is to be determined and the differences between “offensive” and “negative” wrestling, it’s easier said than done. The narrative coming out of spectacular overseas events like Thor Masters has to stop being “US guy is victimized by bad calls” and start revolving more around the actual effort and scoring chances that did (or did not) take place. This is likely not only an American issue, bad officiating is not unique to just US wrestlers. But it is undeniably a common theme and one that needs to change. Fast.
We veered all of our coverage over the weekend to Thor Masters, primarily due to the magnitude of the event along with the fact that USA Wrestling was at Camp Lejeune and provided a (practically-unwatchable-but-through-no-fault-of-their-own) live stream. However, that doesn’t mean attention was not paid on our end and hopefully our follow-ups do that point justice.
For starters, there is the Marco Lara piece that was released a little while ago. In case you’re just catching up, Lara, 34, came out of his 14-month retirement to deliver a spark for an Army squad that was hyper-focused on collecting its 17th-straight Armed Forces title. A former National Team member and once one of the most prolific Greco wrestlers in the US, Lara showed he still has it, going 3-0 en-route to helping the All-Army Team reach its objective. Lara insists that this was a one-off, that he only competed because he was asked and that no one should expect to see him in any other National events. If that is indeed the case, here’s hoping you caught one last glimpse at a truly gifted and classy competitor.
Right on its heels will be a collection of insights from some of Saturday’s stars. Max Nowry (55 kg, Army/WCAP), Raymond Bunker (72 kg, Marines), Michael Hooker (77 kg, Army/WCAP), Brandon Mueller (77 kg, Air Force), Daniel Miller (97 kg, Marines), and last but for sure not least, Toby Erickson (130 kg, Army/WCAP), all offer their perspectives coming out of the 2018 Armed Forces Championships, and as you might imagine, takes differ as much as the weight classes attached to them.
Keeping with the spirit of the Armed Forces Championships and camaraderie amongst the service branches, a group of US Greco-Roman wrestlers who also happen to double as military men will be headed over to Bulgaria next week in advance of the annual Nikola Petrov tournament that begins on March 22nd. We will have more on that trip along with a few athlete profiles coming your way soon enough.