Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) can taste it. It has been right there, dangling in front of his eyeline, taunting him like the echo of a bully’s laughter. It’s an odd notion, considering we’re talking about an athlete who on most occasions, has played the role of bully himself. After all, that is what Smith is known for on the mat. There are few US Greco Roman wrestlers who adopt a more aggressive, face-first style tailor-made to wear opponents out. And it has served him well; despite having come up short in a couple of high-profile domestic finals, Smith is widely seen as one of the country’s most promising competitors. He came close to breaking all the way through in April at the 2016 Olympic Trials, where he forced RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) to a third and decisive bout that ultimately slipped away in the cruelest of fashions.
That’s rear-view mirror stuff now, relegated to the past as much as yellow Sony Walkman headphones and civil political discourse. Smith has been given the chance to rewrite how his year ends thanks to the advent of the Greco Roman Non-Olympic Weight World Championships set for December in Budapest, Hungary. It is another shot to represent the country, a reason to exhale, bite down and saunter into battle once more at an important event. The first step will be the Non-Olympic World Team Trials, which are scheduled for November 12th at the Bill Farrell Open in New York. Naturally, Smith has his blinders on when it comes to what he is trying to accomplish: “Make my first World team and win my first World medal.”
The 25-year old from Chaska, Minnesota is going to compete at 71 kilograms, which has been a strong weight for him. Smith clashed with the wildly-talented Harry Lester (WCAP, currently retired) two years in a row at the US Open and World Team Trials finals, coming up short each time. However, he has two Pan Am Championships victories under his belt at the weight and sports a number of impressive wins domestically there, as well. It fits him nicely and what’s more, he knows it.
“It’s a good weight for me overall,” agrees Smith. “It’s not a huge cut, so I don’t have to alter any of my training to think about weight specifically.” That’s a good thing. Smith proved he could be a dangerously viable competitor at 66 kg in April as he marched to the finals in Iowa City. But with weight not looming as a concern in the background, it is conceivable that the version of Smith fans will see in November is a different kind of threat. Especially because his preparation seems to be ticking in concert with a high dose of motivation. “I never stop training, really,” Smith says. “I’m always finding ways to get better, regardless of the circumstances. It’s just awesome to have another reason to train.”
There will not be a shortage of contenders for Smith to lock horns with at the Non-Olympic World Team Trials. Given the in-between nature of the non-Olympic weights, it is expected that athletes who have competed at both 75 and 66 kilos will be showing up at 71 to take a swing at making the squad going to Hungary. Complicating matters is the fact that the tournament is also an “open”, meaning there isn’t a structured selection process required to make the cut. Anyone can enter, which may result in a fuller bracket than usual for a World Team Trials event. But those issues have a way of sorting themselves out. Athletes like Smith are called upon to ensure that happens. It doesn’t matter, anyway — not when the objective is so clearly visible, as it is for Smith. The podium at the World Championships is all he is concerned with.
“The goal is to represent God, our country, and the people involved in our sport at the highest level. The best way to do that is to go out, wrestle like a maniac and win a medal.” Of course, there is an added bonus. The Worlds will be in Budapest, a place Smith is fond of. Sure, it wouldn’t make a difference if the tournament was kicking off in a less than desirable location, but the fact the setting will be somewhere the Storm wrestler enjoys isn’t lost on him, either.
“I want to go to Budapest because that place is awesome. Plus, my family is bugging me to start winning because they want to start traveling, too.”
They may not have to wait much longer.