Cowboy, American great talks about his Olympic experiences, Coleman Scott, much more.
July 9, 2012
STILLWATER, Okla. - Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith is in Colorado Springs coaching the U.S. freestyle wrestling team as it opens camp for the 2012 London Olympics today. This summer marks the sixth Olympic Games with Smith directly involved. He won gold in 1988 and 1992, was honored as one of the 100 Greatest Olympians of All Time in 1996 and served Team USA as a coach in 2000, 2004 and now again in 2012.
A pre-Olympics question-and-answer session with him:
Q: As you prepare for your sixth Olympic Games, what has been your most memorable Olympic moment to date?
A: As an athlete and as a coach, it's different. When I was in Seoul and Barcelona as an athlete, I went to the opening ceremonies and walking through that tunnel with 300 athletes from the United States of America, I don't know that there is a prouder moment. Just to be representing your country at the biggest sporting event in the world - you can't describe it. I would say looking back, that was more exciting than standing up and receiving my gold medals. Part of that was because I lived every night of my career seeing myself stepping up on that stand and receiving that medal, but I never expected the feeling I had walking through the tunnel and coming out on the track for those opening ceremonies. It was just a phenomenal feeling to hear the crowd roar in appreciation of your country. Those were great memories. Seeing Jamill Kelly win the semifinals of the Olympics by beating the favorite from Russia - it was a different feeling, but that's one sticks out as well.
Q: What are you going to impart on this year's USA Wrestling team as you prepare them for the Olympics during training camp?
A: We all have our duties when we're with the Olympic team and part of my duty is to work with them technically. 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.
Q: What excites you the most about the 2012 version of Team USA?
A: For one, Coleman Scott is on the team. That made my whole summer. 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.
Q: What does Coleman Scott need to do between now and the start of the Olympics in order to be successful when he gets there?
A: Just take nothing for granted. Every day, you don't assume that you're going to win the Olympics. You earn it. Every day. It's easy to see the end right now. For that reason, continue to earn it every single day. Mentally, you have to be wrestling the Russian in practice every single day. You have to be wrestling the Puerto Rican who just beat the Russian recently for his first loss in three or four years. Those guys that you know you need to go through to be an Olympic gold medalist, Coleman needs to be wrestling them every day. They're not physically here, but whoever Coleman's partner is on a given day, Coleman needs to treat him like he's the Russian. If you treat yourself in that manner, then every practice is going to count.
Q: Who are the teams to beat in the Olympics?
A: Russia is the top of the food chain. 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. In our head-to-head battles with Russia, we've got to have our American spirit behind us. We have proven in past Olympics that we can wrestle our best when it counts. Russia is strong and Iran is strong. Right after 2008, we were probably somewhere in the 10-15 range in the world, but we've moved up since then. 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. What makes our team hard to handicap sometimes is that we have the democratic way of making the Olympic team. You've got to earn it. Sometimes your medalist from the year before may not make the team. We've got some new faces on the team who have never performed at this level with Sam Hazewinkel, then Coleman Scott and Jared Frayer - none of these guys have been on the team before. Three of our seven guys have never wrestled at a World or Olympic Championship. There's no disadvantage to that. If you're thinking right and you're doing what your responsibilities are, there's no disadvantage.
Q: Jordan Oliver will be Coleman Scott's training partner for the Olympics. What will that entail and what does he stand to gain?
A: His process will be the same as Coleman Scott's. It's going to be a daily routine of preparing and his job in this time is all about Coleman Scott. 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.
Q: You mentioned Team USA needing to have an American spirit about it earlier. What did you mean by that?
A: There's just something about the U.S. - we're tough people. Our athletes are tough. The people on the Olympic team are tough-minded people. They're solid and they live by their sport. They live a lifestyle of winning. They push adversity away and go through it. Most of them are living on peanuts but they're following their dream. For that reason it brings out a spirit in them during the Olympics that I've watched for a lot of years. I've watched it as an athlete, I've watched guys on my wrestling team that I thought had no chance at medaling beat people where you thought it was a miracle. I've watched other sports at the Olympics and seen teams and individuals perform completely over their head. America has a history of doing that. I think we have great pride and in that pride, it allows us to have our very best performance because you're not just competing for yourself - you're competing for your country and I think that's the difference. Our athletes believe that they're winning this gold medal for America. And they really are.
Q: Can you take a step back and enjoy this Olympic experience or is it becoming part of your routine?
A: I've had the opportunity to be part of six Olympics. In 1996, I wasn't a coach, but I had the opportunity of being recognized as one of the 100 Greatest Olympians. It's such a privilege. I just get fired up about the Olympics. 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.