Patrick Smith made a statement in Frisco. Hopefully, it got your attention.
With the Olympic Trials around the corner, we tend to look at the tournaments and individual performances leading up to it a little more closely. The Pan Ams serve as a solid barometer for where athletes are at as the calendar year flips, especially in Smith’s case.
As a returning Pan Ams champion, Smith (Minnesota Storm) was expected to win. Zoom in on the context. Here’s a guy looking forward to the trials, who has lost to Justin (Harry) Lester (Army/WCAP) the last several times they have faced off in every recent national final (really, just too many of these things at this point), but yet has proven to be able to beat just about everyone else. So here’s Smith, sauntering into Frisco, trying to keep the blinders on and called upon to do work. But nothing is guaranteed. 71 kg was not without some depth. And as the incumbent champ, surely there must have been some added pressure to perform well.
This tournament was important for Smith because it could set him on a trajectory towards the Olympic Trials. A confidence boost, validation, what have you. And when Cuero (COL) gutted him for a two-spot, maybe you were biting your nails, but probably not. “It was a little grittier than I wanted it to be but that’s alright”, Smith told USA Wrestling. “Sometimes you got to do that.” When Patrick Smith is successful, it is because he grinds. He doesn’t leave his perch. You know how baseball players talk about “staying within themselves” whenever they hit some walk-off homer? It’s like that. So Smith did what elite Greco wrestlers have to sometimes do, which is adhere to an attack strategy without narrowing the margin for error. Force the opposition into a mistake. This isn’t some simple cat and mouse game. There’s no time for that, at least not in the finals of a “prove it” tournament.
So naturally, when Cuero had no choice but to force the action with a throw, Smith was ready. No, more than that, it was exactly what he was waiting for. Smith grabbed his two points, wins by scoring last, and now it’s onto the next step. Smith is going to enter the Olympic Trials at 66 kg and since that weight is a pool of assassins, a tournament like this could mean a lot moving forward.
We can’t know what is going to go down in Iowa City. It’s a month away, it’s an hour away at this point. But if Patrick Smith is to find himself (once again) in position to break through, you’ll know he needed this Pan Ams as a reminder of what he can do when he has to do it.