One of the most recognizable faces in wrestling, not just in the US but around the world, is 2016 Olympian Robby Smith (130 kg). The popular bearded Greco-Roman star was forced to take an extended break following the Rio Games due to a couple of injuries. There was the wrist that required surgery, of course. The recovery and rehab time went as smoothly as one could hope, though by the time Smith was ready to re-enter the practice room at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, an ankle sprain immediately popped up.
Smith, 30, took it all in stride. For the most part. He wanted to come back for the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial early last month but was instead forced to wait it out, what, with that ankle and all. But thankfully, the USA Greco-Roman March European tour, which offers stops in both Denmark and Croatia, is here to fill the void. Although Smith will be still be seen as the odds-on favorite to earn his fifth-consecutive spot on a World-level team in April, he acknowledges that the two events he is competing in overseas are vital, if only just so he could get a gauge on where his body is at.
Also hovering in the background is the talk that this could be Smith’s final year of competition. He’s given his absolute all to the sport. A longtime resident at the OTC, Smith bided his time contending at 96 kilograms before making the jump up to the heaviest weight class a few years ago. From then on out, he has been one of the most successful and high-profile wrestlers in the country. A dynamic scorer who can throw opponents with a variety of technical maneuvers usually reserved for the lighter weight categories, Smith is someone fans have loved to watch and will surely miss once he calls it a day. Hopefully, that is still a way’s away, and even Smith admits it very well could be.
Nevertheless, with the big guy finally coming back for the first time in months this weekend at the Thor Masters Invitational in Denmark, we wanted to make sure we had took his pulse ahead of time. As always, Smith was upbeat, positive, and full of that infectious energy that has made him such a pleasure to speak to. No one cuts it down the same way Robby does.
Robby Smith — 130 KG, NYAC
5PM: First and foremost, how’s your ankle?
Robby Smith: The ankle is feeling great, actually. I wouldn’t call it 100%, but I would call it a good 99. It wasn’t as bad as we thought it was. It was just a little boo boo, nothing bad.
5PM: So in other words, you have absolute confidence in your planting, stepping…
RS: I have 100% confidence in my body right now.
5PM: Taking into account the general scope of your career, this was still a pretty decent layoff. Are there any kind of butterflies you feel now? Or is that not going to come until Saturday?
RS: Normally that wouldn’t come until Saturday, but I am actually taking a new view to wrestling. Kind of the “Momir Petković view” in that I’ve been to the biggest show and I’ve danced in the biggest dance and it’s not as scary as everyone thinks it is. Now you’ve got to just let loose and be free with it and flow. We get so intense in the big moments that we actually lose the moment and I need to be prepared to let it loose. And that is what I’m going to go with at these next couple of tournaments, in the next year, just let loose, have fun, and do what I do best, which is throw people on their heads. So that’s the plan and I am just going to stick to that.
5PM: You talk to different athletes and you get different answers, but what is the most important component to these trips? Is it the camps or is it the events themselves? Or is it both?
Robby Smith: You know, for me, I love to compete. I love being on the mat in front of an audience, that’s a big part of me. But the camp is really where you learn, that is where you are learning. But this trip is a bang-bang trip. We get in on Wednesday; we have Thursday to get down to weight; Friday to weigh in; Saturday to wrestle; Sunday off; Monday through Thursday is camp; Thursday afternoon we fly to Croatia; Friday we weigh in; Saturday we wrestle; and then Sunday we’re going home. I want to go out there and get my legs back underneath me and get the feel of competition before the World Team Trials so I’m not walking into the Trials with a five-month layoff and no tournaments underneath my belt. That is what I’m doing here.
I really wanted to get Schultz under my belt before heading to these tournaments, but because of some miscues, I had to move forward and look to these tournaments. And then back-to-back Denmark and Croatia, I’m excited. I’ve never been to Denmark, it’s my first tournament there. New scenery, new people, same competition, but fresh stuff, so I’m excited about that.
5PM: You mention the World Team Trials, Joe Rau alluded to the same thing, he wanted to have something under his belt before Vegas and that makes sense. Let’s say for the sake of argument, now this didn’t happen, but let’s say there was a reason you had to be held out of competition until the Trials, would that affect your confidence at this point in your career?
RS: I don’t think it would affect my confidence, but I might be a little nervous about it because you don’t know where your shape is. You don’t know how good of shape you’re in. You know you’re in practice shape, but are you in live, tournament shape, you know? And that is what I count on all the time, where my lungs are at. Last year we didn’t really do it, but we did tournament simulations in the room, so I kind of had a view of where I was, and that was at altitude. I was feeling good there, but coming back from this layoff I don’t know where my lungs are. I want to get back in these live, tournament situations so I know where my lungs are and what I have to tweak when I come home. Because it’s just like a racecar — my body is my tool. I take it out, race it, see how it feels, and then come back and tweak what I have to, if I have to up the cardio or up the lifting. Whatever happens in these tournaments happens, I’m not worried about that, I’m worried about one thing only, making the World Team and going to Paris. That’s what this is, to see where I’m at before the World Team Trials.
5PM: With the layoff and also, the fact that this may or may not be your last year, does it feel good to know you finally have events to look forward to? Is it a relief?
Robby Smith: 100%. To know I actually have something in the books for my immediate future, that’s what’s nice. To finally have the plan. Because like you’re saying, you wait for so long and you’re sitting there and the first couple of months were due to surgery and recovering from the Olympics, and then the next thing you know, you get the itch and want to get back out there. I’m healthy, I feel good, I’ve been training well, I’ve been wrestling well, my coaches are happy, and I’m happy. So moving into this, yeah, I’m very happy about the immediate future and I finally got my 2017 season started because at this moment, my eyes are on one prize and that is making the team, going to the Worlds, and getting a medal. If this is going to be my last year, I don’t know yet. If it is, I want to go out with a bang. If it’s not, hey, I’m going to keep it cruising. I’m just happy that it’s finally going and I can focus on one thing — me on the mat beating people up.
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