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|Smith seeks success at new weight class and focuses on U.S. Open and World Team Trials|
By Meagan Templeton-Lynch USA Wrestling
Robbie Smith defeats RC Johnson at the 2011 U.S. Open in Cleveland, Ohio, April 7-11, 2011 in the semifinals at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. Smith is now at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. and looking forward to the 2013 U.S. Open in Las Vegas, Nev.
“Wrestling is a cult,” said Robbie Smith, a top Greco-Roman Olympic hopeful. “Once you get in it and get a taste of it, it grabs you.”
That’s what happened the first time Smith was exposed to wrestling at age 4. Now, at 26, he has been working on his wrestling for more than two decades. One thing that he loves about the sport is its individuality and the pressure that comes along with that.
“Any other sport – football, baseball, basketball – you can always say ‘you missed this pass’ or ‘you missed this catch.’ You can always point a finger,” he said. “But in wrestling, you can’t. It’s all on you. You win, you lose. 100 percent. You’ll be on top of the world because you just won, and the next match you could be the lowest of the low because you just lost. If you don’t have the heart and mindset for that, you shouldn’t be in this sport.”
No one can deny the passion Smith has for his craft. This year in his first season at 120 kg/264.5 lbs., up from his former 96 kg/211.5 lbs., Smith is optimistic about the U.S. Open in Las Vegas and making the World Team this year. He is continuing on his track to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
So far this season, Smith took gold at the NYAC Holiday International in New York City and the Haavisto Cup in Finland. He also placed fourth at the Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs and fifth at the Haparanda Cup in Sweden.
“120 kg is a great fit for me,” Smith said. “I haven’t lost to an American yet this season. I’m going into nationals feeling really confident, feeling really good about myself. Everything is focused on trying to get to Vegas completely healthy and confident.”
The transition from 96 to 120 was a logical one for Smith after he struggled with his weight and didn’t make weight at times in 2011. He described his weight challenges as a huge disappointment in his wrestling career.
“[At 96] I was a little more agile, a little faster. Now I have the size and I’m just trying to keep my speed and my strength up,” he said. “But other than that there wasn’t much of a transition. I’m just lifting a lot more and getting big and trying not to let size be a factor. Even though they are bigger than me sometimes, it is what it is and you just have to go out and wrestle, it doesn’t matter what size they are.”
Smith is determined to make the 2016 Olympic Team and multiple World Teams along the way, because he said he may be done after 2016.
“I’ve been doing this sport a long time. It’s been my whole life,” Smith said. “I want to have a couple of other adventures. 2016 right now looks like it could be the end, but you never know, I could change my mind.”
Even if he does finish his wrestling career after this Olympic four-year cycle, Smith has a strong passion for coaching. He has coached at the Concord Youth Center in Concord, Calif., where he wrestled prior to joining the Resident Athlete Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and continues to coach there whenever he gets the chance to go home to California.
Smith understands the positive influence that sports can have on kids better than most, since he never did well in school and wrestling was what he was good at.
“I was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) with dyslexia and a reading disability when I was in second grade,” Smith said. “I had to fight through that all the way through high school and all the way through what I’m doing today. Even though you’re different, that doesn’t mean you can’t excel at something. For me, wrestling helped me in school because it made me want to go to school. So for kids that are out there, I can say hey, I’ve been there. I’ve been in the hard times; I’ve been in the good times. You just have to trust yourself and believe in yourself.”
Smith credits all of his coaches throughout his career with helping shape him into the man and wrestler he is today, including his very first coach, who happened to be his father. Even a few unsupportive coaches had a hand in shaping his passions as a wrestler and coach.
“When you’re a wrestler and you go to the highest levels you can possibly make, everybody has a piece of you. Even people that didn’t believe in you, even people that say you’re not going to do it,” he said. “That stuff fuels you. You take those cancers, I call them, and you use it against them. You make that your motivation. Once you have that motivation, you have no problem with it.”
His parents and two older sisters have always been his biggest supporters and fans during his wrestling journey.
Smith also has no lack of friends inside and out of the wrestling room, which is no surprise considering his love for dancing and karaoke and, of course, something that makes him even more unique.
“I have amazing facial hair,” he said. “Right now I’m rocking the handlebar mustache.”