By Doug Williams | Dec. 08, 2017, 12:43 p.m. (ET)
 

 

Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by Milk Life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.

Robby Smith has been wrestling internationally for more than a decade. He’s been to the Olympics, wrestled at the world championships four times and was a Pan American Championships gold medalist in 2015.

At age 30, Smith has an advanced degree in Greco-Roman wrestling.

He knows that in every match he learns something, and that’s especially true of losses. So when Smith lost this year in the world championships’ Round of 16 to Yasmani Acosta Fernandez of Chile, 3-1, he vowed to make himself a better wrestler.

Smith’s strengths have long been his technical skills and his endurance, but when he lost to Fernandez — who defected from Cuba — Smith said he was outmuscled.

“Every loss is a learning experience,” he said. “I mean, it sucks to lose, but it’s not a horrible thing if you just learn from it and get better from it.”

Smith is 6 feet tall and weighs about 286 pounds. With his dark beard and stars-and-stripes socks, he’s a big man who’s hard to miss at any competition. And from his appearance, it’s hard to believe strength was a weakness. Yet he knew from the experience that he needed to get even stronger.

He watched the film, re-evaluated what he did in the match, noted where he was being dominated and decided to go to work to fix it.

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“If it was a technical issue, I’d fix it technically,” he said. “If it was a mental issue, I’d fix it mentally. It’s a physical issue, so I have to fix it physically. That’s what we do as athletes. We adapt and move forward. You don’t dwell on it; you just move forward from it.”

Smith knew he had to get stronger. Many wrestlers, such as Fernandez, have had greater strength, which allows them to hold positions against him longer, get stall calls and win on push-outs. Smith is confident his technique and conditioning are “top notch.” That allows him to score points and last. But he needed the extra muscle.

“He’s not a better wrestler than me; he’s stronger than me,” said Smith of Fernandez. “So I had to figure out how to get stronger.”

For the past two months, Smith — a native Californian who trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado — has devoted more of his time to getting stronger in the weight room than working on the mat.

In the past, he’d do weight work about two days a week. Now he’s in the weight room four times a week for as many as 2½ hours at a time. He’s on the mat three times a week and does conditioning twice a week.

Smith calls it a “total body workout” that he’s put together with the help of his coaching staff.

“It’s conditioning, it’s agility, it’s strength in my lower body, it’s strength in my upper body,” Smith said. “We have a good balance of that in all the workouts. It’s a lot of work, but it’s what I need. … I was nowhere near the strongest guy in the world so I had to work on that.”

Though he wants to get stronger everywhere, the key areas he’s trying to focus on are his shoulders, core and legs.

Already, he’s seen a difference. He feels like he’s working smarter, while also not killing his body every day in the wrestling room.

“I’ve seen a significant change in my body, how it looks and how I feel,” he said. “I feel more dominant in the wrestling room, I feel more dominant on the mat just in the couple of months I’ve been doing it.”

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.