Pat Smith continues to adapt to adverse situations as he prepares for Worlds

By Kala Ibarra, USA Wrestling | May 11, 2017, 3:32 p.m. (ET)

Pat Smith works an arm bar on Christopher Gonzalez in the finals 71 kg at the 2017 World Team Trials. Photo by Tony Rotundo,

After spending countless years in the finals only to come up shorthanded, 2017 World Team member Pat Smith conquered his competition to make his first World Team. For him, this is just the beginning.

In his quest to make his first World Team, Smith pushed past 2016 Olympic Trials champion Ravaughn Perkins, in the semifinals of the World Team Trials at 71 kg. Smith and Perkins met last year in the finals at 66 kg at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Smith lost in the best of three series after he claimed a victory in the first match, only to lose his hold in the following two. This year Smith dominated in the match, beating Perkins 6-0.

“I knew the gravity of [the match] but I tried not to let it get to me. Having that revenge mindset can be draining. I tried to kept a clear head and focused on the things I needed to do in order to beat him,”

In the finals Smith took out 2016 World Team member Christopher Gonzalez in the best of three series, 2-0, to secure his spot on the 2017 World Team.

“You put everything you have into it and come really close and not pulling through is really tough.  It makes you question a lot of things that you’re doing. Being able to break through this year was really vindicating that I was able to pull through. All my hard work has paid off. I was a big breakthrough for me,” he said.

The months leading up to the World Team Trials, Smith was residing in another country. In his final leg to finish his master's degree, Smith decided to study abroad in Sweden. Taking classes abroad and training in Sweden offered Smith the international training experience that he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get while being in school.

Smith trained with many Sweden National Team members such as Alex Kessidis and Daniel Soini, along with training under 2002 World Champion Jimmy Sammuelson.

“I was able to get that European Greco feeling. Those guys have been wrestling Greco their entire life. They’ve never even wrestled freestyle. It was good to mix it up and really be immersed in it. We go [overseas] for a couple weeks for training camps but it was nice to be there for an extended period of time and really soak in everything I possibly could from the experience,” he said.

Throughout Smith’s wrestling journey, school has always been an added factor. He’s learned to adapt to the circumstance he is in and compartmentalize his responsibilities. Studying abroad brought a new factor into the mix, not being on U.S. soil, but Smith made sure not to let anything change in the way he adapts.

“Wrestling really teaches you the ability to be where you’re at. If I’m at wrestling practice I need to maximize wrestling practice, when I’m in the classroom I’m going to be thinking about the classroom and not thinking about wrestling practice. That’s the way I’ve been able to juggle it all. If I were to get distracted during any of it, I definitely wouldn't have been able to handle the workload,” he said.

Leading up to Nationals in December, Smith was on a grind of tours, which then followed up Nationals with his Sweden experience. When he returned home, he continued the grind, wrestling in the World Team Trials and competing in the Pan American Championships early this month. Travel has been intense, but it has given him a greater insight on how to continue to adapt to his circumstances.

“I’ve had some good practice at getting home, then leaving again and making weight and competing. Which I think is good you’re able to handle in front of you no situation is guaranteed to be perfect especially when you’re competing overseas,” he said.

Through his experience being a student-athlete along with the constant travel that this year has brought, Smith was able to capitalize on what he’s learned while he was in Brazil at the Pan American Championships.

The Greco-Roman competition was just underway at the Pan American’s when Smith thought it was a good time to take a nap before his match. Only moments later the arena started on fire and everyone was evacuated from the building.

“I was 10 matches out so I was gonna take a nap on the bleacher floor and then I heard a boom and saw two Venezuelan girls looking like they were going to stampede over me and I hear them yelling 'Fuego fuego.' It didn’t quite register with me right away and then I was like oh we gotta go!” he said.

The experience was as unique as any.

Smith’s key during the experience was to stay calm. No one knew when or where the competition was going to continue and being versatile was important during the event.

“I tried to stay relaxed and be ready for anything because you never know what’s gonna happen. For all I knew, they could’ve moved it out to the parking lot and we were gonna wrestle there. I was just trying to be ready for anything and get ready to turn it on when I needed to turn it on,” he said.

Competition continued early the next day and Smith was prepared for what the morning was going to bring. Dominating his bracket, Smith claimed his third-straight Pan American Championships.

With opportunity for Smith to make his mark at Worlds, there was more pressure to win this year. Smith’s Pan American victory will delegate him eighteen seeding points for the World Championships.

“Coming off making a World Team and now there are seeding points there is little more at stake in the game [at the Pan Americans]. You always want to make sure you’re performing at your highest level, especially at a major international event. There was a little extra incentive with the seeding points, extra incentive to make sure that I was ready to go. It was good practice leading into the Worlds,” he said.

In this year alone, Smith now boasts a U.S. Open championship, World Team Trials championship, Pan American championship, and a Thor Masters bronze medal. He is on a streak heading into Worlds and it could mean all the difference.

“It’s been a propeller moving forward to take the next step in the next level. There’s a lot of different steps you take in wrestling. It seems like you take a little step and then you work, work, work, then you take another little step and it turns into a jump. You never know how big or when those jumps are going to come. It’s encouraging to finally get another jump in there,” he said.

Moving into Worlds, Smith is setting his goals and putting his mindset into gear. Now is Smith’s time.

“I want to get on the podium. I want to be the best in the World. That’s what I train for. I plan on being a World gold medalist this year,” he said.