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#ThrowbackThursday USA Wrestling History Lesson: John Smith

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | Aug. 06, 2020, 2:17 p.m. (ET)

Photo courtesy of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Welcome to a weekly series on TheMat.com called USA Wrestling History Lesson. Each week, we will highlight one athlete that has wrapped up his or her wrestling career, sharing the impact that they’ve had on the sport.

This week, we take a look at John Smith, who is considered one of the greatest American wrestlers of all time.

Competing in the late-80s and early-90s, Smith is a two-time Olympic champion and four-time World champion, winning all six gold medals in six-consecutive years.

Smith, who wrestled collegiately for Oklahoma State, began his international career while still in college. His breakout year came in 1987, when he claimed a Pan American Championships gold, an NCAA title, a Pan American Games title and finally his first Senior World gold medal all in about eight months.

He was the only college wrestler to win a World title until 2015 when Kyle Snyder of Ohio State accomplished the feat.

For the next five years, Smith ruled the 62 kg weight class, compiling a 77-3 domestic record and a 100-5 international record.

Here’s a breakdown of his World/Olympic career:

  • 1987 World Championships (Clermont-Ferrand, France) – gold
  • 1988 Olympic Games (Seoul, Korea) – gold
  • 1989 World Championships (Martigny, Switzerland) – gold
  • 1990 World Championships (Tokyo, Japan) – gold
  • 1991 World Championships (Varna, Bulgaria) – gold
  • 1992 Olympic Games (Barcelona, Spain) – gold

Additionally, he picked up his second-straight NCAA title in 1988 as well as a Pan Am Championships gold and a Pan Am Games gold medal in 1991.

His athletic achievements garnered him several awards. In 1990, he became the first wrestler in history to win the James E. Sullivan Award, which is given to America’s best amateur athlete. Other accolades for Smith include:

  • 1990 – FILA Master of Technique and Wrestler of the Year (first American to earn it)
  • 1990 – U.S. Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year
  • 1992 – Amateur Athletic Foundation’s World Trophy (first North American wrestler to earn it)
  • 1996 – recognized as one of the 100 Greatest Olympians of All Time
  • 1997 – National Wrestling Hall of Fame Distinguished Member
  • 2003 – FILA International Wrestling Hall of Fame Distinguished Member

Upon retiring after the ‘92 Olympic Games, Smith took over as the head coach of his alma mater, and it only took him two years to lead the Cowboys to an NCAA team title in 1994. Later on, he coached the squad to four-consecutive NCAA team victories from 2003-06.

This fall, Smith enters his 29th season at the helm of the program. Overall, Smith’s career dual record as a head coach is 426-62-6.