By Gary Abbott
Here you have it. Two-time Olympic champion and four-time World champion John Smith, a Distinguished Member inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1997, is a finalist for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.
There is a fan voting element to this which ends on September 3. We still have more than three days to stuff the ballot box with John Smith votes. Fans can vote as many times as they want. (I just voted twice within 30 seconds).
Here are 10 good reasons why you should find time while sitting on the beach, or at the lake, or in the woods, or in the city (or wherever you are spending Labor Day), take out your computer or your cell phone and vote for John Smith again and again.
1. John Smith is the U.S. freestyle GOAT – You know what a GOAT is, right? Greatest of All Time. No American freestyle wrestler, man or woman, can match John Smith’s amazing run of six straight World or Olympic gold medals. Starting with the 1987 World title and running through the 1992 Olympic Games, Smith won them all. He was six-for-six in World or Olympic gold-medal bouts. Although it is possible that somebody, someday could match his six World and Olympic titles, nobody has come close to stringing them all in a row. (Jordan Burroughs has a shot at six total golds this year, BTW). Smith is the consensus freestyle GOAT, and many would call him the GOAT when adding in high school and college, too. USA Wrestling’s GOAT should be in the Olympic Hall of Fame. Period.
2. There are only two wrestlers in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame – Really? Only two? Wrestling is the No. 4 producer of medals for the United States in the modern Olympics. We trail only track and field, swimming and sailing in total medals since 1896. Wrestling has won 135 Olympic wrestling medals, including 54 gold medals. The only two wrestlers in the Hall of Fame are Dan Gable, a Distinguished Member inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980, and Bruce Baumgartner, a Distinguished Member inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002. That’s it? Come on. There are 109 Olympians and Paralympians in the Hall of Fame, but only two wrestlers. That is not fair. That needs to change. Let’s change it by getting John Smith in this year. Right now.
3. Wrestlers can only win one gold medal at each Olympics – Sure, if somebody could wrestle both freestyle and Greco-Roman at the Olympics the same year, it is possible to get two. Pretty much nobody wrestles both styles in modern times. So, wrestlers get only one shot at an Olympic gold medal at each Olympic Games. John Smith competed in two Olympic Games. John Smith won two Olympic gold medals. Case Closed. Only three American wrestlers have two Olympic gold medals: Smith, Baumgartner and George Mehnert. (Mehnert who won in 1904 and 1908 also belongs in the Hall, but that is a battle for another day). There are many sports where athletes can get multiple medals (think of swimming, track, gymnastics, sailing, etc.). Wrestlers don’t get in because of the number of medals they win. They get in when they win gold and do it again. That’s John Smith.
4. John Smith revolutionized wrestling with his technique – John Smith was not only the best wrestler of his generation, but he also changed his sport. Do you enjoy watching wrestlers who can score on the low single leg attack? Thank John Smith for that. One of the most creative wrestlers of all time, Smith was the first to specialize in that low, low single and finish. When John marketed that technique, the question asked was “How low can you go?” John Smith scored on that move on everybody. And when wrestlers worked on potential counters to the John Smith low single, Smith was already ahead of them. He kept changing the technique and the finishes over his career, so he was still unstoppable. The rest of the world now uses his low-single series, but even almost three full decades later, nobody has perfected it like John Smith who created it. Add in one of the best leg laces in wrestling during his era, and of all time, and you see why he wins. He takes you down a lot and turns you a few times. Match over.
5. They kept finding new wrestlers to try to beat Smith, but couldn’t – John Smith was a superstar during his career. The Soviet Union really, really wanted to beat John. During his six-year run of consecutive golds, the USSR kept bringing new opponents, hoping to find the skill set and heart in a wrestler capable of beating John. They never could. Russia was not the only country trying to get the right wrestler to beat him. Didn’t matter who they brought to the Worlds or Olympics. John won the weight class. John Smith beat a different athlete in every single one of his six World or Olympic finals appearances. Line them up. John took them out.
OK take a break from reading and vote again for John Smith
6. Smith was the first wrestler to be voted the James E. Sullivan Award as America’s outstanding amateur athlete – The AAU James E. Sullivan Award was created in 1930, and became the most important annual American award in amateur and Olympic sports. It was not until 1990, the 61st year of the award, that a wrestler won the Sullivan Award when John Smith got the trophy. John Smith was a trailblazer, putting wrestling in the public limelight his entire career. Since then, Bruce Baumgartner, Rulon Gardner and Kyle Snyder have won this award. John opened the door for them. Smith ended up winning all of the major awards in Olympic sport and in wrestling during his career. For a guy who did not spend a lot of time with things like media interviews and public appearances, he was celebrated for one true reason – his greatness.
7. John Smith continues making a difference in the Olympic movement – John Smith was nominated for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame as an athlete. For sure, he has earned the right to be inducted solely for that. But after retiring at the tender age of 27, John Smith became a full-time wrestling coach. Not only did he win numerous NCAA team titles at Oklahoma State, but he also coached men’s freestyle as well. John Smith coached U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling teams in 2000 and 2012. He has coached numerous World Championships teams as well, for both men and women freestyle wrestlers. He has passed on all of that knowledge and skill to numerous athletes, not only from his university or his club program, but from all over the United States. You have got to give him credit for his coaching, even if he is nominated as an athlete.
8. John Smith only lost eight bouts in his entire Senior freestyle career – Only eight losses ever? I would name them all, but there were two losses that Smith had in the Soviet Union way early in his career where the records are incomplete. So here are the other six losses. While still an undergrad in college, Smith lost to Larry Nugent in the Hall of Fame Classic. During the 1988 Olympic process, Smith lost once to 1984 Olympic champion Randy Lewis, a Distinguished Member inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, but came back to beat Lewis for the team spot. Stepan Sarkissian of the USSR, who Smith beat in the 1988 Olympic finals, snuck in a win over Smith a few years later. In the first match of the 1992 Olympic Trials finals series in Pittsburgh, super talented John Fisher beat Smith, but Smith rebounded to win the next two bouts to make the team. The only man to beat Smith twice was Cuban star Lazaro Reinoso, who beat Smith in an event in Cuba, then beat him in the pool round robin at the 1992 Olympics. Smith won that round robin then claimed the Olympic gold medal, while Reinoso finished third.
9. For a thin looking guy, John Smith was strong – Take a look at any John Smith action photo from his freestyle career. You see a lanky, thin-looking guy. You also can see John scoring on his opponent (he did that often). But in appearance, you wouldn’t think John Smith was strong. Well, spend some time and ask the wrestlers who he faced, and they will tell you differently. John Smith had strength and power to go along with the most creative technique you could imagine.
10. Nobody could match John Smith’s focus and his ability to compete at his best when it most counted – There are some crazy John Smith stories, often around his training habits. John had guys he could wake up in the middle of the night who would work out with him when he wanted to do some training. John did not train conventionally. He created his own training plan, went where he needed to go and it worked very well for him. About a month before a World Championships or Olympics, you couldn’t find John Smith. I know, because there were numerous media trying to interview him before his events, and we couldn’t locate him. John was locked in, focused on his final preparation. When he did show up for the World Championships and Olympics, John Smith was ready. He had a job to do. Every single time. Throw in the pressure of his winning streak of gold medals. Train wrestlers specifically to beat John Smith. Hold the event wherever you want, anywhere in the world. Didn’t matter. When it was time to wrestle when it most counted, John Smith was the greatest. Put him on the raised mat in the finals, and John Smith was in command. Like the U.S. Olympic Hall of Famer he is.
Help get John Smith in the Hall of Fame now. Vote a few more times. Write down this URL and send it to all your wrestling friends. We have a few more days. Let’s give him the support he deserves.
Click below to vote for John Smith for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame