For many of us, our attention turns to the Olympics only after its advertisements start popping up on television. But for a select number of elite athletes, their focus on Olympic games is laser sharp. Always.
Pat Smith’s “ultimate goal” of Olympic gold as a Greco-Roman wrestler looms over him. “It’s not the only thing I think about it, but it does dictate the majority of the decisions I make,” says the 27-year-old Chaska native.
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are a ways away. There are no guarantees Smith can win the gold or even qualify to be on the team, but he’s willing to take that chance—backing it up with hours upon hours of training. So far, that work has paid off. He currently is the Team USA number one-ranked Greco-Roman wrestler at 156 pounds. (Greco-Roman wrestlers only use their arms and upper bodies to attack.)
“I would love to go to the Olympics and win a gold medal,” says Smith, who now lives in Minneapolis. “When you’re trying to train at this high of a level, you have to keep your goals as high as you can regardless of what happens. If you reach for the top, you’re only going to get the best out of yourself.”
The 2009 Chaska High School graduate came up short of making the U.S. wrestling team in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The four-time U.S. National Team member trains through the Minnesota Storm Wrestling Club in Minneapolis. He says the Storm has had an Olympian in every Olympics since 1968. The last one? Fellow Chaska High School grad Andy Bisek. “So I’m trying to follow in his footsteps," Smith says.
“It’s a full-time commitment,” says Smith, who wrestled in the World Championships in Paris last August. “If I’m not training, I'm thinking what I’m going to do or planning out training or watching film.”
He says some countries take a portfolio-type approach to qualifying wrestlers to their Olympic teams.
For the U.S., wrestlers have to prove their worth year after year. Even a returning Olympic champ has to go out there and wrestle to defend his spot by first qualifying for trials, then winning his weight.
“In that way, I appreciate it because it’s very American,” he says. “Anybody has a chance to make it happen, and anything can happen at any time.”
Currently, Smith is competing in a non-Olympic weight class. He’s still trying to figure out which weight—either up or down—he’ll choose. “I got to make that [decision] in the next year because that changes your body—10 pounds can make a difference,” he says.
When he's not training or traveling to competitions or training camps, Smith has a part-time marketing job. After his wrestling career ends, he wants to work in business. Smith has an undergraduate degree in business and psychology from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in human resources from the U of M’s Carlson School of Management.
But, his business career is way off in the future—after a planned trip to Tokyo in 2020 becomes a reality.
"That’s the number one priority,” he says. “Everything centers on that right now.”