IOWA CITY — Robby Smith is entertaining on and off the mat.
A member of the last three U.S. Greco-Roman World Teams draws attention for his wrestling style, his bushy beard and comments about his penchant for launching an opponent. No need to mention his online interview where he confessed to being prone to the occasional karaoke performance.
Smith should provide a treat for the thousands of fans that file into Carver-Hawkeye Arena for USA Wrestling’s Olympic Team Trials. Action in men’s and women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman starts Saturday at 9 a.m. and continues Sunday.
Smith has become a crowd favorite at 286 pounds, but it is just a product of his effort.
“I compete to the fullest I possibly can give,” said Smith, describing the discipline as an art form. “If that is spectacular in fashion then that is what I’m going to do.
“I like picking people up. I like throwing them on their heads. When I do it as a big guy, I guess it looks pretty.”
Smith placed fifth at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships, coming up two points short of an impressive comeback for bronze against Russia’s Bilyal Mahkov, who became the first wrestler in more than 40 years to medal in both freestyle and Greco-Roman in the same World Championships.
The 29-year-old from California said he remembers the “spectacle” of four years ago and wants to prove himself to the Iowa fans.
“When I go out I try to put on a performance,” Smith said. “I try to wrestle to the best of my ability. I give it all my heart and I don’t give up. When I wrestle it’s fun. I have a smile on my face and I love doing it.”
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Smith has won the last two U.S. Opens and was a bronze medalist at the Pan American Games. He has ruled the weight since getting third at the 2012 Olympic Trials. He said he doesn’t overlook anyone and the goal is to take one match at a time, win and then travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I train the same way for everybody,” Smith said. “I wrestle every match like it’s an Olympic finals. I go out there to win. I just wrestle the way I know how to wrestle.”
Smith is among a cast of Greco-Roman characters. They are individuals from him to Andy Bisek (165), a two-time world bronze medalist with one of wrestling’s best mustaches to top-seeded 187-pounder Jordan Holm, who sports a hairdo resembling Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons.
“It’s definitely a different breed of wrestler,” Bisek said. “Everybody wrestling on the senior level of Greco is a little bit different. We make it work.”
Bisek said this team is a tight-knit group with more camaraderie, noting that many have been training together for eight to 10 years.
The U.S. Greco-Roman has made strides from four years ago. They have more individuals vying for medals, but far from the competitive level they want to be.
“It’s not great and we’re still looking to improve, but I think everybody on the team knows what is expected and what they should be doing to get there,” Bisek said. “We believe in everybody on the team.”
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