Pat Smith

Chaska's Pat Smith won gold at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, on Aug. 7. Smith is in the driver's seat to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling at 77 kilograms.

Pat Smith trains to be the guy that can wrestle longer than anybody else.

Aug. 7, a continent away in Lima, Peru, Smith was the last man standing. A United States of America flag held above his head as he celebrated a championship win on the mat in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Pan American Games.

The Chaska native's fourth such victory, though this one more special.

This one was against the top competitors in the Western Hemisphere. At a higher weight class, 77 kilograms, one of six weight classes recognized at the Olympic Games.

"It was like the Olympics, but for the Western Hemisphere," Smith said of the Pan Am Games. "They were an Olympic Village. All of the other sports were there. There was a lot of hype and media attention. They shut the town down in Peru. We had police escorts everywhere, lanes in the street were blocked off so we could get around. For the wrestling competition itself, it was pretty intense. Higher stakes, there were more eyes on you. It was good to feel that atmosphere around you for preparation going into 2020 where the ultimate goal is getting to Toyko."

Trailing 2-0 in the title match, a two-point takedown was followed by a single point for pushing opponent Wuilexis Rivas of Venezuela out of the playing area for a 3-2 win. Rivas is a two-time Olympian.

Smith began the day with a 4-1 decision victory over Colombia's Jair Cuero Munoz before he defeated Emmanuel Benitez Castro of Mexico 5-1 in the semifinal round.

A gold medal winner in the Pan America Championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017, Smith is now in the driver's seat to represent the United States in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"All of the big hitters that I would potentially see in an Olympic qualifier were there. It was good for me to see how I would fare," Smith said.

STAR SPANGLED BANNER

For Smith, hearing the "great song," the Star Spangled Banner, isn't really a pinch-me moment. He's earned where he's at in his career.

"I'm super grateful for all of the opportunities I've had. I've been around this level for a really long time. It's been a really slow steady rise. This has been in the works for a while. This has been my sixth national team, I made a world team in 2017, but this has been my best year so far. A good time to have your best year," Smith said.

Smith works out at the Minnesota Training Center with the Minnesota Storm and trains with former Gopher, and 1996 Olympic silver medalist, Brandon Paulson.

When not home, Smith is training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. You may also catch him with an old teammate. Someone he inspires to be in 2020.

That former teammate is Andy Bisek.

A seventh grader in the wrestling room when Bisek was a senior at Chaska, the two Hawks have remained connected ever since.

Bisek, an assistant Greco-Roman coach at Northern Michigan University, won the Pan American Games in 2015. He later qualified for the following year Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.

"I've been following Andy for a long time. He paved the way. Made it possible to see a guy from Chaska, who hasn't even had a state champion, to reach the Olympics. We have five world teams, he has two bronze medals, I have a University silver medal, and he made the Olympics. (Andy) showed wrestling isn't over after high school. There's a lot of opportunity. If you put the time in, it's possible," Smith said.

Smith earned the 77 kilogram starting spot at the Pan Am Games when he defeated Kamal Bey in the final two matches of a best-of-three series at Final X: Rutgers on June 8. In 2019 Smith was also victorious in the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament as well as the Dave Schultz Memorial International.

It's been a steady climb for Smith. The summit is within reach. Set to represent USA Wrestling at the 2019 UWW World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan in September, the top-six finishers automatically qualify for 2020 Tokyo.

There are other chances over the next six months to qualify. Sixteen total guys fill out an Olympic bracket. Two from each contiential qualifier along with the six World Championship finishers. Two last guys can qualify from a last-chance tournament.

Right now, Smith is looking to outlast the field at worlds. He wants to be the last man standing again.

"With the rise of success has come the rise of confidence. The ability to see that goal become a possibility, it's pretty amazing. When you work so hard for the opportunity to do something like this, it's a really great feeling. It makes you work hard to gain an edge to give yourself a chance to accomplish your goals. I have always been a believer that I'm going to do everything I can to put myself in a position to be in the right spot to succeed," Smith said.

The World Championships for 77 kilograms is Sept. 16.

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