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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

John Smith and his Moscow Goodwill Games medal
(2012.201.B1184.0565, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


Freestyle wrestler John Smith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was born on August 9, 1965, in Del City, Oklahoma, one of ten children of Lee Roy and Madalene Smith. In 1987 Smith won his first world title in France. After a grueling redshirt year at Oklahoma State University (OSU), during which he shut out everything, toughening mind, body, and spirit, he was chosen for the 1988 Olympic team. At Seoul, Korea, Smith won Olympic gold.

Four years later at Barcelona, Spain, he repeated his victory, becoming the first American wrestler in eighty years to capture two Olympic golds. He was the first wrestler to receive the esteemed James E. Sullivan Award as the United States' top athlete. In 1989 Amateur Wrestling News called him "Man of the Year," and USA Wrestling named him "Master of Technique, the best technical wrestler in the world." He was proclaimed Wrestler of the Year by the International Wrestling Federation (FILA). The U.S. Olympic Committee named him "Sportsman of the Year" in 1990. In 1992 the Amateur Wrestling Foundation declared him the first North American wrestler to merit the World Trophy.

No other American has managed more than three world titles; Smith won four in six years. In two attempts he won back-to-back gold medals in both the Goodwill Games and the Pan-American Games. He added five U.S. National Freestyle crowns in five efforts. Smith also claimed two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles and ninety consecutive collegiate victories. Internationally, he logged one hundred wins against just five defeats. In 458 school, club, collegiate, and U.S. bouts, he won 436 times. Del City High School, where Smith's record had been 105–5, named its field house after him and added a life-sized statue of the wrestler. His super-low, single-leg wrestling move was imitated by young wrestlers all over America.

John Smith was not the first of his family to wrestle for OSU. Lee Roy, Jr., also had a stellar career. He captured the NCAA championship and a silver medal at both the World Championships and World Cup, won the USA Wrestling championship, and then earned a job as head coach at Arizona State. Pat Smith, who in 1994 became the first four-time NCAA winner (in early years, freshmen were not eligible), was undefeated in ninety-eight OSU bouts, with a single draw. Mark Smith became a mainstay of the OSU lineup, a three-time All-American, and twice a Junior National winner.

After competing at Barcelona, John Smith retired and worked as a coaching assistant while finishing his degree. In 1992 he was named OSU's seventh coach and charged with continuing the long-running dynasty. Two years later his team brought home the school's thirtieth NCAA team title. At the end of the twentieth century he continued to turn out highly competitive wrestlers. In 1995 Smith married Toni Donaldson. He has been inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. He coached freestyle wrestling for the U.S. team in the 2000 Olympics at Sidney, Australia, and has coached other international events.

Doris Dellinger


Josh Maxson, Oklahoma State Cowboys 2000–2001 Wrestling Media Guide (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University, 2000).

"John Smith," Vertical File, National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Stillwater, Oklahoma.


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Doris Dellinger, “Smith, John William,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=SM007.

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