Artist of the mats returns with a flourish Smith leaves Russian foe dizzy


BARCELONA, Spain -- John Smith is in the zone.


The movement is back along with that nasty, confident stare. So are the leg dives. That's a family wrestling move. It started with older brother Lee Roy and got passed along to John. It's also used by younger brother Pat, now at Oklahoma State.

Smith ripped through two more opponents yesterday, defeating Germany's Kolsten Polky, 8-0, and the Unified Team's Magomed Azizov, 17-1, a technical decision that was stopped with 10 seconds remaining.

Smith earned every point in his first match, but he breezed in the second. He hit three leg dives, and once tossed Azizov over his back in the first two minutes just for fun.

He once turned Azizov on his back three consecutive times, so much in fact, that Azizov appeared dizzy when Smith rolled him off the mat with 1:31 left.

Picasso was at work.

Nobody does that to a Russian wrestler.


When Smith had finished, he walked over to shake Ivan "The Terrible" Yarygin's hand. The Unified Team coach hunched his shoulders,

slapped Smith's hand and smiled.

"Smith, he fantastic, fantastic, fantastic," said Yarygin, giving a thumbs-up signal. "In years, we have sent many wrestlers to beat him. They all fail."

Smith's dominating performance was a relief for himself and U.S. coach Bobby Douglas.

"You remember that show, 'The A-Team,' and Hannibal used to say we're on the jazz," said Douglas. "John is on the jazz now, he's back in the zone where he can hit anything. I was a little concerned after Wednesday night, but he seems to be back to his old self."

It has been a long year for Smith, who was named International Wrestler of the Year in June. He and teammate Kenny Monday spent most of the year as co-coaches at

Oklahoma State, re-directing the troubled program after coach Joe Seay was suspended for an alleged recruiting scandal.

Smith, 26, didn't wrestle or train much, and it showed on June 5 at the Olympic trials in Pittsburgh. Smith was upset in the first round by John Fisher, which ended a 56-match win streak. Smith won the next two matches, but he cried later because he knew he wasn't in the comfort zone.

He wasn't in it Wednesday either despite two wins.

Then came yesterday.

"Did you see those leg shots? Whoosh, I'm right in there," said an excited Smith. "It's been three or four months since I've hit them like that. I mean, boom, I'm in there deep. I hit them without thinking about it.

"It's starting to click now. The movement is there. I'm feeling nice. It's great to be back. I've worked hard to get here."

He won a gold medal in the 1988 Games despite a broken nose and an abscessed ear that had to be drained of blood seven times in the two weeks he was in Seoul, South Korea.

"He may be the toughest guy, pound for pound, in America," said Douglas.

He wrestles Cuba's Lazaro Reinoso this morning to qualify for the finals tonight.

Immediately after yesterday's second match, Smith was out running.

"You know, I didn't become an Olympic champion by sitting around," said Smith. "I did it by training. I feel that I'm ahead of the rest of the world. And if I keep training, I'll widen that gap."

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