ELMQUIST: The consummate Cowboy

Apr. 13—It's never easy to watch a legend walk away.

Oklahoma State athletics has had several coaching legends — more than many college athletic programs — and Thursday's news of John Smith retiring created a rippling effect perhaps greater than others.

While previous legendary Cowboy coaches left impacts within the athletic department, and to their respective sport to a degree, Smith had a far greater reach due in large part to his legendary status as a two-time Olympic gold medalist athlete, as well.

More than five years since Oklahoma State wrestling's trip to Italy to host the first NCAA wrestling dual outside of North America, I am still reminded of a story shared with me from the team's trip abroad.

As the team ventured through the streets of Sicily, several young Italians stormed the group requesting autographs of the legendary Smith — more than 15 years after he last laced up his wrestling shoes. He was that recognized and revered globally.

Smith made an impact behind the scenes in ensuring that wrestling remained in the Olympics when the sport was threatened with removal from the list of sports for the 2020 Olympics. He has also been a vocal proponent over the past five-plus years in growing women's wrestling — even coaching the 2017 Women's World Team (which earned him Women's Co-Coach of the Year by USA wrestling) and the 2018 Women's Cadet World Team.

He's also brought the sport to light during the recent Olympics while serving as a color commentator for the NBC television broadcasts — with many fans and wrestlers (including international athletes) praising his work.

The sport is in a better state because of Smith — be it as a wrestler, a coach or an ambassador.

Beyond that, though, he's a true Cowboy.

Walking into weekly media press conferences in his boots straight from the farm, he told stories of breaking the ice forming on the pond to prevent the cattle from drowning in the subzero temperatures that plague Oklahoma every few days during the winter.

But he also has the heart of a Cowboy.

Nearly 10 years ago, as I was a thousand miles away in Arizona to cover the Oklahoma State football program in the Cactus Bowl, I awoke to news that my father had broken his neck after suffering a seizure at work.

When I finally returned to Stillwater after the game, I made the decision to skip the next wrestling press conference — a rarity for me as the wrestling beat writer — to drive up to Kansas City to see my father.

News got to Smith about the reason for my absence, and the next time he saw me, it was him asking me the questions — about my father's status, and wishing him a speedy recovery.

To this day, my father — who had vowed to have his brace off within three months, in time for my wedding — says it was the added support of the two-time Olympic gold medalist that allowed him to be without a brace a week before the wedding (and allowing him to dance to the "YMCA").

The following wrestling season, my father wanted to show similar support to Smith and the Cowboy program, and thus, made the trip to Stillwater to watch Oklahoma State end Missouri's streak of 37 consecutive dual wins. Smith made a point after dismantling the Tigers of speaking with my father prior to his press conference.

Those are the type of lasting memories that will follow the legend that is John Smith far beyond the number of team and individual national championships in his tenure.

Jason Elmquist is managing editor of The Stillwater News Press. He formerly was the News Press sports editor, and served as the paper's wrestling beat writer for more than 10 years. He can be contacted at

Follow News Press sports editor Jason Elmquist on Twitter @jelmquistSW for updates on Oklahoma State and high school athletics.