Hundreds of flag-waving people turned out Wednesday for a parade
DEL CITY, Okla. (AP) _ Hundreds of flag-waving people turned out Wednesday for a parade to greet Olympic wrestler John Smith, fresh off a plane from Washington with the second of two gold medals proudly around his neck.
″It feels good when you come home and know that the people have appreciated what you’ve done,″ Smith said as dozens of young people swarmed around him. ″I enjoy celebrating this with them.″
Smith, decked out in his Olympic warm-up suit and a white Panama hat, waved to the throngs and signed autographs as the parade wound its way to Del City High School.
″I think he’s a great ambassador for Del City,″ said Sherry Hartline, who brought her young son from nearby Oklahoma City to see the gold medalist.
″He has good moral character and high standards. He goes for what he believes in.″
At the school, where Smith graduated in 1983, hundreds of people packed the auditorium for a reception and gave him a thundering standing ovation as he walked on stage.
Smith, who first won a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics at Seoul, credited the Del City community ″for having been a big part of my life.″
″They helped not just with wrestling, but with making sure I did the right things,″ Smith said.
Smith stood patiently, graciously accepting nonstop congratulations from well wishers in a back hallway as an announcer described his accomplishments, including the wrestler’s gold medal that came Friday with a 6-0 victory in the 136 1/2 -pound freestyle match in Barcelona.
The victory over Asgari Mohammadian of Iran extended to six Smith’s streak of world-level championships and made him only the second American wrestler to win gold medals in consecutive Olympics. George Mehnert was the first, in 1904 and 1908.
It was a victory, Smith said, that did not come easy.
″I struggled a bit to get back to my old self,″ he said. ″I never felt like John Smith. I trained really hard, maybe too hard. I just tried to get back to basics.″
Smith said that for the next several days he will just relax before deciding if he will concentrate on his duties as Oklahoma State interim wrestling coach and forego any more competition.
″I haven’t made any decisions yet. I’ll talk with my family first,″ Smith said. ″But right now, I’m satisfied with what I’ve done in wrestling. For the first time I can look back and be happy with what I’ve done.
″I’m looking a little to retire, but I’m not saying that’s what I’m going to do.″
Earlier Wednesday, more than 100 people gathered to meet Smith’s plane at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
The crowd, mostly of friends and relatives, held up signs, screamed and cheered as Smith was the first one off the plane. A woman in the crowd handed him a rose.
Smith, who turned 27 on Sunday, was among a group of Olympic athletes attending a brief ceremony at the White House on Tuesday.
Smith said meeting the president was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.