It can be hard for Minnesotans to keep up with the state's COVID-19 regulations, which have shifted and changed throughout the pandemic. Multiply that by four or five, and you'll get a taste of what Pat Smith is trying to decipher.
The former Gopher from Chaska is resuming his globe-hopping ways, heading to Europe as he pursues an Olympic berth in Greco-Roman wrestling. That requires some extra preparation in the era of coronavirus. In between workouts, Smith has been educating himself on testing mandates in Croatia, mask rules in Sweden and what's open and closed in France.
"I have to know entrance requirements for each country, and the protocols in connecting airports," Smith said. "It's definitely interesting. From what I can tell, I have to make sure I get a COVID test right before each one."
The next place Smith visits will be Nice, France, for this weekend's Henri Deglane Grand Prix. Smith is among 33 U.S. athletes participating in the tournament, which includes freestyle, Greco-Roman and women's wrestling. The Greco-Roman bracket is Sunday, with Smith competing at 77 kilograms (169.8 pounds).
It will be Smith's first international tournament since March, when he earned a silver medal at the Pan Am Championships in Canada. After the competition, he will stay in Europe to prepare for the Olympic trials in April. Smith plans to attend a 10-day camp in Croatia, then train with a club team in Sweden before heading home.
That's going to require a lot of nasal swabs in the next few weeks. Still, Smith counts himself lucky. His trip will provide intensive training and competition against some of the world's best wrestlers, a rare commodity in the time of COVID.
"This is about the best situation I could ask for," said Smith, who is seeking his first Olympic berth after two appearances at the world championships. "It's important to get some matches in before the Olympic trials.
"It's been a lot different than the last couple of years, when I've traveled probably every month for a training camp or competition. I'm really excited to get back to international competition."
Smith is eager for a change of scenery after wrestling close to home — including a stint in his garage — for the past nine months. Local clubs have not been able to train at the Gophers facility as usual because of the pandemic. Smith and his fellow Olympic contenders have been finding space at private clubs and gyms; when those were shut down, Smith borrowed some mats and welcomed the group to his garage.
Wrestling and other close-contact sports were expected to be the last to resume competition, because of the high potential for virus transmission. USA Wrestling, armed with a detailed COVID-19 prevention plan, got athletes back on the mat last fall.
Many local, regional and national meets have been held safely, including the senior nationals in Iowa last October. USA Wrestling waited longer before returning to international competition, opting out of last month's world championships before the event was canceled.
Smith finished second at the senior nationals, his only meet since March. It was a strange atmosphere, with no handshakes, no raising of the winner's arm and masks required off the mat.
"Whatever makes the tournament happen, I'm all for it," Smith said. "We've got an Olympics to get ready for. It's a fine balance between keeping things safe and making sure athletes are ready to compete."
The Henri Deglane tournament includes 315 wrestlers from 26 countries. After the camp in Croatia, Smith will spend a week with the Swedish club team.
The Olympic trials are scheduled for April 9-11 in State College, Pa., and the Tokyo Olympics is still on track to run July 23-Aug. 8. Smith and other Minnesotans expect to wrestle in a Greco-Roman club tournament planned for February, and there could be another European tournament in March. His goal is to compete as much as possible, no matter how many COVID tests it takes.
"I'm just trying to make the best out of the situation, and do the best with what I have," Smith said. "That's really all you can ask for in a year like this.