Welcome to the press conference for the U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling team ” also known as Jake Herbert’s Open Mic Night.
He fumbles with his smart phone in an over-exaggerated way to take pictures of the placard in front of him as the moderator speaks.
When the media is asked if there are any more questions for American coach Zeke Jones, Herbert raises his hand as a wry, knowing grin dents his face.
As U.S. assistant coach John Smith is introduced before speaking, Herbert uncorks a subdued clap.
Teammates shake heads and laugh at the gregarious Herbert, the 185-pound, pressure-relief valve for the U.S. freestyle team.
“The collective spirit of the team is really fun,” Jones said when asked about Herbert, who wrestled at Northwestern and trains in Ann Arbor, Mich. “If we just had seven guys who acted the same, all stoic or all comedy “¦ the nice thing is, we have a blend of everything.
“And that’s what makes the group fun. We’re really lucky that way.”
Herbert walks up after the formal press conference ends to shake Jones’ hand as he transforms into a mock member of the media: “Jake Herbert, Northwestern Press, nice to meet you. Who’s your favorite 84-kilogram wrestler at the Olympics?”
Jones surrenders, joining the newest comedic sketch: “That would be Jake Herbert.”
Herbert injects himself into your life, your world, your airspace at nearly every turn ” whether you’re ready or not.
That aggressiveness always has existed on the mat, where Herbert won two NCAA championships at Northwestern with a 149-4 record ” the fifth best win percentage in the history of the sport. He collected a silver medal at the 2009 world championships before moving to train in Michigan.
Fighting off his comedic DNA proves almost impossible, though.
When reminded that he collected bonus money for winning the 2009 silver medal, Herbert returned to character.
“That’s great. That’s like a full-time job being a manager of a Subway, or something like that,” he said.
Is a post-athletic career in a comedy club next?
“No, he’s not a great comedian ” he just thinks he is,” Jones said. “But he’s a great guy.”
To assume Herbert lacks seriousness on the mat, however, is a big mistake, the U.S. coach said.
“When we’re on that day of competition, it’s usually laughing, joking and fun,” Jones said. “Then, about five minutes before the match, he’ll get this really drawn-in look on his face, very series, his eyes slanted in, and steam starts to come out of his ears. He starts to pace real hard.
“You know that switch is flipped and he’s ready to battle.”
A glimpse into the transformation occurred when Herbert was asked how he moves himself from jokes to medal-level seriousness.
“You start to think about … what you’ve given up and then you start to look at that guy across the mat, you start to think of what he’s trying to take away from you,” he said.
“You think, ‘He doesn’t work as hard as me. I know for a fact he wasn’t up at 6 a.m., he wasn’t hitting the bike till he puked. He wasn’t as dedicated as I am. He doesn’t want it as much as I do.’
“It starts to excite me. It gets my blood pressure up. That gets the hair up on the back of my neck. It gets me ready to go out there for war.
“This guy is trying to take what’s mine. That gold medal’s not his, that’s my gold medal.”