Wrestler Spencer Woods, who’s from the Northwest Alaska community of Shungnak, did more than win a U.S. Open senior men’s championship last month. He slayed a giant.
Woods toppled defending champion and two-time Olympian Ben Provisor in a 4-3 decision victory during the 82 kg Greco-Roman finals at the U.S. Open Wrestling Championships. Provisor had defeated Woods in each of the first six times they faced off.
“He’s definitely a weathered veteran, he’s been around the game for a while, and I’m now 1-6 against him,” Woods said.
The two have faced off in every U.S. finals event the past few years, at the world team trials and at other national competitions, but April 27 marked the first time Woods was the one with his hand raised by the official at the end of the match.
While his performance at the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa in Las Vegas marked a momentous victory in his wrestling career, Woods is staying humble and looking ahead to what comes next.
“It’s just another match, another tournament,” he said. “It wasn’t like ‘I finally did it.’ It was just a nice moment to reflect on the hard work, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
While some athletes might psych themselves out going up against a familiar — and formidable — foe, Woods said neither doubt nor the fear of losing had crept into his mind.
“I think I’m going to get him every time I wrestle him,” he said. “It’s just the fact of if I do or don’t.”
As a member of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, he credits the training he receives from his coaches and competitive drive from his peers for helping him become more resilient.
“We’re not thinking about U.S. tournaments, we’re thinking about getting world medals,” Woods said.
He carried over the momentum he gained from his biggest career win to date with another strong performance at an international tournament in Argentina. After notching five straight victories, he came away with another gold medal after finishing first in the Senior Pan-American Championship finals Thursday.
Several Alaskans shine bright on national stage
Woods wasn’t the only wrestler with Alaskan roots who competed and dominated in the U.S. Open tournament. Several wrestlers, including youths and adults, had strong showings and earned All-American honors.
Joining him as fellow top podium finishers were Anchorage eighth grader Jacob Morris, who placed first in Greco-Roman, and Anchorage sixth grader Manny Novelli, who finished first in freestyle and fifth in Greco-Roman.
Although he didn’t finish atop a podium, Anchorage eighth grader Zane Gerlach still managed to finish third in Greco-Roman and sixth in freestyle.
“It’s just awesome to see their hard work pay off and just know that they have a similar background to where I came from,” Woods said.
Sydnee Kimber, a four-time Alaska high school state champion and four-time NCAA national champion, competed in the tournament as well and had a top 10 finish.
“She’s talented and super fun to watch and to see another Alaskan out there,” he said.
Forged in the Last Frontier
He believes that growing up in Alaska teaches a lot of traits that are transferable to life.
“Everything’s not easy and we take a lot of things for granted when we don’t live in Alaska,” Woods said. “Growing up, I definitely had to work for everything.”
Being born and raised in Shungnak, he had to perform tasks like chopping firewood and chasing down caribou.
“You’re working nonstop and not for any glory, it’s just a way of life,” Woods said. “Now that I’m in the position to do a sport that I love, I think it comes down to how bad you want it.”
Woods attended high school in Kotzebue, where he won back-to-back state titles as a junior and senior before graduating in 2016.
“When I was in high school, nothing seemed bigger than an ASAA state title so when I won that, I was living on cloud nine,” Woods said. “Compared to a U.S. Open title, that’s not really my big goal.”
Winning an Olympic gold medal is his “big dream,” but he isn’t looking that far down the road. Instead, he’s taking it one tournament and match at a time with the intention of improving his craft each time he steps on the mat.
“I may not always be the best guy in the room or the tournament, but I’m just constantly striving to be a little bit better than I was,” Woods said.
He plans to retire in 2028 and hopes he’ll have won a gold medal in that year’s Olympic Games, which will take place on U.S. soil in Los Angeles.
The 24-year-old is grateful for the accomplishments he’s accrued up to this point and all the help he got along the way, but he still has his “eyes on the main prize.”
“The year is not over and in this sport, it’s just one tournament to the next,” he said. “There’s no slowing down.”