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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended September 29, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 28Sep00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

The Not-So-Little Wrestler That Could

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA -- Its being called the Miracle on the Mat and the biggest upset in wrestling history. An on-line poll on MSNBC rates it the second biggest Olympic upset ever, behind the 1980 US Hockey Team win over Russia. LDS super-heavyweight wrestler Rulon Gardner told the Associated Press, "When did I think I could beat him? About 10 minutes ago. I kept saying, 'I think I can. I think I can.' But it wasn't until it was over that I knew I could." Gardner's shocking win over Russian Alexander Karelin Wednesday has caught the attention of the US news media, which is hungry for this kind of underdog win.

Gardner's win has made newspapers and television news worldwide. His picture is on the front page of today's New York Times. The London Daily Mail called the match "quite simply and inarguably, the greatest upset in the history of sport." The miracle was covered in multiple stories by the Associated Press and even made India's The Hindu and the International Herald Tribune.

MSNBC columnist Mike Celizic tried to capture the import of the moment, saying, "It is for moments like this that the Olympics exist, for those rare and wonderful moments when the underdog wins, when the impossible dream takes flesh, when titans perish. It is to see the face of victory and also the mask of defeat."

Quite simply, no one expected him to win. Gardner himself hardly dared to hope. He had never won an NCAA championship, much less an International competition. He had faced Karelin once before, three years ago, and had been tossed around like a doll in a 5-0 thrashing. But he was also a relatively new convert to Greco-Roman wrestling from freestyle, which dominates US competitions. Greco-Roman wrestling uses the upper body almost exclusively, playing to Gardner's strength.

But Karelin, on the other hand, is a wrestling icon, known alternatively as "the toughest man in the world," and as "the meanest man in the world." His record was simply stunning -- undefeated in 13 years and more than 200 matches, and with only one point scored against him in 10 years. The Daily Mail says this would be like Tennis star Pete Sampras going from his teens to his 30s without loosing even one set. Think of it like the New York Yankees going 200 games, more than a year, without loosing -- or even giving up a run. Or think of the BYU Cougar football team going 10 years winning every game -- and not even giving up a touchdown.

After winning three Olympic gold medals, nine world championships and 12 European championships, Karelin was hugely popular in Russia, and had even been elected to the Russian Duma, something like the US Congress. He has spawned folklore in Russia, such as the story that when he was unable to get help carrying a refrigerator into his apartment -- up seven flights of stairs.

Karelin had not only Russian popularity, but the expectations of the wrestling world behind him. International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch was there at the match with his good friend, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Samaranch planned to put the gold medal around Karelin's neck, the only time he would do so during the Sydney Olympics, in recognition of what was expected to be Karelin's fourth gold medal. A Krelin win would have been the first time a wrestler had won four gold medals in the same event.

"I think I can. I think I can."

Like the little engine that could, Gardner simply perservered to the end, outlasting Karelin and winning by wearing him out. Gardner fought tenaciously to keep Karelin from making any of his trademark moves, some of which are known to be painful to those unwary or ill-trained. But in spite of Karelin winning the advantage in the relatively-new "clinch" round, Gardner managed to keep Karelin from scoring, leading Karelin to make a mistake -- he let go for a second, losing a point to Gardner.

Up by one point, Gardner wrestled conservatively, literally wearing out Karelin, who had wrestled two matches earlier in the day compared to Gardner's one. With four seconds left in the 9 minute match, Karelin conceded.

Now Gardner has the media's attention. A farm boy from Afton, Wyoming, in the middle of the Mormon-dominated Star Valley, Gardner is the youngest of nine children in his Mormon family. Reportedly 15 lbs at birth, he weighed 120 lbs by fourth grade, earning the malicious nickname "fatso" from his classmates. Gardner says that nickname became motivation for him instead of resentment.

Gardner had the advantage that his family was heavily into wrestling. His four brothers all wrestled, and Gardner followed in their footsteps. But because of those older brothers, he was prevented from winning himself until his last year in high school, when his older brother had graduated. His sisters also helped form his wrestling career, serving as trainers to Rulon. One sister, Diane, claims some credit, saying, "I used to put him in a cradle hold and wouldn't let him go until he cried; and he'd admit that to you."

He also had the advantage of his dairy farming background, where hard work was the rule. With winters that could reach 70 degrees below (-55 degrees Celsius), Rulon at times had to carry 100 lb newborn calves from the fields into the barn because if they didn't get them inside within 20 minutes of birth, they would die.

After beating Karelin, Gardner was ecstatic, turning a cartwheel and then a somersault before the crowd, which included 16 members of his family. His father was surprised at the cartwheel. "Never seen him do a cartwheel before. Nope, never seen that," said Reed Gardner. Rulon's brother Reynold jumped past the ushers and grabbed his brother in what was not a bear hug but a wrestling clinch. "I can't believe I actually won," he told reporters in a news conference afterwards. "Being from Wyoming, from a small town in the middle of nowhere, and winning, it's incredible." Its the kind of reaction anyone would have. But the winning actually came earlier, when Gardner was saying to himself, "I think I can. I think I can."


Mat miracle makes Karelin mortal
MSNBC 27Sep00 S2
By Mike Celizic
Long wrestling's Superman, Russian must deal with defeat

Gardner earns place in Olympic lore
MSNBC 27Sep00 S2
Associated Press

Wyoming 'kid' mauls the Siberian Bear
Deseret News 27Sep00 S2
By Lee Benson: Deseret News columnist

Strength gives Gardner the gold
Deseret News 27Sep00 S2
By Lee Benson: Deseret News columnist
New rule also aids Wyoming wrestler's upset victory

Unknown Gardner upsets mighty Russian Karelin
Chicago IL Sun-Times 28Sep00 S2
By Rick Telander: Sun-Times Columnist

Unbeatable Alex loses to farm boy
London UK Evening Standard This is London (Daily Mail) 28Sep00 S2
By Alan Fraser, Daily Mail

Miracle on the mat
Topeka KS Capital Journal (AP) 28Sep00 S2
Associated Press
American wrestler shocks Russian in Placid-like upset.

American wrestler upsets undefeated Russian
Philadephia PA Inquirer 27Sep00 S2
By Mike Jensen: Inquirer Staff Writer

A Miracle on the Mat: Karelin Loses
International Herald Tribune (AP) 28Sep00 S2

Gardner stuns Karelin for gold
The Hindu 28Sep00 S2

RULON RULES: Wyoming farm boy scores historic upset in wrestling
Salt Lake Tribune 28Sep00 S2

Gardner's gold a real grabber
Chicago IL Daily Southtown (AP) 28Sep00 S2
By Alan Robinson: The Associated Press


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