Summarized by Kent Larsen
Gardner Returns to Hero's Welcome in Afton
AFTON, WYOMING -- Olympic Gold Medalist Rulon Gardner returned to his home
town yesterday to a hero's welcome and a parade. Gardner drove a tractor
from his family's farm down main street, then walked through a crowd of
children and eventually was carried by his former coaches and teammates
along the rest of the parade route. Nearly 5,000 people from Idaho, Utah,
and Wyoming, three times the town's population, lined the parade route to
welcome Gardner home.
The town's population hardly noticed the chilly temperatures and snow
flurries, and lined the parade route, sprouting signs that read "Gold down
udder!," "Way to go farm boy!," and "Rulon put Karelin out to pasture."
School children released red, white and blue helium balloons into the sky.
After the parade, Gardner Spoke to his family, friends and neighbors, his
eyes welling-up with tears. He credited the town for his success, "This
medal is not mine, this is all of ours together," he said. "When I want to
find happiness and a place where I know everybody loves me, I come back home."
Family friend Danny Schwab added his own tearful comments to the show,
"Don't underestimate the ability of a kid from Star Valley, Wyo. America's
starving for this guy. I know him. He's real. He's genuine." This was
Gardner's first visit back to Afton following his victory in Sydney.
The town had been planning the parade for two weeks, ever since Gardner beat
the unbeatable Russian champion Alexander Karelin for the super heavyweight
greco-roman wrestling gold medal. "It's just the biggest party ever in Star
Valley," said Afton Mayor Jerry Hansen. After the parade, the town held a
barbecue. The town even repaired the neon "Afton, Wyo.," sign on main street
that hadn't worked in decades just for the occasion.
Later, Gardner spoke at a news conference, telling reporters that he's proud
that people know that he is Mormon and doesn't mind being labeled a role
model. "Everybody says this is the best thing that ever happened to Star
Valley," he said. "This is the best thing that ever happened to me."
After the celebration, Gardner and his wife Stacy left Afton to get back to
his "15 minutes of fame," including constant television appearances. He has
hired the same publicity manager that handled Mary Lou Retton and has signed
a deal to appear in a "God Milk?" ad. He will appear on an Olympic-themed
episode of Who wants to be a Millionaire?
When everything finally settles down, Gardner says he will return to
Colorado Springs and pick up his training again and work with kids. He has
his eye set on the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Friends, fans from 3 states welcome hero
Denver CO Rocky Mountain News 13Oct00 S2
By Lynn Bartels: Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer