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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended October 13, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 13Oct00

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
Hometown hero


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