By Paul Carter
Rulon Gardner: One Year after the Gold
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO -- There are a few nicks now in the
Olympic gold medal and it shows other slight signs of wear from being
touched, handled, and even accidentally dropped as hundreds of fans
have sought to have some personal contact with the symbol of victory,
and its owner Rulon Gardner.
The 12 months since the games in September 2000, and his upset win in
Sydney has been a rush of awards, endorsement requests, television
commercials, public appearances, and a much-changed financial
situation for the youngest of nine children of a dairy farmer.
Rulon is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
from Afton, Wyoming. At the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado
Springs, he continues his wrestling training, as best he can, between
filmings and travels for promotions and motivational presentations to
corporations. He is hoping for a spot on the team in 2004 at the
Olympics in Athens Greece.
He tried to spend as much time in August training for the 2001 World
Wrestling Championships which had been scheduled for September 26 to
29th this week at Madison Square Garden. When the tournament was
postponed indefinitely last week due to the attack in New York, Rulon
supported the decision fully. His comments, reported in the press at
the time of the decision were: "How can we even think about going
there when they're still pulling the building apart, looking to
rescue or find people? We're talking about an act of war against our
country. This is the time we need to defend our country. I'm willing
to die for my country right now."
One of his first activities after the Olympics was to fly to the
Persian Gulf to meet and encourage American service personnel
stationed there. "They are the heroes, but that's what they said to
me," he recalls from his trip.
He has received several prestigious awards: The Jesse Owens
Sportsmanship award, The James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur
athlete in the US, and he was named last fall as one of the top 100
most powerful people in sports by The Sporting News.
Rulon Gardner has an agent now, Michael Suttle, who represents just
one other athlete, Mary Lou Retton. When the Olympics ended, Rulon
had almost $60,000 in credit card debt. Yet, when he was offered $1
million immediately after his Olympic victory to joing the World
Wrestling Federation, he turned it down.
"Since 1993, when I decided I wanted to try to get to the Olympics,
my (credit card debt) started getting a little bigger and bigger each
year. I bought a $5,000 Nikon camera before Sydney and thought, 'I
hope I win, because I don't have the money to pay for this.'"
Now he and the people at Nikon know each other on a first name basis.
According to his agent, Suttle, so far Gardner has earned "well into
six figures. I suspect it will pass that and go into seven figures
by the end of the year, if the speaking engagements come as we expect
He has done commercials for Sony, Merck Pharmaceuticals, and Dr.
Scholls footpads. For Dr. Scholls, he re-enacted the cartwheel he
spontaneously performed after winning the gold against Alexander
In the commercial for Sony, to be released later this year, watch for
Rulon to be flipped to the wrestling mat by a tiny Martian. The tag
line for the ad: "Sony: We have all the power you need."
Rulon filmed a commercial for Touchdown herbicide and crop nutrient
that was run in farmbelt states. The athlete has done the "Got
Milk?" ads with the obligatory milk mustache. He was on "Who Wants
to be a Millionaire?" with other Olympic athletes where he won
$125,000 and gave host Regis Philbin a huge bear hug. Half of his
winnings went to charity.
Rulon posed for a photo for Vanity Fair magazine, hoisting Katie
Couric on his shoulders. This Spring, he threw out the first pitch
of the season for the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. He has met
President Bush, Muhammad Ali, and Steve Young.
In July, he was filmed as part of a public service spot for the US
In August, Rulon signed a contract to do corporate appearances for
Harley Davidson. As part of his compensation, he was given a 2002
special edition Sydney Olympics Harley, one of only 5 made.
With all of the endorsements wrestler Garner has agreed to, "Our list
of respectful declines is a lot longer than the list of 'Let's do
this,'" says Michael Suttle. "I think he's been positioned very
well. He's raised the bar; no one in wrestling has ever been at this
Rulon describes the year for himself and his wife as, "mind-boggling,
life-altering, everything." Yet he can still go grocery shopping and
not get recognized by those in the store. He figures its because
people with the build of wrestlers just aren't expected to be
celebrities. "They just think I'm some other big fat guy, I kind of
look freaky." (He has muscular 58-inch chest that trims to a 36-inch
He gives an average of three motivational speeches to corporations
per month, with an honorarium of $15,000 each. His message:
"Anything is possible. No matter who you are, you can achieve your
dreams if you have the belief and the desire."
A year and Some Change
Denver CO Rocky Mountain News 22Sep01 S2
by Paula Parrish, Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
Winning Olympic gold has given Gardner wealth of opportunities
Gardner Seconds Decision to Shelve Wrestling Championship
Denver CO Rocky Mountain News 18Sep01 S2
by Paula Parrish, Rocky Mountain News