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Posted 29 Sep 2001   For week ended September 28, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 27Sep01

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 them to."

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 Karelin.

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 armed forces.

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 level."

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 waist.)

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


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