Gardner advances with three victories

Sydney gold medalist overcomes early struggle, can shoot for gold tonight


Athens 2004

August 25, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Rulon Gardner is keeping secrets.

America's most famous wrestler opened his defense of his 2000 Olympic gold medal in the Greco-Roman competition with three wins yesterday.

After a scare in the morning session, when he barely defeated his second opponent in the super heavyweight division (268 1/2 pounds, or 122 kilograms), Gardner gathered himself in the evening to advance.

The Wyoming native insisted he was just being patient and not trying to blow away the early competition.

"I held some things back," he said. "I haven't shown everything I have yet, because I want to make sure that I'm doing the right thing. If you show everybody what you have, they go home at night and talk about it. ... These people are so smart in learning your weakness that one mistake and the match is over."

Gardner, 33, has a chance to become the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win two gold medals. If he can beat Georgiy Tsurtsumia of Kazakhstan today, he will compete for the gold tonight, most likely against Russia's Khasan Baroev, the world champion.

After that, he said, he'll retire.

Gardner opened with a 3-0 victory over Lithuania's Mindaugas Mizgaitis, but then needed two tiebreakers to beat Serguey Moreyko of Bulgaria, the 1996 Olympic bronze medalist. He advanced to the next round with a 3-0 decision over Marek Mikulski of Poland.

"Every match, I felt like I was under control," Gardner said.

In the stands watching his performance was Alexander Karelin of Russia, who lost to Gardner in Sydney in what is considered the greatest upset in the sport.

"These guys are better than the guys in Sydney," Gardner said of this year's competition. "You walk into the prep area and you see the Russians, the Hungarians, all these studs, and you know that if you don't go out there prepared to wrestle, you're going to lose."

In Greco-Roman wrestling - as opposed to freestyle - competitors are prohibited from using their legs for holds and no holds are permitted below the waist.

The road after Sydney was rough for Gardner. He almost died after a snowmobile accident in the deep backcountry of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming left him stranded overnight in subfreezing temperatures. He needed four operations, one of which amputated his right middle toe.

Shortly before the U.S. championships in April, he wrecked his Harley-Davidson. Then, he dislocated his right wrist playing pickup basketball.

"Look at my hand: I still have the tape on it from the dislocation," he said. "I truly know I'm blessed and the Lord wants me to be here today to be able to wrestle at this level."

The other three American Greco-Roman wrestlers were eliminated. Two-time Olympian Dennis Hall beat the Czech Republic's Petr Svehla, 3-2, at 121 pounds (55 kilos), but was defeated, 3-0, by the eventual pool winner Oleksiy Vakulenko of Ukraine.

At 187 pounds (84 kilos), Brad Vering was beaten, 4-0, by Mohamed Mohamed of Egypt, who won both his matches.

In the 145 1/2 -pound (66 kilos) class, Oscar Wood lost, 5-2, to Germany's Jannis Zamanduridis; 9-3, to Greece's Konstantinos Arkoudeas; and, 11-1, to Kazakhstan's Mkkhitar Manukyan.

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