Gardner settles for bronze

Upset loss in semifinal ends bid for 2nd gold

bronze match his last

Greco-roman Wrestling

Athens 2004

August 26, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - The bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Rulon Gardner's bid for a second consecutive gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling's super heavyweight division fell to the mat with a resounding thud yesterday along with the big man himself. He settled for the bronze medal.

The coup de grace was administered by a wrestler 10 years his junior at 27 seconds into overtime in the semifinal round.

"One throw and that's the whole match," said Gardner, a Wyoming native. "One mistake."

Both wrestlers appeared stunned at the 4-1 outcome in the 120-kilogram (264 1/2 pounds) class.

From his position on the edge of the mat, Kazakhstan's Georgiy Tsurtsumia stared at the scoreboard for several seconds as his accomplishment registered. He leaped in the air and into the arms of his jubilant coach.

Gardner, 33, who had tumbled to the floor with Tsurtsumia and landed on top of him, looked around in shock before finally leaving the mat for the next-to-last time.

"I wasn't even tired. I'm not even tired now," Gardner said. "I was trying to score a point to win the match, and he countered me and beat me. Ninety-nine times out of 100, I'd have scored. That's the way the sport is."

Last night, Gardner beat Sajad Barzi of Iran, 3-0, for the bronze. Afterward, Gardner removed his shoes and left them in the center of the ring, the traditional sign of retirement. He wept and walked around the arena, holding an American flag and blowing kisses to the appreciative crowd.

Russia's Khasan Baroev won the gold by beating Tsurtsumia.

Gardner is the second U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win two Olympic medals, joining Dennis Koslowski, who won the bronze in 1988 and silver in 1992. In Greco-Roman wrestling, no holds are permitted below the waist.

The semifinal match started well. Although Tsurtsumia broke Gardner's clinch to score first, Gardner appeared to be fresher and have the upper hand as the second three-minute period wound down. The American tied the score near the end of the period when he forced Tsurtsumia out of bounds while in control.

In overtime, Gardner locked up first. Tsurtsumia gained position and hit a hip toss. Both wrestlers fell to the mat, but Tsurtsumia was awarded the points and the win.

"In the clinch, it's making moves up as you go. There's no set move. You just go out and feel what the guys does and go for it," Gardner said.

In 2000, it was Gardner who stunned the field, beating Russia's Alexander Karelin, the most dominant athlete in the history of Greco-Roman wrestling, for the gold.

Karelin sat high in the stands yesterday and showed no emotion when Gardner lost. He waved away all requests for interviews.

Gardner had beaten Tsurtsumia in their two matches last year. But this year at the world championships, Tsurtsumia finished third to Gardner's 10th place.

In the end, Gardner said he could not capitalize on his opponent's exhaustion and minor mistakes.

"No regrets," he said. "I gave it 100 percent, and he got me."

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