The Miracle on the Mat — Rulon Gardner wins Olympic gold in Greco-Roman wrestling (2000)

Rulon Gardner’s opponent in the gold medal round of the 2000 Greco-Roman wrestling competition was Russian Alexander Karelin, who was previously undefeated in 13 years of international competition. In the previous 6 years of his unbeaten streak, he hadn’t so much as given up one point. The winner of 3 gold medals, Karelin was noted for his reverse body lift in which he slammed his opponent on his head after lifting him off the ground. Opponents feared injury when they faced the big man from Siberia, Russia.

The Miracle on the Mat — Rulon Gardner wins Olympic gold

At birth, Karelin weighed in at 15 pounds, and throughout his life had been bigger and stronger than his peers. The last time Gardner had faced Karelin, Gardner came out on the losing end — 0 – 5. In Greco-Roman wrestling, that’s the equivalent of a blowout. Karelin’s nickname was “The Experiment,” which was bestowed on him by opponents who felt his super-human strength must have been the result of some scientific experiment. When asked to comment on his nickname, Karelin noted that his opponents didn’t understand the source of his strength, “I train every day of my life as they have never trained a day in theirs.”

Born in Afton, Wyoming, Gardner’s strength was frequently attributed to chores down while growing up on a dairy farm. A 3 sport athlete in high school, Garner earned All-American honors wrestling at the University of Nebraska. The 2000 team was the first U.S. Olympic Team that Gardner had qualified for at age 29.

Many observers thought the Gardner-Karelin match was akin to Rocky Balboa taking on Russian Ivan Drago. Gardner, trusting his training and with a relentless spirit, was able to overcome the heavily=favored Karelin to bring home the gold medal to the United States.

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