"The Miracle on the Mat"

Growing up on a dairy farm in Afton, Wyoming, Rulon Gardner was accustomed at an early age to hard physical work with long hours. The youngest of nine children, he stayed in shape on the farm hauling hay, milking cows, and doing other such chores. His wrestling career began with the winning of the1989 Wyoming State High School Championship in Heavyweight Wrestling. Numerous championship wins followed, culminating in the year 2000, when Gardner qualified as a U.S. Olympic Team contestant in the Greco-Roman Wrestling event and ultimately won the Gold.

A three-time national champion (1995, 1997, 2000), Gardner has competed in a major international competition only once before. He was defeated at the 1997 World Championships by Aleksandr Karelin, known as the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler in Olympic history. In that contest Aleksandr was successful in using his famous trademark reverse body lift to defeat Gardner 5-0. Karelin had never lost a match in international competition, winning nine World Championships and the Gold in the last three Olympics.

All things must pass, as has Karelin's rule on the mats. Although favored to win his fourth Olympic gold medal, Karelin had to admit defeat and handed over the title in his class in Greco-Roman  wrestling to 29-year-old Rulon Gardner.

Gardner, at 6' 2" and 285 pounds, credits his success at the 2000 Olympics to hard work, keeping in shape, determination, and his faith in God. Before facing Karelin in the Greco-Roman 130 kg/286 lbs. gold medal match, he says he felt "a certain calm." He knew what he had to do to win: "Stay in good position, and work hard and get him tired! And if I could get him tired, I could have an opportunity to defeat him."* The match went into overtime, with Gardner in the lead at 1-0. Rulon was able to hold his ground to the end, snatching the Gold and the championship from Karelin's grasp for the first time in 13 years.

Sixteen family members were able to attend this historic event thanks to help from fund-raisers in Afton and the Star Valley community. The family, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was also helped with housing by the church while in Sydney. Gardner partly attributes his success in the Olympics to the support he received by having his family present at the games and is appreciative to all who helped them be able to make the trip. Back home, a parade and celebration to honor Rulon was held on Thursday, Oct. 12, in Afton, and the Royal Ridge Restaurant in Alpine hosted a dinner for the Gardner family the same evening (see pictures below). The Valley celebration came in the midst of a frenzied "media blitz" during which Rulon has appeared for interviews on various programs, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Letterman Show, Conan O'Brien, Rosie O'Donnell, and CNN, with more to come.

Although Rulon and his wife Stacy currently live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Rulon will always be Afton and Star Valley's very own "hometown hero." Congratulations, Rulon! We'll be looking forward to cheering you on in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games!

*From Lycos Live Event Chat with Rulon Gardner

Afton prepares for Rulon's arrival

Banner provided by Salt Lake Olympic Committee and NuSkin

Releasing balloons as Rulon comes into town

Making his way through the crowd.

Displaying his Olympic Gold Medal.

Rulon, being carried back to the stage.

Speaking to the crowd in Afton.

With an admiring fan at banquet in Alpine.

The local youth have a new hero to look up to

Congratulations, Rulon, Star Valley's "Hometown Hero"

 Rulon Gardner is a great example and inspiration for the youth in the valley and everywhere. For pictures of Gardner in action and for more information about Rulon, his career and achievements, visit his website: www.rulongardner.com.


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