Distinguished Member Rulon GardnerRulon Gardner, Logan, Utah
Rulon Gardner cartwheeled into the hearts of all Americans when he upset the seemingly invincible Russian Alexander Karelin at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Gardner, the youngest of nine children, grew up on a dairy farm in Afton, Wyo. Years of hard farm work and tussling with his older brothers helped him earn high school All-State honors as a defensive tackle in football and a state championship in wrestling. He attended Ricks College, winning the national junior college title in 1991 after finishing third the year before. Wrestling for the University of Nebraska, he finished third in the 1993 NCAA Championships.
But it was after college that Gardner really came into his own. He won four National Open Greco-Roman Championships at heavyweight, finished second four times and third twice. He won three U.S. World Team Trials and the Olympic Trials in both 2000 and 2004. He was fifth in the World Championships in 1997.
He was quietly confident going into the 2000 Games in spite of the fact that legendary heavyweight Karelin, undefeated in 13 years and already the owner of three Olympic gold medals, stood in his way. Great defense kept Gardner in the match and in the second period, when they started in the clinch, Karelin briefly lost his grip to give up his first point in six years and the Olympic gold medal.
Gardner returned to the top of the podium the next year, becoming the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler in history to win both a World and Olympic gold medal. Two years later, after losing a toe in a snowmobiling accident, he won the 2003 World Team Trials and finished 10th in World competition.
His amazing recovery was completed in 2004 when he returned to the podium, winning a bronze medal to become only the second U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win two Olympic medals.
Gardner was honored with the 2000 James E. Sullivan Award, the 2000 ESPY for Male Olympic Athlete and the 2000 U.S. Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year.
An outstanding ambassador for the sport of wrestling in the United States, Rulon Gardner is honored as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.