USA Wrestling Rulon Gardner is the...

Rulon Gardner is the big hit of the Titan Games press conference showing his damaged toes and telli

By Gary Abbott | Feb. 13, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)

Press Conference Photos The Titan Games must be a big event. Rulon Gardner was part of the kickoff press conference. Of all the athletes at this spectacular mixed-sports event, nobody stands bigger than wrestling's Big Ru. That includes weightlifting's Cheryl Haworth, the big female athlete who has set U.S. records and received so much ink in Sydney. That also includes Steven Lopez, the U.S. tae kwon do athlete that kicked his way to fame at the Olympics. Rulon is even a bigger draw at this press function than pro boxing star Evander Holyfield, who may have won four World professional heavyweight titles, but has never survived a night in the cold in the Wyoming mountains. Nor has Holyfield ever beaten the unbeatable Kareline. I mean, seriously, how can you upstage a smiling 270-pound man who takes off his shoes and shows you where they cut off a toe and how many times they grafted pigskin on the other ones? The press conference featured comments from Dean Munro of the San Jose Sports Authority, as well as from Jim Scherr, the former wrestling star and executive who is now Chief of Sports Performance for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Both said interesting things about the Titan Games. Each of the four athletes made a comment to the press, and all four answered questions. Holyfield, Haworth and Lopez all said interesting things about the event and their sports. Holyfield again announced that he was not retired, and would be fighting again in July. But it was Rulon who got the most questions, and when all of the one-on-one follow-ups were done, it was Rulon who was still being interviewed when the others were finished. Here are a few of the Rulon Gardner stories and statements that were shared during the press conference, and the followup period of interviews: (on the Titan Games) "They showed so much class with this event. I appreciat e the honor of having wrestling here to be part of the Titan Games. I look forward to my chance to be in the Titan Games, and to have two good matches. It will be a great opportunity for us to represent our sports." (about being in this event after all the USOC controversy) "As an athlete, this is our opportunity to put our best foot forward to represent the USOC. When you walk in here, you understand what the Olympic movement is all about. There is such class that is captured here. I look forward to being a part of it." (about competing 1 year after his frostbite injury) "I rebuilt my career from scratch, from ground zero. I will be an inspiring night for me. I will be able to finish the process of recovery. From here on, everything I have will be focused on getting back to the Olympic Games in Athens." (on competing on his mended feet) "The missing toe is an issue. It is a question of strength and positioning. But, I don't see why in the next few months I can't get back to being 100%." (about the other sports contested at the Titan Games) "I look at tae kwon do and judo, and they have a certain aspect of wrestling in them. I would love to train with these guys and learn more about self control and positioning. I did a little boxing in high school, but not like Evander (Holyfield) does." (on his limitations in wrestling without his damaged toes) "I am limited in my drive, my push off. I still can't do everything I want to do in practice. Now is not a key moment in training but it's getting better every day. If I get them hurt now, I am in trouble. However, I go through practices sometimes when I don't even remember that they were hurt." (about having to lose weight to drop to 265 pounds, the new weight class) "It is a good thing. I have to be quicker and leaner. It is better for us and our health." (more about weight) "I made weight today. Now I can enjoy it. I'm trying to get my normal bodyweight to about 270 pounds. I still have about 10 pounds to go. But I'm coming down from 300 pounds, where I was at the beginning of my training." (More Titan Games thoughts) "This is what the whole Olympic movement is about - competition. This is for the fans. When they leave here, they will have a better understanding of all these sports. Who knows what kind of impact you will have on a 10-year old kid out there?" (on lessons learned from his accident) "Have faith. As an individual, I would never want to be in that situation again. But if I ever get put into that kind of situation again, I know I can overcome it." (on whether he enjoys training more now that he has recovered) "I don't know if I enjoy the training aspect more now, but I enjoy walking out on the mat. For so many months last spring, I didn't know if I would ever wrestle or walk again." (on how he has changed since the accident) "My sister says that I'm a little more aggressive, a little more forward. In life you can be passive and let things go by." Prior to the press conference at the Events Center, the techno-geeks were practicing for the show to come. Music, spotlights, flashing strobes, video displays were getting tested, all the bells and whistle of a great production. Privately, Rulon talked about competing in that atmosphere. "This will be awesome," said Gardner. "If I lose, can I wrestle one of those boxers? I may not want to grab a karate guy. It could be painful." Rulon Gardner is still fun to be around. And just like in the past, he remains a big hit with the media. Rulon is still out there making wrestling more popular.