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Rulon Gardner wins ESPY award for Male U.S. Olympic Athlete of the Year



Olympic gold-medalist Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner (Afton, Wyo./Sunkist Kids) became the first wrestler to win an ESPY award., as he was honored at the annual ESPY sports award show, Feb. 12, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev. Gardner was awarded the ESPY for the Male U.S. Olympic Athlete of the Year. The other finalists for this award were Olympic gold medalists Maurice Greene (track and field), Michael Johnson (track and field) and Lenny Krayzelburg (swimming). "This is a proud moment in my life, and for all Olympic athletes," said Gardner. "I'd like to thank my coaches back in Wyoming and everyone back home. It has been wonderful since the Olympics. America is the best country in the world. I love everybody." The show was televised nationally on ESPN. The awards honor excellence in sports performance yearly. The winners were chosen by the ESPY Awards Academy, which includes Hall of Fame athletes representing each of the sports as well as voting members of the media. This year's awards, the ninth annual, were hosted by Samuel L. Jackson and featured 34 categories including the performer of the year in 20 professional and college sports categories. Gardner was nominated for two other ESPY awards, which were awarded to other star athletes. The ESPY for Breakthrough Athlete of the Year went to Daunte Culpepper, the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Gardner was one of the nominees for the award, along with Univ. of Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel, who led his team to the NCAA football title, and men's professional tennis star Marat Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open champion. The ESPY for Most Memorable Moment of the Year was awarded to Australian track and field star Cathy Freeman, who lit the Olympic torch and won the gold medal in the 400 meters. Joining Gardner as other nominees for the award were Keith Primeau of the Philadelphia Flyers, who scored a playoff goal in 5th overtime, and Tiger Woods, for his putt on 18th at PGA Championship to send tournament into sudden death. Gardner has received a number of major honors since his shocking victory over previously unbeaten Alexander Kareline in the super heavyweight gold medal match in Sydney on September 27. He was chosen by his peers to carry the U.S. flag in the Closing Ceremony at the Olympic Games. Gardner was elected as the 2000 USOC SportsMan of the Year, only the second wrestler so honored. He placed sixth in the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year balloting, and was selected to The Sporting News' 100 Most Powerful list in sports. He was also selected for one of USA Today's 2000 Sports Awards, winning the "Best Original Score" award.
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