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|Gardner becomes first wrestler inducted into Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
Photos from COS Sports Hall of Fame dinner
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO - Olympic and World champion Greco-Roman legend Rulon Gardner became the first wrestler to be inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame during a dinner and induction ceremonies at the World Arena Wednesday night.
Gardner lived in Colorado Springs and trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Center during the key years of his historic career, including the seasons when he won the 2000 Olympic gold medal, 2001 World gold medal and 2004 Olympic bronze medal.
As he introduced a videotape showing highlights of Gardner's career, Mike Moran of the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation called Gardner's Olympic victory ("the Miracle on the Mat") as one of the two greatest Olympic moments in history, alongside the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey gold medal. He also called Gardner the greatest U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler in history. The video featured Gardner's Olympic medal matches, some of his major national television interviews, and commentary from National Greco-Roman Coach Steve Fraser.
Gardner was presented with his award by Jim Scherr, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Scherr, also an Olympic wrestler, served as USA Wrestling's Executive Director when Gardner won his Olympic title, and held the top position at the USOC when Gardner won his Olympic bronze medal. Both were also college wrestlers at the Univ. of Nebraska.
"As a member of the wrestling family, a fellow Cornhusker, and in my position with the USOC, it has been a pleasure to know Rulon," said Scherr.
Scherr talked about how the mission of the U.S. Olympic Committee was to assist athletes in their quest for their Olympic dreams, and how very rare it is for an athlete to achieve that goal.
"Rulon Gardner was one of those athletes that achieved his dream, and he captured the imagination of the country and the world," said Scherr.
Scherr talked about the 2000 Olympic Games, when Gardner faced three-time Olympic champion and previously unbeaten superstar Alexander Kareline of Russia in the gold medal match. Scherr said that Kareline "frightened his opponents" and noted that Kareline was "an incredible athlete, the best the Soviet system had to offer."
"He had worked for seven years to represent his country at the Olympics," said Scherr. "He had the opportunity to wrestle Kareline. Rulon won that challenge. Rulon outlasted the Soviet legend. But it was more than that. Anybody who was there knows he physically and emotionally defeated his opponent."
Gardner accepted the award from Scherr, and talked about how he always just "wanted to do my best and reach my potential."
Gardner gave special praise to Steve Fraser, the USA Wrestling National Greco-Roman Coach, who helped guide his career during his years living in Colorado Springs.
"Fraser was a 1984 Olympic champion. He is a person who took me in. A good coach can cause you to achieve things that you doubt. A good coach can teach you to climb mountains," said Gardner.
He told about in 1999, when he was ranked No. 3 in the United States, how he asked Fraser what he needed to do in order to make the Olympic team.
"Fraser said, 'I promise you, if you continue to work as hard as you do, you will make the Olympic Team.' He said 'if you continue to believe you can not only make it to the Olympics but you can win a medal'. After I made the Olympic team, Steve Fraser said, 'take care of business; don't let all the hard work go away,'" said Gardner.
Gardner thanked the Colorado Springs community for all of its support during his competitive career.
"After the gold medal, I said I wanted to come back and keep competing," said Gardner. "It was to see what I could become if I came back and committed to it. I went on to win the 2001 World Championships and the Olympic bronze medal in 2004. I had all the support and resources to do that right here in Colorado Springs."
"It takes coaches and training partners and a community behind you, a team effort. All of that teamwork is here in Colorado Springs, not just at USA Wrestling but also at the U.S. Olympic Committee and everywhere in the city," Gardner continued.
Gardner spoke on behalf of all the Olympic hopefuls who lived in Colorado Springs.
"We thank you for making this our home and for helping us to be the best in the world and the Olympics. We thank you for letting us live the Olympic dream," he said.
Members of Greco-Roman Team USA were there to celebrate the achievement with Gardner, including Coach Fraser, as well as 2006 World Champion Joe Warren, 2006 World bronze medalist Lindsey Durlacher and 2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz. A number of USA Wrestling staff members, including Executive Director Rich Bender, were at the dinner to support Gardner.
Colorado Springs is the home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the U.S. Olympic Committee and a number of National Governing Bodies, including USA Wrestling. In the seven years of inductions in the Colorado Springs Hall of Fame, a number of Olympic athletes who lived and trained in the city have been honored.
Colorado Springs Hall of Fame biography
Olympic Champion and American Hero Rulon Gardner
The Afton, Wyoming, native trained in Colorado Springs for two Olympiads, and earned a stunning gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney when he shocked previously unbeaten Alexsandr Karelin of Russia to win the Greco-Roman Wrestling 130 kg crown. He won a bronze medal in Athens in 2004 before retiring as one of American wrestling's most-revered heroes. His career included the 2001 Jesse Owens Award, the 2001 Olympic Spirit Award and the Sullivan Award. He won gold medals at the 2001 World Championships and three U.S. National Championships. He carried the American flag for the USA delegation at the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
His wrestling career began when he was 6 years old at a local camp. Hard work was no problem for Gardner, since he was the youngest of 9 children and was raised on a dairy farm, where he learned to grow crops, milk cows twice a day, feeding, chopping grain and other chores.
After attending Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, on a wrestling scholarship out of high school, he won a scholarship to wrestle at the University of Nebraska, where he performed for the Huskers and earned a degree in physical education in 1996. He also found that he loved Greco-Roman wrestling, and he began his path to Olympic Gold.
When he symbolically placed his shoes on the mat in Athens after winning his bronze medal in 2004, he ended one of the most brilliant wrestling careers in American history.
He has become a superb motivational speaker and role model for kids, particularly those who want to enjoy wrestling. Since he stepped on the mat in Sydney on the way to his Olympic gold medal against the odds, he has never ceased to give back all he can to his sport and the Olympic Movement.