2000 Olympic Champion Rulon Gardner (Afton, Wyo./Sunkist Kids) and 2000 World Champion Kristie Marano(Albany, N.Y./ATWA) were named Wrestlers of the Year, and the 2000 U.S. Men's University Freestyle World Team was named Wrestling Team of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee.
Gardner received the USOC Male Wrestler of the Year award. Gardner was the 1997 USOC Greco-Roman Wrestler of the Year. Marano was named USOC Female Wrestler of the Year, the first time she was so honored.
Athletes and teams are nominated by the national governing bodies and disabled sports organizations. A total of 49 females and 49 males are being honored for their accomplishments in the year 2000, while 31 teams are being distinguished for their feats this year. In total, 409 individual athletes and team members are being recognized for their achievements. These Athletes of the Year and Teams of the Year will be reviewed by a selection committee and may become eligible for the 2000 USOC SportsMan, SportsWoman and Team of the Year award, which will be announced in mid December.
Two-time Olympic Champion John Smith is the only wrestler to win the USOC SportsMan of the Year when he was honored in 1990. No woman wrestler has ever won the USOC SportsWoman of the Year, nor has a wrestling team received the USOC Team of the Year.
Gardner won an Olympic gold medal at 130 kg/286 lbs., the top U.S. wrestling performance in 2000. In a miraculous performance, he defeated previously unbeaten Alexandre Kareline of Russia in the gold-medal finals, 1-0 in overtime in the gold-medal match. Karelin had won three Olympic golds and nine World golds, never losing an international wrestling match since his career began in 1985.
Gardner won five matches on the way to the title - and was competing in his first Olympic Games. In addition to Kareline, he defeated Omrane Ayari of Tunisia, Haykaz Galstyan of Armenia and Giuseppe Giunta of Italy in his pool, then stopped Juri Yevseychyc of Israel in the semifinals. Gardner led the U.S. Greco-Roman team to a strong third place finish in the medal count and unofficial standings, its best performance in history. He was selected by his peers to carry the U.S. flag in the Closing Ceremonies at the Olympic Games in Sydney.
Gardner was the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials champion, defeating 1996 Olympic silver medalist Matt Ghaffari in the finals. He was also the 2000 U.S. Nationals champion, his third career U.S. Nationals title, defeating Ghaffari in the finals.
Internationally, he was the 2000 Pan American Championships champion, defeating 1992 Olympic champion Hector Millian of Cuba in the finals. He also won gold medals at the 2000 Dave Schultz Memorial International in the United States, and the 2000 Granma Cup in Cuba. Gardner placed second in 2000 Poddoubny Tournament in Russia, considered the best open international meet in the world. He compiled a 24-2 Greco-Roman record during the 2000 year.
Gardner is a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete. He was an NCAA All-American at the Univ. of Nebraska and an NJCAA national champion at Ricks College. He was a state champion for Star Valley High School (Wyo.). The 2000 U.S. Men's University Freestyle World Team, with a strong effort by all seven members, won the team title at the University World Championships, edging world power Turkey by one point 60 to 59. Rounding out the top five were world powers Russia, Iran and Japan. The U.S. team won the title, in spite of not fielding a competitor at 130 kg. The U.S. team had four individual champions, two fourth place finishers and a fifth-place finisher. It was the only U.S. wrestling team to win the world title in its discipline during the 2000 season.
The 2000 U.S. Men's World University Freestyle Team included:
* Teague Moore (Pittsburgh, Pa./Sunkist Kids), champion at 119 pounds
* Stephen Abas (Fresno, Calif./Sunkist Kids), fourth at 127.75 pounds
* Eric Larkin (Tempe, Ariz./Sunkist Kids), fourth at 138.75 pounds
* Casey Cunningham (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids), fifth at 152 pounds
* Byron Tucker (Norman, Okla./Sunkist Kids), champion at 167.5 pounds
* Cael Sanderson (Ames, Iowa/Sunkist Kids), champion at 187.25 pounds
* Chad Lamer (Iowa City, Iowa/Hawkeye), champion at 213.75 pounds
* Freestyle Developmental Coach Mike Duroe, Colorado Springs, Colo.
* Freestyle Resident Coach Kevin Jackson, Colorado Springs, Colo.