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Gardner named USOC SportsMan of the Year, becoming only second wrestler named top Olympic athlete



Olympic Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion Rulon Gardner (Afton, Wyo./Sunkist Kids) was named 2000 U.S. Olympic Committee SportsMan of the Year. He becomes only the second wrestler to ever win the USOC SportsMan of the Year, joining two-time Olympic Champion John Smith, a freestyle wrestler who was honored in 1990. "I am flattered and honored to have been selected as the 2000 USOC SportsMan of the Year," said Gardner. "To have competed for the United States in Sydney was a lifelong dream of mine, and to have been selected as the SportsMan of the Year is far more than I could have ever expected. What makes this award so special is that there were so many other fine and deserving athletes that represented our country in Sydney. I could not be more grateful or pleased." Gardner was among the 46 male athletes nominated for the award by their individual USOC member organizations. Gardner was nominated as Male Wrestler of the Year. Voters for the awards include the national media, USOC Executive Committee, USOC Board of Directors and USOC Athletes' Advisory Council. The USOC SportsWoman and SportsMan of the Year awards have been presented annually to the top overall male and female athlete from within the USOC member organizations since 1974. The team award was added in 1996. Gardner scored 769 points in the voting, ahead of runner-up Olympic champion swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg with 661 points. Tour du France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong placed third, followed by Olympic athletics champion Michael Johnson and Olympic baseball star Ben Sheets. Rounding out the top 10 in the voting were David O'Connor (equestrian), Marlon Shirley (athletics), Steven Lopez (taekwondo), Curtis Lovejoy (swimming and fencing) and Alonzo Mourning (basketball). The USOC also announced that track and field athlete Marion Jones had been named USOC SportsWoman of the Year and that the 2000 USA Baseball Olympic Team had been named USOC Team of the Year. Gardner became an instant international hero on the night of September 27, 2000, when he shocked the world and defeated previously unbeaten superstar Alexandre Kareline of Russia, 1-0, in the gold medal finals at 130 kg/286 pounds. Kareline had won three Olympic gold medals and nine World Championship gold medals. He had never lost an international wrestling match ever. This victory was monumental, not only within the sport of wrestling but also in the entire sports community. Kareline is an icon in Olympic sport, and was looking to end his unprecedented career with a final triumph. IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch was there to present the medal. The world media was in attendance in large numbers. The son of a Wyoming dairy farmer had defeated the world's greatest athlete and became the story of the entire Olympic Games. His unexpected success and engaging personality made Rulon the most popular name in Sydney, landing him on the national scene with the Tonight Show, David Letterman, Rosie O'Donnell, Good Morning America, Conan O'Brien, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and others. Gardner won five matches on the way to the Olympic 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 other two wrestling nominations for the USOC awards, Women's World freestyle wrestling champion Kristie Stenglein (Albany, N.Y./ATWA) and the 2000 U.S. Men's University Freestyle Wrestling Team did not place in the top 10 of the voting in their respective categories. USOC SportsMan of the Year Top 10 1. Rulon Gardner (wrestling), 769 pts.; 2. Lenny Krayzelburg (swimming), 661; 3. Lance Armstrong (cycling), 446; 4. Michael Johnson (athletics), 382; 5. Ben Sheets (baseball), 143; 6. David O'Connor (equestrian), 88; 7. Marlon Shirley (athletics), 77; 8. Steven Lopez (taekwondo), 18; 9. Curtis Lovejoy (swimming and fencing), 46; 10. Alonzo Mourning (basketball), 42. USOC SportsWoman of the Year Top 10 1. Marion Jones (athletics), 1061 pts; 2. Jenny Thompson (swimming), 402; 3. Laura Wilkinson (diving), 391; 4. Venus Williams (tennis), 214; 5. Lisa Fernandez (softball), 195; 6. Tara Nott (weightlifting), 179; 6. Theresa Edwards (basketball); 179; 8. Marla Runyan (athletics), 94; 9. Michelle Kwan (figure skating), 73; 10. Sarah Billmeier (skiing), 57. USOC Team of the Year Top 10 1. USA Baseball Olympic Team, 695 pts.; 2. Women's National Softball Team, 526; 3. Women's Olympic Basketball Team, 429; 4. Women's Olympic 4x400-meter Relay, 211; 5. U.S. Postal Service Road Cycling Team, 133; 6. U.S. Women's Water Polo Team, 126; 7. Women's Doubles Team - Williams/Williams, 125; 8. Beach Volleyball Team - Fonoimoana/Blanton, 106; 9. U.S. Disabled Ski Team, 82; 10. U.S. Men's Olympic Soccer Team, 73.
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