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Gardner Stuns Karelin for Olympic Gold

By Christopher Caile

Sept.27, 2000-- If it wasn't exactly a David against Goliath contest in physical size, it was in reputation. Russia's Alexandr Karelin is a strong, giant bear of a man -- the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of modern times. He had never lost an Olympic match, and was so formable that competitors have been known to withdraw from matches rather than face him.

Facing him was a relatively unknown United States competitor, Rulon Gardner. Gardner is huge in is own right, barrel chested and known for his endurance, but he was a virtual unknown, his best a 5th place finish in the world championship a few years before -- not someone expected to give such a champion much trouble.

But Gardner had a plan. Karelin had fought two matches the day before. "I knew he would probably be tired, especially in his legs" said Gardner, although he admitted afterward that he was not sure he could win. Gardner said that Karelin "felt incredibly strong," so Gardner was careful. Repeatedly he maneuvered so that Karelin could not lift him off the mat to perform one of his almost patented over the shoulder throws that have intimidated so many in the past. In the end, after an overtime, Gardner won 1-0, his gold-winning point achieved due to a critical error by Karelin. He broke his hold in a clinch position at the start of the second period -- a stunning advantage that Gardner was careful not to give up through the rest of the match.

Gardner's performance came as a surprise. He had won his previous matches by only a few points and had been unimpressive. Commentators said he was a bit sluggish. About his final match, however, Dan Chandler, the U.S. national coach, said that Gardner fought a perfect match, not allowing himself to be thrown.

At the end, Gardner was overcome with excitement. With a huge smile he did a cartwheel and somersault on the mat before going over to ring side to hug his family. He told reporters that he was going to celebrate that night with family. He should. His accomplishment was one of the most stunning upsets in Olympic history.

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