Rulon Gardner, a 2000 Olympic wrestling champion, said he was 15 pounds to heavy to compete at this week’s U.S. Open despite registering for the event, which would have been his first meet in more than a decade.
“I missed the weigh-ins by 15 pounds, but, being 51 years old, I talked to my sister, who’s a cardiologist,” Gardner told Flowrestling. “She was like, ‘Rulon, there’s a chance that you could die tonight.’ It’s like, you know what, wrestling is important, but it’s not worth taking my life for. I’ve gotten healthy. I’m back to wrestling, back to training and I’m going to continue to compete.”
To be eligible to compete in the Greco-Roman heavyweight division, Gardner needed to weigh in at 130kg (286 pounds) or less on Wednesday morning.
Gardner said he still plans to compete again, both later this year and at the April 2024 Olympic Trials. He said his goal is to put the spotlight on the Greco-Roman discipline and improve it. Over the last three Olympics, American wrestlers won 17 medals in freestyle events and zero in Greco-Roman.
Gardner chronicled a return to wrestling training on social media in recent months.
He hasn’t competed since a failed comeback bid for the 2012 Olympic Trials, when he tried to get under the weight limit but did not ultimately weigh in. Since, Gardner spoke multiple times about wanting to lose the weight necessary to compete again.
In 2020, he said, “I have well over 150 pounds more to lose,” according to The Associated Press.
In 2000, Gardner stunned Aleksandr Karelin in the Olympic Greco-Roman heavyweight final, handing the Russian his first loss in 13 years. It was dubbed “Miracle on the Mat.”
Gardner had many struggles since:
*In February 2002, driving a snowmobile off a hidden snow shelf into a frozen lake, getting stranded overnight in the wilderness for 17 hours in temperatures that were as low as 25 degrees below zero. The middle toe on his right foot had to be amputated due to frostbite. He came back to win Olympic bronze in 2004, leaving his shoes on the mat in the symbolic act of retirement.
*In February 2007, surviving a plane crash into a bay by swimming more than an hour in 44-degree water and spending the night without shelter.
*In 2010, going on “The Biggest Loser” at 474 pounds in a bid to lose more than 200 pounds to make weight for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials at age 40. He reportedly said he got down to 280. The Olympic heavyweight limit was 264.5 at the time.
*In 2012, filing for bankruptcy and losing his Olympic gold and bronze medals as a result. As of 2020, he recouped the medals, according to the AP.
In 2018, Gardner became head wrestling coach at Herriman High School in Utah.
U.S. Open winners in each weight class advance to head-to-head matchups in June to determine the team for September’s world championships. The rest of the top seven in Gardner’s division advance to May’s world team trials, where the winner also advances to the June final to determine the world team spot.
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