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Rulon Gardner

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Rulon Gardner
Gardner (right) at the 2004 Olympics
Personal information
Full nameRulon Ellis Gardner
Born (1971-08-16) August 16, 1971 (age 52)
Afton, Wyoming, U.S.
Height6 ft 2 in (188 cm)[1]
Weight130 kg (287 lb)
120 kg (265 lb)[1]
ClubSunkist Kids Wrestling Club[1]
Coached byRobert Christensen
Anatoly Petrosyan
Steven Fraser
Medal record
Men's Greco-Roman wrestling
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 2000 Sydney 130 kg
Bronze medal – third place 2004 Athens 120 kg
World Championships
Gold medal – first place 2001 Patras 130 kg
Pan American Games
Silver medal – second place 2003 Santo Domingo 120 kg
Pan American Championships
Gold medal – first place 1998 Winnipeg 130 kg
Gold medal – first place 2000 Cali 130 kg
Silver medal – second place 1997 San Juan 125 kg

Rulon Ellis Gardner (born August 16, 1971) is an American retired Greco-Roman wrestler. He won the gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games, defeating Russia's three-time reigning Olympic gold medalist Aleksandr Karelin in the final;[2] Karelin was previously unbeaten for 13 years in international competition. Gardner won a bronze medal at the 2004 Games.[1] In 2010, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member.[3]

Personal background[edit]

Gardner was born in Afton, Wyoming. He is the son of Reed and Virginia Gardner and the last of nine children. His second great grandfather was Archibald Gardner,[4] who was one of the early settlers of Star Valley, Wyoming. He attributes his strength to the physical labor that he performed growing up and working on the family's dairy farm.[5]

In 2005, Gardner published his autobiography (co-written by Bob Schaller), Never Stop Pushing: My Life from a Wyoming Farm to the Olympic Medals Stand, in which he describes his Greco-Roman wrestling career, his academic struggles (as someone who suffers from a learning disability) and an account of his near-death experience when stranded after a snowmobile accident.

As of 2011, Gardner worked as a motivational speaker, often appearing as a keynote presenter and event host. He has appeared at corporate events, celebrity golf tournaments, trade shows, and conventions. He also has licensing deals, as well as print and television endorsements.[6]

In 2012, Gardner and his wife Kami filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in a Salt Lake City Federal court, with $2.9 million in liabilities.[7]

After the Athens Olympics, Gardner gained 210 pounds, culminating in a total body weight of 474 pounds. In January 2011, he was announced as a contestant on season 11 of the American reality television show, The Biggest Loser. After 16 weeks on the show, Gardner had lost 173 pounds.[8] Gardner shocked the trainers, staff, and contestants on the April 26 episode by announcing he would be leaving the show "for personal reasons", and left the show without a final weigh-in. He did not appear on the final episode of the season, except in the background of scenes of other contestants.[9]


When Gardner was in elementary school, he was injured during a class show-and-tell, when his abdomen was punctured with an arrow.[10]

In 2002, Gardner went snowmobiling with some friends in the mountains surrounding Star Valley, Wyoming. At one point, he became separated from the group. During his efforts to regain his composure and regroup, he fell into the freezing Salt River with his snowmobile. Unable to move any farther, Gardner decided to build a shelter and wait for a rescue team. He remained stranded for the next 18 hours. After several hours in his makeshift shelter, he stopped shivering, which led him to believe that he was dying. When he was eventually rescued, he was experiencing hypothermia and severe frostbite. Due to the physical damage, a saw had to be used to remove his boots. The harrowing experience cost Gardner the middle toe on his right foot, which he keeps in formaldehyde in a jar in his refrigerator, to remind him of his mortality.[11][12] He told his story on a first-season episode of I Survived....

On February 24, 2007,[13] Gardner and two other men survived a crash when a light aircraft he was traveling in crashed into Lake Powell, Utah. The men swam an hour in 44 °F (7 °C) water to reach shore, and then spent the night without shelter. None of the three sustained life-threatening injuries.[14]

Educational background[edit]

Gardner attended Star Valley High School in Afton, Wyoming, and was a three-sport letter winner and standout in football, wrestling, and track and field. He was an All-State selection in both football and wrestling, and was also the 1989 Wyoming wrestling state heavyweight champion. In track and field, as a senior, he took second at the state finals in the shot put.[15]

Gardner attended junior college at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) in Rexburg, Idaho, and as a sophomore won the NJCAA national heavyweight wrestling championship. He and his first wife Sheri lost their daughter, Stacey in a terrible car accident on December 26, 1990. He then earned a scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.[16] While at Nebraska, Gardner finished fourth in the 275 lb. weight class at the 1993 NCAA Championships, earning All-American honors. He graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a bachelor's degree in physical education.[17] He attended both Ricks and Nebraska on wrestling scholarships.

Wrestling career[edit]

Gardner's win over Russian Alexander Karelin "shocked the wrestling world." After defeating Karelin, who was previously undefeated in 13 years, he became a local hero in his hometown of Afton, Wyoming.
Gardner (right) interviews Dremiel Byers in 2008, working as an analyst for NBC Sports.


Gardner is known for his defeat of three-time reigning gold medalist Aleksandr Karelin at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Karelin had been undefeated for 13 years, and had not given up a point in six years, prior to his loss in the gold medal match to Gardner.[18]

In 2001, Gardner added a world championship to his list of accomplishments with a victory in the finals over Mihaly Deak-Bardos of Hungary. His win made him the only American to ever win both a World and Olympic title in Greco-Roman wrestling.[19]

After the 2000 Olympics he suffered a series of injuries from both a snowmobiling and motorcycle accident. These injuries included an amputated toe and a dislocated wrist, but he still went on to win the U.S. Olympic trials for his weight class and then to compete in the 2004 Summer Olympics. He was unable to repeat his 2000 performance, coming away with the Bronze medal, and after his match, he placed his shoes in the middle of the mat as a symbol of retirement from competitive wrestling.[20]

Gardner competed once in mixed martial arts, and in 2004 he became the host for a professional wrestling league called Real Pro Wrestling.[21]

Gardner served as an analyst for NBC Sports coverage of Wrestling at the 2008 Summer Olympics.[22]

Gardner attempted a comeback for the 2012 Olympics[23] but was unable to make the 264.5 pound max weight limit for the U.S. Olympic Trials and therefore ineligible to compete for a position on the Olympic team.[24]

Mixed martial arts[edit]

On December 31, 2004, Gardner fought Hidehiko Yoshida in a judo vs wrestling mixed martial arts (MMA) bout for the Pride Fighting Championships at an event named PRIDE Shockwave 2004. Yoshida, in addition to being an Olympic gold medalist in judo, was a highly successful MMA fighter. Gardner, trained by Randy Couture at Team Quest, won the bout via unanimous decision. [25]

Rulon Gardner mixed martial arts record
Date Result Record Opponent Event Method Round, Time
December 31, 2004 Win 1–0 Japan Hidehiko Yoshida PRIDE Shockwave 2004 Decision (Unanimous) Round 3, 5:00

Honors and awards[edit]

Aside from his Olympic medals, his achievements include:

Published works[edit]

  • Gardner, Rulon and Bob Schaller (2005). Never Stop Pushing: My Life from a Wyoming Farm to the Olympic Medals Stand, Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-7867-1593-0


  1. ^ a b c d Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Rulon Gardner". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020.
  2. ^ Niesen, Joan (November 18, 2020). "Rulon Gardner and the lonely afterglow of Olympic gold". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  3. ^ Rulon Gardner. nwhof.org. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  4. ^ Gardner, Rulon; Schaller, Bob (2005). Never Stop Pushing. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 43. ISBN 0-7867-1593-6. Retrieved January 31, 2011.
  5. ^ Gardner, Rulon; Schaller, Bob (2005). Never Stop Pushing. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 24. ISBN 0-7867-1593-6. Retrieved January 31, 2011.
  6. ^ "Booking Rulon Gardner Speaker Appearances, Rulon Gardner Agent Manager Contact, Hiring Rulon Gardner Speaking Engagements Costs Fees". Athletepromotions.com. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  7. ^ "Rulon Gardner files for bankruptcy". USA Today.
  8. ^ Posnanski, Joe (March 21, 2011) "Point After: Losing, and Loving It", Sports Illustrated, p. 105.
  9. ^ "The Biggest Loser" Season 11 Finale Recap: A great cast is the ultimate trump card Archived August 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Gardner lives to tell of another life-threatening accident – Olympics – ESPN". Sports.espn.go.com. February 28, 2007. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  11. ^ "Daugherty: Having embraced wrestling to fullest, Gardner lets go". Enquirer.com. August 26, 2004. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  12. ^ "NWS Riverton WY – Rulon Gardner". Crh.noaa.gov. February 4, 2010. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  13. ^ [1] [dead link]
  14. ^ "Olympian Gardner survives small plane crash (AP report)". sports.espn.go.com. ESPN. February 26, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2008.
  15. ^ Wolinetz, Adam (June 29, 2001). "Rulon Gardner to receive Citizenship Through Sports Alliance award for sportsmanship | TheMat.com – USA Wrestling". TheMat.com. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  16. ^ "Gardner bio". Nationwide Speakers Bureau. Archived from the original on April 13, 2008. Retrieved May 12, 2008.
  17. ^ "Rulon Gardner". RulonGardner.com. Rulon Gardner. 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  18. ^ "Aleksandr KARELIN | Olympic Athlete | Atlanta 1996, Barcelona 1992, Seoul 1988, Sydney 2000". Olympic.org. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  19. ^ Abbott, Gary. "Two-time Olympic wrestling medalist Rulon Gardner undergoes additional surgery on his foot damaged b | TheMat.com – USA Wrestling". TheMat.com. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  20. ^ Mihoces, Gary (August 26, 2004). "Gardner taking his moves home". Usatoday.Com. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  21. ^ "Pro-Wrestling Gets 'Real' – Celebrity Gossip | Entertainment News | Arts And Entertainment". FOXNews.com. March 28, 2005. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  22. ^ "Baltimore Sports News: Sports News, Scores and Schedules – baltimoresun.com". Weblogs.baltimoresun.com. March 12, 2011. Archived from the original on November 30, 2009. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  23. ^ "Rulon Gardner considers comeback for 2012 Olympics". USA Today. April 28, 2011. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
  24. ^ "Despite failed comeback, Rulon Gardner is not finished wrestling". Sports Illustrated. April 26, 2012. Archived from the original on April 27, 2012. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  25. ^ "Rulon Gardner MMA Stats, Pictures, News, Videos, Biography". Sherdog.com. Retrieved March 24, 2011.

External links[edit]