ATHENS, Greece -- On a day when Rulon Gardner escaped any
surprises on the mat, there was one waiting for him in the stands.
greatest upset ever, is in Athens to see if Gardner can win another
Three matches and three wins into his second Olympics, Gardner
is showing Karelin that maybe his upset wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime
Gardner, far more experienced in international wrestling than he
was in Sydney, was patient, technically sound and just aggressive
enough to hold off three successive upset attempts Tuesday and
reach the semifinals.
If he can beat Kazakhstan's Georgi Tsurtsumia on Wednesday, he
will go for another super heavyweight gold later in the day, with a
chance to become the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win two
"Nothing against the group in Sydney, but these (early) matches
were more difficult than those," Gardner said. "There's more
experience here now, and today was tougher."
Gardner opened a busy day in the 264½-pound (120kg) competition
with a workmanlike 3-0 victory over Lithuania's Mindaugas
Mizgaitis, followed it with a tie-breaking decision over 1996
Olympic bronze medalist Sergei Moreyko of Bulgaria and, about five
hours later, a 3-0 decision over Poland's Marek Mikulski.
"He was very smart, very calm, very relaxed and very patient,"
U.S. coach Steve Fraser said. "He was a very smart wrestler."
And a very surprised one when his brother, in from Afton, Wyo.,
ran into Karelin, who was sitting undetected in a half-filled
arena. Apparently, even Karelin wants to see if the man who was
never supposed to be good enough to win one Olympics can win two.
"Sure, it motivates you," Gardner said. "He didn't lose for
13 years. He's the greatest wrestler of all time."
Gardner's tightest match was against Moreyko. Gardner, 33, broke
their clinch in the second period, then thought he had another
point when he muscled Moreyko off the mat in overtime. The referee
initially awarded Gardner a point, but the call was reversed upon
video replay because Gardner broke the hold first.
The call upset the U.S. coaches -- the aggressive wrestler is
supposed to be rewarded in such situations -- but Gardner wasn't
worried. His body has absorbed plenty of damage since Sydney, but
his mind has stored up the tricks and gimmicks sometimes needed to
succeed in a low-scoring sport where a single mistake can ruin
years of hard work.
"I was OK when it was 1-1, I could be really patient," said
Gardner, who was aware he had one fewer passivity call than Moreyko
and thus owned the tiebreaker. "In the first part of the match I
thought I was more aggressive than him, and that will get you some
Against Mikulski, Gardner benefited from a now rarely called
infraction: a two-point penalty against the Polish wrestler for
refusing to lock up in the clinch position.
Unlike Sydney, where the crowd was decidedly pro-Gardner, the
decision met with whistles and boos from a mostly Greek crowd that
was clearly rooting for Moreyko.
Maybe those spectators weren't aware of Gardner's misadventures
since he pulled off the "Miracle on the Mat" upset of three-time
Olympic champion Karelin in 2000 -- one of the greatest Olympic
surprises in any sport.
Since then, Gardner lost a toe and nearly froze to death after
becoming lost on his snowmobile on a minus-25 degree night, avoided
serious injuries in a head-on motorcycle crash, and ripped up his
right wrist playing pickup basketball in April.
Through it all, his focus remained the same: Get back to the
Olympics and do it again. If Gardner reaches the final, he'll
likely oppose Russian world champion Khasan Baroev.
The other three Americans to wrestle all were eliminated. Dennis
Hall, trying for a second Olympic medal eight years after winning
his first, beat Petr Svehla of the Czech Republic 3-2 at 121 pounds
(55kg) but was eliminated with a 3-0 loss to pool winner Aleksey
Vakulenko of Ukraine.
Brad Vering, from Howells, Neb., was ousted from a three-man
pool at 184 pounds (85kg) pool with a 4-0 loss to Egypt's Mohamed
Mohamed, who won both his pool matches.
Oscar Wood, of Fort Carson, Colo., lost 5-2 to Germany's Jannis
Zamanduridis, 9-3 to Greece's Konstantinos Arkoudeas and 11-1 to
Kazakhstan's Mkkhitar Manukyan at 145½ pounds (66kg).