IOWA CITY – The comeback of Rulon Gardner was supposed to end on a wrestling mat in London. Instead, it crashed to a halt amid a mound of pain in an Iowa City hotel room.
The Olympic Training Center resident failed to make weight Friday at the U.S. Olympic trials, declining to step on the scale at Carver-Hawkeye Arena after doctors shut down his weight cut due to medical issues that included him passing out, sources told The Gazette.
A two-time Olympic medalist attempting to break an eight-year retirement, Gardner, 40, pulled within five pounds of the 264.5-pound Greco-Roman heavyweight limit during the final phase of his much-hyped weight cut before his body suffered an adverse reaction. It wouldn’t have been healthy to continue, and Gardner came close to having to be admitted to the hospital, so he called it quits hours before his afternoon weigh-in.
In a USA Wrestling statement, Gardner said, “I’m disappointed I didn’t make the weigh-in. I worked hard. I was within five pounds. I’m glad I did this and have my health back.” Gardner is expected to visit Saturday with the media, while OTC resident Dremiel Byers, a 2008 Olympian, is the favorite to make the London Games this summer at heavyweight.
Gardner weighed 474 pounds when he competed on the NBC reality show “The Biggest Loser,” and when he left the show last year, he tipped the scales at 289. He was roughly 290 two weeks ago, and he was down to about 280 earlier this week. U.S. Greco-Roman coach Momir Petkovic predicted Gardner wouldn’t bow out without a fight in his weight cut. “I know he’s not going to sit on his butt,” he said. “He’s going to go down by falling forward. … Being gone for six months hurts you a lot. Being gone for eight years?”
This is likely the final chapter in the career of Gardner, an Olympic gold medalist in 2000 and an Olympic bronze medalist in 2004 who also scored a world title in 2001. His 2000 win over Russian Alexander Karelin, a three-time Olympic champion who hadn’t lost in 13 years, remains the biggest upset in Olympic wrestling history, and it’s a popular topic for him, along with his numerous near-death experiences, in his motivational speeches.
Since retiring, Gardner wrestled just once, posting a 4-0 record at the Kiki Cup in January at the OTC, where he wasn’t forced to weigh in. Still, USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender said, “Our Greco-Roman program is better because of him coming back to the program. I can guarantee Dremiel Byers is a better wrestler today because of that. … We know what he accomplished. He went beyond the sport. He transcended the sport.”