Olympic medalist Gardner back in town, wrestling at OTC again

Two-time Olympic medalist Rulon Gardner delivered the keynote address Thursday during the Breakfast of Champions, a Peak Vista Community Health Centers fundraiser at The Broadmoor. Gardner moved back to Colorado Springs this week, with plans to wrestle at the Olympic Training Center in hopes of making the 2012 London Games. Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE

Rulon Gardner still hasn’t returned to competition. He’s still overweight. He’s still a long way from top form. But he’s still on the comeback trail. And now, he’s in town – to stay.

The two-time Olympic medalist moved back to Colorado Springs this week, with plans to wrestle at the Olympic Training Center, he announced Thursday during the Breakfast of Champions, a Peak Vista Community Health Centers fundraiser at The Broadmoor.


Gardner, 40, previously of Logan, Utah, had been in and out of the Springs since April. He grew serious about trying to make the 2012 London Games following a midseason exit from the NBC hit “The Biggest Loser,” in which he went from 474 pounds to about 300 pounds over 16 weeks. He spent most of his career at the OTC, stunning Alexander Karelin of Russia for an Olympic gold medal in 2000 and winning a bronze in 2004.

Three months ago, Gardner, also a 2001 world champion who runs a health club in Logan and travels the nation as a motivational speaker, predicted he might wrestle last weekend at the Sunkist Kids International Open. That never happened, and it’s no secret Gardner must continue to eat right, improve his cardiovascular conditioning and close the gap on OTC resident Dremiel Byers, in line for a Greco-Roman berth in London at heavyweight, which has a 264.5-pound limit. The U.S. Olympic trials are in April in Iowa City.

“It would have been easier just to sit back and not have to worry about wrestling,” said Gardner, with a device on his left arm tucked under a slick-looking black suit that tracks how many calories he burns – typically as many as 7,000 in a day’s worth of workouts. “I’ve never feared opportunity. I’ve never feared commitment. … My whole life, nothing was easy. Nothing was given to me. My whole life, I’ve had to earn everything.”

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Gardner characterizes himself as “a person with a dream and a belief,” from growing up with a learning disability; to overcoming the 1979 death of a brother to aplastic anemia and the 1990 death of his only daughter in a car crash; to having his heart broken in four marriages; to losing the middle toe on his right foot in a 2002 snowmobiling accident in Wyoming; to almost losing his life in a 2007 plane crash on the Utah-Arizona border.

Nearly every time Gardner has stepped on the mat, he has defied the odds, first against an older brother in high school; then against Matt Ghaffari, a 1996 Olympic silver medalist, at the 2000 Olympic trials; then against Karelin, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who was undefeated in international competition for 13 years and hadn’t relinquished a point in six years; then against Byers at the 2004 Olympic trials. “It’s not about reinventing the wheel every day,” Gardner told a packed ballroom. “It’s about learning from your mistakes.”

After each workout, Gardner said he asks himself, “Did I do my absolute best? Did I do everything that I intended? Is there anything else I can do today to help me be successful over the long run?” He insists he doesn’t get special treatment at the OTC, and when he informed OTC coach Momir Petkovic that he would miss 8:30 a.m. practice to deliver a speech, Petkovic said, “You don’t need to be speaking. You need to be here at practice.”

Coming back to the Springs – Gardner also is working with his former OTC coach, Steve Fraser, with hopes of getting in shape for the U.S. Open next month in Arlington, Texas – enables Gardner “to give 100 percent to making the Olympic team,” he said, adding that he “couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this community.”

Contact Brian Gomez: 719-636-0256 or brian.gomez@gazette.com. Twitter: @gazetteolympics. Facebook: Brian Gomez. For more Olympic coverage, visit www.gazette.com/olympics

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