OLYMPICS Gardner eyes second wrestling gold medal



Wrestler Rulon Gardner lost a toe in a snowmobiling debacle in 2002.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Rulon Gardner is not your average guy: He owns one gold medal, and just nine toes.
The Olympic bling came via a stunning upset four years ago in Sydney, where Gardner went from obscurity to celebrity by defeating the once-invincible Russian Alexander Karelin. The latter was courtesy of a snowmobiling debacle in February 2002, when he was stranded for 18 grueling hours in the Wyoming wilderness.
"I almost lost both my feet, and I should have lost my life," Gardner said Monday, the day he arrived in Athens, at a news conference with his five teammates from the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team.
Challenges
Gardner now finds himself both defending his title and bidding to become only the fourth American wrestler to capture a second gold medal. Just last month, he won his first Greco-Roman international title since 2001 in his final Olympic tuneup.
So much in the 32-year-old's life has changed, but one thing remains constant going into this year's 264-pound competition.
"Overall, the anxiety's still the same," Gardner said. "I'm going to go out there, do my best, and hopefully bring home the gold medal."
If he does, Rulon Gardner will have overcome the one man who did the most to stop him from repeating: Rulon Gardner.
There was the snowmobiling accident, with its amputation and lengthy rehabilitation. He survived a motorcycle crash earlier this year -- he wasn't wearing a helmet -- only to severely dislocate his right wrist in a pickup basketball game.
Pins hold joint in place
Gardner recalled seeing his wrist relocated to his forearm, popping it back into place, and finishing the game. Three pins now hold the fragile joint in place, but he insisted his fitness was not a concern.
"My overall health is really well," Gardner said. "There are some lingering effects of the dislocated wrist, but I've had two months to heal up."
A second gold would put Gardner in the elite of American wrestling. Only John Smith (1988, 1992), Bruce Baumgartner (1984, 1992) and George Mehnert (1904, 1908) did it before; all were freestyle wrestlers, meaning Gardner could become the first American Greco-Roman wrestler to accomplish that trick.
Gardner and his teammates arrived in Athens with high hopes: They want to bring home four medals, and hope for a top 10 finish from everyone on the squad. They're particularly pumped by the idea of competing in Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics and their sport.
"I think we can meet the goal," said coach Steve Fraser. "I think all of these guys are capable of winning a medal."
Three of them already have, including Gardner's gold in 2000. Dennis Hall, coming back at 121 pounds after an eight-year absence, won a 1996 silver medal, while 211-pounder Garrett Lowney captured a bronze four years ago.

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