The last bout of Rulon Gardner's career will be for another medal, but it won't be for gold.
'One mistake' cost Rulon Gardner his bid to become the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win two gold medals.
One of the biggest stars of the 2000 Summer Games, Gardner was thrown to the mat in overtime Wednesday by Kazakhstan's Georgi Tsurtsumia and lost 4-1
in his Greco-Roman semifinal match. He will wrestle for the bronze medal later in the day.
Gardner was as surprised as anyone when Tsurtsumia somehow pulled off the winning 3-point move in their 264½-pound (120kg) match, especially after
spending much of the match visibly wearing down his opponent, who's 10 years younger than Gardner.
But just like that, Rulon's remarkable comeback from a spate of injuries and misfortune was finished. Kneeling on the mat as Tsurtsumia celebrated,
Gardner thought, "It's over, it's done,'' he said. "Beyond that, I wasn't even tired.''
Minutes later, Gardner was composed and gracious to his opponent. He then went into a long, clinical explanation of how it happened. The short version
from Gardner: He aggressively went at Tsurtsumia, trying to take the lead against a tiring opponent, but left himself unguarded and Tsurtsumia stepped
around and took him to the mat, ending Gardner's quest to become the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler with two golds.
"One throw and that's the whole match," Gardner said. "One mistake."
Disappointed? Yes. Regrets?
"No," said Gardner, barely winded from the 6-minute, 27-second match. "I gave it 100 percent and he got me.
"Look, these guys are good -- he was third in the world last year. They watch hours of film, their coaches are back there yesterday, yelling,
teaching, coaching them, telling them everything to do out there.''
Tsurtsumia, the 23-year-old world bronze medalist whose chest is wider but not as thick as the barrel-chested Gardner, scored all of his points out of
the clinch hold, where each wrestler wraps his arms around the other and locks his hands. The position is assumed at the start of the second period,
if less than three points have been scored, and at the start of overtime, if less than four have been scored. The move is designed to increase
Rulon Gardner lost after his opponent threw him to the mat to score three points.
"In the clinch, there's no set move, it's making the moves up as you go," Gardner said. "You just go out and feel what the guy does and go for it."
In the first clinch, at the 3:04 mark, Tsurtsumia fell back and pulled down Gardner for one point. In overtime, Tsurtsumia took advantage of the
difference in body types and twisted to his right for the take down.
"It was probably a difference of three inches for me to stopping that no problem to losing that move," Gardner said. "But if you don't give three
inches, he's going to throw you this way; if you overcompensate, he'll throw you that way. It was that close."
Gardner said his game plan -- to wrestle patiently at the start, then physically wear down Tsurtsumia -- was the right tactical approach for the bout,
and pointed to a sequence of out-of-bound plays at the end of the second 3-minute period as a possible turning point. Trailing 1-0, Gardner chased
Tsurtsumia out of the circle three consecutive times -- Tsurtsumia was so tired he fled the mat rather than lock up with the defending champion.
Gardner was awarded only one point, which tied the score. Had the judges awarded two points, Gardner said he could have been more conservative on his
clinch in overtime.
Instead, Tsurtsumia's take down occurred shortly after
After losing the match and his bid to repeat, Gardner wasn't about to begin waxing nostalgic about his career. After all, he still has one match left
against a formidable opponent: Iranian Sajad Barzi. The 23-year-old Barzi upset three-time world silver medalist Mihaly Deak-Bardos of Hungary in the
first round on Tuesday. Gardner warmed up with him Wednesday morning and noted his 6-foot-5 frame and considerable wingspan.
"He'll grab you from here or there, and he's just as good in the clinch as the Kazakhstan guy," Gardner said.
Gardner, who plans to leave his shoes on the mat after the bronze medal match, the traditional sign that a wrestler is retiring, went from obscurity
to celebrity after his stunning upset of the once-invincible Alexander Karelin, generally considered the greatest wrestler of all time. But Gardner
has battled a variety of physical ailments since Sydney.
He lost a toe -- and nearly his life -- after a February 2002 snowmobiling accident left him stranded for 18 hours in the wilderness of Wyoming. He
survived a motorcycle crash earlier this year, only to severely dislocate his right wrist in a pickup basketball game.
Tsurtsumia was wrestling at the junior level when Gardner beat Karelin to win one of the most unanticipated gold medals in U.S. Olympic history.
Karelin is back at these games but only as a spectator, sitting in the upper reaches of the Ano Liossia Wrestling Hall and declining to talk about his
loss to Gardner.
Karelin's successor on the Russian team, world champion Khasan Baroev, won his way into the gold medal match with a 4-0 victory over surprise
semifinalist Sajad Barzi of Iran.
Gardner beat Tsurtsumia 3-0 at the 2003 Titan Games, but went on to finish only 10th in the world championships while Tsurtsumia finished third. In
his other major competition this year, Tsurtsumia won the Asian championships in April on his home turf in Kazakhstan.
Another American wrestling medalist also lost Wednesday: 2000 bronze medalist Garrett Lowney, of Freedom, Wis., was eliminated with losses of 3-0 to
Cuba's Ernesto Pena and 4-0 to Hungary's Lajos Virag in pool matches at 211½ pounds (96kg).
Jim Gruenwald, sixth in the 2000 Games and fourth in the 2003 world championships, rallied to beat Hugo Passos of Portugal 12-7 in his first match at
132 pounds (60kg) and will meet Eusebiu Diaconnu of Romania later Wednesday. Gruenwald, from Milwaukee, advances to the quarterfinals if he wins.
There will be no third consecutive Olympic gold for Turkey's Hamza Yerlikaya, who lost 3-0 to 2002 world champion Ara Abrahamian of Sweden in the
185-pound (84kg) semifinals. Yerlikaya, 28, has not finished higher than sixth in the world since the Sydney Games.