Unknown Wrestler Rulon Gardner Defies 2000/1 Odds to Win Gold at Sydney Olympics

2000 Sydney Olympics Wrestling

No one expected much of Rulon Gardner in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The farm labourer from Wyoming was a relative unknown in the Greco-Roman wrestling world, and as he was competing in the heaviest weight category (130kg and above) he would be up against some absolute giants.

But not only did he win his pool undefeated, scoring 9 classification points and 15 technical points, but he breezed through the semi-finals too, with a 3-0 win over Dmitry Debelka, who would go on to win the Bronze medal.

Still, despite his performance so far, no expected him to win the final, and the bookies even gave him ridiculous odds of 2000/1 – because he was up against a monster.

In the gold medal match, Gardner faced Aleksandr Karelin of Russia.

Karelin was an unbeaten champion and was widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers in history, so everyone expected him to win. He had not lost a match in 13 years (he hadn’t even dropped a point for the previous 6 years), bagging three Olympic gold medals, nine world championships, and 12 European championships in his career – but still, those 2000/1 odds seem very high.

Gardner was a fighter and a survivor. At elementary school he had been accidentally shot in the stomach with an arrow during show and tell but survived. He once survived 18 hours stranded in the freezing Salt River after a snowmobile accident, getting frostbite and hypothermia as well as losing one of his toes in the rescue attempt (he keeps it in a jar in his fridge). Then there was the time he survived a plane crash (I’m not making these up), had to swim for an hour in 7 degree water to get to dry land, and then spent the night soaking wet in the open wilderness before being rescued.

The guy would give Chuck Norris a run for his money by the sounds of it; but Chuck Norris wasn’t facing him in the Sydney Olympics, Aleksandr Karelin was.

How Rulon Gardner Beat Aleksandr Karelin

Karelin Gardner Olympics 2000

Throughout the match, Gardner demonstrated incredible resilience and defensive prowess against Karelin’s aggressive attacks, and despite Karelin’s formidable reputation and the relentless pressure he applied, Gardner managed to hold his ground, defending against Karelin’s attempts to score points.

The turning point came when Karelin, known for his dominating techniques and strength, attempted his famous reverse body lift, a move that had secured him numerous victories in the past. Using exceptional technique, Gardner resisted Karelin’s lift, denying him the opportunity to execute his signature move.

Both men were well matched, and neither wrestler managed to score any points, resulting in a scoreless tie.

By the end of the regulation time, the judges declared Rulon Gardner the winner due to a technical rule that awarded victory to the wrestler who had fewer passivity calls against him.

So it wasn’t exactly a crushing defeat for Karelin, but it was a defeat nevertheless.

Gardner’s victory over Karelin was a monumental upset in the world of wrestling. It marked the first time Karelin had been defeated in international competition in 13 years and solidified Rulon Gardner’s place in Olympic history as the underdog who triumphed against the crazy odds to claim the gold medal.

Gardner wouldn’t go on to have the same sort of career as his opponent that day, but he certainly made headlines by beating him.