Golden guest: Former Olympic champ Gardner hungers for comeback | Sports | CentreDaily.com
STATE COLLEGE ? Tucked around his massive left arm, Rulon Gardner wears a device that counts the calories he burns.
On Saturday, he burned 5,300. On Sunday, he expected to burn 5,500. Who needs a reality show to shed pounds when there are 200 wrestlers eager to watch your every move?
Gardner spent this weekend at Ken Chertow?s Gold Medal Wrestling Camp, burning calories and motivating young wrestlers with his words and moves.
Attentive listeners heard some wild stories from Gardner, whose life has taken multiple turns since he captured a Greco-Roman gold medal at the 2000 Olympics. They also learned of Gardner?s future plans.
?That?s a move I?m going to use to win the 2012 Olympics,? Gardner said after demonstrating a gut wrench to a group.
First, Cael Sanderson. Now, Gardner.
Gardner?s return is more improbable. Since leaving his wrestling shoes on the mat after capturing a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Games, Gardner survived a plane crash, ballooned to 470 pounds, trimmed nearly 200 pounds on NBC?s ?The Biggest Loser? and regained his competitive juices.
Gardner has visited the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., four times since leaving the television show. Earlier this month, he trained with 2008 Olympian Dremiel Byers and multiple Greco-Roman aces from European nations.
?I had an opportunity to push with some of the best guys in the world,? Gardner said, ?and it?s close to being 100 percent ready to come back.?
Gardner, who operates a training center in Logan, Utah, said his body will dictate whether he participates in next year?s Olympic Trials. Gardner weighs 304 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than his weight when he left ?The Biggest Loser.? The Greco-Roman heavyweight limit is 264.5 pounds.
?The thing that?s really holding me back is my body,? Gardner said. ?It?s making sure my body is right. As long as everything stays in place and my toughness and my body holds up for the next two or three months, I look at myself coming back.?
The Olympic Trials are next April in Iowa City, and the Olympics begin next August in London. Gardner turns 40 next month and he hasn?t trained seriously since 2004.
Winning another gold medal drives Gardner, but he doesn?t allow the possibility of competing in London to consume his life.
?I have to make the U.S. team before I can worry about making the Olympic team,? he said. ?My No. 1 goal is to get stronger, to get in shape and to get mentally tough as a wrestler. I left ?The Biggest Loser,? and losing weight isn?t the big issue anymore. It?s the lack of training for the past seven years. I have to get that mental toughness and that grit that I had when I won the gold medal.?
Gardner gazes at the device around his arm frequently. He said he trims a half-pound of fat while working wresting camps, something he does between 20 and 30 times per summer.
His relationship with Chertow, a former Olympian and Penn State wrestler who operates camps across the country, started after the 2000 Olympics. Chertow said young wrestlers can benefit from listening to wrestlers such as Gardner or Anthony Robles. Robles, a one-legged wrestler, captured an NCAA title for Arizona State this past spring and worked three Chertow camps earlier this summer. ?There are a lot of great wrestlers who know a lot about wrestling,? Chertow said. ?But only a handful of them have national recognition like Rulon and Robles. They have a lot of charisma, they have energy, they are good with kids. Kids really get intrigued by watching them.?
So do adults.
Gardner?s victory over Russian Aleksandr Karelin in 2000 and his appearance on ?The Biggest Loser? attracted non-wrestling fans to the sport. The possibility of Gardner and Sanderson, a 2004 gold medalist, competing next year could provide a boon for USA Wrestling.
?For us olds guys to come back ? and we?re not that old ? and to be involved with the sport, it?s tough on the body,? Gardner said. ?But it shows these young kids just because you succeed once doesn?t mean you?re over. It means life evolves.
?I retired once and I was content with my career. Now I got my health back after ?The Biggest Loser.? Why not? You?re back to the same thing. You?re back to where you were when you won the gold medal the first time.?