Steamboat Springs American wrestler Rulon Gardner captured the world's attention in 2000 when he overcame the odds to defeat Russian Aleksandr Karelin for the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics.
Thanks to the efforts of the Yampa Valley Wrestling Club, Gardner, who also won the bronze medal in 2004, will visit Steamboat Springs next month to share the story of his somewhat unexpected rise to the top of Greco-Roman wrestling.
"I think the older kids in our program know who he is, and the younger ones will learn," said Shane Yeager, one of the local wrestling club's coaches. "He was the underdog and had no chance of winning."
But Gardner did win in Sydney, beating the highly favored Russia Karelin by one point in a match that is now a part of Olympic history. The victory over Karelin, who won gold medals at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and did not lose a single match between 1987 and 2000, shocked the world and made Gardner one of the most recognizable figures in his sport.
Although most of the wrestlers in the Yampa Valley Wrestling Club are too young to remember Gardner's gold-medal performance firsthand, club organizers and coaches think the Afton, Wyo., wrestler's story will hit home.
"I can't think of a better role model for kids than Rulon Gardner," said Thaine Mahanna, who came up with and pursued the idea of bringing the Olympic champion to Steamboat.
Mahanna said he met Gardner last year in Orem, Utah, at a national wrestling tournament where the Olympian was signing autographs.
"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to bring him to Steamboat Springs?'" Mahanna said.
A few months later, he called Gardner's agent and began working out the details. Mahanna said he has received great support from the community, but still is hoping for a little more to cover the cost of Gardner's visit.
Gardner will speak at the high school auditorium from 4 to 5 p.m. Nov. 30. He also will host a practice session from 5 to 8 p.m. The session is open to any wrestler from Routt County with a current USA wrestling card, but it really is intended for club members, junior high and high school-level wrestlers.