Through the eyes of a champion | SteamboatToday.com

Through the eyes of a champion

Olympic wrestling legend Rulon Gardner visits Steamboat, demonstrates technique for athletes

Dave Shively

Two-time Olympic medalist Rulon Gardner works with Steamboat Springs wrestling coach Sean McCarthy to show 75 wrestlers of all ages several techniques and moves during Thursday's clinic at Steamboat Springs High School.

— On the road to becoming a three-time U.S. wrestling champion, a world champion and a two-time Olympic medalist, Rulon Gardner fixed his mind on two goals – knowledge and strength.

Since leaving his shoes on the mat after winning his 2004 Olympic bronze medal, Gardner now estimates he travels 300 days a year to share his wrestling knowledge with the country’s future Olympians.

The Yampa Valley Wrestling Club hosted Gardner for a speech Thursday afternoon in the Steamboat Springs High School auditorium. Gardner then led a wrestling clinic in the high school’s gymnasium.

Before the speech, about 25 youth wrestlers from the club’s pee-wee ranks raced around in anticipation, wondering just how big Gardner would be.

“This is what they earn for all their hard work and practice,” YVWC board member Shane Yeager said, noting the junior wrestlers’ home match on Sunday and their fall season finale the following weekend in Craig. “This caps off their season and kicks off the high school season.”

About 200 wrestlers, students and community members attended Gardner’s speech.

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Gardner opened the presentation, which ran just longer than an hour, with a video highlighting the “miracle on the mat” – Gardner’s Greco-Roman upset win against Russia’s Alexander Karelin in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The win gave Gardner the gold medal over a wrestling legend who hadn’t lost a match in more than 13 years.

“It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about knowing you can do something,” Gardner told the crowd Thursday.

He went on to emphasize seven self-affirming steps that helped him overcome obstacles and unlock his potential. He outlined each step’s relevance to the audience as he shared the story of his growth from the youngest of nine children on a dairy farm in Afton, Wyo., to the defining Olympic match against an unbeaten opponent.

“My kids were really keyed in to what he said,” Soroco wrestling coach Doug Gates said. “I like how he said he didn’t drink or ever do drugs. Kids don’t get to see a lot of big athletes who are like that.”

After the presentation, Gardner changed into wrestling attire along with nearly 80 wrestlers of various ages for a clinic in the gym.

Junior wrestlers gathered alongside high school wrestlers from Steamboat, Soroco, Hayden, North Park and Moffat County as Gardner stressed successful wrestling strategies.

“My hand has a consequence,” Gardner said to the group, explaining the importance of initial physicality by demonstrating an effective chop move on Steamboat coach Sean McCarthy.

After each demonstration, the wrestlers broke off to practice the various moves. Many of the high school wrestlers who attended the clinic will get a chance to practice what they learned during Saturday’s Carl Ramunno Invitational at Steamboat Springs High School.