One of the greatest upsets in Olympic history took place in Sydney in 2000 when Rulon Gardner, a farm boy from Wyoming, took on Russia’s three-time gold medalist Aleksandr Karelin, a man so strong he once lifted a refrigerator up seven floors, in the finals of the Greco-Roman wrestling super heavyweight division.
Karelin’s nickname, the Siberian Bear, pretty much summed up just how fearsome he was on the wrestling mat. Entering the Sydney Games, he hadn’t lost a match in 13 years and easily won gold medals in Seoul ’88, Barcelona ’92, and Atlanta ’96. No less than the IOC president was on hand for his gold-medal match against Gardner to personally award him what everyone thought was a sure fourth Olympic gold.
The match was scoreless for some time as Gardner thwarted Karelin’s attempts to throw him on the mat. In the second period, the Russian made an uncharacteristic mistake, and Gardner was awarded a point. The American spent the rest of the match protecting his precious lead, and he ran away with the huge upset and an unlikely gold medal. Gardner celebrated by doing a cartwheel shortly after the referee raised his hand.
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