Karelin: He was probably the toughest man who ever lived! Nicknamed the "Russian Bear", "Russian King Kong", "Alexander the Great" and "The Experiment", he is considered the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time. Karelin was the national flag bearer at three consecutive Olympics: in 1988 for the Soviet Union, in 1992 for the Unified Team, and in 1996 for Russia.
The look on his face and his incredible physique made him seem like some kind of nightmare. To his opponents throughout his 13-year undefeated run, including winning world-level titles every year from 1988 to 1999, he was just that.
Karelin was famous for his “Karelin lift”, a move that only he could make (heavyweight): |He would hoist the opponent (weighing up to 150 kilos) who was lying flat into the air and slammed him violently to the mat. This throw awarded Karelin the maximum- 5 points (in Greco-Roman wrestling).
His dominance in the sort is unparalleled having won every match he entered for thirteen years, going ten years without ever giving up a single point.
But it didn't matter. Sometimes, even King Kong loses.
2000 Sydney Olympics.
Gardner, an Olympic novice, a dairy farmer from Wyoming wasn't even expected to contend for a medal. Gardner was a good wrestler, but by making the finals he had already far exceeded pre-tournament expectations.
He had never placed higher than fifth in the world before Sydney. He had faced Karelin before and lost 5-0. Every sign pointed to this being another victory for Karelin while Gardner left Sydney, head held high, after a surprising silver medal. Rulon Gardner has trained hard. Hard enough to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Just over one minute into the match, Gardner is put down for passivity. This is when it should have all gone wrong for him. Karelin is still fresh and his reverse lift series is so difficult to defend. Twice Rulon leaves the mat and looks to be in trouble, but both times he is able to unbalance Karelin and prevent the throw. He survives the first trip underneath. We must admit he was a huge specimen even for Alexander the Great.
After a scoreless first period, Karelin won the flip and got to lock first. Just as it looks like Gardner’s lock will come completely off of Karelin, the impossible happens. Karelin loses his grip offering a point to Gardner.
As the seconds tick down, Karelin continues to attack, but the story remains the same. Gardner is able to consistently stay in position, fight Karelin’s hands and avoid making a mistake. With five seconds remaining, Karelin concedes! He steps back, knowing he is beaten, and allows the clock to expire. Rulon Gardner has won the Olympic gold medal in Sydney!
After going 13 years undefeated in international competition and six years without giving up a point, he was dethrowned by a farm boy of the United States in the final of the Sydney Olympics. Karelin had previously beaten Gardner in 1997. The win was controversial at the time as it took 90 seconds to review, and is still an element of contention today since the broken-hands clinch rule had only been put in a few months earlier.
The 29-year-old with the shaved head, black eye and 54-inch chest came in with a plan - use his body, agility and aerobic capacity to beat Russia's big man.
This was also the first Olympic gold medal won by an American Greco-Roman wrestler in a full international field
After the crowd goes crazy and Rulon does his goofy, yet endearing, celebration that includes a cartwheel and a somersault, we are left to ponder, how did this happen?