A Quick Film Review
But as he progressed through the heavyweight category bouts and reached the final, a Cinderella tale was set. For the gold, Gardner would face three-time defending champion and renowned Russian intimidator Aleksandr Karelin. In true Rocky vs Ivan Drago fashion, Gardner, the lovable bear of a man from small-town Afton, Wyoming, who honed his skills from dairy farming, would take down Karelin, the Siberian iron bear of a sculpted man who was likely the surest bet for a gold at the entire Games.
Overnight, Gardner became the face of a champion. His unlikely win, his cartwheel celebration, his aw-shucks charm...his is one of the lasting memories from Sydney.
Rulon, from The Olympic Channel's Five Rings Films, narrated largely by Gardner himself, takes us from that start through his challenges since.
And what challenges. Driven by a will to succeed in the face of adversity, Gardner has survived a snowmobile accident that left him (luckily only) with a lost toe, a motorcycle accident that resulted in his wrist needing three pins, a plane crash into Lake Powell, and a financial fraud scheme that wiped out his savings. Along the way, he made it to Athens 2004 - winning the bronze medal - and to the trials for London 2012.
But with a self-effacing honesty, Gardner shares his potentially biggest challenge...getting his health on track as he continues to battle weight to avoid, as he says, premature death. It's a problem he faced publicly on tv's The Biggest Loser in 2011 and continues today. Admitting that he has struggled to adjust to post-Olympic fame, he's now settled into a role as a coach and mentor for children through wrestling.
His charm is still a winner, and is what carries Rulon. How can one not pull for him? I teared up at the flashback to Sydney 2000. And at the Athens 2004 footage, where he retired with his shoes on center mat. I rooted for him as he came back from injury, and injury (and injury). And, I cheered as he, by documentary's end, is seemingly getting back on track.
Rulon is a tale of an American hero, a champion persevering through challenges and adversity. It's an Olympian story, one true to the Olympic creed: "...the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle".