November 18, 2020
The wrestler’s journey from Wyoming to Olympic glory was one of the stories of Sydney 2000. His life afterwards has been just as compelling
Rulon Gardner and the lonely afterglow of Olympic gold
In the opening scene of the Olympic Channel’s new documentary film, Rulon, the titular character, a hulking figure, hangs his gold medal around the neck of a middle-aged man outside a hotel ballroom in Chicago. The two smile for a photo. Once – when he was 200lbs lighter and sporting a singlet – Rulon Gardner was the face of a Got Milk? ad, a sheepishly smiling America hero, and as he moves on from that photo op to deliver a speech at a dairy conference, Gardner appears acutely aware of the contrast between that version of himself and this one. “I’m not as famous as I used to be,” the two-time Olympian says in a voiceover, “but eventually I’m going to get to where I want to be.”
Rulon catches up with the Greco-Roman wrestler at a time of transition. He’s 48 years old, alone, in the second major weight-loss battle of his life and searching for purpose. Over an hour and a half, the documentary tells his life story, and viewers will learn Gardner is no stranger to living in a state of flux. He’s been the misfit son of a farmer, a star wrestler, an underdog, a champion, an invalid, a daredevil, obese, one of the Biggest Losers. The film takes viewers through that full arc, dropping them in the present where Gardner is, as always, working to become something else.
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