2000 Olympic/’01 World Champion Rulon Gardner‘s drive towards a possible Olympic run took a more serious direction on Sunday as the 51-year-old has now registered for this week’s US Open in Las Vegas.
Gardner announced last year that he intended on putting together one last competitive campaign, with his journey accompanying an intense effort to work himself back into shape. He had participated in an exhibition bout this past winter against recent US National Team member Jacob Mitchell, and more recently has made trips to Jake Clark’s Wrestle-Jitsu facility in Minnesota.
While questions might abound pertaining to Gardner’s candidacy in Vegas, his competitive toughness and mental fortitude are not among them. Those were the premier characteristics that helped propel him to World and Olympic stardom, and they have been back on display ever since he declared his impending return to action.
What could, and perhaps should, have fans buzzing are potential match-ups. The heavyweight bracket at the 2023 US Open features ’18 World silver Adam Coon (NYAC/Cliff Keen), two-time World Team member/multi-time age-group World medalist Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist), Tanner Farmer (NYAC/IRTC), Donny Longendyke (Minnesota Storm), Luke Luffman (IRTC), and Courtney Freeman (Marines). Gardner facing off against Coon, Schultz, or Farmer would instantly provide compelling theater for hardcores and casuals alike, though a pairing involving any of the names listed above wields the same potentiality.
Athletes who finish in the top-7 at the US Open qualify for the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament (provided they had not already done so) next month in Colorado Springs. Gardner is yet to indicate whether or not he will appear in the Trials should he earn a spot.
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