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Golden advice? Get back to basics

Gardner says hard work, focus are keys to success

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OREM — Get back to basics. Train hard. Then go out and take care of business. These personal tenets led wrestler and gold medalist Rulon Gardner to his astounding victory at the 2000 Summer Olympics, Gardner said during a speech Wednesday at the David O. McKay Events Center.

Gardner appeared as part of a leadership conference conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Leadership, a new organization at Utah Valley State College that offers leadership classes to high school and college students for college credit. About half of the 500 people attending the conference were students from Utah County-area high schools.

The same principles that have helped Gardner achieve success can help others as they set goals and work to reach them, Gardner said.

"Never underestimate yourself," he said. "Great expectations are within your reach and within your grasp."

His motto of "never give up, never stop trying" was put to the test in his Olympic match last September against Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin, who had gone undefeated for 13 years and won three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Gardner, who grew up in Afton, Wyo., on his family's dairy farm, took home the gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Sydney Olympics.

"It was important to our family that we work hard," he said. The youngest of nine children, Gardner was often heir to the farm's most difficult and mundane tasks but learned the value of work.

"It drove me to have a more accomplished life than being out there shoveling manure," he said. At the time, he aspired to bigger and better things, such as driving the farm's tractor.

Gardner recommended people "turn negatives into positives," telling of his struggles with being labeled a slow learner in school and placed in special-education classes. He used these "negatives" as motivation to become a better person, he said.

To reach a goal, he said, one must be willing to work hard and keep focused on it, just as he has done in his wrestling training. He admitted there are other wrestlers stronger and more skilled than himself.

"The problem is they don't have the focus, they don't have the heart," he said.

In addition to training hard, an individual must be prepared to "take care of business" or go out and get the job done. Gardner said some of Karelin's former opponents had pinned themselves because they were afraid of the famous wrestler. When his gold medal match arrived, Gardner decided he would give it all he had.

"My biggest asset in my life is my conditioning," Gardner said, adding that his goal was to get Karelin fatigued to the point where the Russian's body wouldn't respond.

He emphasized that having a gold medal didn't mean he was successful in life.

"This means I did good," he said, pointing to his medal. "But I think the most important thing in my life comes from within, comes from the heart."

When triumphs come, "Don't rest on your laurels," said Gardner, who is now training earnestly for several upcoming competitions.

"I'm doing everything I can to get ready for the next Olympics," he said. While he expects obstacles along the way, "I'm not preparing to lose. I'm preparing to win," he said.


E-mail: cbabbitt@inet-1.com