1 of 2
Ricardo Mazalan, Associated Press
Rulon Gardner, in red, wrestles Poland's Marek Mikulski during the men's Greco-Roman 120 kg pool Tuesday in elimination rounds. He won the match.

ATHENS, Greece — Taking advantage of what USA Wrestling officials termed "a tremendous draw," heavyweight Rulon Gardner of the United States defeated all three opponents in his preliminary round pool at the Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling tournament Tuesday at Ano Liossia Olympic Hall, qualifying into today's semifinals.

Gardner's opponent in the semis (the match was scheduled for about 2 a.m. MDT) was Georgiy Tsurtsumia of Kazakhstan. The other semifinalists included Khashan Baroev of Russia and Sajad Barzi of Iran. Winners wrestle for gold and silver tonight, with losers wrestling for the bronze medal.

Baroev, Cuba's Mijail Lopez and European champion Juha Ahokas of Finland entered the tournament as the most feared opponents for the American, and when the blind draw was made for pairings earlier in the week, all were placed in the bracket opposite Gardner. Lopez did not survive Baroev in his pool while Ahokas was stopped by Barzi.

The closest scare for Gardner, who defeated Russia's Alexander Karelin to win the heavyweight gold medal in the Sydney Games four years ago, came in his second match Tuesday, against Serguey Moreyko of Bulgaria. After six minutes of regulation time, Gardner nursed a 1-0 lead. A three-minute overtime session was required because Greco-Roman rules mandate scoring at least two points in regulation.

In the overtime, Moreyko tied the score, 1-1, but Gardner was declared the winner because he had been called for passivity (stalling) during the match just once, and the Bulgarian twice.

That match followed a relatively tame opener for Gardner against Mindaugas Mizgaitis of Lithuania. Gardner, a native of Afton, Wyo., gained a 2-0 lead early in the match with a takedown and scored another point by throwing Mizgaitis facedown to the mat at the 4:50 mark. He held on for the 3-0 victory.

In his final match, Gardner beat Marek Mikulski of Poland, 3-0.

Mikulski had lost previously to both Moreyko and Mizgaitis, also by 3-0 scores, rendering him 0-3 in the four-man pool. In the night's final match, Moreyko prevailed over Mizgaitis, 3-1, giving him the pool's second-best record at 2-1. With his 3-0 day's work, however, Gardner was the only wrestler from the quartet to advance.

Baroev, the 2003 world champion, made quick work of his opponents, defeating David Vala of the Czech Republic, 5-0, and Andrei Chekhauskoi of Bulgaria, 3-0, before dispatching Lopez in the day's finial match, 3-0.

Barzi defeated Mihaly Deak-Bardos of Hungary, 3-1; Ahokas, 3-1; and Yannick Szczepaniak of France, 3-0.


E-mail: [email protected]