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Tuesday, September 26
Karelin has not given up a point

SYDNEY, Australia -- The man who always finishes first -- three-time Olympic champion Alexander Karelin of Russia -- goes for a fourth gold medal Wednesday. For the second consecutive Olympics, an American stands in his way.

Rulon Gardner, of Afton, Wyo., so wore down Juri Yevseychyc of Israel that the final point in overtime Wednesday (Tuesday night EDT) came on a fleeing-the-hold call that decided the 3-2 semifinal victory. Gardner trailed 2-1 going into the three-minute overtime at 286 pounds (130 kg).

"I've never burned out anybody that badly in my life," Gardner said. "I couldn't believe how easily he started folding."

Karelin, as usual, did not allow a point -- he has yielded only one in 10 years -- in beating Georgi Saldadze of the Ukraine 4-0 in the quarterfinals and Dmitri Debelka of Bulgaria 3-0 in the semifinals.

The 33-year-old Karelin is the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler ever, winning the past 13 world-level championships he has entered. He is so strong -- he once carried a refrigerator up seven flights of stairs rather than ask for help -- that opponents simply cannot create any leverage to put themselves in scoring position.

Gardner, 29, has wrestled Karelin only once, losing in overtime. The gold-medal match will be Karelin's third of the day and Gardner's second.

"If there's anybody here that can beat him, Rulon is the guy," U.S. coach Dan Chandler said.

Unlike most of the other super heavyweights, Gardner doesn't seem intimidated by Karelin, just as American Matt Ghaffari didn't in losing 1-0 in the gold-medal match in Atlanta in 1996. Gardner beat Ghaffari in the U.S. trials this year.

"Let's just hope the three matches tax him," Gardner said. "I want to go out and have some fun with Karelin."

Filberto Azcuy, a 1996 Olympic champion, returned to the gold-medal match by beating Valeri Nikitin of Estonia 6-0 at 152 pounds (69 kg).

Jim Gruenwald, of Milwaukee, dropped his two matches to finish sixth at 127½ pounds (58 kg), losing 11-1 to Zetian Sheng of China and 3-2 to Parviz Zaidvand of Iran.
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