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Original Issue

In from the Cold After a bout with frostbite, Olympic champ Rulon Gardner wrestles on

He looks good, but Rulon Gardner is still finding his feet. Last
Saturday in Las Vegas the superheavyweight gold medalist of the
Sydney Olympics lost a semifinal bout at the Greco-Roman national
championships--his first nationals since a near-fatal snowmobile
accident that led to the loss of a toe. Gardner, 31, was tied 2-2
with Corey Farkas, 28, his Olympic training partner, when Farkas
used a ploy Gardner taught him three years ago. With the
wrestlers chest to chest, Farkas sensed that Gardner would try to
flip him. Farkas gave slightly to make Gardner think he had the
advantage, then shifted his weight and used his leverage to
topple himself onto Gardner for the win.

"It was a bad mistake," says Gardner, who despite wrestling with
his right foot heavily bandaged won his four other matches by a
combined score of 37-1. "I didn't have to attack like that. I got
too excited." The loss spoiled a potential showdown between
Gardner and Dremiel Byers, 28, a U.S. Army sergeant who won the
2002 world title in Gardner's absence. Byers beat Farkas 3-0 in
the final, earning a bye into the championship round of the world
trials next month in Indianapolis. Gardner and Farkas will
compete there for the right to wrestle Byers for a berth on the
world team. Says Gardner, "Now I have a 2,000-degree fire under
my butt."

A victory over Byers would cap a remarkable comeback for Gardner,
who in February 2002 nearly froze to death after becoming
separated from his snowmobiling party on Wagner Mountain, a
10,745-foot peak in western Wyoming (SI, June 3, 2002). When he
was rescued 17 hours later, his clothes were frozen to his body
and his temperature had dropped to 80°. Doctors were forced to
amputate the middle toe on his right foot. Gardner keeps the
digit in a jar in his fridge at his Colorado Springs home.
"People always ask about what happened to it," he says, "so I
have a show-and-tell. It's also a reminder about how far I've
come since last year."

Gardner returned to training in September and quickly recovered
his conditioning and most of his wrestling instincts, though his
footwork is still subpar. "It's hard to push and react with the
confidence I had when I have to go up on my toes," he says, "but
I have no complaints. There's no reason I should be alive after
that night." --Brian Cazeneuve

COLOR PHOTO: RICH FRISHMAN (GARDNER INSET) DOWN BUT NOT OUT Gardner (left, with toe) lost in the nationalsto the tattooed Farkas.