Olympian Rulon Gardner wrestling weight demons on 'Biggest Loser' - East Valley Tribune: Television

Olympian Rulon Gardner wrestling weight demons on 'Biggest Loser'

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Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 12:45 pm | Updated: 2:35 pm, Wed Feb 23, 2011.

Rulon Gardner has trained hard before. Hard enough to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympics and a bronze medal in 2004.

But he's never trained the way he is now on NBC's "The Biggest Loser" (8 p.m. EST Tuesdays).

"It's like a taking a 20-yard dash and running into a brick wall every day," said Gardner, who had gained more than 200 pounds since 2004.

Which is why Gardner is a contestant on the weight-loss show, which can be rather humiliating. "It's embarrassing to come out and see the video of you in Athens when you're 264 pounds, you're very defined and you're ripped," Gardner said. "And to be on this show, it's like -- oh my heck, look at what happened!"

When Gardner stepped on the "Biggest Loser" scales, he was shocked to see he weighed in at 474 pounds.

One of his sisters is a cardiologist, and she had been trying to get him to pay attention to his weight, but he kept ignoring her, even when she said: "Rulon, you're going to die within 10 years because you're so obese."

"I've always been able to look in the mirror and see myself at 265 pounds," he said. "I've never seen myself as 474 pounds."

Until he saw himself on television.

In June 2010, he was in Oklahoma to be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He ate the big dinner at the ceremony, then went out for fast food and took it back to his hotel.

"I was eating my food, watching the TV, and they talked about me getting inducted into the Hall of Fame," Gardner said. "And I almost didn't recognize myself on TV. I'd gained so much weight. I said, 'Holy cow. This is truly embarrassing.' "

With help from USA Wrestling, he contacted NBC, which contacted the "Biggest Loser" casting department. He was told: "You've got to try out like everybody else."

Surprisingly, the producers didn't leap at the chance to cast an Olympic gold medalist.

Instead, he had to meet with NBC executives, who drilled him: "Why do you think you deserve to be here?" That almost scared him off.

But Gardner buddy Justin Pope -- now his partner on this edition of "Biggest Loser" --"called out" the execs in the room. "He was fired up, and I think part of the reason I made this show was because of him," Gardner said.

"I think we're both going to push each other to the end," said Pope, who is Gardner's business partner and co-owner of a Logan, Utah, health club. And Pope has a history of beating the former Olympian, back when they were junior-high wrestlers.

("Biggest Loser" contestants compete in pairs, but it's also an individual competition with only one winner.) The grand prize is $250,000.

"It's like 'Groundhog Day' every day," Gardner said. "Gotta get up and lose the weight. Gotta get up and lose the weight. I don't think it's about winning the money, it's about having good health."

However hard the "Biggest Loser" workouts appear on TV, they're harder when you're the one working out.

"Holy crap, I actually felt that we were working harder than I ever did as an Olympic athlete," Gardner said. "As an Olympic athlete, yeah, I worked hard. But my body was used to the competition. When I got to 'The Biggest Loser,' I'm 474 pounds trying to run sprints the first day."

But he claims he is bringing the same focus to the show that he brought to the Olympics.

"I have some things I'm working on here. I need to take care of myself," Gardner said. "I need to make this about me. About making choices and figuring out why I've been foolish in the past and what choices I'm going to make to make sure I'm not foolish in the future. Ultimately, it's about taking some responsibility and not making excuses like I've made the last six years."

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