29-year-old American Rulon Gardner beat the unbeatable man at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Russian Alexander Karelin, a Greco-Roman wrestling legend who hadn’t been beaten in 15 years, winner of three consecutive gold medals, hadn’t even given up a point in a decade when he met the Wyoming farm boy on the mat.
Karelin was supposed to win his fourth gold medal in the row: an Olympic record and a legendary feat in Greco-Roman wrestling history. And predictably, he didn’t surrender a point in his march toward the gold medal match.
Rulon Gardner, for his part, wasn’t even expected to even make it to the finals. And he had faced Karelin previously in his career, losing 5-0.
Needless to say, the farmboy was a massive underdog entering the gold medal match. Karelin was a titan inside the ring and deserves a place on the list of scariest fighters ever:
Lustboy: Jungle to Support
Lustboy's career switch from Jungler to Support was an immediately popular decision. Following his move to NA to play with Team SoloMid, the Korean established a cult following on account of his fearless plays.
CoreJJ: AD Carry to Support
One of the most surprising moves in recent off-seasons, CoreJJ announced that he would be leaving struggling
Team Dignitas to join Korean powerhouse Samsung Galaxy as the team's new Support.
Uzi: AD Carry to Mid
The prospect of facing Uzi struck fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned AD Carries. Yet after his dominance of Season 3, Uzi spent the next half of Season 4 as a below-average Mid laner. Thankfully the change was reverted, though his former glory was never quite reestablished.
Locodoco: AD Carry to Support
Perhaps the worst role swap in history, after paving a career as a decent AD Carry in Korea, Locodoco chose to move to CLG to play alongside Doublelift as a Support. Building up an expansive champion pool of one (Nunu), Loco quickly realised his error and returned home to play as an ADC.
Hai: Jungle to Mid to Jungle to Support to Mid
The value of Hai's shot calling is so great, that team's will look to accommodate him into the roster wherever they can.
Xmithie: Jungle to AD Carry
After establishing himself as perhaps the best Jungler in NA during season 3, XDG opted to move the now CLG man to ADC. The swap had disastrous consequences with the team ending up relegated having previously reached the World Championship. Xmithie returned to the Jungle and never looked back.
WildTurtle: Top to AD Carry
A veteran of the scene, WildTurtle is renowned for his aggression as an ADC, though his career initially started as a Top laner the lesser known entity, Monomaniac Dominatus.
Xpeke: Top to Mid to AD Carry to Support
Over the course of his seasoned career, Xpeke has covered every blade of grass on the rift. Beloved for his Fnatic career as a Top and Mid laner, with Origen spiralling the drain Xpeke has since tried his hand at ADC and Support roles... displaying amateur proficiency on both occasions.
Impact: Support to Top
It goes without saying that if you role swap and become a World Champion as a result, then the swap was undoubtedly a success. Impact was considered to be a mid-tier Support in Korea, but after switching to the top lane, he established legendary status as SKT marched to their first World Championship.
Saintvicious: Jungle to Support
Known as a competent Jungler, after switching from CLG to Curse, Saint decided to step away from the Jungling role. After initially adopting a coaching role, Saint took over as Support as the team slumped to 6th place in an eight team league.
Kiwikid: Top to Support
With the iconic Dignitas roster lacking a Support for Imaqtpie, Kiwikid was quick to offer his services in the position. Both Kiwi and QT were quick to admit that the former Top laner was far from a natural in the role, but their friendship allowed for the Dignitas roster to persevere.
Piglet: AD Carry to Mid
How will Piglet compare to other memorable role swaps? Whilst his mechanics are certainly up to LCS standards, does Piglet possess the necessary knowledge of the position to lead Team Liquid to victory?
Doublelift: Support to AD Carry
Another veteran AD Carry who started his career elsewhere on the rift. Playing under the banner of the kings of role swaps, Counter Logic Gaming, Doublelift was moulded into the ADC star the world knows today.
HotshotGG: Top to Jungle
Now owner of Counter Logic Gaming, HotshotGG established his reputation as a feared Nidalee player in the top lane. His move to the Jungle after internal disputes signalled the downwards curve of his playing career.
Alex Ich: Jungle to Support
An icon of his era, few remember Alex Ich initially started his professional career as a Jungler. Alex Ich only became the fabled Mid laner for Moscow 5 on account of an internal dispute.
Throughout the match, Gardner somehow managed to avoid Karelin’s signature reverse body lift, which had vanquished all opponents. And when Gardner broke out of Karelin’s clinch during the second period, he earned the only point of the match. The super-heavyweight dashed around the mat after the referee raised his hand in a 1-0 victory. He even did a cartwheel, then clutched his gold, weeping.
“When did I actually think I could beat him? Maybe 10 minutes ago. I’ve always been an underdog, every step of my life. I can’t believe I actually won.”
Gardner’s underdog dream turned to a nightmare in the years following his gold medal-winning performance. During a 2002 snowmobiling trip, Gardner became separated from the group in Wyoming. He held out for 18 hours in makeshift shelter, nearly freezing to death. In 2007, Rulon survived a light aircraft crash into Lake Powell in Utah. He swam more than an hour in freezing water to reach the shore.
Gardner ballooned to well over 400 pounds and was a contestant on the Biggest Loser. More recently, he faced bankruptcy. Even so, he’ll remain forever the author of one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
You can watch the entirety of his improbable victory below.