Rulon Gardner escaped any surprises on the mat, but there was one waiting for him in the stands.
Alexander Karelin, the man who lost to Gardner in wrestling's greatest upset, is in Athens to see if Gardner can win another Olympic gold.
Rulon Gardner wins two pool matches, his first in the Olympics since his gold-medal upset of Russia's Alexander Karelin in Sydney, to move within one victory of reaching the Greco-Roman semifinals at 264 1/2 pounds (120kg).
(Hasan Sarbakhshian - AP)
Three matches and three wins into his second Olympics, Gardner is showing Karelin that maybe his upset wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.
Gardner, far more experienced than he was in Sydney, was patient, technically sound and just aggressive enough to hold off three successive upset attempts and reach the semifinals. If he can beat Kazakhstan's Georgi Tsurtsumia today, he will go for another super heavyweight gold later in the day, with a chance to become the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win two golds.
"Nothing against the group in Sydney, but these [early] matches were more difficult than those," Gardner said. "There's more experience here now, and today was tougher."
Gardner opened a busy day in the 264 1/2-pound (120-kg) competition with a 3-0 victory over Lithuania's Mindaugas Mizgaitis, followed it with a tiebreaking decision over 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Sergei Moreyko of Bulgaria and, about five hours later, a 3-0 decision over Poland's Marek Mikulski.
"He was very smart, very calm, very relaxed and very patient," U.S. Coach Steve Fraser said. "He was a very smart wrestler."