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U.S. Olympic Committee Honors Speaker Hastert; Wrestling Gold Medalist Rulon Gardner Makes Presentat



Washington, DC - The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) today named U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) Honorary Vice President of the American Olympic movement. Speaker Hastert, the third highest ranking elected official in the U.S. government, is a former wrestler and wrestling coach. At a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol, Olympic Gold Medalist Rulon Gardner and USOC President Sandy Baldwin presented Speaker Hastert with an official USOC jacket. Gardner also hung a gold medal around the Speaker's neck - the same gold medal the American heavyweight wrestler won in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney after what the USOC calls "one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history" by defeating the previously unbeaten and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Aleksandr Karelin of Russia. The USOC's Board of Directors voted to create the Honorary Vice President designation for the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at its annual meeting last month. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney became Honorary President and Honorary Vice President of the USOC when they were sworn into their official White House positions on January 20, 2001. "Coach" Hastert led the rural Yorkville (IL) High School Foxes to the 1976 Illinois State Wrestling Championship with three state champions, two runners-up, one third place and two fourth place finishers - setting a state record for most team points. Later in 1976, Hastert was named Illinois Coach of the Year. In 1977, Coach Hastert served as President of the National Wrestling Congress, an organization that boosted the sport of amateur wrestling. As a wrestler, Hastert competed at Oswego (IL) High School and Wheaton College in Illinois. Speaker Hastert's prepared remarks follow: "I'm honored to be here with Olympic Committee President Sandy Baldwin and Olympic Gold Medalist Rulon Gardner - the American underdog wrestler who stunned the world in Sydney by defeating "The Russian Bear" Aleksandr Karelin in the championship round. Or, as NBC's Olympic Website still calls it, the Finest Performance Ever, because the undefeated Russian legend had not lost a match - let alone an Olympic medal round - for nearly two decades, 1987 to be exact. How do I know this? Well, some of you may have heard that I have a bit of a passion for wrestling and amateur sports in general. As a small town high school teacher & coach back in Illinois, I found sports, and wrestling in particular, to be great outlets for our nation's youth to learn lifelong lessons. I'm a huge fan of the Olympic and Paralympic movements because they impress upon U.S. athletes the same strong values that I tried to teach my students and wrestlers: Personal Responsibility, Teamwork & Fair Play. In closing, I'm honored to serve as the United States Olympic Committee's Honorary Vice President. Let's now bring home the gold at the Winter Games in Salt Lake in 2002!"
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