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Telander: It’s a crying shame star athletes are going bankrupt

Wrestler RulGardner who wgold Sydney Olympics 2000 is bankrupt auctioning off lot his possessions. | Mark J. Terrill~AP

Wrestler Rulon Gardner, who won gold in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, is bankrupt and auctioning off a lot of his possessions. | Mark J. Terrill~AP

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:30AM

Our topic for today is money.

I guess you could say that’s the topic of every sports column ever written — if you’re cynical and don’t believe in athletic competition as fantasy, escape, myth, test, beauty, bonding, life in microcosm.

Me, I waver back and forth.

Crusty to dreamy.

So here we go:

RULON GARDNER, the Greco-Roman wrestler who won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, has filed for bankruptcy.

Maybe none of us thought he’d become a rich man after beating impregnable and terrifying Alexander Karelin at the Sydney Games, but I, at least, thought the big, cheerful guy with such a close resemblance to Curly of the Three Stooges would do OK.

But he became nothing but bad luck. A plane crash, a snowmobile incident that left him minus a frostbitten toe, a failed stint on the cunningly named weight-reduction TV show, ‘‘The Biggest Loser,’’ all predated financial wreckage.

Poor Rulon owes creditors almost $3 million, and according to the bankruptcy filing, he and his wife, Kamie, have a combined yearly income of about $37,000. So he’s auctioning off a lot of his stuff, including a motorcycle, an Olympic ring, knives and watches to make some repayment.

You hate to see this happen, but, well, it does all the time.

And what I will remember is Gardner in the ring in Australia against the caveman-browed, ferocious, undefeated Russian Karelin in a match that surely was going to be another win for the incredibly strong and sculpted Siberian. Gardner looked like a cartoon fat guy, his torso shaped like a whisky-aging barrel from a Tennessee distillery.

Yet that was the key. His 57-inch chest led down to something like a 50-inch waist, and trying to wrap one’s arms around Gardner must have been like trying to grab an upright hog.

Karelin’s grip broke during one lockup — his hands just failing to clasp around Gardner’s immensity, and that was the basis for the sole point in the American’s shocking 1-0 win.

It may have been the single most dramatic and exciting sporting event I’ve ever seen. Indeed, I feel like sending Gardner $100 for the thrill.

EMBATTLED ARKANSAS FOOTBALL coach John L. Smith, he of the recent and bizarre ‘‘Smile!’’ speech to newsmen, filed for bankruptcy in early September.

According to news reports, he owes almost $27 million for, among other things, failed real-estate investments, and he has assets of a little more than $1 million. Most of that money is tied up in pension and retirement funds and is not, as they say, ‘‘liquid.’’

What is liquid, according to USA Today, is $300 cash in Smith’s wallet and $500 in his checking account. Smith is just an interim coach, and he has a 10-month contract for $850,000. That will be running out soon, and you gotta figure Smith will not be re-upped to coach the Razorbacks in the future.

Good luck, John L. The math looks bad. But, remember, sometimes even a blind hog finds a nut.

REMEMBER VINCE YOUNG, the former glorious quarterback for Texas, the crazily talented big guy who led the Longhorns to a thrilling national championship by beating the Reggie Bush-led USC Trojans 41-38 in the 2006 Rose Bowl?

He’s broke, too.

It’s hard to believe, but Young, who was the third player taken in the 2006 NFL draft, is out of the league and apparently without savings. And this was a young man who signed a contract that paid him a guaranteed $26 million.

Sometimes I like to do a rough, hypothetical money-loss chart in my brain to see what these rich guys would have had to do to lose everything.

Let’s say, without any corroboration or research, that Young paid, mmm, 50 percent taxes on his income. And he paid his agent, let’s say, 10 percent.

And he bought fancy cars for half a million. And a house for $2 million. And he gave his mom and hangers-on another couple mil. Then he partied through a million. And lost $2 million in bad investments.

That still leaves him with almost $3 million.

Yeah, agents and riffraff can steer you wrong. And money for a young man is a hard thing to deal with. It doesn’t buy happiness or security or much more than Rolexes and rings and rims.

But, man, there’s just something about the sheer, unadulterated loss that is baffling and vicariously painful.

Unless you dig watching successful folks go up in flames. Which we all do, from time to time.

Which brings us to Savannah State. The Tigers lost their first two games, against Oklahoma State and Florida State, by a combined 139-0. And one of those games was rain-shortened.

Why the beatings? That’s right, money!

The rich schools giveth. And — here’s the lesson, kids — the scores of those whoremongering rump-whackings are never taken away.

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