We were talking about six pack abs and how shameful they were in the gym today and it reminded me why my sporting hero is Vasily Alexeev.
When I first started going to the gym I was 12 and I went because my big brother trained there. He did bodybuilding training and his role model, the same as everyone who did bodybuilding in those days, was Arnold Schwartzenegger. Naturally Arnold became my role model as well. He did manly poses on top of mountains. “Arnold, an Education of a Bodybuilder”, which I devoured in a day, described how he was generally great and to top it all he was becoming a big film star. What was there not to like? Between the ages of 12 and 15 I followed bodybuilding and despite liking loads of top competitors and also being a fan of other sports Arnold, in my eyes, was the king of them all.
Then I learned about Vasily Alexeev. My coach, a former GB international who lifted in the 60kg class, started to teach me weightlifting and to inspire me gave me a book about Alexeev. It was laid out more like a magazine and although it had text it was the photo’s that really stood out. Where Arnold was a tanned, lean, shaved bodybuilder Alexeev was a man mountain not afraid to carry a bit extra around the waist. Where Arnold’s posing with his six pack abs, peaked biceps and forced smile screamed “love me everyone!” Alexeevs gut and tits bulging out from his skimpy leotard as he hoisted unfeasibly large weights above his head growled “fuck you!” Especially to a boy in cold war era Britain reading about how he did it all for the glory of the communist Soviet Union. I was entranced. This is what I wanted to be like. Not just big and muscly, which at 6ft tall and 25 stone Alexeev undoubtedly was, but an immovable object, the supreme athlete, the strongest man on Earth. Arnold had been well and truly usurped in my affections by the Russian superman.
I still think Arnold is pretty great but Alexeev is one of the greatest sports people of all time. He set 80 world records. His best clean & jerk in competition was 256kg. This was done in Moscow in 1977. Until I just looked it up in Wikipedia I thought his best was 255kg in the 1976 Montreal Olympics – he’s still amazing me!
His first clean & jerk world record was 221.5kg in 1970. In the period between 1970 and 1977 he increased the World record clean & jerk by an astounding 34.5kg. If the current Olympic champion, Behdad Salimi were to improve the world record clean & jerk by as much as Alexeev did over the next seven years it would be 297.5kg in 2021! This sounds ridiculous but I don’t suppose anyone thought Alexeev would be doing 256kg when he broke his first world record in 1970 either.
I often get a bit frustrated with the obsession with looks and preening we’re all exposed to in the leisure/gym industry. Dimitry Klokov is admired in his speedo’s and even photo’s of the great Lu Xiaojun often have more comments about his looks than his performances. I didn’t switch from bodybuilding to weightlifting to worry about how I look in the mirror. This is what Alexeev had to say about his own physique –
“I’ll have time to work on my figure when I retire from weightlifting,”
Vasily said, smiling. “For the moment, I do and will continue to do only that
which makes me stronger. I notice some talented athletes spend more time
building their muscles for the sake of form and that this muscular
development impedes their ability to lift maximum weights. They aren’t too
concerned with their ability to defend the honor of Soviet sports abroad.
What is the sense of their beautiful figures?!”
During his lifting career he was said to have eaten a 36 egg omelette for breakfast every morning and drank 20 pints of beer a day.
And this is what he did about his figure after he retired:
If I can’t be a Lockheed Starfighter in my next life I want to be Vasily Alexeev.
There’s a great article about/interview with Vasily Alexeev at http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/efs-classic-the-science-of-winning-according-to-vasili-alexeyev/