RIP, Vasily Alexseyev.
Vasily Alexseyev never looked like Mr. Universe. He didn’t even look like one of those Nordic strongmen you see on ESPN9. He didn’t have the sculpted, rippling muscles nor did he have those six-pack abs that look like you could grate cheese on them. Instead, in his prime in the 1970’s, this Russian goliath sported a 50-inch waist and 23-inch biceps while packing somewhere around 350 pounds on his 6’2″ frame.
Yet in his time, Alexseyev was the strongest man in the world.
People my age might remember spending Saturday afternoon parked in front of the television taking in Wide World of Sports. This was where my first lesson in the power of the vast waistband was learned in the form of the walking spheroid known as Vasily Alexseyev. The Russian super-heavyweight was a hero to bigger gentlemen everywhere; he was living proof that it isn’t what you look like, it’ s what you can do.
Alekseyev, the son of a lumberjack, was born January 7, 1942 in the village of Pokrovo-Shishkino, Ryazan Oblast, Russia. By the age of 12, he was chopping down trees and man-handling the logs for exercise; by 14 he was man-handling woodsmen twice his age as he was already near six feet tall and 200 pounds.
But Alexseyev was more than braun; he graduated the Novocherkassk Polytechnic Institute in 1971 as a mining engineer.
Alexseyev’s formal training as a competitive weightlifter began a decade earlier in 1961 while he was enrolled at the Soviet Forestry Institute. From there, Alekseyev trained at Trud Voluntary Sports Society with coach Rudolf Plyukfelder. Alexseyev developed his own exceptionally rigorous training regimen which involved, amongst other Herculean tasks, diving into a pool with a full bar of weights, then pressing them out of the water.
He burst onto the weightlifting scene in 1970 when he shattered four world records at the 1970 Soviet junior championships. This was the beginning of a series of 80 world records he would set between 1970 and 1977. During that time, Alexseyev was never beaten in competition and he both the World Championship and European Championship titles for those eight years. He also took home the gold medals in weightlifting from the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich and the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
It was at the 1976 Olympics where Alexseyev truly put on a display, snatching a then-Olympic record 407 pounds of barbells into the air. He followed that with a then-world record 561 pound clean and jerk.
If that weren’t enough, Alexseyev cemented the claim to being the greatest superheavyweight weightlifter ever by being the first to Clean and Jerk 500 pounds and the first man ever to total over 600 kg in the triple event.
In 1999, in Greece, Alekseyev was acknowledged as the best sportsman of the 20th century. He was also awarded Order of Lenin (1972), Order of Friendship of Peoples, Order of the Badge of Honour (1970), Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1972). In 1993 he was elected member of the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame.
And he didn’t do all that by eating salads.
До свидания и удача, Vasily.
What do you picture when you think of a world-class athlete? Just because a guy has a beer-gut doesn’t mean he isn’t an athlete. In fact, the guy who is a bit bigger around the middle than he should be might just be able to totally kick your ass. There is almost no better place to find examples of this than the National Football League.
The history of the NFL ripples with examples. Recent memory suggests William “The Refrigerator” Perry, who became a such a star with the Chicago Bears that he is one of the few real people to be immortalized as a GI Joe figurine. He got to kick it 80’s cheese-tacular style with wrestling champ Hulk Hogan and Mr. T on the “A-Team.” Honestly, in his playing days, Perry’s status as figure was dwarfed only by his mammoth carriage, packing 380 pounds on a 6 foot 2 inch frame. His size 25 Super Bowl ring is the largest made to date (the ring has adequate circumference to drop a 50-cent piece through it).
Perry was not the only NFL Brobdingnagian to hang out with pro wrestlers. To go from “The Fridge” to the “The Big Cat” all one has to do is go back a few years and go up about half a foot. Ernie Ladd dominated the trenches of pro football in the 1960’s. Ladd was such an enormous chunk of humanity that Jon Morris, an offensive lineman for the then-Boston Patriots was once quoted as saying “Ladd was so big, he blocked out the sun. It was dark. I couldn’t see the linebackers. I couldn’t see the goalposts. It was like being locked in a closet.”
This brings us to what may be my favorite fat footballer of all time, Colts’ hall-of-famer Art Donovan. He may not have a building with hair like Perry or Ladd, but he was no svelte figure either. In any event, Donovan could fill a stage with both his girth and his larger than life persona; just ask David Letterman.
If the NFL isn’t your thing, just look to the world of Olympic weightlifting. Hossain Rezazadeh is the current world record holder in the Clean and Jerk. To say he’s the sculpted Adonis you see in those bodybuilding competitions would be like saying sea water both tastes good and is good for you.
It would be far more accurate to say Rezazadeh’s physique more resembles a giant condom filled with ground beef to its bursting point. That doesn’t change the fact that he can do something no other human has ever done; lift 580 pounds over his head.
People my age might remember spending Saturday afternoon parked in front of the television taking in Wide World of Sports. This was where my first lesson in the power of the vast waistband was learned in the form of the walking spheroid known as Vasily Alexseyev.
Alexseyev was the first man to Clean and Jerk 500 pounds, a feat that lead to his setting 80 world records and winning 22 world and national titles along with two Olympic gold medals. He was also not a greek statue; he more resembled the offspring of a shaved bear and a manatee.
The NFL and its scouting process brings us the latest example in Herculean strength housed in a gargantuan body, former Alabama defensive lineman Terence Cody. Listed at 6 feet 5 inches and 365 pounds (if by 365 you mean 400, then OK), Cody draws stares because most people can’t believe a man with the physique of the Stay-Puft marshmallow guy is a prime example of capable athlete possessing both the monstrous strength and quickness required to play defensive line in the NFL.
Again it is about being task-specific. He’s not going to be a swimsuit model, he’s going to be engaging in vicious hand-to-hand combat 16 Sundays a year with human battleships. In other words, it isn’t about what you look like, it’s about what you can do. Being that Cody can squat 700 pounds, bench-press 460 and has a surprisingly quick time in the 40-yard dash, he should be quite effective clogging up the middle of the field as an interior lineman. So get off the fact that Cody’s body looks like a Hefty bag filled with melted Tootsie Rolls.
The bottom line is that none of these guys are the embodiment of what Americans picture when they think of an athlete. The problem is that Americans forget that athletes are task specific. Granted, nobody would pick any of the aforementioned flesh planets for an event requiring fleet-of-foot pretty boys, but in a world that occasionally needs a body so massive it exerts its own gravitational pull, you have to appreciate these guys for the raw brute force they can generate. The simple fact is that after a certain point in the bodyweight/strength ratio, you have to be fat to be strong.
If you can’t grasp that concept, you’ve probably watched too many Schwarzenegger movies.