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Interview with Aslanbek Yenaldiev

by Sport of Iriston (2002)
Translation by Arthur Chidlovski

Comments by Lift Up: Aslanbek Yenaldiev remains somewhat a mysterious character in the history of Olympic weightlifting. On the one hand, media coverage of his lifting career was rather obscure. His best years were overshadowed by legendary Vasily Alexeev who very seldom allowed anyone to get close enough to share the spotlight on the top of the medal stand. On the other hand, various resources mentioned his outstanding 455 kg training squats that provoked enormous interest to Yenaldiev not only among Olympic lifters but among powerlifters around the world as well.

The following interview presents Yenaldiev's own view on his career, teammates, coaches. To some extend, it opens up a curtain that covered many stories for general public for many years. Besides the interview, you might view the profile of Aslanbek Yenaldiev @ Lift Up or scroll down to see Aslanbek Yenaldiev: Gallery.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Aslanbek Yenaldiev was as popular and loved by people of Osetia as was Soslan Andiev. It doesn't matter that he didn't succeed to compete at the Olympics, didn't win the world title. For thousands of people, he will remain the first Osetian Olympic weightlifter to reach such an elite level. It was easier for the rest of athletes - they just followed the steps of the first one.

It was prewritten for Yenaldiev that the peak of his sports career took place in the time of unlimited championship of the great Soviet super heavyweight Vasily Alexeev. Brezhnev loved Alexeev, considered him a symbol of Russian strength or, as it was said often, "the stongest man on the planet" It was really hard to compete with him. With his surroundings. With the whole system.

It wasn't in the character of Yenaldiev to keep quiet. Whenever he saw injustice, he had to speak up. Some didn't like him for this. Some, on the contrary, respected him for the same quality. But his friends and opponents agreed on one thing - Yenaldiev was a phenomenon in the Soviet and world weightlifting. He had a talent that people have once in a century.

 

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A matter of an accident or a will of fortune...

Aslanbek, it was said that you became a weightlifter purely by accident. Is it true?

We lived in the Kosta village. The idols of my childhood were wrestlers Bola Kanukov, Boris Kulaev, Saukudz Dzasarov, Tauzvek Dzakhsorov... I knew the name of Yury Vlasov. At that time, he was very popular, the newspapers wrote about him, the newsreels in the movie theaters showed his footage. I don't know the reason but right away he became my ideal. My relative Kazbek Dzaparov returned after service in the army and opened a weightlifting gym for the older kids. Kazbek learned weightlifting in the army and reached class A in Olympic weightlifting. He lifted 120-125 kilos. It was a fantastic result for us. We were looking into the gym windows to watch him lifting. They hushed us away but we were coming back to watch. I think I was the pushiest and Kazbek let me into the gym. That was the first time in my life when I touched the bar. As for the first competitions, it was when I was a student of a senior year in college.

Why was it such a long wait in between?

Kazbek didn't coach us for a long time. He left. I worked as a turner on the farm and at night went to high school. I wasn't up to weightlifting.

I have no idea why I didn't become an artist.

Before, I couldn't imagine myself being anyone but an artist. I loved it. Once, there was an exhibition in our school attended by Kazbek Khetagurov. He wasn't a distinguished painter yet. He saw my work and asked where I lived. Then he visited our house. He was visiting us every Saturday afterwards, taught me the skills of painting. I still don't know why I didn't follow that path. I guess it wasn't prewritten for me.

Have you tried to audition for the arts school?

Yes, I did. After the eighth grade. My drawings received only A's. But my knowledge of Russian was poor. As a result, those who couldn't draw but spoke Russian were accepted and I wasn't. I still don't understand how this criteria system can determine the talent of a child. I could have painted without knowing any other subjects... Talent has to be supported.

The first start.

How did you get back to weightlifting?

As I said, I was a senior year student in the agricultural college. There was a championship of the city and our college decided to send a team. Famous weightlifter Anatoly Sabeev was the dean. My bodyweight was only 73 kilos and my height was 185 cm. I still remember my results - 90 kilos press, 77 kilos snatch and 115 kilos cj. I did it without any training, wearing regular shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. Another famous lifter of the time, Robert Ikaev approached me, tapped me on a shoulder and invited to train at the local Spartak Club.

I wanted to go there but then I changed my mind. I had to go back home to Kosta every night after school. It was difficult with the transportation back then. I wasn't up to training. Besides, I was the oldest son in the family and had to help in the house.

One can't hide from a destiny.

Still, later on you began to train with Ikaev as your coach...

Two years after that, I got to the dining room and saw that there were weightlifters with Ikaev sitting there. I was ashamed and wanted to leave but Robert saw me and said "Come on - come to the gym today!" I went to the gym and they had competitions on the same day. I remember that I lifted 120 kilos. Most friends didn't recommend me to get involved in the weightlifting - most suggested track and field or wrestling... But I couldn't see myself in any sport but weightlifting.

I have to accept I missed a lot of training - sometimes I trained twice a week, sometimes no training at all. And only in the last year in college, Robert got a room for me in the dorm and I attended training regularly for six month.

At the Championship of Russia (juniors) I pressed 160 kg (could have done 170 kg), snatched 135 kg and cj'd 182.5 kg and became the Master of Sports in total. I got the third place and my own bodyweight was 102 kilos.

What bodyweight was most comfortable for you?

I began to feel myself as a real weightlifter when I was in the super heavyweight - over 110 kg. Before that, it wasn't me really.

What was you favorite lift?

Had they not cancelled the press, I would have reached 700 kg in total. I had tons of strength and no techniques. Therefore, it was easier for me to press than to clean-and-jerk. As for the snatch, I couldn't get it for a long time. Only because of the press lift, I showed good results in total. I remember the Chairman of Sports Committee called me to his office:

"Get your gear immediately - you are going to the national championship"

"What championship? I have exams to study for. It's been only 20 days since the national juniors, I haven't trained - just studied."

"Don't worry about the exams - we'll figure it out! You've got fours hours before your flight!"

They put me into the car and flew me over to Petrozavodsk. I got to the hotel and then took the wrong bus and...

I was late for the weigh-in. The head coach of Team Russia Yury Duganov yelled at me:

"I'll disqualify you!"

Me? For what? I didn't attend the training camp, I wasn't a member of Team Russia and I got there purely by accident. Why would they disqualify me?

Duganov was really mad because Russia was loosing to Ukraine. So, I told Duganov:

"Don't disqualify me. I'll compete in the super heavy!"

Well, it was easy to say - my bodyweight was only 105 kg and super heavyweight class wais over 110 kg. So, I went to the dining room and got a lot of food and drinks trying to gain extra 5 kilos. All of a sudden, these guys showed up at my table and began to yell at me... They were Russian coaches and they were really mad that Team Russia is loosing.

I got really upset... But there are nice and kind people in this world... There was this little old coach - he began to calm me down and managed to prepare me for competition. Then, the other lifters from Team Russia began to help me... To make the long story short, I drank tons of grapefruit juice but on the scales I was still 0.2 kg under. Duganov ordered "Drink more!" And the juice was already bubbling in my throat...

What could I do then? Drank it, of course...

Team interests are above personal ones

So, how did the competititon go under the circumstances?

I don't remember the details. The lineup was big. Each weigh 130 kilos plus... I looked like a yellow chicken next to them. Valentin Kuzmin who everybody thought will replace Zhabotinsky, Chapaikin, other supers...

I started to press with 160 kg. In the first attempt, I cleaned it with such fury that almost broke my adam apple - I fainted still holding the bar...

Everybody laughed at me in the hall... Then they cheered me up. "Don't kill youself" - some fans yelled in Osetian. So, I pressed these 160 kg. Then I snatched 135 kg and cj'd 177 kg. I got the third place in total. For many, it was a big surprise.

To reach the second place after Kuzmin and for Team Russia to win over Ukraine, I needed to cj 187.5 kg. Duganov was all over me:

"Well done! Well done! Getting golden points for us!"

Were you afraid?

On the contrary. I became so proud that I am just an unknown village guy from Osetia and I can help Team Russia. Anyway, I went to the platform and cj'd it like it was nothing loaded. It happened to me only twice when my lift determined whether out national team would win or not. The second time was when I competed in armwrestling. I competed for national Team Russia at the world championship in Sweden. I was already 47 and, being in the heavy weight class, I was the last one to compete against an American. The situation was the following: if I win, Team Russia was going to win for the first time in the history.

Thanks God, I won and our team took the first place.

Probably after that championship, weightlifter Yenaldiev became one of the biggest hopes of the team?

No. It's not true. I got drafted to the army. I served in sports company and trained in Shakhty under the guidance of Rudolf Plukfelder who coached Alexeev, Rigert, Kolesnikov, Vakhonin. All of them became champions of Olympic Games. Plukfelder asked me to stay in Shakhty. But I couldn't imagine myself without Osetia. Even in the army, I competed for Osetia.

At the USSR Army Championship in Riga, I lifted 525 kg in total and became the first member of the Club 500 in Osetia. It was a dream come through. Although, I came back from the army with the back injury. And it seemed that everybody gave up on me - that's it for Yenaldiev.

I took it personal. I trained really hard at home in Kosta and was going through physical therapy sessions in the city hospital. Then, Team Czechoslovakia came to our republic for a match and I was remembered again. Czechs had Pavlasek in the super heavyweight. He was a giant - 155 kg bodyweight. He won the fifth place at the previous world championship. My bodyweight was 125 kg at the time. Anyway, I won the tournament.

Overall, it was not a lucky time for me. In Lipetsk in 1972, I dropped the barbell on my leg. The pain was excruciating. The doctors helped me to get up but I refused to take the shoes off... and literally felt that the foot got warm because the blood filled up my shoe... I was afraid if they found out I wouldn't be allowed to compete. I got really mad at myself that I was so unlucky. I took the second place because I couldn't cj 205 kg in the last attempt. The foot really hurt...

I went to the hospital afterwards. Actually, they called the emergency... The doctors saw my leg and got into panic. I told them "Don't worry - it's been like this for a while... right from the begining of the competitions..."

I wasn't lucky at all. But I think God sends people challenges to see how strong they are.

Why wasn't your snatch lift coming along?

I couldn't understand the lift. Plukfelder used to tell me "You'll have a huge press and a huge clean-and-jerk but you will snatch 170 kg at max."

He was right. I didn't know how to snatch right. I thought about it days and nights... And one morning, I woke up and got it... I ran outside my house wearing just underwear and began to snatch. I took the bar with a wider grip and the weight just flew up! Once I realized my mistake, all went really well and my mood got really great.

I went to Tbilisi to compete at the 1974 USSR Championship. Zhabotinsky wasn't competing already... but there were Alexeev, Kuzmin, Borodin. Plukfelder told me to open with the 155 kg snatch.

I disagreed. I wanted to start with 162.5 kg. He didn't let me. I said I will not compete then. Anyway, I snatched 162.5 easy and looked at the coach - his jaw just froze...

He didn't know that I worked on the snatch lift on my own. The second attempt - 167.5 kg went up even easier. I power snatched it. Then I snatched 172.5 kg and broke my personal best by 17.5 kg. At that time there were 4-5 lifters who could snatch over 170 kg.

Of course, everybody was surprised. I outlifted Kuzmin by 10 kg and was 7.5 kg behind Alexeev. In the second lift, I cj'd 217.5 and took the second place behind Alexeev.

I was ready to cj 225 kg but here is what happened. After Plukfelder saw my snatch, he told me not to warm up before he told me to do so... and, for some reason, he forgot about me. I heard my name called and I had no warm-up at all. I thought to pass it but then I changed my mind and rushed to the platform. It was a miss. I got it only in the second attempt...

Then the competition led to the moment when in order to get the silver medal, I had to cj 217.5 kg. I decided not to risk it and easily lifted it. I became the silver medalist of the USSR Championship. I got offers to move to Moscow or Rostov. Plukfelder offered a 3-bedroom appartment and all training condititions I wanted... but I didn't go there - I went home.

Then, there was the World Championship in Phillipines. They didn't take me with the team - although, I could have easily taken the silver medal after Alexeev. Serge Reding was the second with 390 kg in total and I won the silver medal at the 1974 USSR Championship with 400kg=175+225. I became the first member of Club 400 in North Osetia and North Caucaus.

Then the was the Cup of the Strongest Man on the Planet, right?

Yes, it was also called the world championship among the super heavyweights. In 1974, the best supers gathered in London. It was a popular tournamnet with many fans attending. The list of participants included Gerd Bonk, Jurgen Hoiser, Khristo Plachkov, Nagy, Pavlasek, Khristov. The Soviet Union was represented by Alexeev and myself.

It was my debut on the international arena and my first trip abroad. Of course, I was very nervous. Although I was in a good shape, the coaches assigned low openning weights for me. I opened easily with the 167.5kg snatch. Alexeev started with 172.5 kg. He made two attempts and both times failed. I snatched 172,5 kg and began to wait for Alexeev. He went on with 177.5 kg risking to bomb out and barely snatched it. By that time, it was just me and him competeing - the rest of the pack were done.

Prior to the tournament, Alexeev told me, "Hey, Aslan, it won't be easy for you today - I am lighter than you today!" I was naive and believed him - although, actually it was the other way around. So, I went on to snatch 180 kg. I did everything right but in the last moment the bar turned a bit in front and I dropped it... I am positive - I would have snatched 177.5kg and won the snatch.

Then, the clean-and-jerk part started. Again, my opener was low. Only 215 kg. A month ago, at the Russian championship my opener was 220 kg. I got it easily and proceeded with 225 kg. The 235 kg cj was close... But what could I do - it was not for me to decide how to compete in London. I cj'd 215 kg easily. Alexeev begab with 222.5 kg and barely managed the lift. I did the 222.5 kg and again it was just me and him competing. The silver medal was already in my pocket. Alexeev went for 227.5. I don't know what was going on with him but he lifted really slow and rough. However he cj'd the weight and he was on the first place again. We both got one attempt left. The coaches loaded 230 kg for me and it went nice and easy. Alexeev had no choice but to cj the world record and... amazingly, did it! I had no lifts left to anser.

That was the end of the London tournament. Alexeev was # 1. I was # 2.

I went to congratulate my teammate after the competitions and Alexeev smiled to me:

"Hey, Aslan, I lied to you - actually I am 10 kilos heavier!"

That cost me the tournament.

I still think that had they let me start with the weights I usually opened with, it would have been questionable who might have won in London.

At the next Cup of the Strongest Man of the Planet in November 1975 in London, I was again second in the snatch but won in the clean-and-jerk. I won the silver medal in total. But honestly, I wasn't prepared as well as I was in 1974. It just happened that way. What could you do...

What were your relationships with Alexeev?

They were normal. He is 7 years older than me. When I just began lifting, he was already not just a champion but the living legend. We spent a lot of time together and I saw with my own eyes how he worked. I respected him for that. I still respect him - you can't take it away from him, he was an outstanding athlete. But it's sports. Everybody wants to win. I dreamed about winning over Alexeev. In those years, it was almost impossible.

There was no comparison between the conditions of training that were offered to Alexeev and to me... He had everything he needed - just live and train. I trained all my life in the basements - never trained in modern lifting halls. Still, imagine when I reached the Master of Sports, Alexeev's total was 140 kg more than mine. How could I imagine that in two years I would be so close competing with him!

In one of his interviews, Vasily Alexeev spoke about his successors and gave you a very flattering description: "Yenadiev's legs and arms are huge levers. To me, snatching 150 kilos in training is heroics, he could power snatch it five times."

Very true. Alexeev didn't make it up. Overall, he was big in my eyes. There was a moment though when I began to doubt if he was sincere with me. In 1976, both of us were selected to go to the Olympics. That was the Olympics where Soslan Andiev won his first gold. I earned that ticket to the Olympic Games at the tournament in Feodosia.

I got official congratulions and they gave me the uniform. All of a sudden, a few days before the departure, I found out that it was decided that I was not going. Of course, I went to see the Team USSR head coach Igor Kudyukov.

"What happened?"

He had to tell me that Alexeev went to the Minister of Sports Pavlov and gave him an ultimatum - if Yenaldiev would go to the Olympics, he wouldn't. Yenaldiev or him! That was it for me. I still don't know if it was true.

Had I gone to the Olympics, I should have at least won a silver medal. My pre-Olympic result was 20 kg higher than the one that was shown by Gerd Bonk from Germany who won the second place. By the way, I only used 3 attempts at that tournament - two in the snatch and one in cj. That was enough for the win.

In your opinion, why did the coaches decide to go with two lifters in the other weightclass? Everybody knew that there were no equals to you and Alexeev which meant gold and silver medal for sure.

I had no support behind me. No one said a word to support my candidacy.

Besides, I turned down all offers to compete for the other cities and republics. How did it usually go? Everybody tried to push their own lifters.

I remember the 1975 Druzhba Cup in Zaporozhie. The coach of Zhabotinsky, Aisenshtadt followed me all the time and kept asking me to compete for Ukraine. There were so many promises. I turned them down all. I couldn't live without Osetia. Even now, if I don't see mountains for a day, I get homesick.

So, they decided to use the help of another Osetin, Hero of the Soviet Union lieutenant general Bilaonov to help them. He was an Army Commander in Kiev, Ukraine. I just won the Druzhba Cup and in my hotel room I got a phone call:

"Give me Yenaldiev".

"This is he."

He switched to the Osetian, introduced himself. It was very nice and I said:

"Do you stay here in the hotel? How did you find me?"

"No, Aslan, I am in Kiev now. Aslan, come to Kiev. Tomorrow. We'll give you a car, give you a military rank, give you an appartment or even a house. There will be a green light for you wherever you need to go."

I listened to him and then answered:

"It's all great. How about our homeland? About our people? People would say that Yenaldiev got sold out. I wouldn't be able to look in their eyes."

He didn't expect this kind of answer, got quiet and then said:

"I understand these feelings. But if you stay there, you won't go anywhere. Come here - I am waiting for you."

That was the end of the conversation. I thought about that phone call for a while. I really wanted to go and to see famous general from my republic. But then I decided not to go because it would mean that I agreed to move to Kiev. Otherwise, why else would I go there...

His words about me going nowhere happened to be true. They didn't let me go anywhere.

Do you think that if you had moved then, you would have been selected for the 1976 Olympics?

Maybe. But it wasn't mine. I couldn't overstep over my feelings. Home is home and homeland is not a meaningless thing for me. I was born in Osetia, my roots are here. God gave me all I have here.

Character and Strength of Spirit

Did you watch the Olympics on TV?

To be honest with you, I didn't. It was too painful to force myself to sit in front of the TV.

I went to the mountains to forget the whole story. Right after that, I repeated Alexeev's Olympic record at the USSR Cup in Sverdlovsk. So, I could have been the first one. I was lighter than him.

In Svedlovsk, coaches showed openly who they liked and who they disliked. I snatched 182.5kg and then 187.5kg. Rakhmanov snatched 193 kg. I had to go for 193.5 kg. The platform was old and tilted. When I was getting ready for the pull, the weight rolled a bit forward. Still, I managed to lift it. But had to chase it a touch and ended up on the edge of the platform. I stopped and held the weight and waited for the ref's signal. It was about 20 seconds of wait. And the front of my shoe went a notch over the edge. No lift.

We started the cj lift. Rakhmanov did 230 and 235 kg. I opened with 235 which guaranteed me the second place. I began waiting for my opponents - Rakmanov and Povaga. Rakhmanov cj'd 240 kg, Povaga ended on 242.5 kg and I had two attempts left. I had to cj 247.5 kg to get ahead of Rakhmanov. I went to the platform, pulled the bar and dropped it... No lift.

What happened after that?!. Head coach Kudyukov began to scream:

"Well done, Sultan! You are the Champ! He can't lift it."

And I was standing right there and saw it with my own eyes. I went to the bar again and in a moment cj'd it above my head. I put it down quietly and looked at the coach - he just spinned around under my look.

Behind the Scenes in Sports.

Why were the coaches so much against you?

They supported Rakhmanov. Alexeev was about to retire. Who would replace him? Rakhmanov competed for Ukraine (his mother is Ukrainian), he was supported by powerful coaches and influential people.

And who was I? Some loner from Osetia who in addition had his own opinion. They were mostly concerned about their interests. It's a pro sport. They used many things against me.

Here is one of the examples. Before the USSR Championship we trained in Podolsk. The supers usually compete in the end. So, it was just me and Alexeev and a couple of coaches left. I had a breakfast in the morning and all of sudden felt a sharp pain in the stomach. I ran to my room and threw up there. The coach of Spartak Ivan Muromtsev entered my room and saw me sick.

"What happened?"

I told him that I ate something for breakfast and it didn't like me. I asked him not to tell others about this. Otherwise, it would have given an advantage and more confidence to Alexeev.

Muromtsev brought me some sparkling water and I laid in bed for the rest of the day.

The next morning the story happened again. I was vomiting with blood this time but still asked Muromtsev not to tell anyone. I stopped eating - just drank spring water.

The next morning I went to the diner for breakfast again. Alexeev was sitting on the bench in front of the diner and getting some sun. We had a chit chat conversation about this and that and, when I was about ready to leave, he asked:

"Didn't you get poisoned?"

It was like a thunder storm in my mind. How could he know? I slowly turned back to him and said:

"Do I look like a man who got poisoned? I am strong as a bull!"

I stopped having breakfast in the diner and bought groceries from the warehouse.

Even in Rostov, I didn't eat until the tournament was over. To be honest with you, I expected a big battle in Rostov. Rakhmanov showed very good lifts prior to that. But there was no battle. Alexeev didn't compete. Rakhmanov barely snatched 182.5 kg and then bombed out with the 222.5 kg cj. Okorokov cj'd 225 and that was it. I easily snatched 185 kg despite the weakness. I planned to open cj with 240 kg. When Rakhmanov bombed out I went with 230 kg - cj'd it easily and won without problems.

The initial plan was to send just one super to the World Championship, but they still added Alexeev to the lineup. By the way, later he told me that he was thinking all night whether to go to Rostov or not. Finally, he made up his mind and didn't go.

Prior to the World and European Championship, you managed to compete at the Old World vs. New World match in Budapest...

Yes. It was supposed to be the Panonia Cup in Hungary. I was told not to worry, Rakhmanov and Alexeev had to go there. I was maxing out in training. Two days before the tournament, Kudyukov approached me and said:

"Rakhmanov and Alexeev will not compete in Hungary. You will!"

I realized right away that there was a trap in it. They wanted me to fail there.

"Wait a minute - I wasn't training for that!"

"No, you have to go."

It was terribly hot in Budapest. I failed to snatch even 140 kg in the warm-up. The legs were asleep. There were 2-3 days left. What did I do? I laid down on a wide bed, put two chairs in the bottom and pillows on top. Then I put my legs on top. So, I laid like this for two days. I remember Adam Saydullaev who won the USSR title in the 90 kg class kept inviting me to go shopping. I refused and then finally agreed. I lasted only couple of blocks and then went back to the hotel - I didn't get there for shopping! I told Adam "Look, if you fail here, they wouldn't take you to the Worlds!" He didn't listen. He bombed out and they took someone else to the worlds in Budapest. So, I was right about it.

My main opponent on the tournament was Khristo Plachkov. Although, all nations sent their best athletes over there. Competition took place in the circus building. I started with the 177.5 kg snatch. In the second attempt, I snatched 185 kg. Plachkov snatched it too and proceeded with 190 kg but failed. I power snatched 190 kg and took the first place in the snatch.

In the clean-and-jerk, he wasn't stronger than me. He cj'd 220 kg and I opened with 232.5 kg. After the first attempt, the first place was mine. It wasn't enough. I had to show a solid total - so, the opponent wouldn't have any question about me. I went on with 242.5 kg. Easily cleaned it and then... I don't know what happened to me... I pressed it. The press lift was abolished a few years ago. I have no idea why I did that. So, I had to make another attempt with 242.4 kg... It went really easy like it was a joke. My total was 432.5 kg - 2.5 kg more than Alexeev reached later at the world championship.

You have many medals and awards - one of them is the gold medal from the Championship of Japan.

In Summer 1977, right after the USSR Championship, Japan invited our national team to compete in their open national championship. We left Moscow at night and landed in Tokyo only in the afternoon. The time difference was 9 hours. Before we got used to the new zone, we walked over there like we were drunk or something. We lived in the old part of the city. Everything was so beautiful over there - beautiful houses, beautiful streets, beautiful people.

In the morning, I got out of the hotel and just stood outside enjoying how beautiful it was around. People were passing by. Stopped near me. Bowed down and kept going... No one passed by me without it. It surprised me a lot. I turned around and looked at the wall of the building - maybe there was an icon behind my back. Nothing was there. One old man who wore a straw hat and sandals came to me, bowed down, touched my hands and then went on wherever he was going. I felt really uncomfortable and went back to the hotel.

"Why? Why is this old man bowing to me?"

Two days later we went to the city of Kurasiko by train. It was the host of the championship. The train was amazingly fast - 250 km/hr or so. And at the same time, it was a very smooth ride - we could put a glass of water on the table, no water splashed. The compartments had seats and were separated by small walls. I couldn't fit on the seat - so, the organizers moved me to the other car - business class. We were on the train for four hours.

We stayed in Kurasiko, also a very beautiful city. Then the tournament began. We had many World and Olympic champions in our team but some lost their battles - especially in the lighter weight classes. Of course, I went to see the competition and to support my teammates.

There were many fans in the auditorium. For some reason, they all wanted to get near me. One came to me with a child. Then he gave me a child to hold and took him back, thanked me and left. It happened many times. Amazing nation. I asked the interpreter what did they want from me. It occurred that Japanese believed that if a big and strong man touches their child, his health and strength will be given to the child. In Japan, they just admired big people. I realized why everybody bowed to me in front of the hotel. Needless to say, they bowed and straightened up in sync. The one who straightened up first was considered to have bad manners.

My main opponent in the superheavy snatched only 140 kg. I did 170 kg in the first attempt and refused to go on. Then he cj'd 170 kg. I lifted easily 210 kg and again refused to lift more. At that moment, all people in the auditorium stood up and began to ask me for something. I asked "What do you want?" The interpreter explained that people wanted me to make another attempt. In 1964, Leonid Zhabotinsky cj'd 217 kg at the Olympics in Tokyo. Since then, no athlete lifted more on their land.

"How much do you want me to lift?" I asked the crowd.

They said:

"As much as you want to lift yourself".

I asked to load 230 kg. At that time it was an easy target for me. I cj'd it with no problem.

The crowd was amazed and went wild. People were coming to thank me for listening to their request. One old Japanese came to me and started to speak in Russian. He was a POW after World War 2 and spent 3 years in the camp where he learned Russian. He sang "Katyusha" to me all the time and kept saying "I love Russians".

It was amazing that we had security people protecting us. The protection was so good that it wasn't noticeable. We never used buses. They called cabs for us. Once I was the last one to get into the cab. There were two guys standing next to me and talking to each other. When I got into the car, I saw how one of them pulled a little radio and probably reported to his boss that all is OK. I asked our organizers why did we need so many precautions. They said there were fascist groups in town that don't like the Soviet Union and they had to follow certain protocol.

After the championship, we stayed there for two weeks. There were up to 2-3 meetings daily to honor their guests. We were invited by their federation of karate, then the federation of dju-do and so on and on. I got really tired of all of it and dreamed about one thing - to get home and to sleep for 3-4 days in a row... You get to the hotel room. A few minutes later, someone knocks on the door. Time to go to another party. We couldn't say no - people did their best to organize it.

There was a funny story there. We were invited to the Chinese restaurant. There were no chairs there. Everybody set right on the floor. So, most of my teammates were OK but I just couldn't get comfortable on the floor. So, I went outside, got a magazine table from the waiting area and set down on it. They brought glasses of water. Those were so tiny and we were very thirsty. First of all, it was very hot and, then, after the competition the body is usually dehydrated. So, I asked to bring me a bigger glass of water. At first, they didn't understand but then brought me some crystal vase. One of the organizers was Ms. Kogo. So, I poored water into my vase and drank at in one gulp. Ms. Kogo stopped eating and just looked at me in amazement. I poored another vase and more and more and more. Ms. Kogo forgot about food and just kept pooring water into my vase.

Japanese hospitality was fantastic. Before, I thought that our Caucausian nations were the best in terms of hospitality. After we visited Japan, I got doubts about that. Anyway, I had the nicest memories about Japan and its people.

Is it true that you got offered a big contract to stay in Japan?

Yes. For two weeks, they kept following me with various offers but I told then upfront - no way I will sell my homeland!

Aslanbek, you have two brothers and a sister. Why is it that you are the only one that became a sportsman?

I forbid them. There is too much dirt in sports. It's all about backstabbing and intrigues. What I had to go through, I won't wish my enemy to go through. Thanks to God, I am still alive. So many things were done just to keep me aside.

Do think that episode with poisoning was an accident?

Of course, it was not. It was just the beginning of my troubles. I'd say the troubles began at the World and European Championship in Stuttgart in 1977. About ten days before it, Kudyukov told me to max up in Podolsk. He said that I had to snatch 180 kg and to cj 230 kg. Meanwhile, usually the intensity of my training prior to the competition is really low - 150-160 kg, not more.

When you go for big weights, you have to work out 100 percent. Afterwards, I needed more time to recoop. The coach knew that and simply wanted to weaken me before the championship. I didn't want to do this but Robert Ikaev said "You've got to do it, Aslan" I did the lifts that Kudyukov told me to do. He tried to slow me down before that too. I remember when I broke Alexeev's snatch record, he came to see my training and handed me a plan of preparation. I told him that I had my own plan. He got angry, tore his plan apart and said that he had no questions about my defeat. Not only that I didn't loose, I set up a record at that time. After that, he left me alone.

I had a very similar methodology with Alexeev. He always hid his training methods. Everybody was lifting together but Alexeev was getting his own room for training. No one was allowed over there - not to bother him. But once I saw his training notes that coaches had and I was amazed how similar our training systems were.

OK. So, we were in Stuttgart. In the last day, we had a team meeting. Team USSR won even without the results of Alexeev and me in the super heavy. The coaches congratulated us and let us go. Only Kudyukov, Parkhomenko and Alexeev were left in the room. I realized the subject of conversation is Alexeev and me. I went to my hotel room to wait. I had this feeling that they will come to talk to me. I was right.

Here comes Kudyukov:

"You will open with this weight and Alexeev will open with this one."

"Why?" I said. "Why do I open lower than Alexeev. I snatch more than him."

We began to argue. It was a heated discussion. He made me really mad.

"It's the last competition for Alexeev," Kudykov said. "He had to leave as a champion. Your goal is to win a silver medal. Otherwise, we'll pull you off - you don't matter, the team has already won the first place."

I realized that I couldn't do anything. I had no mood to compete at all. How much more time do I have to be #2?.. I was just walking on the platform and lifting whatever weights they told me to lift. It seemed like everything was against me in Germany.

My name was called to do the cj. We were in the warm-up area. The coach went first, I followed him. In the most narrow place in the hall, the German TV cameraman let Kudykov through and cut me over with his camera right in front of me. There are only two minutes to make the attempt...

To make the long story short, I failed that attempt... The refs did all they could to let Alexeev win. They gave him good lifts on shameful lifts. In the snatch lift, he missed the 185 kg. In the second attempt, his arms bent, the bar even scratched his head... Still, he pressed it out. The main ref was Arkady Vorobyev. He have him a white light. The side ref from Bulgaria also punched the white one. The third ref from Germany - red light. It would have been a bomb out in the snatch. The same story was in the clean-and-jerk. Alexeev's lifts were terrible. As for me, I didn't even lift what I used to open with. Anyway, he wass the world champ, I was a silver medallist. It happened exactly how they pre-programmed it.

For a long time, Alexeev was trying to stay away from me. He was ashamed to look me in the eyes. He knew it wasn't his medal - it was hang on his neck and it really looked like the time of Alexeev was over. I remember in the Frankfurt airport, Arkady Vorobyev talked to me.

"Don't worry, Aslan! You'll get yours soon. Had Alexeev lost, he would have not been able to deal with it."

I looked at him and said:

"First of all, Alexeev had nothing to do at this championship. I won all the preliminary competitions. Second, had I lost in the fair competition, I would have not been mad. But, the way it was done..."

Then there was an international tournament in USA. Alexeev and Rakhmanov were invited to attend. I was told to get ready for the USSR Championship. I was training in Pololsk, reached the peak of my training schedule. Kudyukov called me. "Get ready - you are going to USA" Do you understand what it means when you are in the peak of your training cycle? That meant that 20 days prior to the competitions I had to slowly lower the intensity to get in the best shape for the competition. I only was given a week. But I had to go.

I barely put myself together. After the weigh-in, I was getting ready for competition. Kudyukov insisted that all athletes should have had spring water in their rooms. There were about 30 minutes left before my lifts. I began the warm-up.

"Go to your room," - said Kudyukov. "Relax. We'll call you when it's your turn."

"Why? Why don't you send Alexeev and Rakhmanov to relax? Why do you care about me so much?"

He insisted.

I went to the room, set down on the bed, turned the TV on. All of a sudden, I noticed there was an opened bottle of Coka Cola on the table. I poored it into the glass and drank it. Five minutes later, I got terrible stomach pain and dizziness. The massage guy entered the room, looked at the bottle and a glass on the table.

"How are you feeling?"

I was trying to explain to him but he just waved to me "Come on. It's time to go."

I ran to the coach - he just turned away from me. I thought "That's it. I am in a big trouble."

I didn't even know whom to ask for help. I went to the Americans and pointed to my stomach and said "Hurt." They gave me some tablets and it seemed to help a touch. Still, I felt like being drunk and walked like in the fog or something. I remember I snatched 180 kg and cj'd 230 kg. Alexeev refused to compete.

I felt so bad - you can't even imagine. My face looked like a piece of asphalt. Blood pressure went down. 90 by 60. I was almost unconscious. I don't remember how we got to Moscow. In Podolsk, I spent 20 days in bed. Coughed blood all over. The headaches were awful and there was this weakness in the body. I lost ten kilos just in a few days. Then in Moscow, professor told me that I had a very strong poisoning and, as a result, blood vessels in my brains got very narrow. "It's your outstanding strength that allowed you to still be alive" I spent three months in Moscow hospitals - the pains didn't stop. Thanks God, I survived.

Vlasov wished me good luck.

Did you return to cometition platform after that?

I don't know how I managed to do it. At the 1978 Druzhba Cup which was considered a mini-World Championship, Yury Vlasov came to see me. Remember he was my idol since childhood. That was the first time I met him in person. Before that I didn't know him personally and he gave me a copy of his "Saulty Joys" book through friends. He wrote there for me: "I rolled up the mountain in 1960. You should do it in 1980." He meant that he won over American giant Anderson and I had to win over Alexeev.

Were you excited about it?

Oh, yes. I felt that I got wings and that I am flying. After poisoning and months in the hospital, I cj'd 245 kg (the best lift of the season in the world) and won the Cup.

The joy didn't last long. In Feodosia in 1978, on the pre-World Championship selection tournament when they announced the lineup for Team USSR, I got poisoned again. Later, I found out those were psychotrop medications. The dosage was huge - could have killed a horse. What happened with me can't be described. It's like - the heart stops to beat, rips into pieces, there is this cobstant horror in the mind. You are in constant fear of something. You just sit and cry for no reason. Nightmares. In February 1979, I got out of the hospital and went home to Kosta. Thanks to God - I am sitting now in front of you.

Aslanek, you mentioned God many times. Are you a believer?

In those times, I wasn't baptized. One night, I felt very bad and I begged God: "God, I sinned and I can't be forgiven, take my life, I have no more strength left. Otherwise, please don't let my enemy enjoy it..." And you know that helped me. I went to sleep that night quietly. Since than, I do have miraculous visions. The hand of God helped me and my family from troubles many times. How could I not be a believer?

So, you got cured overnight?

Of course, not. But it was a starting point for recovery. In February 1979, I could barely walk. I was making a few steps and the heart couldn't take it. I was doing baby steps again. Doctors didn't let me do any suddens moves. I thought why should I live like this, better die at once. I was making 20-30 meters and felt awful. Then I began jogging slowly. Together with Robert Ikaev, we didn't even jog - we just walked around the stadium.

In a few months, I began playing with the weights. In Makhachkala, there was the championship of Russia South. I'd never been so nervous in my life. I was afraid - can I do it? I started with the 140 kg snatch and finished with 155kg. In the second lift, I cj'd 205 kg. I took the third place.

Someone wrote that I was done for weightlifting and I was glad to know that I won and that I could do it again. I won over myself, over my fear.

After that tournament in Makhachkala, confidence came back. At the Spartakiad Russia, I took the second place after Kuzmin and my result was better - 170 + 230. By the way, I won the cj part. But I wasn't included into Team Russia for the USSR Spartakiad although I asked Russian coached. I said that I will win but they didn't trust me and selected Okorokov. The Spartakiad took place in Leningrad and the results also went to the USSR Championship protocols. Rakhmanov represented Ukraine, Okorokov lifeted for Russia. All best supers were there. I could have won but...

When a lifter approaches the weight on the platform, the should be silence in the hall. When I was on the platform, as soon as I touched the bar, I heard the voice of the TV commentator Jan Sparre yelling "Y-e-n-a-l-d-i-e-v! Y-e-n-a-l-d-i-e-v!" It really distracted me... Twice, I snatched the weight over and it landed behind. Then, right from the platform I showed Sparre a fist not to distract me. In the third attempt, I managed to snatch the weight but lost 7.5 kg to Rakhmanov. He was lighter than me - so, I had to cj 10 kg more than him... In cj, I opened with 232.5 kg. Rakmanov ended on 235 kg. I had to go for 245 kg. Usually, the hardest part for me is the clean. If I cleaned the weight, it was a 100 percent in the jerk. This time it was weird. I cleaned 245 kg and then felt that I was beginning to shake. Never happened to me before. I missed the attempt. Second try - same story. Then I saw those Rakhmanov's hypnotists in the hall. I knew them by heart. One of them taught psychology in Dnepropetrovsk. Rakhmanov always took a big support group with him - personal doctor, personal massage therapist, personal coach.

Anyway, I ended up on the second place in the USSR Championship. As for Okorokov, whose result was part of the USSR Spartakiad took the fifth or the sixth place.

The most amazing was when after the competitions, Team USSR head coach Kudyukov told Okorokov "You are going to the training camp in Bulgaria in the Zolotye Peski resort area." Then he turned to me and said: "As for you, Aslan, I don't see any competitions for you to be at..."

Wait... You still competed at the Baltika Cup and even won the first place there...

After the USSR championship, I went to the training camp of Spartak Central in Anapa. It was very hot there. Hard to train. 20 days like in sauna or something. Add to this my injury and recent sickness. When we got back to Podolsk, it was a relief for me. There was a colder weather over there. There were two weeks left before the competition.

Coach Muromtsev, wonderful person, told me "It's better for you not to compete. You are in terrible shape." "Yes," I answered. "Still there is some time left."

In training, I barely cleaned 170 kg. Okorokov power cleaned 210 kg.

Kudyukov came to me and said with a sly smile: "What are you getting ready for?"

"For the World Championship. Why do you ask?"

"It's a good question..."

"What do I need to do to go to the Worlds?"

"If you total 420 kg (the result that Rakhmanov showed at the Spartakiad), you are at the Worlds 100 percent"

"Fair enough. It's a deal."

We shook hands.

Before our departure for Tallinn, we had a team meeting and Muromtsev said that I will be late because I don't have the right size of the lifting suit. The coaches for some reason decided that it was my way to skip the tournament. I was told that if I don't show up, it was over for my career in lifting. They thought that I am out of shape and wanted me to fail at Baltika Cup. That would have been a good reason to kick me out of the national team. So, I had to go to Tallinn without the lifting suit. Actually, Muromtsev found one but it had to be fit to my size. In the hotel, I waited for a few hours for my room and there were many little things like this...

Anyway, the competitions started. The national team coached surrounded Okorokov and no coach with me.

Okorokov yelled:

"Let me start with so and so..."

They don't let him. I am laughing:

"Let him do what he wants..."

We both snatched 182.5 kg. In the first attempt, he snatched 230 kg, I did 232.5 kg.

Then Kudykov came to me:

"It gives you nothing, Aslan. Now, Okorokov will cj 240 and you are done."

Okorokov missed 240 kg twice.

That meant - I won no matter what. I went with 242.5 kg. So, that they wouldn't say afterwards that I won by an accident.

I will never forget their looks when I cj'd 242.5 kg. It was a 425 kg total - 5 kg above the best total of the USSR Spartakiad and 5 kg above what I promised Kudyukov.

There were witnesses of our agreement too.

Then there was a VIP meeting in Podolsk to decide who should go to the World Championship. Again, thete decided to select two lightweights and Rakhmanov alone in the superheavyweight. I couldn't keep quiet - went right to Borisov, the Department Chair of the USSR Sports Committee.

"Why?"

"I don't know what to do with you. You are an alcoholic, a hooligan and a smoker..."

"First of all, I never in my life smoke and drank..."

"What?"

"It's true... And I've never been a hooligan."

At that moment, Kudyukov entered the office of Borisov. Right in front of Borisov, I turned to Kudyukov:

"Igor, what do you have against me and my behavior?"

His eyes got wide open:

"Nothing"

Borisov began to yell:

"What do you mean - nothing? Then what are those reports that you keep sending us?"

"You misunderstood me..."

Borisov didn't listen. Just got up and left.

Kudyukov turned to me:

"Rakhmanov won the USSR Championship. He goes to the Worlds."

That was terrible. What about our agreement?

Rakhmanov became World Champion in Saloniki and I won the USSR Cup in Frunze with a total of 185+250 - 5 kg more than his result. I could have broken the world record - 256.5 kg but I had a flu. I cleaned it and did the jerk but couldn't hold it.

Still, before the Moscow Olympics, I had the best result in the world. But they didn't want me there. Alexeev decided to come back in Mosciw and Rakhmanov had such a huge support behind him.

As for Kudyukov, he was fired right before the Olympics. He organized some max up competitions in Podolsk but I skipped those because of the flu.

There was a training camp in Dnepropetrovsk. I was in bed with high temperature. They kept sending me telegrams that they needed me there immediately. I answered that I couldn't. They insisted. So, I went there. Kudyukov saw me and said:

"I can see that it's true that you are sick."

"So wanted me to come here just to make sure that I am sick?"

That trip caused later my problems with the joints. Anyway, there was a big meeting in Podolsk with VIPs and such. Kudyukov began to complain about me and that I don't want to compete. I got up and said that it is the head coach's fault that I am so sick now. The rest started to speak up and supported me. That was the meeting when Kudyukov was forced to resign.

Imagine, what would have happened under fair circumstrances?

I would have won the Olympics once. That's for sure. Then maybe 5-6 world championships. I used my potential maybe 15-20 percent. From 1977 to 1982-82, it should have been my time. Alexeev was gone. I doubt that Rakhmanov would have been a competitor.

I think what I didn't achieve - should be achieved by my children. My daughter Regina at 19 is 10-times World champion, 7-times European champion (as a junior and adult). She recently became a Merired Master of Sports (ZMS).

By the way, I became ZMS only at 42. It was a long wait. I remember I came to Moscow and Parkhomenko told me:

"Aslanbek, I am very sorry about that story. It was you who should have become the World and European Champion in 1977. Not Alexeev. Hope giving you this awards will somehow lessen the guilt I had for years..."

I didn't say anything to him. What should I say, right?

 

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