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Interview with Yury Vlasov

Komsomolskaya Pravda, June 1986 (short version)
Translation by Arthur Chidlovski

"If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred..." These quote by Whittman became an epigraph to your life story in sports. Is it really what you think? Usually, we consider human spirit to be sacred, but you refer to the body...

And you think that it is only about the beauty of subjects withot souls? Furniture, homes, streets, cakes, dresses, shoes, cars, gardens... There were so many efforts to make them perfect. How about the perfect human body? Don't you feel bad when you see fat stomach, weak legs, curved backs...

I still think it's kinda selfish to worry so much about the beauty of your own body.

I've heard similar points of view. But I am not tired to say it over and over again - the true physical culture put the relationship between the human being and life in harmony.

I agree about the physical culture but not sure about sports.

Professional sport is a huge amount of work. In most cases, it harms your health. Otherwise, why would the government give top national honors and medals to the sports people?

Ambitions... What is your opinion on those?

I appreciate them. Those are not ambitions to stay in sports, to win gold medals and titles... For those, I wouldn't stay on the weightlifting platform even for a day.

Then, what did bring you to the weightlifting platform?

As long as I remember myself, I always loved strength.

You are such a strongman...

I don't like this word - "strongman".

What is the other word?

Athlete.

Athlete? What is "athlete"?

Athlete is a fighter that won't bend over for anyone or anything.

Who were your main opponents on the weightlifting platform?

People that were considered the strongest in the world at the time. They wore the emblem of the USA.

What was your view on your opponents?

I hated them. Maybe, in your eyes, these words make me sound bad. But... Neither the feeling of risk, nor the fans in the lifting hall, nor the feeling of pain have power over you on the platform. It's the resistance. It's the feeling of the fight! The fury activates muscles. Get the opponent! Overthrow him! Against all odds - get him and get the victory!

Why would one need the victory?

Life is the existance between victories, it is the supreme natural activity.

Who was on your way to the victory?

He was an American - Paul Anderson. Before him, no other lifter enjoyed that level of popularity. He was a Man Rock, A Man Lifting Crane. He had a monstrous bodyweight - nearly 170 kilos. He had a monstrous strength. His records were intimidating.

How about your bodyweight?

At that time, I was 60 kilos lighter.

Did anyone expect you to win?

I was told to quit Olympic weightlifting. They kept telling me about switching to discus throws or shot put, away from the platform. They suggested I couldn't win because the difference in lifting results was unreal.

What did you think when you saw your opponent for the first time?

I saw Anderson lifting in the Green Theatre in Moscow. When got back home, I wrote in my training journal "Nothing has power over me!"

Why were you so confident?

I believed that it was my mission to set an example of courage and indestructibility for people. I would have never become an athlete without the noble traditions of Russian strength.

What's most important in these traditions?

The strength for the sake of pride and honor. It is the strength of the feelings that doesn't get rusty in hard times. It is the physical and spiritual strength when a man is always a man. Celebration of strength without this sense is an activity not very different from animal life.

How often do fans cheer for this kind of strength?

Not everything that is being worshipped is worth it. Unfortunately, huge bodyweight remains something that people consider a sign of strength on the platform. No one sees how ugly it is.

You were considered one of the most elegant superheavyweights. How did you achieve it?

It was against my principles to gain extra weight. Being a gladiator bothered me. I tried to discover new formulas of strength, to control all dimensions of the strength, to dig into the essence of the process of being in charge of the strength. That brought me to the concept of extreme training loads. Humans often don't really know on how capable they are.

Are you saying that anybody can become strong, very strong?

Exactly.

Recently, you were appointed as the Chair of the Weightlifting Federation. What will be your first step in this position?

I would like to clean up the sport from all the artificial stuff. It is something that turns the youngsters away from the sport.

On the platform, standing in front of the bar, you were always whispering something.

Poetry. Word is the best doping.

What poetry?

It's personal. Sorry.

Strength. Victory. Records. What are they for?

"Like there should be heroes of spirit and inspiration, there should be apostles and carriers of strength," wrote Russian sports researcher and athlete Chaplinsky. "Both are the strongholds of culture - both the spiritual and physical ones".

Again, you put the body on the level of spirit. Doesn't it bother you when both - someone sacrificing his life in the war and some soccer goalie jumping for the ball - are considered heroes?

Artists exhibit their paintings in the museums, composers - in the music notes. Sports achievements are shown in physical perfection and its beauty. It is only natural to admire talent.

What do you think about fame in sports?

There is a bitter taste in the sports fame.

Why?

Professional sports is the only profession where people reach the top of mastership and then become not needed. Remember what papers wrote about Mohammed Ali? "He was an idol worshipped by millions. What is he now? Fat and flabby, barely able to speak. He represents the remains of what used to be the example of human being."

Do you think it is a typical end of the careers of the ex-world champions?

I only saw a few ex-champions that were happy with their fate. It was even more seldom to see someone that bloomed after he left sports. Imagine - instead of being in demand by everybody, all of a sudden you are nothing, not able to fit into the new life. From enjoying huge fame, you hit the bottom, the basement of silence.

Do you complain about your fate?

Complain about my fate? I don't understand people that are only able to suffer.

What are you passionate about now?

Writing. I quit sports because I was afraid that it would suck me in, that I won't have life without it. I didn't want to become a slave of the iron, a slave of my own success.

What were you doing right before the interview?

I was studying French.

What for?

I love this language. I enjoy learning it. Most important is that knowledge of the other languages helps me to understand my own language - Russian. I would like to bring back the freshness of it. We talk and write meaningless now. To compare, try to read the ancient Russian literature.

You have so many books!..

I worship books. I love them like women.

What school did you go to?

I graduated from the Zhukovsky Military Academy.

Why did you decide to become a writer?

I always loved books. I wrote journals since I was a kid. Word is above everything else...

What do you appreciate the most in people?

Honesty. I think it's the borderline of a human being.

Dishonest person is not a human being?

Yes. Exactly.

You are author of six books. What book is most important for you?

I am not happy with any of my books.

Why?

I outgrew the books that were published. The ones I am writing now I am afraid to show to the publishers. I was told that I tend to exaggerate things. I was giving up - I had to change the endings, used metaphors... It is not decent... I am loyal to literature. I never betrayed it and will never do - it is my oath.

"There is no bad living - there is an inability to live" Those are your words. Doesn't it sound merciless to those who went through misfortunes? There are such things as illnesses, losses..

I wasn't just ill. I was dying. First, I lost senses in my legs - the result of the spine injury on the platform. The pain forced me to squat every half an hour as if I was trying to tie my shoelaces. Then the pain was fading away. Then, later on, the brain spasms began - the doctors said there is no cure for that. Then, it was diabetes. Then I was coming down with one flu after another one. It was a torture. I lived with fever all the time and couldn't sleep more than two hours a day. I was in bed all the time. The end was rapidly approaching. I didn't want to live - what for if I am not myself anymore.

What brought you back?

My will.

I would admit that the will can help you to win over your opponents in the competition, help you to learn some knowledge in a short period of time. How could it help to win over illness?

I reached the point when I began to complain and felt sorry for myself. One can't fall lower than that.

Possibly, it is true for someone who has high standards for himself. But how is it connected to the illness?

There are no untraceable thoughts. Thoughts get locked in our physiological system. Thoughts stop sleeping, affect the veins and make one's heart beat harder. Trouble that is not blocked by the resisting will and courage of behavior, terrible thoughts, fears, doubts - it all leads to sickness, the body revolts, gets poisoned and as a result it breaks apart. It's not a mystic, it's a science. It is based on the famous saying by Sechenov - there is no difference between action and imagining the action from the prospective of neurological reactions.

So, what did you do when you realized all of that?

In the spring of 1979, I wrote in my journal "If it is pre-written for me to die in the struggle against the illness, I would rather die strong. Besides, strong people don't die." I thought not just about myself. I thought about thousands of sick people that I could help when I get healthy. I felt it was my duty.

Why was it your duty?

Merciless challenges don't develop an anger but a need in kindness. They teach you to be compassionate - without this a man is not a man.

How did you start your rehabilitation?

I started to change my personality.

At your age?

Like you, I pictured the human character as some constant what we don't have power over. Now I know for sure - you can't get rid of illnesses without changing your character. You have to educate yourself, I told myself. All misforunes, tiredness, troubles shouldn't transform into being lost, into fears. They should be overtaken by the energy of resistance.

Maybe it is possible but only for a very strong man.

I told you already that anybody can become strong. Read Bekhterev - his method of self-inspiration. Anybody can inspire himself with certain thoughts and overcome ill conditions.... A person without a goal is potentially a patient. I had a goal - I told myself. I hated myself that I let all diseases to take over me, I was burning this fury in myself and this hate of illness. Then I noticed that some words hurt me and made me weaker and some made me stronger. Then I switched to this system of running the body with the will. I studied all existing systems of physical recovery, developed my own system and began training.

Weightlifting again?

Yes. Weightlifting again. Few believe me but after a certain time my physical condition improved, it became better than in my youth and during the peak of my sports career. You have to believe. Believe that what you are doing is right. Even a little fakeness, irony, doubt might destroy your struggle.

 

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Videos and Gallery of Yury Vlasov is available in his section of the Hall of Fame @ Lift Up.

 

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