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Taranenko, 266Kg: The Untold Story

by Paul Coffa, Oceania Weightlifting Federation, 2007

History is always multi-dimensional. One can look at the history of Olympic weigtlifting through books of world records or nicely packaged tournaments stats. And it's one dimension. One can study the history by watching old films and it adds another dimension in portrayal of legendary athletes.

The oral history plays a significant part too. Thousands of stories told by eyewitnesses and carried over through generations might not be as precise and calibrated as statistics and pure facts but it adds another dimension to the history. And who knows - maybe it is these stories that actually bring heroes and events to the status of a LEGEND.

The story below was told by Paul Coffa, General Secretary of Oceania Weightlifting Federation to the readers of GoHeavy. It is an eyewitness account of one of the all-time greatest moments in the history Olympic weightlifting - the story behind the scenes of the clean-and-jerk world record by Leonid Taranenko set at the Samboy Chips Cup in 1988. That recor lift remains unbeaten as of the moment this article is written - 19 years past the day Leonid Taranenko clean-and-jerked 266 kg.


Hey guys,

I can see that you are a crazy bunch of lifters like I am. I can see weightlifting is in your blood. So let me tell you the real story on Taranenko's 266kg.

I was the tournament director of the World Super Heavyweight Title and responsible also to raise the sponsorship money for the event, which I did . Samboy Chips (potato chips)

November 1988, four super Russian bears arrived in Melbourne, on their way to Canberra for the World Superheavy title. I took them to their hotel and left Medvedev there and took the three bears down town for a ride, in my red sports car. Taranenko and I sat in the front seat with Kurlovich and Zakharevich in the back seat. Can you imagine a sports car with three Russian bears.

A former weightlifter and close friend of mine owned a prestige car dealership. His showroom is full of Ferrari's and Lamborghini. So I took them there. (see picture attached). As a joke I said to the three bears, if you break a world record I'll get you a Lamborghini. It was a joke... but the three bears took it seriously. Try to explain a joke to three Russian bears who could only speak a few words of English at the time. For example they understood US dollars, strong, no strong, world records, snatch, jerk.

Looking at Taranenko, to me he looked in good shape. Sure enough I found out that he was strong but he was not prepared to lift huge weights for the few hundred US dollars, that the IWF gave them. So during that evening I started to think, how could I get a world record out of this man. The next day we flew to Canberra and in the afternoon at three pm, exactly 24 hours before the big competition, we were sitting in a coffee shop at the Australian Sports Institute in Canberra, without Medvedev there, and I popped the question about a world record attached to big USD $.

Kurlovich and Zakharevich eyes started to rotate with the dollar signs but they were not in good shape. Taranenko on the other hand, eyes popped out like Jim Carrey in the film Mask when he saw Cameron Diaz dancing. The first thing Taranenko said was 'two world records, how much'. I replied, I will double the figure. Then he asked the question, 'three world records'. I replied, 'I'm not a millionaire, no more only two world records'. His answer was 'da, okay' For Taranenko the competition started right then at 3.00pm, 24 hours before he took to the stage. No-one could imagine the transformation of a man who was ready to lift the biggest weight on the planet. His mood changed instantly, he went into a world of his own. Suddenly it was like a steel curtain had dropped in front of him. He was not interested in anything else.

The only thing he said to the three of us was, 'you tell me, which records'. So Zacharevich, Kurlovich and I discussed the plan. And it was a unanimous decision for a comfortable start on his first. 205 second attempt. 210 third attempt. In the clean and jerk - 240, 266. Everything to plan, without Medvedev knowing what was happening. The three bears were scared that he would take the money.

Medvedev told me at the start of the competition, that Taranenko would do 190, 240 maximum. But of course I and Taranenko plus the other two bears had a different plan.

Lady Luck was on our side that day, everything fell in place. It was simply incredible. Out of this world. And just being cheeky, (as you can see on the video) I rushed to see Taranenko a few seconds after his second clean & jerk and offered him to double the money again for a 270kg. He turned to me and said 'what, yes we go' Kurlovich and Zakharevich were edging him on because a few dollars from the winnings were going to go to them as well. So 270kg (595lbs) was loaded and there was a gasp from the crowd but unfortunately Taranenko ran out of time. He was literally stuffed. But who could blame him. He had just achieved the unthinkable. What a great day, what a great moment for sport.

Guys it is history now and I feel that it will take a long time before anyone will do 475kg again...


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