Here is the remarkable life story of Rudolf Plukfelder.
Below the video you can find the Transcript, which was made by ATG reader Sergiy Turchyn. Thank you very much for putting in the work Sergiy!
Quick Facts about him:
- Plukfelder’s original name was “Pflugfelder” (lit. translation “plough fields”)
- After Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, he and his family were put in one of Stalin’s labour camps in Siberia. There his father and brother were shot.
- At the age of 14 he went was deported to west Siberia where where he worked until 1962 as a miner.
- He is regarded as the creator of the Soviet Weightlifting School
- Coached 6 Olympic Champions, among them the greats, David Rigert & Vasily Alekseyev
- He is the 1964 Olympic Gold medalist in the 82.5kg category
Throughout the long history of weightlifting the world of sport shuddered multiple times with admiration, astonishment, asking itself the questions: Is it really possible? Ambitious champions came while their records appeared only to be broken by someone else, strong, skillful, and elegant. You may wonder: who is the greatest among them? Possibly, our choice will surprise some of you.
Don’t be too quick to object. Maybe, after you finish watching, you will agree with us. Our story is about a man who established himself despite circumstances. Everything, absolutely everything was against him. Rudolf Pflukfelder.
Life brought him all over our whole big country, and, after its collapse, he stayed in one of our previous republics at first, and now lives in Germany.
Reporter: Do they pay you pension here?
Plukfelder: Yes, Germany does. Nothing comes from Russia. Russia is done with me.
Rudolf Pflukfelder lives in a small cozy German town called Zierenberg, right near the railway station. You can see his house when you leave the train. He and his wife rent a small apartment on the 2nd floor.
Plukfelder: Here I am. We have guests.
Wife: Guests came. Hello. Come in
Plukfelder: This is my Samoilovna.
Plukfelder: We lift the barbell together. I did it at the gym and she did it in the kitchen.
The most interesting fact is that nothing binds him to Germany, as well as to Russia. Besides all of his relatives living here: the older daughter with her husband and 2 children live very close, 3 blocks away. You can visit them any moment, have a cup of tea, chat. All the rest live slightly further, 2-3 hours driving away, in other German towns. They came here fairly recently, but have already gotten the hang of it, celebrating daughter’s wedding recently. But in any case they would be together, wherever he would end up to be. Because he, Rudolf Pflukfelder, is the center planets are moving around.
Paradoxically, here in Germany he is more Russian than German, and feels himself foreign. Such useless he happened to be on his previous stop: in Lithuania.
Plukfelder: I only wanted to create an Olympic or World champion in Lithuania, but they didn’t. I wanted to prepare him without drugs, but they looked at me as I was a fool. I was against the drugs. They said: “How can you be like that? The whole world is on drugs.” They wanted to fire me as a coach because I fell behind the world: everybody takes drugs.
A strange, pure man, who always thought that you can achieve everything with honest work. That the most important thing is to be respectable, conscientious with relatives and subordinates Do your job that you know every day and you will be valued. What made him a wanderer and, at old age, look for a place to live in his historic Motherland? And why at home Rudolf Plukfelder, who created Soviet weightlifting school, coached 6 Olympic champions, being one of them, become useless?
An old clan of Pflukfelders started on the land of Baden-Wurttemberg. This place still has Pflugfelder village. A legend says that once this village was competing to give a name to a nearby big city but it lost to a big clan of Stuttgart. Constant rivalry between protestants and lutherans made Rudolf’s ancestors leave Germany and go look for better place to live in Ukraine. It was in 1836. This book has the names of all Pflukfelders that have ever lived on Earth. Ours is also here. Overall there are 182 families.
He was born on September 6, 1927, in New Orlovka village, Donetsk region. There were Germans there.
Plukfelder: I didn’t speak Russian until 14. During the exile we started learning Russian.
The collective farm was big and rich. The houses were beautiful, neat, in German style. The father, Vladimir Vasilyevich, worked as an accountant, and later led a stock farm. They lived well off.
Plukfelder: My dad went to prison for the first time because a sow’s piglet died. He was in prison for 5 years, came back in March. And on June 22st the war started. So, March, April, May, June, July, August… In September he was arrested along with 65 people from our village. They all were shot on a hill near Donetsk. Along with his father, an older brother Vladimir was shot too.
Rudolf, 14, his second brother, 16-year old Nikolay, and their mother were deported into Siberia. The hardest challenge was Narym. In Gerhard Volhard’s book, ‘An area of complete quietness.’, you can read scary stories of those who witnessed it. A team of 16-17 years old guys was escorted to a logging camp. Even though nobody tried to escape, and could not physically do it. Work lasted until darkness. Walking to and from the camp took the rest of the 12 hour workday. Every day, no days off. In 2 months only half of the 18 people in the team survived. They were transferred to dig the ground for a railroad. But it was even harder to dig frozen, swampy ground. But the most important thing was to constantly avoid thinking about food. Disgusting, incomparable hunger, when the insides scream: “I want to eat something.”
Plukfelder: Almost all of my friends died there. I survived only because I waded. During nights I went to the warehouse where they kept dead animals. I took some dead meat there. That’s how I saved myself and my mother. Dogs also went there to eat that meat. And I was there with a knife. But I won over them. Afterward, it became impossible. No way. So, we decided to escape with my mother. Firstly, we walked 200 km [124 miles] on foot, then took a train. I was arrested in the train. They took a piece of cloth with my name: Pflukfelder Rudolf, 1928, … We could not buy it back, so we left everything and escaped.
That’s how Rudolf Pflugfelder turned into Plukfelder. Friends called him Pluk.
Possibly, that’s what Kiselevsk looked like when young Rudik saw it, who came here early with his mother to meet his future destiny. The city was located on a small hill and looked like all other mining towns. Small, cheerful houses looked like they were thrown in gardens. It was the last year of the war. The country needed strong young hands, and the government had to succumb by opening the mines in Cuzbass for Russian Germans. The older brother Nikolay already found a job in Kiselevsk, and invited Rudolf here. Almost on the next day, early in the morning they went to work. The 4-6 mine, where Rudolf worked, was located in the lowland. They went with others and coal dust crackled under their feet.
After applying, 16 years old Rudolf, who was solid and broad-shouldered, became a loader and had his first challenge right away. There was a poplar, 8-9m tall in the middle of the mine yard. He writes in his book: “Guys!” – a miner shouted, looking at the new guy – “Let’s test him!”. “How can he climb trees? Can he beat out record or no?” He understood that the miners had an old-going competition, and became shy: “What if I fail?” When Rudolf was ready to jump up, one loader came from the crowd and asked in German: “If it is hard for you, you don’t have to do it. The guys are just joking.” But the future champion was already in the competition. He dashed upwards and heard the voices: “Go faster!” When he reached the top, he heard his first applause. Nobody climbed the tree higher then him. That’s how his initiation and first record happened. Hard mining days were waiting for him.
Plukfelder: If you work in a mine, you are a hero. There is no job as hard as mining. You cannot even imagine. Just take this dust that they swallow and the overall danger… You should carry them in your arms for that.
Now we understand that years in Kiselevsk were probably the happiest in Rudolf’s life. It’s not surprising that these days have pink colors. Another think is surprising. Almost 40 years have passed since he left this place, but they still remember Rudik in Kiselevsk.
Miner: Don’t point it here.
Villager: How don’t we remember? Don’t you remember Plukfelder?
Villager’s Wife: Well, I know, but…
Villager: Don’t you remember Rudik?
Villager’s Wife: What can I say about him?
Reporter: Do you remember the family of Nikolay and Rudolf?
Villager: Sure, I know them both. We were good friends, worked together. We worked together with Rudik in the same machineshop. Nikolay was in transport.
Miner: He liked order.
Reporter: What if someone is late?
Miner: It was not a thing back then. People were not late.
Reporter: What didn’t he like?
Miner: He liked order. Even now, can’t you see? Now just let them and they will take everything away, burn, or do whatever they want.
Reporter: Did they treat Germans well back then?
Miner: We didn’t differentiate. Germans were friendly. There were Uzbeks, Germans, Captives, soldiers of Vlasov’s army [fought against USSR in WW2], all kinds of people were here. Back then nationality… But fools always existed. Fools. “Hey, you are German!”. “Hey, you are Tatar!”. Any kinds of people exist. In our community there were no problems with nationalities. We had different people. It was important how you treat work. This was important. If you work hard, miners respected you.
A party government system existed that had to justify its actions, so the nationality was and is importnat part of Plukfelder’s family. That’s why there was a lively discussion because of my innocent question: Why did he, being adapted to new conditions, marry a German woman? Was there anything special about this choice?
Plukfelder: Each person should think. The heredity must be normal.
Reporter: Is there anything wrong with mixed marriages?
Plukfelder: Yes, it is wrong. Why? Because your grandchildren will ask: “Who am I? German or Russian?” Today children often say: “Dad, you are wrong.” I agree with them now. But if now… This book says how a woman married a German, was exiled to Siberia, Tundra. And she, Russian woman, suffered so much because of these Germans. Some returned, divorced. My friend had a Polish wife. She learned that Germans were to be sent back. So, she became German to leave with him. This is why. We are all humans. But what the politicians are doing…This is a question.
Reporter: At that time, 19 years old, you were already thinking about it, right?
Plukfelder: Actually, not. Why? I think it is logical. “Jedes Schwein muss an seinem Trog sein.” Did you understand what I said? Each pig has its trough. It is a German proverb.
Wife: My brother was married to a Russian. They had 4 children. When were were still friends, only 2 children. When they argued, she hit them and said “You, fascists!” I said: “Who gave birth to them? You are Russian”. She: “Well, I don’t mean it.” Never call your children fascists!
Plukfelder: When Stalin moves his finger, everything tips over. When he suddenly thought that all Germans are enemies millions of people were sent to Siberia. Not because they were Germans, they were needed as slaves.
“It was such a coincidence. War, trouble, dream, youth. It was all in me. And only later I realized it.” [poem]
Wife: On October 7th we had 49th anniversary. It will be 50 in 2000. That’s how loyal we are to each other. November 7th, 2000, it will be 50 years. We celebrated the marriage in Siberia for 3 days (7,8,9 of Nobember). 50s was a very hard time. And we had 50 people. Slaughtered a cow, a boar.
Family member: What are you talking about? What about vegetarians? They will start crying!
Wife: My brother removed 2 walls to have a room for 5-6 tables to celebrate the marriage. I worked at a sewing workshop and invited all the guys and girls. We danced happily. Pulled grandparents in sleds. BIg dogs were harnessed. It was snowing on November 7th. We celebrated for 3 days. The weather was awesome. In Siberia, Kiselevsk city.
Rudolf was 23 back then and he was a fairly determined man. There were two main parts of his life: work and sports. But several years before that everything was hanging by a thread. A challenge was waiting for Rudolf at 18 years old.
Plukfelder: I was very sick. In 1947. I was removed from the mine for a year. Because I had decompensated heart failure, i.e. my heart muscle became weak. The chief mechanic in the mine, Popkov, was bullying me. He used to beat me and injured my tailbone once. It hurt for about 10 years, and still does sometimes. He beat me because I gave him a document that makes me leave the mine because of sickness. I had to give the instrument to him, and I gave it to people in machine shop. That’s why he beat me. Since then I understand that I could beat him if I was strong. But I was weak. Since than I understood that you have to be strong, or you will not survive.
It looks like everything in Plukfelder’s life was accidental. But, maybe, these accidents had a consistent pattern. He was lucky to have Antonina Mikhailovna Kozhevnikova as a doctor, who, at her own risk, refused to treat him using common ways: immobility, peace, medicine. She chose a different way: developed a healing system using fresh air, gymnastics, walking, and running. Slowly increasing the load, she convinced Rudolf about the healing power of sports.
Plukfelder: Running was the hardest for me. But it cured me from the heart disease. And sports. If not sports, I would probably die.
Either the time, or a special talent, but his ability do achieve everything himself was impressive. If we talked about an American, we would say “self-made man”. He was born to be a teacher, not a student. He even learned the accordion himself. In sports, his mission was to become a coach. It was his difficulty that, at first, he, Rudolf Plukfelder, was the most talented among his students.
In The House of Culture, that was given to miners in 50s, there was no weightlifting gym. But the fame of Plukfelder’s team was big in the region, so Rudolf didn’t have a hard time convincing the authorities to give him the ground floor. Today, looking here, you understand that no building exists without a soul. It is hard to believe that once this place was an object of miners’ pride.
Some guy: Memory is the only thing that remains nowadays. In our times, when we trained here, the gym was amazing. They came here: authorities, journalists, correspondents. Everybody was amazed at this wonderful gym.
Plukfelder: If not mining community, I would… They were the only ones that supported me. They went to trainings like to soccer. Each kilogram counted. I presented at meetings, with 10-15 people around me. I did everything myself. The government spent almost nothing on the sport. They only bought me a barbell. I made all the platforms and machines myself. I know welding and machining.
Some guy: He welded or cut everything himself. We helped him dig these trenches, concrete them.
Plukfelder: I was Siberian and Far East champion in wrestling. My first coach was Potapov Evgeny Ivanovich. I was strong. Naturally and in mine I trained my back well. Later I had to move to weightlifting. This is because of my nationality. If I was a free man I would not be a weightlifter. I would be a wrestler. I was better at wrestling. I put people flat on their backs three times to make them count it. And here I lift and that’s it. That’s why I moved to weightlifting. Even though my hands and body…Well, my build is good for weightlifting too.
Reporter: What about your mother? You write that at first she was frightened by you doing weightlifting.
Plukfelder: She was against all of it. She was like “go better chop some wood.” But I did that too.
Reporter: Was their mom a strict person?
Villager: Their mom? Yes, they were friends with us. We lived in this red 3 story building. They were friends with my mom.
Reporter: What was her favorite son?
Villager: Rudik. But he tortured her with a menu. When she came to us, I ate what was given. But they… Rudik wrote a menu before work to have a dinner of this, and this. She was like “You, Katya, have it so good. Your son eats whatever you put in the bowl. I have to search for something.” He liked cacao which was in deficit. She always found ways to get it. Got up, went somewhere… She was worrying about him. When he showed some good results, he started competing at higher and higher level. He started to compete at national, and, later, international level. Of course, his mother loved such a son. He was her favorite son.
As usually, Rudolf Plukfelder’s medals had two sides. On one hand, he was almost created for sport news a miner, a worker, a record holder, open for everybody. On the other hand, sports authorities had to defend their name. Plukfelder’s destiny always hanged by a thread.
Plukfelder’s last attempt. 175 kg. Good lift! Plukfelder got a 470 kg total – a new national record.
Plukfelder: They didn’t let me compete at 1958 Worlds because I was German. They always tried to shut me down. “What if he doesn’t return?” In 1958 I lifted world records, even in training. And all coaches voted against [competing at Worlds]. “He will stay abroad. He is repressed, exiled. We are not responsible for him.” And I was thrown away. Then I went to Rostov and got 4 world records. In a month after Worlds. In 1959 they somehow decided to take me to Warsaw. “Warsaw. He won’t run away.”
Here a Soviet weightlifter, Rudolf Plukfelder, comes on the platform. 140 kg on the bar. Plukfelder lifts this weight, that is above his own world record. During the control weighing of the barbell, it appeared that its weight is not 140, but 141 kg. Thus, a new world champion Rudolf Plukfelder exceeded the previous world record by 1.5 kg.
Plukfelder: I became a world champion working in a mine. Here’s my wife, she can tell you. On the next day after Worlds I went to work in a mine. Everybody says it is impossible. You can go to Kiselevsk and ask all my weightlifters that it is true.
Djinn, who was released from its bottle, lived his life. The sports world learned about his existence, and was not surprised by his achievements. In Kiselevsk, they brought guests to let them see Plukfelder. In the mine, where he returned right after his victory, he was like an alien from another world. Legends were born about him.
Miner:You are filming, again…He stood out among others. He had such beautiful muscles and body. A mighty man. He stood out. They were given work: welding, emergency work. Guys put heavy equipment on his shoulders, and it was not a flat surface, but an entrance with a slope. And he walked.
Reporter: How heavy was the machinery?
Miner: The machinery used to be very heavy. Everything used to be heavy. Around 250 kg. He put it on the shoulders, but it was not a barbell of 100, 150, 200 kg… And he walked. Others took small stuff: electrodes, welding wires, and other things. And he was in front, like a leader…It is interesting to recall it.
In 1960s Plukfelder was famous around the country. He was World and European champion with 13 world records, the first one of those was especially important, since it broke legendary Grigory Novak’s record, that stood for 15 years. There was only one gold not in Plukfelder’s collection: Olympic gold. He was ready for Rome Olympics, where he was an unquestionable favorite. However, he, who was very cautious, got injured in training. It seemed that all hope was lost. In 4 years, in Tokyo, he would be 37. Does it mean that his main dream won’t happen? He perfectly understood that he could not expect condescension.
Plukfelder: In the sports committee I was the “Schwarze Schaf” [German for Black Sheep]. Do you know what it is? A black sheep. Even if someone hits me in the face, then it’s how it is supposed to be.
It was 1964. Several months were left before Tokyo Olympics. However, he started getting injured. He skipped national and European championships. At least, his athlete, Aleksey Vakhonin, World champion in bantamweight [-56 kg], went to the Olympics with no doubt. Rumors said that the team coach Arkady Vorobiev did not believe in Plukfelder and preferred to get gold and silver in another weight class. However, several days before the Olympics the situation changed and Rudolf got the last chance. It is hard to say if it happened ever before, that both a coach and his athlete fought for gold. Fortunately, not with each other. They were in different weight classes.
Aleksey Vakhonin, as bantamweight, competed first. This weightlifter is a separate problem for Plukfelder.
Villager: Once Vakhonin got drunk before an international competition. He was not home at 1 am. Then they brought him back, Rudik was crying. Vakhonin was drunk and had to compete at 1 pm. Rudik was like “Lenya [Aleksey], what have you done? Why are you drunk?” Rudolf did not leave Vakhonin until the competition. Lanya in the morning was like “Rudik, let me drink a bit, huh?” He was like “Are you sane?” Yet, Rudik let him drink a bit.
Reporter: Did he cry?
Villager: Yes, Rudik cried because Vakhonin was drunk. Vakhonin owned everybody there. Lifted the barbell, then scratched his leg with another one. Rudik came to him, hugged, and brought him to the backstage.
Plukfelder: Do you know how I found Vakhonin? He used to lift a lot in the gym, but not at the competition. So, I lead him to the platform, and go behind the judge: “Lenya, I am here! Look, there is nobody here. Just you and me!” And he: “tuh, tuh.” That’s it. It lasted for 2-3 years. I brought him on the platform, went in front of him: “I am the only one here!” It helped him be less nervous. Later he got used to competing.
Having helped his athlete to overcome nervousness, Plukfelder succeeded more than expected.
Plukfelder: He was a person with a first-signal system. He had no idea that he had to compete that evening. Yury Vlasov told him: “Lenya, time to wake up! You are competing today.” He: “What? Today?” Yury always laughed at him: “What nerves!..” But when Aleksey Vakhonin attempted 152 kg clean and jerk, he understood that the price was being an Olympic champion. And he made it. Plukfelder triumphed as a coach. But the dream of Plukfelder as a weightlifter was not achieved. Now the athlete helped his coach, who still keeps his Olympic number 124.
Losing 5 kg to Gyozo Verez from Hungary in the press, Rudolf lifted 142.5 kg in the snatch, and in the last movement, clean and jerk, tried 182.5 kg – a personal record. He cleans the barbell…
Plukfelder: When I jerked 182.5, I didn’t feel it being fixed. The judge gave me a sign to drop the weight. I wanted to drop, then changed my mind and held it longer to clearly fixate the weight.
His dream becomes a reality. How beautifully a human overcame the circumstances. How well the career of weightlifter ended and biography of a coach started.
Soviet government organized a reception in honor of our 18th Olympic Games athletes. Reception was attended by champions of Tokyo olympics. Among them were: a swimmer Galina Prozumenshchikova, weightlifters Rudolf Plukfelder and Leonid Zhabotinsky. a boxer Valery Popenchenko, a track athlete Valeriy Brumel, a canoer Lyudmila Khvedosyuk. gymnasts Boris Shakhlin and Polina Astakhova. Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, comrade Kosygin, warmly congratulated the Olympians with a great victory.
[Waldemar Bazhanovsky, two times Olympic champion] I first met Plukfelder at Worlds in Warsaw, 1959. I was a young boy, beginning my own career. I watched Plukfelder more than others. Maybe, because he was built like me. He did not look like a weightlifter, but how well he lifted… He differed by dynamics, belief. He walked to a barbell and each his attempt was successful. Maybe, at this time Plukfelder was my ideal of a weightlifter, athlete, and somehow I took him as an example. Later, it gave me success. I know him less as a coach and more as an athlete, but I know his numerous athletes. Including David Rigert, probably the best athlete of our time.
Rigert: Yes, it has been almost 30 years. I used to leave the train about 20 meters from here. “Where? What? Want a pie? Guy, where is the palace of sport?” He showed me and I walked there.
Shahti. Today this station is called Shahtnaya. That’s where in early 1960s a fairly large Plukfelder’s family moved. 3 daughters. Really strong man always have daughters, a proverb states. So, Plukfelders moved to Rostov region. Challenges during youth made themselves known. The body that was born in harsh conditions, [don’t understand]. At this time, Rudolf Plukfelder was recognized as the best coach in the country. How could it be different? His athletes are World and Olympic champions. Their successes prove the effectiveness of Plukfelder’s system.
Plukfelder: I did not argue with scientists. I knew that everyone is individual. There cannot be one science for everybody. It’s like a sculptor who takes the material and works on it. He cannot say… A coach is the same. It is stupid… Science does not… There is general physiology, anatomy, general descriptions of programming, etc. Everything else is an art.
30 years ago, this amazing coach was approached by a person who wanted to move mountains and believed that it was his destiny. It was David Rigert.
Rigert: I knew everything about him. I knew about his athletes. I saw Alekseyev in Sverdlovsk. I saw Ivan Nazarov, European champion. I saw Aleksey Vakhonin. I saw his team. And saw how it won over everybody else.
Plukfelder: They say: how do so many Olympians come from Shahti? This is all because of Siberia. Siberia was a laboratory.
Palaces, that were built during those years in mining cities, look like they are to show off. But who cares? Even if there is something unnecessary just to show off. Another thing is more important: a coach who came here to create had everything. The gym, modern at those times, was always crowded with people who wanted to play with iron.
Rigert (looking at his old bar): Here is it. My dear. Is it still alive?
Can you compare it to today’s state? Although it hasn’t changed the appearance, it is disappearring into nowhere in poverty. Again, like in Kiselevsk, you understand: The house without an owner is a dead house. And everybody understands now that it is the soul of Rudolf Plukfelder that gave it life.
Plukfelder: If a composer writes music, it is always inside him. My people are always inside me. When I left the gym, Alekseyev was always in my head. Nobody wanted him. With such results nobody wanted Alekseyev. And I took him. And when I took him he was called Straw Hercules. Because he had skinny arms, skinny legs. He was 108 kg.
Vasily Alekseyev. His way into big sports was not flat. Successes took turns with failures. Alekseyev didn’t attract much attention. This made his overwhelming success in 1970 more surprising. All Leonid Zhabotinsky’s records fell. In two months Alekseyev brought the long-awaited news: The 600 kg barrier was broken.
Plukfelder: Firstly, you develop strength (2-3 years, as Alekseyev). He was loaded for two years. They critiqued me for that. Vorobiev [head coach] was against it. But I had to create the base. He stopped loading when he got medications from Jaan Talts. They would later be called anabolics (at first, he thought those were vitamins). His results blew up, he began to train half as much and lift a lot. They decided that Plukfelder is a barbarian.
This video is from European weightlifting championships in Szombathely, Hungary. Athletes from 22 countries competed for the title of the strongest athlete in the continent. Jaan Talts, heavyweight [-110 kg], is on the platform. The Soviet athlete set two world records and became European champion. In superheavyweight
[+110], world records in the press, clean and jerk were set by Vasily Alekseyev. Alekseyev got a phenomenal 612.5 kg total. It was a new world record. This is when Alekseyev left his coach. Left with a scandal and desire of revenge. And now doesn’t call him anything but fascist.
Plukfelder: Do you know that working with me is a lot of stress, it’s hard, like mining? Mining is easier than what they had to do. If Alekseyev does not do what I tell him, I would send him to work. They knew it, and trained hard. But sometimes, when you are bringing your son up, you blame him, you want him to be better. Sometimes he makes you …[hit them], then, after a while, “See, dad, you… [did it right].” That’s when they started revenging me.
When Alekseyev left, Rigert came to Plukfelder. He wanted to break [records], and believed in his coach. He said that dreamed to become the best athlete of Plukfelder. But in a year became the national champion and went to his first Worlds where took bronze. Then he set first world records and was the favorite in Munich Olympics. However, intrigues, demands and threats by Alekseyev made him go there without a coach.
Reporter: I think I know why Plukfelder didn’t go with you. How did you handle that?
Rigert: It had to happen.
Reporter: Did anybody fear anything about that?
Rigert: I don’t know.
Reporter: You were sure to go there, right?
Rigert: No. I was on the verge of refusing.
Reporter: Did you want to refuse because of Plukfelder, or because you thought they could not take you?
Rigert: I didn’t even think that they couldn’t take me. It was just not fair, you cannot act like that.
Plukfelder: Why couldn’t David compete without me? He had a huge mistake – enormous flexibility. He always dropped the barbell behind and did not use this muscle (points at traps).
You need to have a big courage to find mistakes in yourself. And through failures, however big they are, stubbornly go towards your goal. 160 kg on the barbell. Snatch. The same weight was in Munich Olympics. The barbell was dropped in the same way.
Reporter: How much time did it take to recover from 1972?
Rigert: About 3-4 months. I came back here for 3 days. It was impossible. Everybody asked about it, some cursed at me, it was normal for closer friends. They were my friends. “How the f…?” But this was normal. When they started to pity it was sad. Hey! Yes, I will visit you. We trained with him, Vovka Nikitin. He calls me Vitya, this is my first name. “David” was a mistake, it’s an interesting story. So, I went to Plavni, near Melihovka. There is a lot of wildlife. I took salt and ammo with me. More than 2 months passed. I only leaved that place to buy bread. That was it: salt and bread. There were ducks flying around. I didn’t even have hunting clothing or tents. Made all of it myself. Mosquitoes stopped biting me. I was that dirty. Then I came to this Palace of Sport with a beard. They didn’t recognize me. People were training. I was passing by and heard loud noises. I came in – the training camp was there. Russian national team was preparing for national cup in 1972. This is the only training log that I still have. 1972-1974. I tried to lift and it went pretty well. The bar was gentle. I went home, shaved, washed myself, dressed up, 12 training sessions and 3 world records.
Of course, such loses leave permanent scars in your soul. The coach and athlete started training for the next Olympics in Montreal. Everybody understood that, despite complicated relationships inside the team, they had to take Plukfelder.
Plukfelder: If in 1976 I did not oppose the last 2 months of Vorobiev’s training, the whole team would lose like that again. Me, David, Zubrilin rebelled.
They both went to Montreal, Rigert and Plukfelder, knowing for sure that they will get gold. It was hard to find a better and more confident weightlifter than Rigert. He was an eagle who came to this world to win, and everybody knew that. But not everybody knew that David had to feel his coach nearby while he was on the platform.
Plukfelder: Medvedev told me “I am at risk by taking you because Alekseyev said he would kill you” “I am taking you at my own risk.”
And they won their Olympic Gold. The coach and the athlete, Plukfelder and Rigert. However, in 1976, Vasily Alekseyev’s strength was admired by everybody. He became the king of weightlifting. Rudolf Plukfelder was not among those. Among the people who brushed the dust off his shoulders, there was no Rudolf Plukfelder, a person who was the first one to believe in Alekseyev. Rudolf understood that he had to go, there was no place in the gym for both of him and Alekseyev. He never expected anybody to defend him. Another time Plukfelder left a fireplace created by his hands. As it usually happens, nobody cared about the person who leaves silently. Hopefully, he left knowing his value. That was also a victory of character in conditions of lawlessness.
Plukfelder: My biggest mistake was simplicity. Simplicity is worse than robbery [proverb]. My mistake was that I put my athletes in front of myself. I said “I am nothing, you are everything.” It helps me, but at the end I lose everything.
Maybe it is not his trouble, but fortune. Because he is among those he cares about, he loves, and who love him. What can be better than this feeling? He, Rudolf Plukfelder, knows it well.
Plukfelder (to his daughter with): I wish them to be happy, friendly, love each other. Most importantly, health. To be healthy you need to do sports. Then everything will be alright. And don’t forget us. Cheers.
In November, 2000, they have their golden anniversary.