Vladimir, who already translated Ilya Ilin’s Science of Victory, has done it again.
He translated “Vasily Alekseyev – The Triumph of Strength” (Триумф силы. Василий Алексеев).
This documentary is about the legendary Russian weightlifter Vasily Alekseyev. It takes you through the bright and dark bits of his life and highlights how uneasy his life was.
As you can imagine providing translations and putting them into subtitles is a lot of work.
So if you enjoyed this or the Ilya special mentioned above, consider a donation to Vladimir. To do this, log into Paypal, choose “Send Money” and enter Vladimir’s email address: email@example.com . Every bit of help is appreciated.
Vasily Alekseyev was the last Hercules of the Soviet times.
He broke any suggestions about the physical limit of a human.
The strongest man up until the end of the 20th century, has reached phenomenal results in his sport.
Two times Olympic champion and the only person in history of weightlifting to hold 8 World Championship titles.
He set 80 world records, 7 Olympic records.
He achieved a sum of 645kg in the 3 disciplnes (snatch, clean and jerk, clean and press), this record is still not beaten.
*Vasily Alekseyev: The triumph of strength*
*Aleksey Petrenko, USSR’s national actor*
Vasily wrote this about himself: “Every time I see myself in the mirror, I almost feel like asking myself for an autograph”.
*Song on TV performed by Vladimir Vysotsky, a Soviet singer, songwriter, poet and actor*
The song is called ‘Shtangist’ which is ‘Weightlifter’ in Russian.
Vasily, is the ‘Weightlifter’ song by Vysotksy about you?
“Well, Vladimir Vysotsky has visited us frequently and he was also weightlifting himself for about 1.5 years”
“But then in the 70’s there was quite a lot of talent around, I set quite a few records as well…”
“So, yeah he composed the song and dedicated it to me”
Do you sing yourself? Do you like to sing?
“Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes”
Some say that you sing well though
“Well, people say a lot about me, don’t pay much attention”
“It’s all about the moment when you drop that barbell on the platform once you lifted it”
Is it hard to drop the barbell back on the platform?
“Dropping it is not hard, just like it’s not hard to give up smoking, just give it up and that’s it”
*City of Minsk, Year 1970*
‘The barbell is conquered’ is one of the only few songs that Vysotsky has dedicated to a specific athlete
He wrote it in the 1970. This year carried Alekseyev’s fate. Back then some unknown guy has made a remarkable breakthrough…
He moved from a country gym onto the pedestal of the world sport Olympus
*Rostov District, River Don*
“Turn it down a bit please”
“Don’t bother filming, I won’t catch any fish”
Vasily has had a passion for fishing since his childhood. He was raised by the river ‘North Dvina’, only he hardly had a chance to go fishing
From 11 years of age, he was working in a forest for a farm collective. His job was to move and push logs of wood into the water
That is where he gained the endurance and the discipline which then so came to use in sport
Alekseyev’s first barbell was made from an axle of a truck, the surprising thing was that the 14 year old was lifting such weights that none of his adult neighbours were able to compete
He was counted as a Hercules of the village
It was a typical small town with 6000 people population
Every captain of the ship that stopped by has given an order to close the restaurants because there were pirates that could board the ship
Only those pirates were nothing compare to us. We’d steal the beer from the buffet. I used to hate it with passion
But because everyone was jumping on and drinking it, that meant that I had to as well
Even though I wasn’t getting any pleasure from it
Were you a bit of a hooligan?
How else? It wasn’t just a ‘city type’ town but a bandit type as well
Were you used as a ‘heavy weapon’ in fights? Perhaps you even got to spend a night in a cell? Tell us a bit more
I was coming back from training one day and I used to walk past this boarding school
The students that lived and studied there were pretty typical guys. So I am walking past and there is a crowd of students outside
I had two friends walking me home that day, so I thought may be something’s happened
It turned out that a lot of them were in the sports hall celebrating the ten year anniversary of the college
And I had my ‘Master of Sport’ badge on me, a lot of them gathered up and tried to take it off me
I don’t usually run away from things, but this time I had to, I tripped and they caught up with me
Then I broke someone’s jaw… the guy turned out to be a team leader at the construction company in the Communist league- ‘KOMSOMOL’
He was one of the fastest runners around
The first secretary of the Communist party has asked about what’s happened. He’s asked whether me hitting the guy was a justified deed, they said it was
He then asked: “Who is he?” they said: “It doesn’t matter, he is moving away”, so he said throw him in the cell for a month
And so I had to do time in prison
I then went to the head warden; I stroll into his room and grab a seat
He instantly screams “Stand up!”, so I apologized to him for not being educated ‘etiquette’ in such place as it’s my first time here
I then said to him that I am preparing for a national competition and I need something to lift whilst I am ‘spending’ my time here
So he gave me a single rail which weighed 40kg and I would get into a shed and lift it
I then approached him and said that it’s a bit too light, so he gave me a 160kg rail and I’d do bicep curls with it and the little one on top
I was standing near the fence lifting these rails and just above me stood a guard with a gun on top of the watch tower
I trained with it for about 2 weeks and one day I was squatting with it and when I dropped it, it split clean in half
That’s a rail number 24 I am talking about, meaning 24kg for every metre of it.
It was then a bit easier for me; they gave me two rails each weighing 80kg
I then won the Russian national competition and came second at the USSR championship…with ‘rail training’.
The Pride of Soviet Sport
There were 3 of them, the 3 heroes of the Soviet era (Yury Vlasov, Leonid Zhabotinsky, Vasily Alekseyev)
These were the times of cold war, the times of ongoing competitions between USA and USSR
At the time, Americans were leaders in athletics
And finally at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, Yury Vlasov lifts 202kg in clean and jerk and beats the American athletes
The crowd were confused, is this a man or a robot? That was a Soviet man
At the next Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964, Vlasov’s record is beaten by another Soviet Hercules- Leonid Zhabotinsky who takes away American’s last world record in the snatch discipline
At that time, getting on the pedestal of heavy weightlifting for USSR was more important than winning the World Cup in football nowadays
Apart from the medals, the country where the strongest athletes live, was winning the ‘inter-country’ rivalry
It was a vivid proof of the country’s might
Alekseyev didn’t even have to compete against America
He has hardly had any opponents, only the barbell itself. Whilst debuting on the podium for the first time he set a world record
He lifted a sum of 595 kilos between 3 disciplines. He then promised to lift 600kg at the Minsk championship
The world was waiting for this, at the same time this was when he discovered he had a few that disliked him
When I was travelling from Moscow to Minsk by train, to set the 600kg record, me and few friends went to the restaurant carriage
There were 4 of us sitting at a table, I am about 130kg, one guy is 110kg and another 2 are also heavy weightlifters
Not far away from us, sitting at a table were 4 normal size chaps
One of them says: “Have a look, it’s Alekseyev, one of the strongest men alive”
Another one says: “Not it’s not, it’s just some arsehole”
So he says: “Hey arsehole…”, I was quiet, I was not saying anything
He grabbed a glass and smashed it against the back of my head
I just carried on eating my soup like I was
My friend Valera says: “Are you crazy, he just smashed that glass on your head”
I said: “I know, I’d rip his head of a long time ago, but it was a restaurant and it would be our fault because we were stronger. Just sit tight”
I still ask myself a question, who needed this provocation? Everyone understands it was done on purpose
Have you ever had to use your advantage in strength in everyday life?
Whether it is the way I was brought up in the country or the conditions I lived in…I never even shook a girls hand in school
I never pulled on the door handle hard because I was afraid to break it, if the door wasn’t opening properly, I wouldn’t even try
I was just afraid to break it
18th of March 1970, became a historic date for the world of sport. Minsk was hosting the International Friendship Cup competition
Vasily Alekseyev set a phenomenal record. He lifted the sum of 600 kilograms in three disciplines
The venue explodes. The new era of heavy weightlifters has started, the era of ‘six hundreders’
And the first ‘six hundereder’ is from USSR
Now that was a real strength breakthrough which was in a sense as important as Gagarin’s flight into space
I had a journalist approach me there right after the award ceremony and he said to me that he had taken an interview with Vlasov in Rome after he won and I’ve asked him: What sort of person he thought might be able to lift 600kg?
Pretty much word to word he said: It’ll be a person around 2m tall, weighing 170kg and not an ounce of fat.
“And what did the person look like who lifted the 600kg? Have a look at me.”
“and I’d lift more if they wouldn’t rule out the clean and press”
As soon as clean and press was discontinued Vasily Alekseyev was registered as an unbeaten champion within this triathlon with a best of 645kg.
For amateurs and professionals this sum seems out of reach. Vasily explains the success of his victories in specific training methods.
The athlete was lifting unreal weights by exactly following his own regime
Alekseyev delighted everyone but no everyone liked him because he was stubborn
The super heavyweight had a difficult character.
“If I know about something more than anyone does, why do I need to listen to people’s opinions regarding it and why must I obey someone?”
“…Should I listen to the coaches who are worse than me in that sport. Of course I didn’t listen to anyone; I did everything on my own
“I’d warm up myself, come up on the platform myself. I always said that I would love a coach like myself. I didn’t need to be taught how to train; I needed to be taught how to stop because I was over working “
“But no, I never had a coach because on the level of intelligence, no one was even close enough. It’s not a high self esteem, it’s just true”
Who lifted 80 world records? I lifted them.
He never had a coach. He didn’t let anyone near him. He didn’t trust anyone.
All his life he was a sole soldier and was always waiting for betrayal, predominantly from his own friends
Friends are happiness, but then again a famous coach once said: A friend will eventually betray you.
Then, with a sense of irony I was saying, he was partially right.
Did you go through this?
Of course I did. It was quite a painful wound. Back in those days I didn’t forgive anyone.
But nowadays I respond to it a lot calmer because unfortunately all people can’t be the same
Even after the first successes of then unknown Vasily Alekseyev, he was invited into the national team
That sort of bid for a victory in USSR wasn’t given by anyone. But his methods of training in the national team weren’t greeted kindly
And the novice self learner was kicked out. The Olympics was approaching and Alekseyev which was setting a record after record was invited back to the team
To defend the honour of the country
Munich 72 was the first Olympiad of Alekseyev. These Olympic Games beaten all records, in every sense. In terms of how many countries participated and by the amount of spectators- there were more than a billion and the new technology the arena was equipped with.
Alekseyev’s performance was planned for a Sunday on the 5th of September
However on that day at 4.30, a tragedy happened. Palestinian terrorists have shots the Israeli athletes. The ones that died were mostly fighters or weightlifters
I met these guys in Sweden in 1972.
With the Israeli?
Yes. One was Romanian, one was black. I’ve asked them whether he is a Jew as well. They said yes.
And one of the guys was Russian but has migrated with parents when he was 14. I knew the whole team in person and the coach
All of these guys were murdered. I don’t know whose fault it is
The snipers are used to shooting at targets but not at people. They wounded one of the guys and the other one threw the grenade in the airplane. And the team has died.
On the next day the Olympiad was stopped. All national teams went out to the requiem to honour the dead Israeli
But the headquarters in Moscow have sent a special message. It told the Soviet athletes to stay inside and to not join the requiem.
The tragedy happened on the 4th as far as I remember. They transferred it to the 6th. Can you imagine an athlete preparing to compete tomorrow and it gets postponed until after tomorrow?
It’s a triple load on the nerves. Some didn’t outlast it.
Why did you not attend the requiem?
I haven’t actually seen the requiem and I haven’t heard anything about it. It’s the first time I hear about it.
Were you perhaps feeling sorry for the guys?
Yes of course, as I said, I knew all the guys personally.
They were all nice guys. The terrorist attack in Munich was the only one registered at Olympic games. The world was shaken. A lot of athletes left Munich
But the Soviet team has a specific aim, it’s 50 years since the creation of USSR, hence they had to win 50 gold medals
And they did it. Gymnastics, running, martial arts, all types of rowing, water polo and even basketball. It was the first time Americans lost in the final
Alekseyev has also made his input towards the golden medal pot lifting 640kg.
Monreal 76. Alekseyevs 2nd Olympic Games. The organisers have impressed the world with new tech devices and giant screens for replays
A swimming pool with the wave stopping system
After the events in Munich, a lot was invested into security, there were 2 guards per every athlete
No provocations happened at those Olympic Games, they had 30,000 armed personnel
When I was warming up, I’d go to the backyard and see that above me there’d be 2 guards on different levels. Always had a feeling there is a bullet coming at you from somewhere
Borzov had received a letter in his hotel room saying that if he finishes first, he’ll be shot
Same thing applied to me
Did you have slight discomfort?
Well, It all turned out ok
Vasily Alekseyev sets another Olympic and World record. 440kg in the total of the snatch+clean and jerk
Back then I performed really well. It was the first time there were tests for steroids
Everyone had performed badly apart from me. When all the journalists filled the podium, they asked me: “How did everyone perform so poorly and you Mr Alekseyev set a fantastic world record?”
So I said: it depends what you ‘live on’. They thought that I, just like everyone else was taking steroids. My victory was the only proof
After hosting the Olympic Games, Canada was paying out debts for tens of years. It was the first ever time when the hosts of the Olympiad didn’t win a single gold medal
The Soviet Team lead in the number of medals once again. 125 in total out of which 49 gold were gold
Moscow, 1980. For Alekseyev it’s the third and the last Olympiad. For the world, it’s the first Olympic Games held in a Socialist Country
More than 50 countries have boycotted the Olympic Games because of the deployment of Russian military in Afghanistan
Having their traditional opponents absent- the athletes from the USA, the Soviet athletes won the most medals- 195. Out of which 80 were gold
And only the legendary weightlifter Alekseyev loses. He fails all three attempts. Some were saying that the great athlete overestimated himself and didn’t train enough
He knows himself though, that he had been poisoned
What did you feel at that moment when you realised you couldn’t lift it, that you won’t win?
Firstly I didn’t think it was intentional. It happened, so it did. May be it wasn’t my day. My first ever failure at a big competition…
I knew it wasn’t my fault; they must have given me something
Do you think they put it in your food?
They told me to drink some sort of elixir for freshness apparently. I had two people in front of me lifting before it was my turn when I was given it
I was throwing the same weight barbell in training anywhere I wanted. At the competition, I lowered the weight, which I never done before
I came out to the platform for the 1st attempt and felt weak. I was just poisoned
What was the motive for poisoning you?
Well, they wanted me to gift that gold towards the person who got it instead of me. I was kind of being pushed for the silver, but I didn’t quite get it at the time
After this case with the poisoning, I stuck my head deep in the sand. I was invited everywhere and by everyone
They all got the same answer: Either I can’t because I am working or I can’t because I am not fit
“When it was favourable for the USSR, then the Soviet Union took the victory. Look at us, our Soviet Union has won! “
“They waved Alekseyev like a flag, waved him when he was needed but when he wasn’t, folded him and put him inside their bag”
If the motherland has treated their hero like a step child, over the ocean, people were ready to greet him
Even at the beginning of his career, the Americans always stood up whilst applauding the athlete
The president of the US, Richard Nixon, has addressed him a message
The Americans were calling Alekseyev a great athlete and said that the Russians have opposed Alekseyev’s results in sport to the American progress in space
Who is this with you in the photo?
Surely you must know this guy. It’s Muhammed Ali
Oh is it? How did you meet him?
Well I met him when we had a couple of ‘encounters’.
Did you fight him?
Yes I did
A great boxer and a great weightlifter met, we had a chat and few laughs. We had a friendly boxing match
Tell us about America, I am sure you were offered to stay there
Nobody has ever offered me anything as I am a very determined communist; well I was, still am.
At that time, did you have any desire to stay there?
“Thank god, no”
Are you sorry for not taking up any offers?
Well firstly I don’t understand how our people even live there, those crazy ones that did leave…
Russia is such a country that it doesn’t let you part with it if you go away too far or for too long. That’s my opinion
Even now the thought that he could be training Americans, which would be beating the Russian, is unbearable for Alekseyev
However he wasn’t trusted to train his own kind. The unbeaten champion Vasily Alekseyev went straight from the platform at the 80’s Olympiad into nowhere
He was 38. For 10 years, the world’s strongest man was living on his wife’s wage
He even once said: hold on a bit longer, either I’ll get out of this or I will commit suicide in the mines and you will receive insurance money for me
The biggest support during the good and the bad years was his wife- Lipa
She always believed in him, and endured when sometimes anyone would have given up
…when the renowned husband was sacked from the mines and even when he lost the extra cash he was getting for training with the guys
Alekseyev, almost like being offended at the whole world has lived a closed life and didn’t let any strangers near him
Who is it?
“Open up, it’s the robbers”
Now it opens up…
Vasily Alekseyev and Aleksey Petrenko were introduced to each other by the wife of the actor which recently passed away- Galina Kozhukhova-Petrenko
Alekseyev was helping her to solve some health problems. It progressed into a close friendship between two families
Even now coming to Rostov for a gig, Petrenko still visits Alekseyev
Today is a special occasion. The wedding anniversary of the athlete
Forty eight years you’ve been together. Why isn’t she at the table?
“Well I thought she can’t with all the filming going on”
What do you mean she can’t? Who said?
“Who did you come to film? Aleksey Petrenko or me? Why did you get the 2nd camera out?”
“I was joking guys. Film whatever you want”
I would like to drink for the person who set up this table and gave us an opportunity to enjoy this feast
A drink to your wife, to Olympiada Ivanovna.
It’s been 48 years since the ‘voluntary test’ and you are still a wonderful woman
Alekseyev’s wife: Thank you very much
Petrenko: God bless you and congratulations once again
Petrenko: With a wife like that one call live well, right Vasily?
Petrenko: To sum it up, to women’s happiness and to us men
“I would like to add that during these 48 years, I haven’t got any experience with regards to living with another person”
“But I think I’ve chosen the right path”
Petrenko: Cheers and let me congratulate you both from the film crew
How did you meet each other?
Well, we met before; she came back from Moscow to work in an educational facility here
It was in the winter. It was quiet in the taiga, enough snow to reach your chest and we met each other on the roadside and then I saw her later in the club
That was it- the whole romance
As I said we knew each for a long time, about 2 years. I liked her. But I was quiet
Were you shy?
“You can say so”
Were you a modest admirer?
“Yes I was”
“Well, thank god it happened like it did”
She was different from everyone because of her simplicity
And did you like simple girls?
“Who needs the ‘wise ones’? Who needs problems for the rest of their life?”
When you were going away from training camps and competitions, was she worried or jealous?
“When I became the leader, I’d always take her with me with the kids”
“I did need taking care of as I had no coach or masseur or a doctor. She replaced them all”
Whilst sometimes training at night in the backyard…it’s this backyard I am talking about
It could have gone past 1am and I’d still be training. She needed someone, so she’d lie down on the sofa with cuddling with the cat
So the results at the Olympics shown by Alekseyev partially belong to his wife too. Only she’ll have to wait for the deserved reward
The Alekseyevs still haven’t got married in the church
Vasily Alekseyev have stated that on the 50th Anniversary will take her to the church to get married properly
At the moment Vasily Alekseyev is living well. Their family has two sons, 4 grand children a big house, a good pension and an Olympic surplus
Overall Alekseyev is neither rich nor poor. “We are modest people and our lives are fine”- jokes Vasily Alekseyev
In his city, he is a real hero. A monument almost. The taxi drivers don’t even ask for his address
This gym in Shakhtinsk Palace of Sport was built and refurbished by Vasily himself
In Shakhty, the weightlifting is the most favourite type of sport
The miners bring their children into the sport at an early age, the 15 year old Maxim is preparing for the London Olympic Games
What a beauty I’ve turned this place into
This place has produced 10 Olympic champions, 12 world champions, 19 European champions and 16 Russian champions
After Alekseyev have finished his career, he was offered a place here as a coach. Alekseyev has refused
I said to them that on the scale of the city, it’d be a big thing for the workers of the factory (who the gym belonged to)
But with my sort of knowledge it wasn’t interesting to sit around and pick out younger kids from school
In 1989, I was asked to lead the national team. It hasn’t since lost a competition
Not a single injury was conceded. And nobody got caught on the doping test
Self taught Alekseyev, turned out to be an unbelievable coach
At the Olympiad in Barcelona 1992, his team gets 10 medals, out of which 5 are gold.
Neither before, nor after Alekseyev, have our weightlifters shown such results
By the way in total our team has earned 45 gold medals
After coming back from Barcelona it becomes clear that there is no longer Soviet Union and there is no longer national team
The hero was gone again
Are you a person that’s easy to hurt?
Yes, I can get hurt when it’s for nothing
When you do a lot of good for person and what you get back is sweet talk and crap
This does offend me of course
Have you come up with similar situations quite often?
In the last years, under the Democracy rules, it’s like a rule of thumb nowadays
All the valuables lost their value. The first thing that matters nowadays is the money and your own selfish interests
Whilst talking to close friends, Alekseyev’s main topic is not about how bad he feels because he is no longer required
…but the pain due to the future Russian sport. He like no other can estimate the chances of our athletes for victory
He knows why nowadays there is no point of waiting for the arrival of the new Alekseyev
The main thing is that everyone is full of chemicals and they don’t know any other ways of lifting the bar
Now they are lost, how are they going to lift it if there is such mad control with regards to anti doping
You need do lifting twice a day, then increase the load by 2 in terms of volume
They aren’t ready for that; it’s not that kind of guys.
They just don’t know any other way and I’ve said to them that methods do exist
I was lifting those weights without any drugs. Well they firstly don’t believe me and secondly don’t know how to do it
And working hard is just not for them. Apparently it’s to do with money problems…
Well have a look at it, lots of schools in Shakhty were closed down
There is a school here in the name of the 2 times Olympic champion Vasily Alekseyev
I was literally protecting it with my own body, when they started shutting schools down in the region and passing them on to the Municipal
This means that the coaches would get half the wage and they would just leave
And the athletes wouldn’t have anything to eat either, that’s how it’s linked to athletics.
Heard that positive click?
How many reps are you doing?
What sort of number is 10? Let’s do 12 or 17.
In some ways the crude Hercules is still as naive as a child. He still sincerely doesn’t understand why the country doesn’t need his experience or his inventions
In his backyard Vasily has a whole arsenal of self made training apparatuses
The combined exercises on those help you to recover from the worst possible injuries
It turns out your legs are longer than mine were at your age
My knee was hurting whilst I was training in Feodosiya, the barbell was on the beach
I hurt my knee and it hurt so badly I thought I wasn’t going to perform at all. I couldn’t sit on the bench and then stand up again
And then I made up that exercise. Do it 3 times, with 3 sets of 12 reps, It’s almost like a shaman took off a bad spell of you
Lots of people know about this experiment, that’s why everyone travels from all over the country to Alekseyev for help
Andrey Silnov, the Bejing Olympic champion lives and train in Moscow but he fully trusts the experience of the compatriot
Reach out for it with your right hand, whilst crossing your other elbow
And now bring it back to yourself, don’t hold yourself on to the bed
The movement must pass through your other elbow
Come on, reach out to the floor
This is what you’d call an anti-radiculitis exercise
I am modernising few things here
Hold it for a second and then go again so that each rep is a separate movement not part of a sequence
I am devoting this to the footballers, ice hockey players
In spite of all the injuries, even at 70, Alekseyev is able to complete exercises which not every strong man is capable of
And it’s all because of his training and his own methods
To get instructions from the legendary weightlifter for an athlete is an unbelievable luck but to sit at a table with him is an honour
Vasily Alekseyev is also a famous cook. He knows such recipes that Makarevich (Russian Gordon Ramsey) will be jealous of
Makerevich and all his cooking…we have an institute of food in Russia. Ask any professor. He will tell you how to cook a certain type of food
Any first dish which contains fish or meat, needs boiling first, then you change the water
And boil it once more with all the veg etc
Everyone who knows me, cooks like this
I never eat the first dish in a restaurant or at friend’s house
I’ll bring a little tester for you
Just pour in the plates and serve it to the guests
Well, I want you to ok this first and then I’ll put the fire away
The most surprising thing it smells of fish, can you imagine it?
So it doesn’t smell of meat?
It’s all right
Don’t drop your glasses into it
There we are, that’s enough
Under this strict supervision, this fish soup is amazing
You know, I am not even doubting it
What else have you been told about me?
Well, been told that you met with Fidel Castro
Well, if I remember everything and tell you, you’ll be filming here for a year
Anyway, turn off the cameras, let us eat
Or whilst I am talking here, you’ll be able to count how many teeth I have left
80 World Records, 7 Olympic Records. Vasily Alekseyev will remain the best athlete of the 20th century.
A great sportsman and a great person. Because the greatness is not measured with losses but with victories
Right now he is just like Ilya Muromec (Russian fiction Hercules), he glorified his motherland and then left for a vacation
He is a Hercules by strength and by heart
Vasily Ivanovich is a big person, lost in a big country, but because of that this doesn’t make him look small…