Today you get another Weightlifting History Lesson which is brought to you by ATG reader Sergiy Turchyn (who already provided the Rudolf Plukfelder Documentary Translation).
This one is about Yury Vlasov. Who is Yury Vlasov, you ask?
That’s the reason I am posting this here. To make you aware of the calibre of lifters that existed before there was YouTube.
Prior to Sergiy bringing him to my attention I didn’t know him either. Just take a look at his Wikipedia page to get a glimpse of his accomplishments in the sport. He had 31 world records…
After I retired, they slowly erased my name, like I didn’t exist.
Yury Vlasov Documentary “A 20000 Ton Barbell”
“Justice of Strength” Book Excerpt Translations
The book “Justice of Strength” (or Fairness of Strength) is a 470-page book about the history of weightlifting and the life of Yury Vlasov.
It describes each competition where he competed in detail. He also writes about other famous athletes of his time. There are a few chapters that reflect Vlasov’s views on different topics.
Chapter 10 (on his First Competitions)
I became stronger fast, very fast.
On my first competition in December of 1953 [18 years old] (this was the first time I took a barbell in my hands) I Pressed 85, Snatched 80, Cleaned and Jerked 95 kg (Cleaned 105, but failed to Jerk it).
In January of 1954, in a month, I pressed 10 kg more. In a month I added 10 more kilos to my press by Pressing 105 kg. I Cleaned and Jerked 115 kg. I added a little in the Snatch – only 5 kg. Little more than half a year after, I pressed 115, Snatched 107.5, and jerked 140.
I got stronger even though it was impossible to train during my internship and summer vacation. If you also count finals in the university, I did not train between May and September.
Thus, in 10 months (really, in 6 months) I improved my Press from 85 to 115, Snatch from 80 to 107.5, Clean and Jerk from 95 to 140 kg. The improvements in strength continued. In December of 1956 I Pressed 142.5, Snatched 130, Jerked 180 kg.
The next step could be only national records (the world records were held by [Paul] Anderson and seemed to be magically unreachable for me).
I gained enough strength for this in 3 years, but it was actually 2 years if you consider that I had to skip training each year between May and September, skipped a month in winter because of finals, and often missed trainings throughout the year because of evening lectures, labs, or different military trainings (I was a private before the 4th year and then became a lieutenant until the end of my studying).
I had huge improvements in strength. Energy overfilled me. I also constantly had a crush on somebody. I dated women all the time before my marriage. I was extremely amorous. I was ignited with love very fast, quicker than gunpowder…
Every day was brightened by strength, love, and academic community. I loved to study, I loved young people that surrounded me. I woke up in mornings and it seemed that the sun was inside me. Blessed days of my youth…
Chapter 19 (on Weightlifting in General)
I was an athlete for quite a big period of time: I competed in 6 World and European championships. I didn’t leave because I drained everything out of myself.
Not without reason my successor [Zhabotinsky] was 3 times world champion with the results less than my best total that was a temporary total on my way to 600 kg. This was the goal of all my training. Just trainings.
I didn’t force myself to get to 150-165 kg bodyweight to increase the results. My weight changed, but together with muscles. I became heavier because of more muscles.
Unfortunately, things that had been achieved with new training systems, endurance to higher loading and life endurance, were achieved quite easier by other competitors…
I didn’t know anything that was related to artificial improvements in strength…
We became deaf from the sound of iron. Our gyms were small. They often had only 1-2 platforms. We were full of sweat, changed wet shirts, became tougher from strength…
Training solely for victories did not attract me. I wanted to torture myself, become stronger, lift more weight. Only new, an ability to bring something new – this is the idea of big sports. I would not train even a day just to win gold medals.
Create something new. Search for strength. Know the strength. Tame the strength.For me the sport would exhaust itself with the loss of ability to improve strength. Collecting medals and victories was a perversion of the idea of competition for me.
Create something new. Search for strength. Know the strength. Tame the strength.
That’s why I was against gaining bodyweight. It was a fight for survival in the sport, for the sport. I did not value this in life. I only wanted victories with new strength.
Gaining higher bodyweight, besides physical unattractiveness, meant the desire to win no matter what. There was a famous athlete Charles Rigulo. He was barely 100 kg and showed a result that challenged much bigger athletes for about 25 years.
Weightlifting is not just weight lifting, it is a possession of strength.
It is not a usage of strength in strictly learned movements, but a possession of all types of strength, including mental strength.
I have a specific image of a powerful person…They always blamed me on exaggeration. But to blame me on that you need to have a right to do it: at least go through the modern training, at least watch them for some period of time.
It is naïve to think that old school training sessions were easy. In 1914 our famous athlete Ivan Romanov wrote in Hercules magazine:
“Half of my hair is grey, and I am only 32. However, the life threw me around the world, and as a result I got a grey hair. I believe that the life of a professional wrestler should be measured in days, not months, just like a life of a Sevastopol’s defense participant.”
We don’t live like professional wrestlers, but our training is much tougher. It is the result of constant improvement of results and higher competition. We are thrown around the world, at championships, tournaments…
The victories are not sweet. It is natural. My last Clean and Jerk world record was 215.5 kg, while today this record is over 260 kg. It will be over 300 sometimes. It is not necessary to describe how overloaded an athlete feels lifting that. Well, it would be impossible to describe it anyway…
However, an athlete himself will not always give the right answer. It depends on how you live in the sport. Well, it is the same for live in general.
Chapter 115 (about Strength and Split/Squat Snatch)
Once they asked me to bend a coin. I failed, and the person who asked could do it. But I could see that he would be destroyed by squats and deadlifts even with medium for any weightlifter weights.
He has only developed his wrists. Developed, as he confessed, from ten years of training every day. But it is not strength. It is only a quality of a particular limited muscle group.
Don’t confuse the whole body strength with strength of a particular muscle group. They say that a person lifts 400-600 kg. I know that it is a partial deadlift. As usually, his arms and shoulders cannot even Press 100 kg.
A person can achieve amazing results in particular muscle group development. For example, Squat with unreal weight. However, he will not win an all-around strength contest. That’s the difficulty of athletic training – to develop all muscles.
Even with overall development, just strength is not healthy strength. It is important to run, swim and do other endurance and stretching exercises. Strength is ill without them.
A first class athlete has a plenty of muscles, but they are useless for health, even harmful.
It is difficult to dig a garden for such a superman. Unfortunately, the professionalization of strength is increasing in weightlifting (not only in weightlifting). Thus, modern specialized training should have endurance work. It is required for health, not just for fun.
Once in March I decided to try Squat Snatch. I used to do a split Snatch. However, with bodyweight increase I started to touch the platform with my knee more and more often. I could not perform a fast enough split because I became heavy.
In the Squat Snatch you have full extension. In the Split Snatch you are making it shorter to have enough time for your legs to move. Besides that, the squat Snatch requires to pull the barbell lower because you can catch it much lower. However, the balance is tougher.
In the Split you can move your center of mass from one leg to another to achieve balance. In the Squat position the room for error is very small.
Bogdasarov wanted me to learn the Squat style. I avoided it.
The mistake was that he tried to teach me with an empty bar. I would pull small or medium weight properly, in the right plane. The weight itself would make me do that. But with an empty bar…I almost crushed my face with it.
Literally a bloody failure had unforeseeable consequences for me. I refused to learn a new Snatch style. As a result, I lost 1962 and most of 1963.
In November 1963 I was sure that I had to change my style to Squat. But at the Tokyo Olympics it only looked like I had a good technique. As a result I failed on the Olympic platform.
I was ahead of everybody to Squat Clean, but I was behind everybody to Squat Snatch. I paid for it with my Olympic gold. But I am still proud.
Nobody learned a new style at the end of their career. It is not just different motion. It is a need to train the joints in absolutely unusual positions.
Only before the Rome Olympics I learned the hook gripMoreover, I broke two world records with the new style. Of course, I didn’t trust it. Of course, I waited for a surprise. But not so destroying, as happened in Tokyo.
Back then an injury prevented me from the new method. I lost precious time and partly my victory on the last international challenge…
It was the second time I was behind with my technique.
Only before the Rome Olympics I learned the hook grip. I used normal grip before (for less than 200 kg), it is hard to believe that.
Transcript of the Documentary
20 000 tons. I calculated it myself. 20 000 tons. It is a lot. A lot. I retired young. I could compete and win for 4-5 more years. I was ready for more records. Very big records. Many, many of them. I had the “sports sickness” for a while afterwards. After my retirement, sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night, I was still very strong, and a voice in my head whispers: “Come back. Soon it will be too late. Come back. You will have all the victories. Come back. It will be too late in 2-3 years. Come back.” It happened often. I just lied like that until the morning. You need to understand that. It is not a joke, it was the whole life. It is not a joke. It is not playing cards, like bridge, on World Championships. It is not playing billiard on World Championships. You pay with your life.
When I saw the old magazines and books by our athletes from the past… Georg Hackenschmidt, Poddubny, Zaikin, and others were in of Hercules, Everything for Sports magazines. Old magazines, before the revolution. They had such people: handsome, strong, chiseled…When I was 16-17 years old I wanted to be strong like them.
Paul Anderson surprised all our people when in 1955 he came to Moscow. He showed a phenomenal result: 512.5 kg. Although it was raining, the Green Theater was completely full. Most of the audience came not to watch the competition between the strongest teams of USSR and USA, but to watch Paul Anderson. Paul Anderson is a very popular athlete in the USA. – A doctor of medical studies, Olympic champion, Arcady Vorobiev recalls.
We were looking for an athlete for a long time. Our sports press asked: “Who can be stronger? Who can defeat Paul Anderson?” Specialists said that there would be no such athlete for a long period of time, about 10 years. Nobody thought that we would have an athlete who would become the strongest in the world.
Yury Vlasov, back than in 1955, was just 20 years old. After a competition, an American Maecenas Bob Hoffman would say to the press: “Let the Russians have sputnik. We have Paul Anderson.”
Look: Starting with Anderson, Shemansky, Dave Ashman, Zirk, and continuing after me, there was one a stream of giant, strong people weighting 130, 140 kg. They were huge guys. He [Bob Hoffman] aimed all of them on me. And I broke all this cohort.
Yury was working on the press, Snatch, clean, and jerk technique. He learned the art of sport, an ability to relax some muscles and flex another. This lasted days and weeks. Bench press. 180 kg are handled with difficulty by 2 people. Vlasov looks like he doesn’t even feel the heaviness. The bar is overloaded with plates. It seems impossible to separate 250 kg from the floor.
The hands are strapped to the bar. This exercise is called a [clean] pull. It develops explosive strength that is required for high results in the Snatch, Clean and Jerk. A weightlifting gym is a real forge of strength. The specialists agree: Vlasov’s strength lies in his legs. As you can see, they are right. The steel bar is bending from the heavy load. At first, Vlasov could lift only 70 kg. And now the barbell is loaded to 270 kg.
Yury trained for months. He chose assistance exercises with the help of his coach. They build up your strength. Yury did not look like a stout 170 kg Anderson. The weightlifter did gymnastics, football, basketball, swimming. It trained sharpness of movement, endurance, speed. Despite looking calm, Vlasov is a very temperamental, energetic, devoted person. If he goes jogging, then at least 3 km. Vlasov started with track and field. He was a shot putter.
He didn’t throw it far, just like this ball. That’s when they suggested him to lift barbells to get stronger. Since then for 7 years Vlasov have been using them. A 100m sprint. It is hard to compete with the European record holder Vasily Kuznetsov. However, this is only training, not competition.
I was a very venturesome person. I had a story that happened when I was competing in Nationals in Gorko. I was just starting competing and was complacent whether I would become first or second. Then I heard from my competitor’s coach talking about me: “this trash will never become a champion.” It tipped me over. I called for a huge weight on the next attempt. Without any hesitation I nailed it like an empty bar. This is a case of my outbreak, but I was a venturesome person all the time. I loved training, work. I gave myself an oath. After Worlds in September-October we had a month of rest and then the roughest work was in winter and spring.
I always shaved all the hair off. They burned from sweat, all black…Training sessions started at 10 am and finished at 4-5 pm. All day in the gym. This place where straps go was all bruised. There was one huge bruise here too. You start training when the sun rises and finish when the sun goes down. We did not see anything. And we trained not for money. No money could compensate me for that. At 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 years old I finished training. I did not see anything besides the hardest work. They say “happiness of the competition.” A competitor pushes you, so that you are barely alive, and you push him. He makes you lift big weight, and I, in order to win, make him lift even more. And all the weights are new [records]. I saw how risky competitions were. I saw how bones came out of hands. I saw a great risk. I am all covered in injuries myself.
Shortly before the Olympics, an American Norbert Shemansky, equipped in a special belt, with the help of two spotters, lifted a titanic weight – 200 kg. To scare Vlasov even more, Americans would bring one more superheavyweight, Bradford, to Rome.
Rome is speaking. Rome is speaking. We are starting the last report about the Olympic Games. The microphone of the Latest News of the Soviet Radio is in the Palazzetto Dello Sport where heavyweight weightlifting competition is coming to the end. The last Olympic night. The hall is full. The audience is watching famous weightlifters of the world, the battle between the Soviet engineer Yury Vlasov and an American athlete Bradford. We are witnessing an event that has never happened in weightlifting. It is 3 am. Vlasov asked to put not 200, but 202.5 kg on the bar. Something will happen. He cleans it. Jerks. Good lift! A wonderful victory of Vlasov! The audience congratulates him standing. All the audience is standing congratulating the Soviet hero. Those who cheered for him, and those who did not, cannot hide their true emotions anymore. They cannot hide their sympathy and excitement from the Soviet athlete.
I was like a well-trained dog. Just let me fight, I would…I was strong, tan, powerful! 24 years old, what do you want? I competed the whole night and it was not enough for me. I came back happy, drank a bottle of wine. Nothing took me. I was tired, and my coaches were celebrating the victory. I was the one competing and they were all drunk because of happiness. Everything ended in a big triumph. It was not random people drinking.
You had to see that. I have never seen anything like that in any of my other competitions. A giant audience of several thousand people exploded with emotions, they went to the stage and took me on their hands. The police was fighting to let me free. When I was walking everything stopped. Everyone saw me on the TV. Even though it was 4 am. It is fantastic. When I was crossing a street in Rome, the police blocked the road for me alone. Even in places without the crosswalks. I was walking, looking for a place to cross, and they blocked the road for me to cross. They all knew me. Once a bus stopped and the driver recognized me. He apologized, took a bottle of Chianti, and drank for my health. It was a big honor back then.
After the Olympics, after coming back to Moscow, Vlasov surprised everybody once more. In his prime he started writing. His first book was approved by the author of the legendary novel “Goalkeeper of the Republic”, Lev Kassil. Later Vlasov would prepare and publish a book based on his father’s, Petr Parfenovich Vladimirov’s diary. I would be the famous book “A special region of China.” This book would immediately become very popular. Yury Vlasov would become a world known writer, his novels and stories would be published in many countries of the world.
It didn’t matter how long I would compete. I knew that there was no end to this game. Human strength is an endless game. There was no place for me in that life. I wanted to write. I loved literature. I had to get on my feet while I was young. There was a danger of being too much into sport. It is flattering to be a champion. Hard, but flattering. People respect you. I could completely turn into a professional athlete at that point.
All my life would be spent on the sport of weightlifting and training. There would be no change of turning back to previous life. I would have my mind, abilities, habits set only on sport. I had to break from such a state. Even if it was tough to live in poverty, to get published. I did not want to depend on sport. I loved a different kind of life and did not want to live in the sport. Other big athletes retire from sport and ask the authorities for a trip abroad, some items, some good place. To be like that you need the authorities to like you because the competition was tough. A few rewards and many champions. How many champions did the team throw away each year…There is not enough space for all of them. I thought it was shameful. My self-esteem did not allow me to beg from the authorities for my whole life using my sport achievements. I was strongly against that. That’s why I connected my future to the literature. Literature required a lot of energy. So, I made a decision. 1964 was my last year as a weightlifter.
Yury Vlasov would arrive in Tokyo as a world champion. Vlasov does not know yet how dramatic the competition on the Olympic platform will be for him.
Leonid Zhabotinsky, Soviet Union. He lifts this weight quite easily at his first attempt. Zhabotinsky asked to add 7.5 kg. He lifts the weight easily again. Yury Vlasov asks to increase the weight by 5 more kilos. He also gets it. It is truly a competition between giants. They are adding more plates. The barbell is 197.5 kg now. No athlete in the world has lifted this weight. Yury Vlasov. He needs a lot of willpower to lift a new world record. It really looks like a miracle. The second lift: the Snatch. Again a miracle happens. Vlasov gets one more world record [Note: it was 4th attempt that did not count towards the total. Vlasov got his 162.5 opener only on 3rd attempt. Then did 172.5 just for the WR.]. The last lift, Clean and Jerk, is left. It seems that the winner is obvious. But let’s look at the rivalry. Zhabotinsky cleans and jerks 200 kg. Vlasov takes 5 kg more again. The weight goes up. Vlasov gets ready to try 210 kg. And again a wonderful success. What will Zhabotinsky do? He asks for 217.5 kg. This is above the world record. The second attempt. Vlasov is concerned: will he really lift it? He didn’t.
I should have jerked 212.5 instead of 210. In this case he would have never won. Never. 212.5 would be easy for me. I did it in training many times. I started with 210 and decided to try 217.5 as a world record. It is another question why I chose my attempts this way. Because I did not consider him my rival. Why didn’t I consider him my rival? Because of his behavior in the warm up room. It made me confident and it was my biggest miscalculation.
When I saw how he behaved himself, spoke…Once he came to me during the Clean and Jerk, and said: “Let’s Clean and Jerk 200 kg and finish.” I would automatically become the Olympic champion. That’s what he said to me. “Let’s stop the fight.” Why? I had a big press. My world record counted towards the total. I had a world record in the Snatch, even though it did not count towards my total. I was very strong. I was ready for the world record in the Clean and Jerk too. And he talked too much about how he would win everything and destroy everybody. He was tired and ate a lot of food by then. And he told me: “Let’s stop competing.”
For me it was the sign of him being broken. He told me: “I will not attempt more.” He jerked 205 or whatever. I didn’t consider him as a rival anymore and selected my attempts accordingly. If he were a real rival I would select them in a different way. When he actively started participating it was too late for me to change. I understood that he was a strong rival and I underestimated him as a result of the previous conversations. Moreover, he didn’t even try on his second attempt. I told my coach that nothing would happen. And it happened and it was a big result. He knows all of it. But that is the point: the victory was clean. He jerked 217.5 and I didn’t. There is nothing to argue about. I can only bemoan that I underestimated another competitor.
After getting silver in the Olympics, Yury Vlasov got a world record total (with the 4th attempt in the Snatch), proving that he was the strongest man on Earth. In 1975 IWF would acknowledge Yury Vlasov as the best weightlifter in the world of all time.
After I retired, they slowly erased my name, like I didn’t exist. I remember there was some event to celebrate an anniversary of the Olympics. They showed Rome Olympics and I wasn’t there. Kapitonov, a great cyclist, was shown as a hero, and I wasn’t even in the video. The whole generation of people in 60-70s did not even know my name. I came back in mid-80s in sport and people’s memories. Overall, it doesn’t matter if you are living in socialism or capitalism, a toady always lives well. If you are ready to lick the boots, you will be a very good person and make a very successful career in any political system. If you have your own life principles, you will be crumpled in any political system. They don’t need such people.
But what about you? They didn’t crumple you, did they?
Well, I don’t want to exaggerate, but I had an unhuman strength and life energy. I can’t wish others the same life as I had. I had complex surgeries, injuries, poverty, lack of success in literature, deaf boycott [when people pretend he doesn’t exist]…What didn’t they do to me? It all happened until now. Well, this became my lifestyle, I got used to it. I know that until the end I will be like that. As you may know, Avvakumov’s wide asked in his book: “- How long will we live like that? – Until death.” I will also, probably, live like this until death. Of course, sometimes I feel sad. I didn’t do it all for myself. I did a lot and got almost nothing from it. I did everything for my country, for Russia, for its people. It may not sound modest, but it was the only point in my life. I lived for that.