The interview was for a show called “being a guest of Dmitry Gordon” and took place in 2002.
Thanks to Sergiy Turchyn (@sergiywl on insta) who took the time to translate this.
Check out the Interviews Category on ATG for more interesting interviews.
Note from Sergiy: Interview is from 2002. Back then Pisarenko was a politician, that’s why there were questions about politics. I skipped a few questions about business, politics, and money.
– When I was preparing for the interview, I remembered when I was on vacation at the same place where the Soviet weightlifting team was training. I was 5-6 years old. I remember Vasily Alexeev in particular. I remember how he was walking around the place, breathing heavily. His wife was following him carrying some barbell plates. Sometimes he was beating her and you could hear screams from their window on the first floor.
I remember another crazy situation. Once he was eating in a dining hall and he dropped the fork. He didn’t want to pick it up himself, so he called for a waiter and told her with a gesture to pick it up. She didn’t want to do it. He didn’t say a word, stood up, turned over a table, and walked out as if nothing happened. On another hand, I also talked to Yury Vlasov and these two people are very different.
And now I am meeting with you. Tell me, what kind of people are weightlifters? What kind of psychological traits do World Champions have?
– You mentioned Vasily Alexeev. He was a very interesting person. Maybe, this state of “I’m the strongest in the world, I’m the most important” makes not so smart people act like that.
There are a lot of rumors about him. Once he wins the Olympics and journalists ask him what he feels. He answered: “I want to be on the Olympics”. They asked: “What do you mean? You just won.” He replies: “Fool, I am talking about my wife!” [his wife was called Olympiada which is also “Olympics” in Russian]
On one hand, this is funny, but on the other hand it is a bit too dirty.
– Is it true that Alexeev used to beat his athletes when he was a national coach?
– No, this didn’t happen. He used his authority. Once he was tasked to coach the superheavyweights including me. He comes to me and says: “You must do this, this, and this.” I replied: “Vasily, let’s maybe sit down and talk about it together first. I am a World Champion after all, I know something about training myself already.”
His reply was “You must do what I said.” I tried a couple of exercises and I thought they were old school and not so useful. We were also different people, he was 180 kg and I was 120 kg. So, we had a conflict.
I told him: “Vasily Ivanovich, please step aside and let me do what I do.” Since then we never talked for a long time.
– Have you talked to Vlasov and Zhabotinsky? What kind of people are they?
– They are all very different people. Vlasov is an intelligent person, a writer. He is not a usual person. Have you read his book? I would say he is too sentimental. I don’t understand him.
A snatch or clean and jerk takes 1-2 seconds. How can you describe these momentary feelings in 3-5 pages: how your bones cracked, vision went dark, how you remember your mom or something like that?
– Why did you choose weightlifting as a sport?
– Honestly, I never liked it. I wanted to look good. Bodybuilding was illegal back then. Weightlifting was the only sport where you could get jacked. And then I got into it and became a champion. It was all very easy for me. I was the youngest and lightest among the supers.
– Do you like the barbell?
– I can’t say so. I like sports in general. I like horseback riding, I like mountain skiing. I am very lucky. I become successful in any sport I try. Speaking about the iron, of course it makes you feel good. Everybody who lifts for more than 3 weeks knows this feeling.
In training I clean and jerked 270– Were there moments when you hated the bar?
– Of course. This happens during overtraining. You should be leaving the gym with the feeling that you could do a little more. If you always have this feeling, it’s good. If you train too much, it will be hard to come out of overtraining state.
– What does a human feel while lifting inhuman weights?
– This is incorrect wording. Is 265 a lot? In training I cleaned and jerked 270. I attempted 280 clean and almost got it. Currently weightlifting is in stagnation. The results aren’t improving after 80s. This is because there is no competition like it used to be. One person can be a king for 4-5 years.
– Why is there no competition? Are people less interested in sports?
– There is not as much stimulation for progress. Weightlifting doesn’t have as much money as in football, basketball, baseball…
– So what does a person feel while lifting 270 kg?
– You prepare your muscles and ligaments for everything. If they are not prepared, you will get injured. In my training career I had very few injuries.
In my times, in current times, and in the future they used, use, and will use. It’s inseparable from sport.– Is it because of training or genetics?
– Probably both. Also, I retired early. They retired me at 26-27 years old.
– I know that Yury Vlasov is actively against doping nowadays. How was it in your times? Were people actively doing it or just starting out?
– In my times, in current times, and in the future they used, use, and will use. It’s inseparable from sport. There is doping and anti-doping preparation. There are many ways to protect yourself against positive tests. The more developed the country, the better the system, the less chance you have to get caught.
– It’s impossible to become a champion without doping.
– Of course, not. You can say that a person can be clean in competition, but to go through the preparation is impossible.
– I heard that athletes in GDR were famous for their doping system. Is that the reason of their success?
– This is one of them. They also had a very good training system. It’s just politics. Look at China now. They create champions out of nowhere. Rudolf Plukfelder, a great coach, said “I will break 20 people, but 21st will be an Olympic champion”. It’s all the same in China, GDR, or Soviet Union.
– Were many people injured?
– Yes. We had Marat Gramov as our Minister of Sport. He said: “Why do they lift so little? Give them 3 times more load in training!” They replied: “3 times? They are pushing their limits!”. “What limit? I said 3 times. When the Motherland orders to do something – you go and do it!” This person really thought that we can train just like doing the 5 year plan in 2 years, just by doing more work.
– Were many people injured in your experience? What happened to them?
Yury Zakharevich, Ota Zaremba, and several others broke their elbows in competition.
– Didn’t it make you lose desire to lift?
– Not really. Injuries happen in any sport. Sport doesn’t care about the injured. Only the first place matters. Nobody cares about the second. Everyone remembers the champion.
– What do you feel when you are standing on the podium?
– I feel that I did my work well. I never felt anything related to politics or had a desire to cry. In a sport you train for 3-4 months and you can show some result. It is very dynamic. In my entire life sport is like a rainbow. I have a good life now, but during competing my life was more filled with the strongest emotions I’ve had.
I planned to have 500kg total by age 30– What does it feel like to be the strongest in the world?
– I have never thought about it. I always thought of it as a well-done work. I always felt unsatisfied, like I could do more. World records sound intimidating for a normal person, but for me it was an ordinary result and I understood that I was good for more. I was in a state where I planned to have 500 kg total at 30 years old, even though my best results were around 210+270=480 in training.
– Have you ever thought about doing some circus lifts to show off?
– There is an ethnic group of people called Basques. They have a stone lifting competition. I saw the strongest of them lift a 300 kg stone. Their technique makes it look like they are doing more work than they actually do. I asked him to clean and jerk 110 kg bar and he could not even clean it. All these tricks: pulling cars, breaking chains, etc. are tricks. These people are ordinary, just with slightly better than average physical abilities.
– Tell me about the scandal where you were caught at the airport.
– My name is always related to some kind of scandal… To say it shortly, back then it was better to be ran over by a train, than by the system.
It was my conflict with the system. There was doping in the Soviet Union. When it was time for it to acknowledge that its athletes are using it, they decided to pick a few instead: “What doping? Wait a minute, it’s only these two guys: Kurlovich and Pisarenko. The rest of us have nothing to do with it!” Look. IOC did not disqualify us. IWF did not disqualify us. EWF did not disqualify us. Soviet Union was the one that disqualified us. In the outside world they acknowledged that there was nothing in our bodies. Yes, there was something in the bags, but who cares about that?
– What happened next?
– Later they let us compete again. I even competed in Europeans. Unfortunately, I injured my quad. It was my first and almost last injury. I had to do surgery, but I didn’t want to. Then perestroika happened, I lost motivation and I understood that this country does not need me as an athlete anymore. There were people who tried to make me come back. However, the country rejected me because of nothing.
On the other hand, Kurlovich had a great career after that. When we were both still competing, he was always losing and he told me “I want to retire. I will never beat you.” I told him that I was 2-3 years older and would retire one day. At the end, I decided to quit weightlifting and he continued to win two Olympics. He trained until almost 38 years old.
– Looking at you, you seem to be relatively healthy. However, other champions clearly paid with their health for their success.
– It is true. Vlasov has a metal plate in his spine connecting 4 vertebrae. Alexeev has problems with blood pressure and vessels. Sultan Rakhmanov is 205kg and looks in terrible shape.
– Is it worth it?
– Now I think it’s not. Back then it was useless to tell me anything. I had a goal: Europeans, Worlds, Word Records. No matter what I would have to sacrifice, I would move towards that goal. Most champions succeed because their genetics helps avoid major health problems.
– How did you train? How many times?
– I trained about 6-7 hours a day. I myself did a lot of General Physical Preparation (GPP) . I did a plenty of jumping and stretching exercises to prepare my joints and ligaments for training. Many didn’t do it and got injured as a result. I spent about an hour a day on this. They told me “Why do you need that? Are you a gymnast or what?” I could easily do a split, many wrestling moves. I did wrestling for 5 years. Otherwise, I spent about 5 hours on actual lifting. Every day.
– Many athletes struggle to find their place in the world after their retirement. You seem to do pretty well. How did you do it?
– It’s probably related to my philosophy. There are people who have a very good transition from being an athlete to being a coach. But there are many examples of failed transitions. I didn’t become a coach. I tried it and didn’t feel like it’s what I want to do. I am used to getting some king of result. Also, as a man, you need to be somebody in this society. Who is a coach? A soccer coach may be great, yes. But how many of such people exist? Only a few. You need special talent for that too. In my own life I could put the weightlifting aside and start from scratch. It’s important to continuously learn.
– What is psychology of a leader?
– There are leaders and there are followers. When I am working on some project, I always try to understand everything myself. If I have a partner, I let them support me by giving them some easy temporary work, but I always do the most important work myself.
– Did sport help you become a successful businessman?
– Of course. We all know that in Ukraine there is a lot of lobbying going on by the government. It’s impossible for a normal businessman to achieve a reasonable level of success in some spheres. For famous people like me it is easier to find connections. Especially 10 years ago when it was like Wild West, with a name you could get credits and connections much easier.
– During that time many athletes were offered to join racketeering groups. Did you get such offers too?
– Look at me. Do I look like I can do such a job? It would be crazy. It’s a way to nowhere. You end up either in prison or in graveyard. I knew many people who finished like this, many from the wrestling gym nearby.
– When you were an athlete, you probably got a lot of attention from women. What did you do with it?
– Athletes get a lot less attention than, say, singers. It feels nice, but I didn’t notice anything extraordinary.
– What do you eat?
– I like food that tastes good. I like food with good quality. I can say that I don’t eat sugar or bread like most men. I just have a balanced diet with some veggies, fish… Weightlifters don’t eat that much. Cyclists were the biggest eaters. A weightlifter could not finish a third of what they eat.