x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Vasily Alexeyev: A mountainous individual with many talents

Best Olympic weightlifter No 3 When Sports Illustrated writer William Oscar Johnson visited Olympic weightlifting legend Vasily Alexeyev, he found a man with a mountain of talents.

Of all the experiences of all the journalists visiting all the athletes in all the world, surely none could trump that of William Oscar Johnson of Sports Illustrated in 1975, when he received permission from officials in the Soviet Union to visit the southern city of Shakhty and the legendary Vasily Alexeyev, the first man to lift 500 pounds, or 226.8kg.

All poured into one enormous human, Johnson found a gardener, cook, carpenter, singer, dominoes maestro, table-tennis player and Olympic champion. Alexeyev grew three kinds of strawberries and mingled them in seeking a fourth.

He said, "My lovely Bulgarian peppers! There are none in Shakhty so crisp and pungent as mine."

He called it "a fact that I have the best singing voice on the Soviet weightlifting team" and extolled Tom Jones's version of Yesterday.

He showed a gleaming billiard table which he had built.

He claimed table-tennis prowess and "great springing qualities in volleyball".

Of his stuffed steppes eagles, he said, "I am a good marksman." He said some mistook his scholarly wife, Olimpiada, for a daughter because of her petiteness.

He said: "There is too much literature, too much music in life to spend time watching television."

He reasonably could finish No 1 on any historic list, even if his Olympic haul (golds at Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976) was dimmed by a disappointment at Moscow 1980.

He would coach the Unified Team weightlifters to 10 medals and five golds at Barcelona 1992. In and out of weightlifting, here was one formidable man.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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