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The greatest…loss

Moment of the Year by Nickolai Dolgopolov

Vasily Alexeev was an extraordinary figure – in all senses of the word. I remember flying with him back from Montreal in 1976. Our Russian charter flight was overcrowded with Olympic winners of all sorts. I remember him flirting with our star women divers and blond fencers.

So much bottles of the traditional national drink were consumed but nobody looked drunk. It was the generation of winners who managed to keep the winning spirit in spite of all. But Vasily the Great was such a mighty picturesque figure that all outstanding Soviet champions respected him as the undoubtedly strongest man in the world and showed their respect making a kind of a bow or calling him like we are calling our parents – not just Vasiliy but Vasily Ivanovich.

And the giant who was sitting in the centre of the first row of the economy class accepted those signs of total admiration without any surprise. He shook hands and what was ridiculous for me signed the autographs to those who seemed to be not less famous and glorious. Even the clan of the Soviet sport celebrities praised Vasily Ivanovich and recognized him as the total winner.

And the winner he was. Two other weightlifters, also Olympic champions, who were sitting near him, looked like the kids from the kindergarten. They helped Vasily with the drinks and obeyed his orders.

I was in the parade red costume of the Soviet team and also asked him to write a word or two in my notebook. He looked at me with an interest: “Why I don’t know you? I know everybody in the team”, – he asked me. I was a bit confused and explained that I’m a sport reporter from “Komsomolskaya Pravda” and in Montreal I was writing my daily reports and at the same time doing the translation for swimmers, water polo and divers. He looked at me angrily: “One should choose one thing in life and do it properly, – he said with a gasp. – And besides if you are a journalist or an interpreter you shouldn’t wear the outfits of the national team”. I tried to escape taking away my notebook. He stopped me: “Where is your note book? Who told you I wouldn’t give you my autograph?” And he left a line in my notebook lost naturally during all my future travels: “To a hard worker from V. Alexeev”.

He was always in the focus of public attention. At the different championships there was a line of reporters eager to speak with him and he used to answer with the sudden humor unexpected from such a guy who was sometimes looked gloomy.

There was a joke of him he used to repeat and was evidently fond of: ‘I won two Olympiads. The first in Munich in 1972, the second in Montreal in 1976, the third is my wife whose name is Olympiada who is always with me and so I’m the eventual winner.’

People in Russia are confident that “large persons are kind”. I wouldn’t call him kind. Years after I came to training camp in Moscow suburbs at which the coach of the still Soviet team Vasily Ivanovich Alexeev was the total master and boss. Everything was in an absolute order. The big hall where the athletes of all weights were training was clean. The celebrities obeyed him not like the slaves on the plantations, no, it wasn’t like that. But the obedience was strict, no objections whatsoever. Still it wasn’t the total dictatorship. Vasiliy Ivanovich spoke politely with the lifters and their coaches. He was especially polite with guys of light weights. In the canteen the “ordung” was total and the meals were delicious.

I asked him about his coaching methods and he explained that everything in the world including all techniques and methods of practice were known for each respectful country, even his own theory of physical preparation. And respect towards the people that is weight lifters – is the factor that matters so much it was difficult to imagine. In his mind the weight lifters job was the hardest in all world of sport and one of the main tasks of the coach was to provide, as he put it “the best conditions possible” for his disciples.

There are – and were – rumors, that Alexeev was rude. I didn’t notice that. May be with his rivals? He used to say that they “gulped rubbish” (meaning something prohibited) to defeat him but never succeeded. And joked again: ‘If they had only known what borsch was being prepared for me by Olimpiada, they would have stopped consuming all that sh..’

He was stubborn and I would say proud of himself. Once I was told a story, not by Vasily Ivanovich – by others – that in 1976 the victorious team of Soviet weightlifters was invited in the USA to meet President Carter. The president was late and after some time of useless waiting it was naturally Alexeev, not the coach or the team leader, who stood up and with the words of slightly changed Russian proverb led the way to the exit: seven are not waiting for the one even if this one is the president. Not a single person remained sited, everybody followed the walkout.

He was far from his best in his last year, but he was longing to survive so much! Alexeev the Great was sent to Germany. But the job he was doing all his life was really exhausting. He didn’t live up to his 70 years.

Farewell, the Greatest!

Nickolai Dolgopolov

President of the Federation of Sport Journalists of Russia,

Vice President of AIPS

Send your Most Memorable Moment of 2011 to Dezso Dobor, IWF Media Officer (dezso.dobor@nulliwfnet.net) or the IWF Secretariat in order to be published!

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