25 March 2009, 16:16

ALEXANDER KARELIN – WRESTLER, LAW-MAKER AND MORE…

Olympic gold medalist, Alexander Karelin, is the most successful super-heavy weight Greco-Roman wrestler of the modern era. Dubbed “the Russian Bear”, he went undefeated in international competitions for thirteen years, winning twelve European, nine World Championships, and three Olympic Games. The International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles named Karelin the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of the 20th century.

Olympic gold medalist, Alexander Karelin, is the most successful super-heavy weight Greco-Roman wrestler of the modern era. Dubbed “the Russian Bear”, he went undefeated in international competitions for thirteen years, winning twelve European, nine World Championships, and three Olympic Games. The International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles named Karelin the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of the 20th century. Although he experienced the thrill of victory on numerous occasions, Alexander says he had mixed feelings every time he ascended the medals podium:

“Firstly, I couldn’t believe that was happening to me, a guy from the Asian part of Russia – irrespective of the tournament I competed in – a continental championship or the Olympic Games,” Alexander Karelin says. “And, secondly, I was proud to be a member of the world’s strongest wrestling team. No more, no less. When newspapers in the United States wrote about me that ‘the big Red machine led his team to the victory’, that was flattering to me. I was fortunate enough to win three Gold Olympic Medals – and these are most cherished of all trophies for every athlete.”

Alexander’s father – a truck driver and ex-amateur boxer — once told him that a man should be physically strong, possess a tough character, have his own opinion on any issue, and his hair — cut short. That helped Karelin to become the person he is now. Many refuse to believe that the extraordinary physical strength he is revered for is the result of everyday workouts rather than a nature gift. Karelin’s dominance in the sport even led to the Western media nicknaming him “The Experiment”, implying that his incredible wrestling skills were the result of some kind of scientific experiment, which sounds like a newspaper hoax. Alexander’s coach, Viktor Kuznetsov, offered a totally different explanation of ‘the Karelin phenomenon’: “It’s not only a question of physical strength,” he said. “We found and honed his own unique wrestling style. Alexander is a very smart and hard-working person, who is able to discern his opponent’s weak points, and that combination yields extraordinary results.” “The loser is usually the one who is ready to lose. Fight, overcome difficulties, control your emotions – and you will win” – that’s Karelin’s strategy in a nutshell. Alexander once said that he liked to win in an unusual way, definitely meaning his devastating ‘trademark’ wrestling maneuver – the ‘Karelin reverse body lift’ – dreaded so much by his opponents. “When it happened to me, I felt intense fear,” recalled Jeff Blatnick of the United States, who was thrashed by the Russian champion in 1987. “With him, it’s almost a victory if you don’t get thrown.” Karelin dedicated all his victories to his wife, Olga, who often attended the tournaments he competed in. “Women like strong men,” Alexander said.

Looking at this monumental 6-feet-4-inches tall man, one might think he’s always been a wrestler, though he took up the sport relatively late – at the age of 13 – and didn’t enjoy it at first. At 15, when Alexander competed in a junior tournament in his native city of Novosibirsk, his right leg snapped. “My mother cried,” Karelin recalled. “She burned my wrestling uniform and insisted I quit. But as I recovered, I felt that I couldn’t leave the sport to which I’d ‘given’ my leg. Wrestling made me self-sufficient,” he said. When asked who his toughest opponent was, Alexander responded – half jokingly: “My fridge. When I bought it, I carried it myself up the stairs to my apartment on the eighth floor.”

While being referred to by some as ‘the toughest man alive’, Karelin is also known as a very vulnerable person, for whom emotional wounds are far more crippling than physical injuries. Such things as broken ribs are almost normal for a wrestler, Alexander says, while mean action and treachery are hard to put up with. “He’s a highly talented man,” Alexander’s friends say about him. “His knowledge and feeling for poetry, literature and classical music is incredible. He is witty and full of puns, constantly embellishing his language with passages from books.” Karelin holds a law degree and is a Colonel of the Russian Tax Service. In 1996 he became the recipient of the Gold Star of Hero of the Russian Federation, this country’s highest award – for outstanding achievements in sports.

The famous wrestling champion and currently a member of the Russian Parliament, Alexander Karelin has long become a household name in this country. When at the end of his brilliant career he lost a match to Rulon Gardner of the United States, Russia was shocked. As one of Karelin’s friends remarked, “During that bout he turned from a wrestler into a playwright, bringing tears to the eyes of at least half of the Russian population”. Once a man whom Alexander never met before came up to him and said, “Cheer up. I’ve already forgiven you for the stroke I suffered after your defeat at the Sydney Olympics.”

There was talk in the past that the world-famous wrestler would one day leave this country to continue his career abroad. But Karelin is, above all, a patriot, whose endeavors – be it sports or law-making — are a demonstration of his pride for his Homeland. “I was born in Russia, and I’m a citizen of the Russian Federation,” Alexander Karelin said. “I represented our great nation for many years, competing for this country’s national team, and I believe that’s the greatest achievement of my life.”


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