November sunset

Vasiliy Alexeev - a symbol of the unexpected

A giant fell this Thanksgiving weekend. The great Super Heavyweight Russian Vasiliy Alexeev died on Friday, Nov. 26, 2011. One of the world's strongest men ever and one of the all-time greatest weightlifters, Alexeev broke more than 80 world records, held the world championship title for eight years (1970-77), and won gold medals in Munich and Montreal. He was the first person to lift over his head a quarter of a ton - 501.5# - in the clean and jerk recorded below. In 1980, Alexeev performed a one-arm snatch of 231 pounds.

Beyond all of these near-incredible feats and firsts, though, is the transcendence that this man symbolized and still symbolizes, whether you know anything about weightlifting or not: Alexeev proves that excellent physical conditioning and strength does not always look like Adonis. He had a big belly. His physique is unique and distinct: there is only one weightlifter who looks like Alexeev, and that is Alexeev. He wasn't pretty. Most muscle magazines you see in grocery stores wouldn't find him fit for their covers today. He doesn't fit the mold.

If you know what you're looking for, you can see the traits of hardwon strength - the developed back and shoulders, the sturdy frame, the compact mass evenly developed throughout the body. But most people in the general public won't see it. They'll see his belly and stop there.

When I managed a training staff at one of the chain gyms, I was fortunate enough to work with a strength athlete who was similar to this build. Meek in nature, good in heart and overweight by the popular measure, this trainer was thoroughly knowledgeable in strength training from discus to powerlifting. He taught me a lot. He introduced me to lifting with chains. He tried to get me to squat below parallel but I was too ignorant and stubborn at the time to listen.

One day a well-to-do woman probably in her 50s took me aside near my office. She had a message for me, as head of the trainers. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that when she sees someone who looks like him, overweight, she wasn't inclined to train with him, and that he ought to look around and take care of himself first if he wanted to train other people.

It struck me like a knife. I was shocked. In my particular naivete, it had never occurred to me that anyone could see him as anything less than he was. He was one of the strongest men she would ever have the privilege to meet, probably one of the most knowledgeable in ways that many of our prettier trainers would never be, a true athlete who had developed himself in mind and body over many years of disciplined dedication. He just had a layer of love over his powerful frame. Was he unhealthy? He could have been healthier if he'd dropped some pounds, sure, but compared to someone like her? He was, or at least had been in his life, healthier than she could ever dream of being.

I was so thrown off that I didn't shoot her down right then and there. I simply expressed acknowledgment of what she was saying, in my polite, professional way. I've regretted that with a kick countless times over the years.

When I see Alexeev, he makes me think of that trainer. And I can't think about him without that heartwrenching moment coming back to haunt me. So while he inspires pride and joy for all the usual reasons a champion does, he also bolsters my pride and certainty as proof of the fact that strength does not always come in the packages you expect.

Many more details, including his prolific career record, are on Wikipedia.

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Portland Oregon Weightlifting Winter Meet

I am thrilled to announce we are holding an unsanctioned weightlifting meet at FAST in Sherwood on Saturday, Dec. 3rd. All are welcome. Click for details

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Strength Visions 2012
If you love strength training, this beautiful 13-month wall calendar is for you. Each month features a powerful image of equipment or a setting from powerlifting, Olympic-style weightlifting, Crossfit, and the humble but hardcore garage gym. No people, just evocative images from training and competition to project yourself into for motivation and escape the other 22 hours of the day. Grids provide plenty of space to record appointments, birthdays or training notes, while the images will inspire you every day of the year.