...and to the training table. Stuffing themselves with 9,000 calories a day, the weight lifters shown on the following pages outgrew and outlifted mere heavyweights. Hence, the creation in 1969 of the superheavyweight division, for those who weigh in excess of 242½ pounds. These behemoths, with their 36-inch thighs and 60-inch chests, ponderously clash in Columbus, Ohio later this month for the world championship.
This is an article from the Sept. 7, 1970 issue
The Giants Who Stoop to Conquer
Joe Dube, all 315 red, white and blue pounds of him (left), says, "I got to get me a Communist. They really get me steamed up." All aquiver with patriotic zeal and a personal determination to successfully defend the superheavyweight world title he snatched from the Russians last year, Dube (rhymes with ruby) has-been downing 100 vitamin pills a day and lifting as much as a quarter ton of weights at a time. From his makeshift gym in a chicken shed behind his tin-roofed home in Doctors Inlet, Fla. gasps and bellows are heard nightly as he punishes himself in an effort to retain his ranking as the world's strongest man. Owls screech in the high pines and oaks above the shed; within, bare bulbs cast eerie shadows on the dirt floor. Derelict farm machinery is piled in the dark corners. Mosquitoes alight on Dube's arms. "They have a real good smorgasbord with me," he says. A house fan hums, cooling him, but he is mindless of it, totally absorbed by a barbell at his feet that is loaded with hundreds of pounds of weights. Dube's breath slows, becomes measured. He stoops and grasps the bar, breathes deeply and hoists the weights in a mighty press. His eyes dilate with the strain, and after two presses his shirt is soaked through with sweat. He slaps more iron on the bar, tightens his great leather belt, stoops and heaves—a very personal trial of the limits of man's strength.
Later this month comes the public showdown at Columbus, Ohio, for which the Russian superheavyweights Vasily Alexeyev and Stanislav Batischev have been preparing with vengeance. At the European championships in Hungary last June, Alexeyev, a 28-year-old polytechnical student, broke three of the four world records: he pressed 482¾ pounds, cleaned-and-jerked 497 pounds and had an astonishing total of 1,350½ pounds. He missed a fourth world record, in the snatch, by less than 14 pounds. Nor is teammate Batischev, a 30-year-old Ukrainian engineer, to be ignored; he did not compete in the European meet but is considered by some to be almost a match for Alexeyev.
The Soviet weight-lifting program is unrivaled. There are 350,000 lifters in the country, and it is estimated that thousands of these are talented enough to have a chance of approaching Olympic standards. From this pool the Russians have drawn some fabled champions. For a dozen years Soviet lifters won every heavyweight (over 198¼ pounds) title at the world championships and at the Olympics. Last April, 10 world records were set at the U.S.S.R. championships. It has been suggested that such extraordinary exploits are unlikely without the aid of drugs. Many weight lifters use anabolic steroids to build their muscle mass and increase their recuperative powers, but there is now talk that the Russians have a power-stimulating inhalant that is administered like smelling salts and gives an athlete quite a lift.
Drugged or not, there probably is a limit to how much weight the human body can raise. The coach of West Germany's weight-lifting team, Tommy Kono, notes the increasing number of wrist injuries in the sport. This is an indication, he believes, that the limit is being approached. Kono's big man, Robert Mang, has had wrist trouble, but Kono feels Mang's main liability at Columbus will be his youth. He is only 20, and it ordinarily takes eight to 10 years for a weight lifter to become seasoned enough to figure in world competition. But Mang recently hoisted 1,256¾ pounds, a total that Alexeyev only reached a year ago.
Another ailing competitor was Serge Reding of Belgium, who won the silver medal at Mexico City. A knee injury kept him out of this year's European championships, and while Alexeyev was breaking Reding's world records in the press and clean-and-jerk, Serge worked forlornly at his job in Brussels' Royal Albert Library. Reding, however, got some headlines of his own last May when he was kidnapped by students who wanted to add some muscle to their demands for more meaningful degrees. They held the 280-pound weight lifter hostage for 24 hours in a medieval castle. Weight-lifting officials were worried that he would be starved, but Reding shouted down from the archers' walkway of the castle tower that he was well fed. "The right of students to question the existing institutions is a proper social phenomenon of this year," Reding says of his experience. He is currently reading up on sociology and economics and declares, "If I am to be a champion, then I must be a champion who is well balanced in the duties of the mind and of the body." A fortnight ago Reding fulfilled his duties to his body: he cleaned-and-jerked 499½ pounds to regain his world record.
The only other lifter considered a possible winner in the world meet is Dube's teammate, Ken Patera. For the past two years Patera has beaten Dube in the nationals, and this year Patera's win was especially convincing. He set two American and two meet records and, though his total of 1,285 pounds hardly matches Alexeyev's feats in Hungary, Patera is improving—the 1970 nationals was only his seventh weight-lifting competition. He took up the sport two years ago to improve his performance in the shotput (his personal best is 64'½"). Patera is a mammoth man—even alongside his immense colleagues—with huge shoulder muscles that are the result of a back deformity. He considers them the source of his tremendous strength.
He will need every ounce of it. After the nationals Patera said he believed that if he lifted 1,350 pounds he would win the world title. Now it appears that figure will not be enough. Too many have been adding a couple pounds here and a couple pounds there, grunting their way toward the confrontation at Columbus. There they will stand broodingly over their weights, their faces showing anger, exaltation—sometimes fear—and, summoning up all the power within themselves, stoop to conquer.