“A True Force of Nature…”

This is a repost article from back when we first started. To not repost this of all articles during Beast Week would be a spit in the eye of a living legend. Once again Johnny talks about a man who in his day was as unstoppable as the Siberian winters that forged him, John spins the tale of Karelin. – Z

Ask anybody who was an amateur wrestler “who is the greatest wrestler ever?” and they will probably give you a short list of names.  Dan Gable, John Smith, Bruce Baumgardner, Cael Sanderson, but the name most universally recognized around the world is Alexander Karelin.

Karelin was born in Novobirsk, Siberia, weighing 15lbs at birth Karelin was a beast from the beginning.  As a boy he hunted on skis and developed his strength carrying logs through the forest.  His coach convinced him to wrestle at the age of 13 and Karelin trained by running through thigh deep snow for 2 hours at a clip and rowing a boat on Siberian lakes until his hands bled.

A reporter once asked Karelin about his greatest challenge and he told the story of wrestling a refrigerator.  It was a huge fridge, and Alexander bear hugged the appliance and carried it to his apartment, 8 floors up.  Another reporter talks about Karelin standing in a hotel lobby, lifting his leg straight over his head, and touching a hanging chandelier with his size 15 big toe.  Standing 6′ 3″ and 286 pounds Karelin blended speed, strength, and stamina to compete for an unprecedented 13 years in international competition without losing a match.  He went a full 6 years without surrendering a point.  This is international competition, where some men train their whole life for one Olympics.  Karelin won gold medals in 1988, 1992, 1996 at the Olympics.  He was world champion from 1989 – 1999.

Karelin’s signature move, the reverse body lift, was thought impossible for heavyweights to execute until he started doing it.  In live competition against the best wrestlers in the world Karelin would lock his hands around the waist of his downed opponent, lift them to hip height, and then throw them over his head in a back arch.  All the while the 286lb men were twisting, turning, bucking, pulling on his fingers, anything possible to prevent themselves from being thrown.  His throw was so devastating that some wrestlers would turn their back to the mat and surrender points rather than get thrown.

Karelin owned several nicknames, Alexander The Great, The Russian Bear, Sasha, and The Experiment.  The latter nickname was in regards to wide held belief that Alexander was using steroids, hgh, and any other number of illegal drugs.  When asked about this nickname bestowed on him Karelin answered “I train every day of my life as they have never trained a day in theirs.”

Entering the 2000 Olympics Karelin was the hands down favorite to win the gold medal for a 4th time in a row.  The Russian hero came up 1 point short in his bid for a 4th medal.  In the Olympic final Alexander Karelin and Rulon Garnder wrestled for 6 scoreless minutes, neither man able to gain an edge.  In the first period of overtime the wrestlers started in the clinch, a position where both men have a bear hug on the other.  Points are scored from this position via takedown, throw, or if your opponent can not maintain his grip.  After 13 years of undefeated international competition, 6 years of never allowing a point to be scored, and 3 consecutive Olympic gold medals in a row, the Russian Bear’s grip failed him.  Karelin lost his grip for a split second, but that was all it took, the most dominate wrestler ever had finally lost.

Karelin retired from wrestling after the 2000 Olympics to fully dedicate himself to family and politics.  He was elected to the State Duma in 1999, 2003, and 2007, and is serving on the committee for international affairs.  Most know Karelin for his athletic dominance and menacing appearance, but Sasha is much deeper than that.  Alexander loves the ballet, opera, and theater.  He is a voracious reader of Russian history and has written poetry.

On a personal note almost as soon as I started wrestling I was aware of who Karelin was, I was at the same time fascinated, inspired, and motivated.  I wanted to be Karelin and I wanted to beat Karelin.  Maybe it’s fitting that in his final match of competition he was defeated by a pudgy farm boy from Wyoming.  Maybe the rule change that cost Karelin his undefeated streak should never have been made.  What ever the case for those 6 minutes Karelin was equalled and for one second he was bested, but make no mistake about it, athletes like Karelin come around once in a lifetime.  I’m glad he was in my  lifetime.

Posted by: John

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