This article is a continuation of The Science of Winning According to Vasili Alexeyev, recently reposted.

Notes from Dr. Siff

Here is the next installment on the intriguing Russian behemoth, Vasili Alexeyev. I cannot recall who sent it to me or from which reference it came, so, if anyone does know, please let me know, so that we can provide full acknowledgements for this fascinating tale.


William O. Johnson

He went on. "There are two categories of performer in my sport.
First: those who view competitions as tortures. Second: those who see competitions as great celebrations. I am in the middle of those two. For some performers there is a psychological problem. As the weight is greater, the more the mind makes the weight seem to be. But we are from the U.S.S.R., and such a psychological situation is no problem. During Shakespeare's times it was said, 'What must be cannot be avoided.' That is how it is when I lift. To successfully lift the weight cannot be avoided. I experience the tortures und the celebration. But I lift as well as I lift because it cannot be avoided.

"I am asked to make many speeches in the Soviet Union. I am very much at ease and I say to crowds, 'Okay, what topic do you like me to talk about?' They ask me to tell my biography, how I got to be a great sportsman, and they ask my impression of my last competition. Of course, I have nearly always won the last competition, so my impressions are always happy, proud. I say I have become a great champion because of my love of hard work and my great striving
to reach the target of winning."

When I asked whether he considered his victories some sort of proof of the U.S.S.R.'s superiority over the U.S., Alexeyev replied, "I have always had to win because I respect my people and I display my country's success by winning. As to whether we would prove the Soviet way better than the American in the competitions of weightlifting, such a target was never put before us."

It was about 11:45 in the morning, another translucent autumn day in Alexeyev's courtyard. Young Dmitri was kicking his soccer ball, the Doberman puppy scrambling wildly after it. The boy's school hours were in the afternoon. His brother attended morning classes — there are double sessions in Shakhty. Suddenly the door of Alexeyev's house banged open and the great man
stepped out. He was dressed in electric-blue sweat pants, Adidas sneakers, a thin apple-green T shirt. In his right hand he carried a bulging Adidas bag and looked not unlike a gigantic commuter bound for his train. And Vasili Alexeyev was indeed on his way to work. He strode about 25 mighty paces, and there he was at his office, chairman of the board, to say nothing of king of the mountain.


In those 25 paces from his back door to the bar, the weights and the rubber mats laid by the brick wall, everything in Alexeyev's existence as premier sports hero of the Soviet Union and strongest man in the world was on display. He moved with a powerful swagger across the courtyard bricks. His massive arms kept rhythm with the steady pump of his great thighs and his head swayed—gently, arrogantly—with each stride. He radiated absolute peace and self-assurance. His face was composed in the benign, even saintly, self-confident expression of an old-fashioned king absolutely certain of his
divine right to reign. There might have been music, The Hallelujah Chorus perhaps, but it was not necessary.

At the weightlifting area he unzipped the bag to take out a package of talcum powder and a white leather girdle which he strapped beneath his belly to diminish the immense strain on his stomach muscles when he hoists the weights. The weights, the great discs of iron, were stacked along the garden wall. He studied them, then picked up one weighing 25 kilos (55 pounds) and fitted it on one end of the bar. He got a similar disc on the other end and began to work. Next he progressed to 65 kilos (143 pounds). He dusted his hands with talcum, spat into his palms, bent and gripped the bar. With a
horrible gasp and grunt he yanked it to shoulder level, paused, then raised it, in triumph, it seemed, above his head. He held it there for a moment, then let it fall to the mats with an explosive crash. In the soft morning, with his Shakhtinka roses budding nearby and the leaves of the grapevines rustling on the garden wall, with the chirping of the birds in his trees and the civilized sound of trolley cars in the distance, the savage clangor of the falling weight was as unnerving as a grenade blast at one's feet.

Alexeyev lifted the 65 kilos three or four times as a warmup. He rested for a moment, leaning on a padded gymnastic horse. He said nothing. He seemed to be concentrating very hard, as though slipping into some kind of trance necessary to the superhuman feats he performed so regularly. Dmitri and the puppy scampered by his feet. and Alexeyev emerged from his trance to inquire, "Have you done all your lessons?" Offended, the boy replied that of course he
had. Alexeyev added more weight and lifted something over 250 pounds. He seemed about to burst when he hoisted the bar above his head. His belly strained against the leather girdle. He dropped the weight with the same hideous crash. He lifted it again and let it fall. Then, panting, he leaned again against the horse. Once more he seemed to be entering a quasi-mystical state of concentration, which it seemed wise not to interrupt. But then he looked at me and said, "Ask me something."

Well, all right. Could he explain his training technique? He said, "The
difference between my methodics and others is great. What is mainly different is that I train more often and I lift more weights than others. I never know when I will train. Sometimes deep in the night, sometimes in the morning. Sometimes several times a day, sometimes not at all. I never repeat myself.

Only I understand what is right for me. I have never had a coach. I know my own possibilities bestly. No coach knows them. Coaches grow old and they have old ideas."