by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Of the numerous times I have seen Vasili Alexeyev, the great Russian weightlifter, probably the most memorable was at the World Weightlifting Championships in Columbus, Ohio in 1970. I had flown in from winning the Mr. Universe title in London and was about to compete in the Mr. World Contest, which was to be held after the weightlifting meet. I had heard Alexeyev would be there and I was anxious to see him lift. The connections from London were impossible, so it was arranged that a private jet would fly me from New York City to Columbus.

I arrived at the auditorium just in time to watch Alexeyev, the last man, come onto the stage. It was an unbelievable sight. Alexeyev was huge, at least 350 pounds. He wore his characteristic scowl. With no warmup, he walked across the stage and lifted the barbell so fast it might have been no heavier than the weight he ordinarily used while practicing his form. The weight was rolled onto the scales: he had just broken the 500-pound barrier! This was something no one had ever done.

Alexeyev is a master, an unusual man in an unusual sport. Both as a competitor and a personality he towers above his fellow weightlifters in the same way Ali stands out in boxing and Billie Jean King in tennis. It doesn't matter where he goes - to a contest or an exhibition - people talk about Alexeyev as if he were the only man competing. He is a legend. He absolutely dominates the event. People want to know everything about him - how much he weighs, where he eats, what he eats, which hotel he stays in, what he says, where he goes. They want every detail. His impact is tremendous. His fans talk about him as someone larger than life, an awesome creature whose mere presence touches their lives in a strange way.

People cheer for Alexeyev to come out; then when he does they suddenly become quiet. He always looks serious and very mean. His enormous size and concentration give him this appearance. But this is a contradiction in his character, one way of psyching out his opponents. In reality he has an incredible sense of humor. I have seen him walk onto the lifting platform, stand in front of the bar, studying it as if to get his mind set on the lift, then reach out and take a handful of the magnesium powder lifters use on their hands to improve their grip and toss it up into his armpits, like so much baby powder or talcum to stop him from sweating. He would then take hold of the bar, make an incredible lift, and finish with a smile.

Alexeyev's talent and ability as well as his dynamic, if strange, personality make him a natural performer. Always the true professional, he tries to avoid disappointing his promoters or his fans. At a recent exhibition in Las Vegas, for example, he injured one arm. Instead of dropping out, as almost anyone else would have done, he came out and, lifting with his uninjured arm, broke the existing world record for the one-arm snatch.

Showmanship aside, the most impressive thing about Alexeyev is that he is on his way to doing what no other man in the history of his sport has even approached doing. Having now broken the 500-pound barrier, he may also very well break the 600-pound barrier. Achieving record-breaking lifts that span the range of 100-pounds is an awesome, unheard-of accomplishment.

Alexeyev is the kind of inspired athlete who can break record after record, who trains both his body and his mind for great feats of strength. Dmitry Ivanov's book is an excellent introduction to Vasili Alexeyev for both the weightlifting fan and the layman.