Aleksandr Karelin is considered by many to be perhaps the most dominating Olympian in modern history. A Greco-Roman wrestler competing in the 130 kilogram class.
Undefeated from 1989 until the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Karelin is a monster. Standing 6'3", tipping the scales at 290 pounds, he is limber enough to do a full split, and light enough on his feet to perform a back flip.
"I think of him as a cougar," says Jeff Blatnick of Niskayuna, NY, the 1984 Greco-Roman superheavyweight Olympic gold medalist, who was thrashed by Karelin in an international meet three years later.
Karelin is known for performing a move called the reverse body lift, in which he wraps his arms around his opponents body and throws them into the air over his shoulder. This is a move which is almost unheard of in the heavier weight classes, but which is Karelin's bread and butter. "Normally, for a heavyweight, it's simple to
defend," says Blatnick. "People who weigh 280 pounds just don't get lifted that way."
"At the least it is five points for Karelin. At worst,
broken bones or a crushed face for his opponent." Indeed, many wrestlers so feared this move that they would allow themselves to be pinned rather than suffer what could be a career ending injury.
Karelin, who won gold in 1988, 1992, 1996, and silver in 2000, speaks several languages, reads Russian literature, and paints in his off time.
"Wrestling's like a poem," says Karelin. "Everybody's reciting the same thing, but each thinks about it differently. How each line or each motion should be interpreted is entirely personal. Perhaps nobody will believe this but a wrestler. Sometimes I have dreams of moves nobody's done before. I awaken and try to master them. Then I go to tournaments and win with that move. Sometimes those dreams are utterly fantastic. Things nobody can do. It was this way with the reverse lift."
Quotes from A Bruiser and a Thinker: Soviet Greco-Roman wrestler Alexander Karelin
is a rare combination of massive physique and imposing intellect
by Nicholas Dawidoff
May 13, 1991