The Barbell War: How the Soviets Ousted American Weightlifting (2012)
By Mark Rippetoe
Chapter 1: The Soviet Union’s Strongest Man
When I was growing up in Idaho Falls, there were two things that were always on my mind when it came to sports: weight lifting and wrestling. My dad would take me to local gyms where he’d teach me how to lift weights and then later wrestle with other kids my age.
I remember one particular day at the gym where I learned how to squat, bench press, deadlift and clean and jerk. A few years after that, I got into competitive powerlifting. At first I just wanted to get stronger; however, over time my goals changed from simply getting bigger to becoming a world champion.
For me that meant gaining as much experience as possible while still maintaining a high level of fitness.
My goal was to become like the great Russian strongmen of old such as Ivan Drago or Nikolai Volkoff. They were both extremely skilled boxers, but they excelled most in their wrestling matches. I wanted to do something similar—to be able to win any type of contest without having to use my strength.
That’s why I decided that if I ever won a national championship, it would have been enough for me.
I did win a national title in powerlifting, but I was still far from being the best in the world. The Russians had dominated the sport for nearly half a century and I knew that no matter how hard I tried I wouldn’t be able to overcome their technical or strategic advantage. Instead of competing anymore, I decided to coach others in the sport and help them achieve their goals as well.
I started out by opening a weight room of my own with the help of my father. I worked at a construction site with my dad over the summer where we developed a strong friendship with one of our coworkers, another hard-working man named Steve. Steve had a son, Roger, who was interested in sports quite like I used to be.
Instead of playing football or basketball, Roger was a keen weight lifter and was looking for a coach. I took it upon myself to train Roger as my first student.
Roger was a strong kid as he was already lifting more than most high school kids, but I knew he had the potential to win a national title if he trained hard. I did everything I could to make sure that happened. I created specialized workout routines for him and kept a close eye on his form to make sure it stayed consistent.
Roger was a dedicated athlete, as were many of the kids I trained over the years, so he put in the work to make me proud.
Over the next few years Roger won a couple of state titles and even earned himself a full scholarship to a small college in Nevada. He also won the title of Nevada’s Strongest Teen, which made him eligible for the national championship in strength. He won that too.
I was ecstatic when I heard the news. He had finally broken through and reached the highest level possible in our sport. I felt that he truly deserved it for all the hard work he put in over the years.
Roger thanked me profusely for everything I had taught him and even offered to pay me, but I simply told him to stay strong and keep winning.
Since then I’ve had many other students win state championships and even a few national titles. I’ve written a couple of books on strength training and even opened up another gym on the other side of town. While it isn’t as big as Jane’s, it has a loyal following and keeps me busy on a daily basis.
Lately though, I’ve found myself missing competition. Not the competition against my students, but against others like me. While I do get to see what different training techniques work best, I don’t get to test them against others in a real environment.
It makes the victories feel somewhat empty most of the time.
My name has also gotten around to the point where many people recognize me on the street. Not always in a positive way though. Jane tries her best to keep my public image positive with her tabloid, but sometimes others get wind of my existence and don’t paint the prettiest picture.
I chalk it up to jealousy, but it can be draining after a while.
With all that baggage, you might be surprised to find that I’m actually in a relationship. While my experience with women was non-existent before the asteroid, it still eluded me then. After it, my confidence grew and so did my success with the ladies.
I never had a serious relationship until I met Heather at one of my book signings about five years ago.
Heather was a struggling writer and came to the signing just for the free food. We hit it off right away and ever since then we’ve been together. In fact, she moved in with me soon after we started dating.
Jane wasn’t too fond of her at first, but they’ve since made peace with each other.
Jane wasn’t fond of any of my romantic relationships actually. She constantly worried that I was going to leave her for whatever girl I happened to be with at the time. It got to the point where I think she was just being territorial.
Jane always had a bit of a ‘Mother Hen’ complex when it came to me.
Heather is different though. There is a genuine love there and we’re very happy together. She’s helped take care of me ever since Jean died last year due to cancer.
Between the two of us, we’ve pretty much been able to tread water where Jane’s support has not been as strong.
Jane isn’t a young woman anymore and the tabloid is slowly consuming her life. While I’m grateful for all the help she’s given me over the years, it’s time that I start taking responsibility for my own career. I need to get back in the ring and test my skills again.
I’m going to talk with Jane and see if she can help me arrange a match. A part of me is worried about asking, but another part of me feels like I’m risking a good relationship over something that I used to do all the time. Besides, Heather’s been pushing me to get back into wrestling for years now.
She even wants to come to the matches too, which would be a big step forward in our relationship.
Wrestling has changed a lot since I’ve been gone. People have become more cynical about the whole thing with the advent of social media and the internet in general. Back in the old days, it was easy to keep kayfabe, but nowadays nobody is fooled.
People call wrestling fake and don’t have much respect for it as a sport anymore.
While some promotions try to fight this outlook, others have embraced it.
Sources & references used in this article: