RIP Zhaba

Leonid Zhabotinsky, nicknamed “The Big Zhabo” by his fans, has died aged 77.

Zhabotinsky was a Ukrainian weightlifter who won gold medals in two Olympics and set 19 world records in the super heavyweight class.

He was six foot three and weighed 365 pounds at his peak.

He was regarded by some as uncouth and lazy: his detractors called him “Zhaba”, which means toad in Russian.

He was also given to playing tricks on his teammates.

In the build-up to the 1964 Tokyo Games he competed against his Soviet team-mate Yuri Vlasov, who became so angry at Zhabotinsky that he refused to train with him.

At the 1964 Olympics Vlasov seemed well ahead of all competitors in the clean and jerk lift. Zhabotinsky, when his turn came, made a great show of struggling with the weight, dropping it on the second attempt, and hugged Vlasov as though to congratulate him. Then, with a casual wink to his coach, he broke his own record on the third and final lift, hefting a total of 479.5 pounds.

Zhabotinsky thus gained an overall score of 1,262 pounds lifted, against Vlasov’s 1,256.5. Vlasov later said: “I was choked with tears. I flung the silver medal through the window. That night I understood that there is a kind of strength that is nothing to do with justice.”

Zhabotinsky later became a weightlifting coach for the Soviet Army, achieving the rank of Colonel.


Picture source: Asahi Shinbun via Wikimedia Commons