The sports icons of my childhood are falling like flies. Three weeks ago it was Smokin’ Joe Frazier. This weekend it was Vasily Alekseyev. Now many of you are out there saying, “WTF, who the hell is Vasily Alekseyev ???”. Trust me, if you grew up in the 70’s, you knew exactly who Vasily Alekseyev was. He was a big part of the most famous intoduction in the history of sports television.
Vasily Alekseyev was a legendary Russian weightlifter who became a Soviet-era Cold War icon, as well as a household name in the US thanks to his frequent appearances on “Wide World of Sports” in the 1970s. Alekseyev, who won two Olympic and eight world super heavyweight titles in addition to setting 80 world records throughout his distinguished career, passed away in a German clinic Friday, he was 69. He had long suffered heart problems and was sent to the clinic after his health deteriorated.
I was born in 1960. so I’m 51. It’s been 30 years since I’d seen his face or heard his name yet when I booted up my computer Saturday morning and saw the thumbnail, I knew who it was and what had happened. Why would I know a 352 pound librarian from a small mining town in Russia ???
Back in the day, you didn’t have cable to access 20 different games to watch at any given time. Back then, if you wanted to watch baseball, you had one shot, Saturday afternoon with Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola on the MLB Game of the Week. No night games, nothing. On Sunday’s you had two options to watch football before the merger. You could watch the NFL with Tom Brookshier and Pat Summeral on CBS at 1:00 PM EST. You would watch Curt Gowdy and Al Derogatis for the 4:00 PM EST AFL game on NBC. Monday night football came along in 1970 and then there was always Wide World of Sports.
Wide World of Sports was the bomb. It was exactly what it said. Spanning the globe for the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. That generation learned it’s sports from Jim McKay and Wide World. They carried very little mainstream stuff but rather all all the sports now that we consider the perifery. Cliff diving from Mexico. Boxing title fights. The Little League World Series. Formula One and some Nascar. Track and Field was big at the time along with all forms of skiing and the winter spots. Evel Knievel was made on Wide World and they were the one that covered his rocket jump over the Snake River Canyon.
…. and you never missed power lifting with Vasily Alekseyev.
Alekseyev dominated power lifting like Edwin Moses dominated the hurdles, Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, Karelin in wrestling. Alekseyev was unbeaten from 1970 to 1978 and held the world record of 1,419 pounds for three lifts set in 1972. He set his first world record in 1970.
In April 1975, Sports Illustrated put him on one of its most famous covers under the headline “World’s Strongest Man.” He no doubt was. RIP. Gone but not forgotten.