Karelin in 2013
19 September 1967|
Novosibirsk, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
|Height||1.93 m (6 ft 4 in)|
|Coached by||Viktor Kuznetsov|
Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September 1967) is a retired Greco-Roman wrestler for the Soviet Union and Russia. Nicknamed the "Russian Bear", "Russian King Kong", "Alexander the Great" and "The Experiment", he is considered the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time. Karelin won gold medals at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games under a different flag each time (Soviet Union, Unified Team and Russia respectively), and a silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games. His wrestling record is 887 wins and two losses. Karelin was the national flag bearer at three consecutive Olympics: in 1988 for the Soviet Union, in 1992 for the Unified Team, and in 1996 for Russia.
Karelin was born as a 5.5 kilograms (12 lb) baby. He began training in 1981, under Viktor Kuznetsov, who remained his coach through his entire career. Before that he tried boxing, weightlifting, volleyball, basketball and skiing. Karelin went undefeated for the first time from 1982 to 1987 and second time from 1987 to 2000. In 1985 he came to international competitions and won a junior world title. He had his first loss (0–1) at the USSR championships in 1987, to the reigning champion Igor Rostorotsky; he defeated Rostorotsky at the next USSR championships while recovering from a flu and a recent concussion.
In the 1988 Olympic final Karelin was losing to Rangel Gerovski, but with 15 seconds left managed to execute his favorite Karelin Lift and won. At the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Karelin faced American Matt Ghaffari for the gold medal. Karelin had come off a shoulder surgery and looked vulnerable against a strong Ghaffari, who was able to repel Karelin's efforts to lift and slam him, forcing Karelin to use all of his skill and experience to defend a 1–0 lead.
After going 13 years undefeated in international competition and six years without giving up a point, he lost 0–1 to Rulon Gardner of the United States in the final of the Sydney Olympics. Karelin retired from competitions in 2000.
Karelin was revered for his extraordinary strength and unprecedented success in international competition. He competed at the heaviest weight class of his day, 130 kg (286 lb). His conditioning and quickness combined with his dominance of the sport, led to him being known as "The Experiment". When asked why he thought he was called that, Karelin noted that others do not understand because "I train every day of my life as they have never trained a day in theirs". His coach was at first skeptical about a big but powerless boy, yet he accepted Karelin and motivated him for hard training, both in wrestling technique and physical strength. As a result, over the years Karelin progressed from 0 to 42 pull-ups.
Karelin was famous for his reverse body lift, the Karelin Lift, where facing the opponent who was lying flat on the mat to keep from being thrown, Karelin hoisted his opponents into the air and slammed them violently to the mat. This devastatingly effective maneuver, when properly executed, awarded Karelin 5 points per throw, the maximum awarded in Greco-Roman wrestling. The throw had long been in use by lighter wrestlers but not by heavyweights – because of the immense strength required. Karelin's ability to perform this throw against elite opponents weighing as much as 130 kg amazed other participants and observers of the sport.
As most top wrestlers, Karelin had a number of severe injuries through his career. He credits his fast recoveries to Valery Okhapkin, physician of the national wrestling team, and claims that Okhapkin extended his competition lifetime by several years.
At the age of 15 Karelin broke his leg while training; having learned about this accident his mother burned his wrestling uniform and forbade him to wrestle. Since then he broke his arms twice and ribs eight times. Around January 1988 he had a serious concussion, and doctors considered removing him from the 1988 Olympic team. Karelin won the 1993 World Championships despite breaking two ribs in the opening bout against Matt Ghaffari. At the 1996 European Championships in Budapest, he had torn the right chest muscle so badly that doctors predicted he would not be able to use his right hand for several months. Karelin won the Championships, but had to be urgently operated in Budapest. He recovered within three months to compete at the 1996 Olympics.
World Championships/Olympic Games matches
Mixed martial arts
On 21 February 1999 Karelin defeated Akira Maeda in a professional wrestling contest that drew a gate of over $1 million. The match gained widespread media coverage, including mentions in The New York Times and Sports Illustrated. The match took place in the Maeda-owned professional wrestling organization RINGS. Though widely considered to have been a shoot style pro-wrestling contest, the match is counted as an official mixed martial arts (MMA) match in Sherdog's record database.
|Professional record breakdown|
|1 match||1 win||0 losses|
|Win||1–0||Akira Maeda||Decision (Unanimous)||Rings: Final Capture||February 21, 1999||3||5:00||Japan|
Karelin graduated from the Novosibirsk Institute of Transportation, followed by the Siberian Academy of Physical Culture, a military school of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD USSR) and the Saint Petersburg University of MVD USSR. In 1998 he defended a PhD and in 2002 a habilitation in sport-related pedagogy; he also holds a degree in law. His PhD was devoted to countermeasures against suplex throws (Russian: Методика проведения контрприемов от бросков прогибом), and habilitation to preparation of top-level wrestlers (Russian: Система интегральной подготовки высококвалифицированных борцов). Between 1995 and 1999 he worked for the Russian customs police and retired in the rank of colonel. Upon invitation from Vladimir Putin, in 1999 he began his political career. He joined the United Russia party and was elected to the State Duma as a representative of the Novosibirsk Oblast in 1999 and 2003. In 2007 he was elected to the Duma as a representative of the Stavropol Krai. He is a member of Duma's committee on international affairs. In 2017, he entered the PutinTeam, political organization aimed at promoting Vladimir Putin's policies.
Karelin's father was a truck driver and an amateur boxer. Karelin is married to Olga, they have two sons, Denis and Ivan, and one daughter, Vasilisa. Denis (born c. 1986) tried wrestling, but changed it for car racing. Ivan (born 1994) is coached by Kuznetsov and competes in the Greco-Roman superheavyweight division. Vasilisa (born c. 1998) is a rhythmic gymnast.
Legacy and awards
Karelin was named as the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of the 20th century by the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) and one of the class of ten inaugural inductees into the FILA International Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003. He was also included in the 25 best world athletes of the 20th century. Since 1992, an annual wrestling competition is held in Novosibirsk in his honor.
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- Yekaterina Olkhovskaya (31 October 2008) Денис КАРЕЛИН: «Мой девиз – быть сильным, слабым не везет!» Komsomolskaya Pravda
- Карелин Иван Александрович. wrestrus.ru
- Олимпийский чемпион Карелин высоко оценил новый Дворец единоборств в Пензе. Vesti.ru. 23 March 2015
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aleksandr Karelin.|
| Flagbearer for Soviet Union / Unified Team / Russia