Karelin at the 1988 Summer Olympics
|Born||19 September 1967|
Novosibirsk, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
|Height||1.91 m (6 ft 3 in)|
|Weight||130 kg (287 lb)|
|Country|| Soviet Union (1987–1991)|
Unified Team / CIS (1992)
|Coached by||Viktor Kuznetsov|
Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (kah-RE-lin, Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин, IPA: [ɐlʲɪkˈsandr ɐlʲɪkˈsandrəvʲɪtɕ kəˈrʲelʲɪn]; 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, both by a single point. Prior to his farewell match versus Rulon Gardner in September 2000, a point had not been scored on him within the previous six years. 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. Being naturally very big, he came to a wrestling gym, aged 13, standing 179 centimetres (5 ft 10 in) tall and weighing 79 kilograms (174 lb), Karelin grew physically very fast and from 16 years of age throughout his entire career he competed in the super heavyweight division, he went undefeated for the first time from 1982 to 1987 and second time from 1987 to 2000. In 1985 he came to an international competition and won a junior world title. He had his first loss (score 0–1) at the USSR championships in 1987, to the reigning Russian and European champion Igor Rostorotsky; he defeated Rostorotsky at the next USSR championships while recovering from a flu and a recent concussion.
—Rulon Gardner on his opponent.
In the 1988 Olympic final Karelin came close to 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 in the heaviest weight class of his day, 130 kg (286 lb). 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. 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 (referring to a biased opinion on his alleged PED use,) Karelin noted that: "No one can completely believe that I am natural. The most important drug is to train like a madman – really like a madman. The people who accuse me are those who have never trained once in their life like I train every day of my life."
Karelin's daily training drills included hours of rowing and long runs through Taiga forest often with a large log on his back. He favored the overhead press and also used standard 2-pood kettlebells (32 kilograms (71 lb)) for arm exercises at a daily weight routine. He is said to have bench pressed 200 kilograms (440 lb). When asked about his toughest opponent, Karelin instantly replied: "My refrigerator," referring to one of his drills, for which he bear hugged his refrigerator and carried it up through eight flights of stairs of his hometown 9-storied apartment building.
—Philip Hersh, an Olympic sports writer, on Karelin's legacy.
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 to raise, spin and hit the mat with a 560+ lbs combined weight of both athletes (280+ of which resist desperately to the performed manoeuver). Karelin's ability to perform this throw against elite opponents weighing as much as 130 kg amazed other participants and observers of the sport. In 889 fights, Karelin used the reverse body lift on circa 800 occasions, in some cases several times per round.
Like 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 thirteen 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 pectoralis major 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 on in Budapest. He recovered within three months to compete at the 1996 Olympics. As many other wrestlers, Karelin has a bit tongue (which was and still is a very frequent wrestling injury before the advent of contemporary chin-tight wrestling headgear,) which affects his pronunciation and speech, limiting r-containing words usage. And as many other wrestlers he has multiple ear cartilage injuries of both ears.
International competition record
|2000 Olympic Silver Medalist at 130kg|
|Loss||Rulon Gardner||Decision||0–1||2000-09-25||2000 Olympic Games||Sydney|
|1999 World Champion at 130kg|
|Win||Héctor Milián||Decision||3–0||1999-09-23||1999 World Wrestling Championships||Athens|
|Win||Eddy Bengtsson||Tech Fall||1999-09-23|
|Win||Giuseppe Giunta||Tech Fall||1999-09-23|
|Win||Mindaugas Mizgaitis||Tech Fall||1999-09-23|
|1998 World Champion at 130kg|
|Win||Matt Ghaffari||Decision||8–0||1998-08-27||1998 World Wrestling Championships||Gävle|
|1997 World Champion at 130kg|
|Win||Mihály Deák-Bárdos||Decision||11–0||1997-09-10||1997 World Wrestling Championships||Wroclaw|
|1996 Olympic Gold Medalist at 130kg|
|Win||Matt Ghaffari||Decision||1–0||1996-07-22||1996 Olympic Games||Atlanta, Georgia|
|1992 Olympic Gold Medalist at 130kg|
|Win||Tomas Johansson||Fall||1992-07-29||1992 Olympic Games||Barcelona|
|1989 World Champion at 130kg|
|Win||László Klausz||Decision||7–0||1989-08-26||1989 World Wrestling Championships||Martigny|
|1988 Olympic Gold Medalist at 130kg|
|Win||Rangel Gerovski||Decision||5–3||1988-09-22||1988 Olympic Games||Seoul|
|Win||Duane Koslowski||Tech Fall||1988-09-20|
|1987 World Cup Winner at 130kg|
|Win||Jeff Blatnick||DQ||13–0||1987-10-15||1987 Wrestling World Cup||Albany, New York|
Mixed martial arts
On 21 February 1999 Karelin defeated Akira Maeda in a shoot wrestling contest put on by RINGS 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 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 is titled: "Methods of execution of suplex throw counters" (Russian: Методика проведения контрприемов от бросков прогибом), and "Integral training system for top-level wrestlers" (Russian: Система интегральной подготовки высококвалифицированных борцов). Between 1995 and 1999 he served with the Russian tax 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, a social movement 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. 1999) 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.
Karelin was named a Hero of the Russian Federation in 1997 and awarded the Order of Friendship of Peoples (1989), Order of Honour (2001) and Order "For Merit to the Fatherland" IV class (2008). He was awarded the Serbian Order of Saint Sava.
- Карелин Александр Александрович. Russian Wrestling Federation
- "Aleksandr Karelin, Wrestler, Law-maker and More". Voice of Russia. 25 March 2009.
- Plaschke, Bill (24 July 1996). "Forget the Russian Bear: Meet Russian King Kong". Los Angeles Times.
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- He lost to Rulon Gardner in 2000 (1–0) due to a sudden rule change and Gardner's shear size and weight, as Gardner was to heavy for Karelin to launch a reverse body lift.
- Александр Карелин: Борьба – это условие жизни Archived 8 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine. karelin.ru. 25 October 2013. The 6.8 kg figure reported by the Time journal was an exaggeration КАРЕЛИН Александр Александрович. biograph.ru
- Kareline, Alexandre (RUS) Archived 19 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine. iat.uni-leipzig.de
- Александр Карелин – гордость нашего спорта, колоритная личность, великий спортсмен, который и в 46 лет держит себя в великолепной форме! Поговорим о секретах успеха русского богатыря Archived 14 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine. fizvosp.ru. 21 March 2014.
- Karelin: Legends Live On (Documentary). Olympic Channel, 5 April 2018.
- Jack McCallum (27 September 2000) Unheralded American slays Russian wrestling legend. Sports Illustrated.
- The Sporting News, Miracle on the mat – wrestler Rulon Gardner wins the gold medal in the Olympics, 9 October 2000
- "Miracle on the Mat". CNN Sports Illustrated. 27 September 2000. Archived from the original on 22 February 2008.
- Frank Lawlor (2 August 1992). "Siberian Heavyweight Gives Other Wrestlers The Chills His Monster Image Also Interests Hollywood". Philadelphia Media Network. Archived from the original on 22 February 2008.
- Alexander Karelin – Chronology. sports.jrank.org
- Dawidoff, Nicholas (13 May 1991) A Bruiser and a Thinker: Soviet Greco-Roman wrestler Alexander Karelin is a rare combination of massive physique and imposing intellect. Sports Illustrated
- "The Biggest Winner". Joe Posnanski. Archived from the original on 22 February 2008.
- Aleksandr Karelin - Train Like a Madman by Josh Bryant, 2 August 2017.
- Идеальный олимпийский Франкенштейн - Runners' Club (in Russian) 24 August 2016.
- A fighter who leaves no chance for the enemy: Alexander Karelin - 50. Dmitry Ivanov. Veti. September 19, 2017
- "Aleksandr Karelin VS Akira Maeda". YouTube. 4 August 2012. Archived from the original on 22 February 2008.
- "Alexander "The Experiment" Karelin MMA Stats, Pictures, News, Videos, Biography". Sherdog. Archived from the original on 22 February 2008.
- Karelin, Alexander Alexandrovich Archived 31 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Karelin.ru.
- Aleksandr Karelin. sports-reference.com
- 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
- Serbia, RTS, Radio televizija Srbije, Radio Television of. "Руски медвед - Александар Карељин". www.rts.rs. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
- "Kareljinu Orden Svetog Save: Neka Bog čuva Srbiju i Rusiju..." www.novosti.rs (in Serbian). Retrieved 16 November 2019.
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| Flagbearer for Soviet Union / Unified Team / Russia