Aleksandr Karelin

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Aleksandr Karelin
Alexander Karelin RN 09-2013.jpg
Aleksandr Karelin in 2013
Personal information
Nationality Russian
Born 19 September 1967 (1967-09-19) (age 48)
Novosibirsk, Russia
Height 1.93 m (6 ft 4 in)
Weight 130 kg (290 lb)
Sport Greco-Roman wrestling
Club Dynamo Novosibirsk
Coached by Viktor Kuznetsov[1]

Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September 1967) is a retired Greco-Roman wrestler for the Soviet Union and Russia and a Hero of the Russian Federation. Nicknamed the "Russian Bear",[2] "Russian King Kong",[3] "Alexander the Great" and "The Experiment", he is considered the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time.[1][4][5] Karelin won gold medals at the 1988, 1992 and 1996, and a silver medal in the 2000 Olympic Games. His wrestling record is 887 wins and two losses.[6][7] 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.

Wrestling career[edit]

Karelin was born as a 5.5 kilograms (12 lb) baby.[8] He began training in 1981, under Viktor Kuznetsov, who remained his coach through his entire career.[1] Before that he tried boxing, weightlifting, volleyball, basketball and skiing.[9] Nicknamed the "Russian Bear," "Alexander the Great" and "The Experiment", 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.[1] 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.[1] In the first four years of his international sporting career, Karelin won almost 100 international bouts, three Olympic games, three European championships, and three world championships without a single loss.[10][11][12]

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.[1] 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.[13]

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.[14] Karelin had previously beaten Gardner in 1997.[13] The win was controversial at the time as it took 90 seconds to review,[15] and is still an element of contention today since the broken-hands clinch rule had only been put in a few months earlier.[16] According to The Slate, "Karelin’s icy gulag death stare during the medal ceremony is one of the most terrifying sights in Olympic history".[17] Karelin retired from competitions in 2000.[18]

Wrestling style[edit]

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".[11] When asked why he thought he was called that, Karelin noted that others don't understand because "I train every day of my life as they have never trained a day in theirs".[19] 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.[8][20]

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.[20]


As most top wrestlers Karelin had a number of severe injuries through his career. He credits his fast recoveries to Valery Okhapkin, doctor of the national wrestling team, and claims that Okhapkin extended his competition lifetime by several years.[1]

At the age of 15 Karelin broke his leg while training, after which his mother burned down his wrestling uniform and forbade him to wrestle. After that he broke his arms twice and ribs eight times. Shortly before 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 severely torn the right chest muscle and doctors predicted that he would not be able to use his right hand for several months. He won the Championships, but had to be urgently operated in Budapest. Karelin recovered within 90 days to compete at the 1996 Olympics.[1]

Mixed martial arts[edit]

On 21 February 1999 Aleksandr Karelin defeated Akira Maeda in a professional wrestling contest that drew a gate of $1 million. The match gained widespread media coverage, including mentions in The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.[21] 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.[22]

Res. Record Opponent Method Event Date Round Time Location Notes
Win 1–0 Akira Maeda Decision (Unanimous) Rings: Final Capture February 21, 1999 3 5:00 Japan

Personal life[edit]

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).[23] Between 1995 and 1999 he worked at the Russian customs police and retired in the rank of Colonel.[1] 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.[24]

Karelin's father was a truck driver and an amateur boxer.[1] Karelin is married to Olga, they have two sons, Denis and Ivan, and one daughter, Vasilisa.[1] Denis (born c. 1986) tried wrestling, but changed it for car racing.[25] Ivan (born 18 October 1994) is coached by Kuznetsov and competes in the Greco-Roman superheavyweight division.[26] Vasilisa (born c. 1999) competes at the national level in rhythmic gymnastics.[27]

Legacy and awards[edit]

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.[23] Since 1992, an annual wrestling competition is held in Novosibirsk in his honor.[1][24]

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).[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Карелин Александр Александрович. Russian Wrestling Federation
  2. ^ "Aleksandr Karelin, Wrestler, Law-maker and More". Voice of Russia. 25 March 2009. 
  3. ^ "Forget the Russian Bear: Meet Russian King Kong". Los Angeles Times. 24 July 1996. 
  4. ^ Greco-Roman wrestling. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
  5. ^ "Karelin loses first-ever international match". Summer Olympics 2000 ( 27 September 2000. Archived from the original on 21 September 2011. 
  6. ^ "Alexander Karelin" in The World's Five Greatest Athletes No One Knows.
  7. ^ In 1987 he lost to Igor Rostorotsky (1–0) and to Rulon Gardner in 2000 (1–0)
  8. ^ a b Александр Карелин: Борьба – это условие жизни. 25 October 2013. The 6.8 kg figure reported by the Time journal was an exaggeration КАРЕЛИН Александр Александрович.
  9. ^ 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. 21 March 2014.
  10. ^ Великий борец России. 14 June 2013.
  11. ^ a b Alexander Karelin: The Meanest Man in the World. 27 December 2008.
  12. ^ Badass of the Week. Alexander Karelin. 25 March 2009.
  13. ^ a b Jack McCallum (27 September 2000) Unheralded American slays Russian wrestling legend. Sports Illustrated.
  14. ^ The Sporting News, Miracle on the mat – wrestler Rulon Gardner wins the gold medal in the Olympics, 9 October 2000
  15. ^ "Miracle on the Mat". CNN Sports Illustrated. 27 September 2000. Archived from the original on 17 October 2000. 
  16. ^ 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 8 February 2014. 
  17. ^ Edward McClelland (21 February 2014) Silver medal face: The saddest-looking second-place finishers in Olympic history.
  18. ^ Alexander Karelin – Chronology.
  19. ^ "The Biggest Winner". Joe Posnanski. Archived from the original on 8 February 2014. 
  20. ^ a b 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
  21. ^ "Aleksandr Karelin VS Akira Maeda". YouTube. 4 August 2012. Archived from the original on 8 February 2014. 
  22. ^ "Alexander "The Experiment" Karelin MMA Stats, Pictures, News, Videos, Biography". Sherdog. Archived from the original on 8 February 2014. 
  23. ^ a b Karelin, Alexander Alexandrovich.
  24. ^ a b Aleksandr Karelin.
  25. ^ Yekaterina Olkhovskaya (31 October 2008) Денис КАРЕЛИН: «Мой девиз – быть сильным, слабым не везет!» Komsomolskaya Pravda
  26. ^ Карелин Иван Александрович.
  27. ^ Олимпийский чемпион Карелин высоко оценил новый Дворец единоборств в Пензе. 23 March 2015

External links[edit]

Media related to Aleksandr Karelin at Wikimedia Commons

Olympic Games
Preceded by
Nikolay Balboshin
Flagbearer for  Soviet Union / Olympic flag.svg Unified Team /  Russia
Seoul 1988
Barcelona 1992
Atlanta 1996
Succeeded by
Andrey Lavrov