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Oct 9, 2021
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“The standard of service to one’s cause”

150 years ago, the Russian athlete and circus artist Ivan Poddubny was born, whom historians call one of the most outstanding professional wrestlers in the world. From 1905 to 1909, he was repeatedly awarded the champion title, and even being already in adulthood, Poddubny won many competitions at various levels. In addition, he was actively involved in the popularization of sports in the USSR and trained young wrestlers. According to historians, Poddubny was a real example of sporting honor and a standard of service to his cause.

Ivan Poddubny was born in the village of Krasyonovka, Poltava province (in some sources, the neighboring village of Bogodukhovka is called his birthplace) into a poor peasant family. According to legends, the Poddubny family descended from the Zaporozhye Cossacks. Together with Ivan, six more children were brought up in the family. At one time, the future champion said that he knew only one person who surpassed him in strength – his father.

From an early age, Ivan helped his family with household chores, and at twelve he began to work as a laborer – grazing sheep from a local wealthy landowner. As the biographers of the great athlete say, in his youth Poddubny was in love with his fellow villager Olenka, who came from a wealthier family. But her parents were against the farm son-in-law, and the young people were separated.

Carier start

Batratskaya life with age more and more weighed down Poddubny. Growing up, he decided to seek happiness far from his native village and went to work in Sevastopol, where he became a loader in the port. The young man was distinguished by tremendous physical strength, for which he received the nickname “Ivan the Great” from his comrades.

Some time later, Ivan was transferred to the post of senior worker at the office in Feodosia. Poddubny got more free time and the opportunity to communicate with people outside the port. So he made friends with two students of the nautical classes: Antonin Preobrazhensky and Vasily Vasiliev. Young people were fond of strength exercises. Strong by nature, Poddubny at first laughed at them, but when the much smaller Preobrazhensky defeated him in a wrestling match, he took up physical education himself.

In 1896, a circus arrived in Feodosia, the program of which included weight lifting and “Russian-Swiss belt wrestling” – a special type of duels in which the opponent had to be knocked down by holding the belt. Poddubny decided to try his hand by competing with circus artists. In lifting weights, he lost to professionals, but won in the very first wrestling match, and in the following days he won all the circus athletes in turns, becoming the star of the performances.

After success in the arena, work in the office began to seem boring and monotonous to Poddubny. He soon quit his job and returned to Sevastopol, where he joined the Truzzi family circus. For some time, Ivan performed in wrestling matches under the guise of an “amateur from the public”, and then officially moved to the category of professional wrestlers. At the same time, unlike other professionals, he categorically refused to participate in “fake” battles and honestly achieved victories.

Poddubny Sr., who visited his son, was at first indignant at the “frivolity” of his studies, however, having learned that Ivan earns much more in the circus than before, he changed his anger to mercy. Poddubny Jr., in turn, began to provide relatives with serious material assistance, which allowed them to expand their economy.

Having won fame thanks to performances in several large cities, Poddubny went to work at the Russian Circus of the Nikitin Brothers. In his arena, Ivan successfully performed in fights of the French (modern Greco-Roman) wrestling.

Nikitins received Poddubny well, but the events that took place in the circus almost forced him to quit his career as a wrestler. In a short period of time, due to accidents and diseases in the circus, several people close to Ivan died, including gymnast Maria Dozmarova, whom Poddubny truly fell in love with. Due to a personal tragedy, Ivan was already thinking of returning to Krasyonovka, but his life was abruptly changed by a letter received from St. Petersburg.

World famous

In 1903, Poddubny was summoned to the St. Petersburg Athletic Society. Ivan was chosen as a candidate from Russia for the World Championship in French wrestling held in Paris. For three months he studied with a trainer from France, practiced fighting the capital’s guard officers and learned the rules of etiquette, and then left for Paris. In the French capital, Poddubny won a number of victories over famous European wrestlers, but the French champion Raoul le Boucher, who came out against him in the decisive fight, grossly violated the rules by rubbing his body with olive oil.

The judges forced the Frenchman to dry himself with a towel, but the oil was absorbed into the wrestler’s skin, and his opponent could not hold an effective grip. As a result, the judges awarded Le Boucher a victory on points, despite the fact that Poddubny was more initiative in the fight.

But the unfair refereeing did not break the athlete. He continued training at the St. Petersburg Athletic Society, and soon won a victory over Le Boucher at the tournament held in the Russian capital: after fighting on the ground, which lasted more than 20 minutes, he told the judges that he could not continue the fight, left the hall and burst into tears. And the next day, Poddubny became the winner of the competition, defeating the Frenchman Paul Pons.

“Poddubny was not only distinguished by great physical strength. He also, as other wrestlers said, had an explosive character. At the right time of the duel, he could mobilize and put the opponent on his shoulder blades, “- told RT the head of the Memorial Museum. THEM. Poddubny in the city of Yeysk Natalya Ginkul.

In 1905, Poddubny won the world title by defeating Jesse Pedersen at the competition in Paris. Later he became the winner of a number of prestigious European championships. He confirmed the status of the strongest fighter in the world until 1909.

In 1910, Poddubny decided to leave his sports career. He married an actress – the beautiful Antonina Kvitko-Fomenko – and returned to the Poltava region. Having become a wealthy man thanks to his victories, Poddubny bought up a lot of land in his native places and built a modern mill. However, the absence of a commercial streak in the athlete himself and a frivolous attitude towards the case of the relatives who took to help him led to the fact that it was not possible to raise the farm. Three years later, Ivan sold his rural property, distributed debts and decided to return to the big sport.

Poddubny again won a series of victories, but now they were given to him much more difficult. From time to time, young athletes ended up in a draw with the renowned champion.

“During the Civil War, the completely apolitical Poddubny did not support either side, continuing to act in the arena instead,” said Vitaly Zakharov, professor at Moscow State Pedagogical University, Doctor of Historical Sciences, in an interview with RT.

Several times the famous athlete found himself on the verge of death. In Odessa, the anarchists wanted to shoot him, confusing the champion ribbon, made in the colors of the flag of France, with the “monarchist” flag. In Kerch, he was nearly shot by a drunken officer, who had stalked him in the street. In 1920, Poddubny was detained by the Odessa Cheka, confusing him with a fighter with a similar surname who participated in Jewish pogroms. However, upon learning that it was about another athlete, the Chekists immediately released Poddubny. Despite the difficult times, the renowned wrestler decided to stay in his homeland, although many of his comrades emigrated.

Having left the bullets and prison, Poddubny almost became a victim of a new personal tragedy: news reached him that Antonina’s wife had fled with her lover. Upon learning of the betrayal of his beloved, Ivan was beside himself with grief. For some time he refused food and water, did not recognize anyone. Later, when Poddubny came to his senses, and the traitor tried to go back, he did not even begin to communicate with her.

According to historians, given the principled political apathy and world fame of Poddubny, the Bolsheviks treated him favorably. In the 1920s, he received permission to speak at events held in the State Circus and under the auspices of physical culture organizations.

Speaking in Rostov-on-Don, Poddubny met the mother of the young wrestler Ivan Mashoshonin – Maria. Soon he proposed to the woman. Mary accepted him on the condition that they were married in the church. According to biographers, Poddubny treated Ivan Mashoshonin like his own son.

In the mid-1920s, Poddubny went to perform first in Europe and then in the United States. Despite his serious age for an athlete, he won a number of outstanding victories. However, the athlete rejected the offer to stay in America and receive large fees and returned to his homeland.

After returning to the Soviet Union, along with participation in wrestling competitions, Poddubny prepared young athletes. In 1939 he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor and received the title of Honored Artist of the RSFSR.

During the Great Patriotic War, Poddubny ended up in the occupied territory and worked as a marker in the billiard room. At the same time, he defiantly wore a Soviet order on his chest. According to the stories of fellow countrymen, once he even hit a Nazi who seized him by the order. According to Poddubny’s acquaintances, the fact that one of the leaders of the Nazi administration knew him from wrestling helped him survive.

Later, rumors appeared in the press that in the post-war years Poddubny allegedly was starving, but historians and friends of the athlete refute them.

“Talking about his alleged begging is nonsense. Poddubny was a personal pensioner and the owner of a large house in which he kept tenants. In addition, he received rations from Krasnodar and at the local meat processing plant, ”said Natalya Ginkul.

In 1945, Poddubny was awarded the title of Honored Master of Sports of the USSR. Until his old age, he tried to keep himself in good shape and went to meetings with cadets of military schools, but in 1947, with an unsuccessful fall, he broke his hip neck, which was why he was limited in movement. On August 8, 1949, the great wrestler died in Yeisk.

According to the President of the Russian Wrestling Federation Mikhail Mamiashvili, Poddubny had a huge impact on the development of domestic sports.

“His unconditional victories on various continents laid the foundation for today’s victories of our athletes, victorious traditions. It is especially important that he always won honestly. He remained in the memory of people as a standard of service to his cause and his great country, ”summed up Mikhail Mamiashvili.

Svyatoslav Knyazev, Maxim Lobanov



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