GEORGE HACKENSCHMIDT:
THE RUSSIAN LION. PART TWO.

BY DAVID GENTLE



In 1896 George Hackenschmidt met George Lurich a famous European wrestler, learning useful holds and experience for his craft. And in 1899 he pressed a bar of 279lbs overhead a remarkable feat in those early times. He then went on tour along with his friend Dr Von Krajewski, also an expert wrestler taking part in amateur championships in Vienna. Despite an injured shoulder, which forced him to take time out of the ring, he turned professional in June I900. In April 1901 after polishing off formidable opponents almost all taller and heavier than himself. Hack won the World Greco Roman Wrestling Championships (no holds permitted below the waist). In 1902 he took 3rd place in World weight lifting championships in Vienna, with the giant Wilhelm Turk coming first. He took on and beat all the fighting champs of Europe and Asia, including Antonio Perri, aka The Terrible Greek. Kara Ahmed from Turkey considered World Champion. Rasso from Germany, Lurich of Russia, Paul Pons, the 6ft 5inch giant from France, Adaldi The Turk at 6ft 3ins and near 300lbs bodyweight and many others.
One of the Russian Lions most famed battles took place on January 1904 when he fought Ahmed Madrali the Terrible Turk no 2. Who compared to Hack, was a giant being 6ft and I6 stone plus. The night he fought Madrali interest was so high that the largest traffic jams ever recorded up to that date were created from Olympia to Picadilly. However the fight was a little too short and none to sweet as Hack threw the Turk in 2 minutes dislocating his arm in the process. An earlier battle with the Turk Kara Ahmed took a far longer time of 3 hours 2 minutes before Hack defeated him and considered by George as his toughest contest of his life.
Hack trained for the fight with Turk no 2 at a public house in Shepherds Bush in London and part of the fight preparation consisted of him walking around the gym with a huge sack of cement on his shoulders, i.e. using the overload principle of training, on which a 16 stone training partner sat for a total estimated at near 900lbs. He also practiced his favorite standing jumps exercise. His training also included other power building exercises for the simple reason that if two contestants have equal skills, then luck aside - and we all need a little of that - the STRONGER MAN WILL WIN. He could support an averages size horse on his shoulders and walk with it and equally resist the pull of opposing horses. He made many weight lifting records some of which lasted for over 50 years, but continued to practice most of all wrestling which in itself built up great power especially in his neck and lower back.
In weightlifting circles he is perhaps best known for' his' version of the squat, I.e. 'Hack squats' where the barbell is held behind the thighs. Back in 1902 he made 550 reps with 110lbs in this difficult style. The name 'Hack lift'' however originally came from the word 'hacke' or heel according to his own account in his classic tome The Way To Live.
Equally powerful in the shoulders he could hold out sideways at shoulder length in a style called the Crucifix, 2 x 90lbs dumbbells. Much in line with Martial arts thinking he paid particular attention to leg power and speed and in I9O2 for a wager, he jumped over a table, i.e. standing jumps 100 times in succession. This ability lasted with him as even when 85 years of age, he could still do standing jumps over a chair back.
George had many adventures during his fighting career both in and out of the ring. Once on tour in Samoa he so impressed the local King, that he was offered a royal title, and a whole bunch of nice fat wives of his choice. George politely declined. In Manchester U.K. a gang of thugs in their ignorance decided to rob him. He made short shift of 6 or 7 of them in as many minutes. In a tough Northern town when he toured G.B. Hack defeated a local rough rugged policeman who up until then had thrashed every touring wrestler by the sheer impudence of threatening to use his powers of law and order to close down the music hall if he lost the bout. Hack refused to be intimidated, gave the 'bent copper' a beating and rapidly became hailed as a hero. When Hackenschmidt first fought at the Prince of Wales theatre in London, his manager C.B Cochran sent out hundreds of men with placards advertising the event. The theatre manager in a sudden bout of panic as to what might occur, decided to cancel the arrangement and in turn sent out rival gangs with their own boards canceling the event. Feelings ran high and thus opposing factions fought each other in the streets, some say, the bouts were better than some of those 'professional ones' on display. But despite further attempts at delaying the wrestling, eventually Hack made his appearance and the show went on...in the ring.
Despite large bribes, the Russian Lion still roaring we are assured, never faked any of his real matches, not to be confused with exhibition matches. Hack remained undefeated until the first of his controversial bouts with American pro wrestling champ Frank Gotch in 'catch as catch can', free style. Gotch was a hard man, a former farmer from Iowa. and never bucked a challenge. On April 3rd 1908,at Dexter Park Pavillion in Chicago. Gotch defeated Hack who had parted from his manager Cochran and was if anything more nervous than with previous opponents. Gotch using a tear away style never gave Hack the time or opportunity to get into his own stride. The fight went on for 2 hours 3 minutes, during which neither man had gained a single fall. However, after considerable unfair tactics by Gotch it is alleged of oiling his body, rubbing oil into Hacks eyes, scratching, gouging and hitting. At one time even punching the Russian on the nose (and Hack was no boxer) Hack refused to further tolerate the conspiracy of foul tactics overlooked by the referee and quit, conceding the victory to Gotch (sounds like your run of the mill 'fight' now featured on WWF T.V. videos and similar shows). Re the hit on the nose, Hack was once considered as a possible 'White Hope' by the boxing world taking boxing lessons in Australia, from Gunner Moir, visiting old time bare knuckle Australian fighter Larry Foley, who had once fought Jem Mace. Foley had also trained Bob Fitzimmons and other old time boxing greats. After a trial, with the suggestion of a possible fight between Hack and Jack O'Brian for then unheard of huge amount of 50,000 USA dollars, in 1907, the old time boxing champ, who could outbox and out punch Hack at will, advised Hack to "Stick to wrestling" which he wisely did.
The return match with Gotch took place on 4th Sept 1911 at Cormisky Park Chicago, and seized the imagination of the sporting public, securing the largest gate at that date for a wrestling match in the USA of 10,000 spectators. However the return was a disappointment to say the least Hack had injured his right knee (something he had problems with before back in 1904 when he toured Australia being hospitalized with what for want of better explanation is known as 'housemaids knee) tearing the cartilage in training. To prevent the match being postponed Gotch said he too had 'injured his neck' but "Was sportsman like enough to continue. "Hack fell for it, soon to discover Gotch suffered from no such disability and the American retained his title with ease, taking 2 falls. Experts at the time in attendance all agreed that without the injury George Hackenschmidt would have remained supreme, but it was not to be.
Gotch retired in 19I3 and died young at just 39 years of a age, due many said to his rough house bouts and old injuries, winning 154 tough fights out of 160 between 1905 and 1913. It has to be appreciated these fights were real rugged battles, although they would be considered somewhat dull by today's show biz style wrestlers and its acting, albeit agile clowns. Boxing then had a much more shady reputation than wrestling, which went into decline and disrepute after I9I8,with a few noticeable exceptions, i.e. champions who would not take a dive like British champ Bert Assirati. For a fascinating account of the realities of wrestling, no holds barred, read FALL GUYS - THE BARNUM'S OF BOUNCE. By Marcus Griffin 1937 - Reilly and Lee Co Chicago. It will burst a few bubbles. Back to Hack.
George paid great attention to his diet as becomes an athlete and king of combat Consuming great quantities of fruit, nuts and raw vegetables in preference to the meat he once ate in abundance. Later in life, he preferred to obtain muscle building proteins from the eleven pints of milk he drank daily.
When aged 56 he could jump over a 4.ft 6in high board 10 times and even up until his mid 80's he continued to practice similar exercises i.e. jumping over his chair for 50 reps at least once a week.
George retired in 1911 after the Gotch episodes, yet never lost any esteem or bore any grudges. He lived with his French wife Rachel in England.(being at one time a P.T. instructor for the House of Lords) and also in the South of France studying and lecturing. An excellent conversationalist and master of several languages and author. He published at least 5 books on philosophy as well as his physical culture works. Hack who had become a naturalized Frenchman in 1939,after 40 yrs of trying also became a British subject at the age of 74. He continued to remain in contact with the fight fraternity and strength athletes, being one of the judges at the I948 Mr. Universe show in London, which was won by the late John Grimek. Among his many hobbies he loved gardening. It is a paradox of true fighting men that it leads to an increase awareness and enlightenment and actual dislike of violence. Right up until his demise, Hack continued to recognize the importance of regular exercise and could still bench press 150lbs for 5 reps and several times a week ran at a lively pace for 7 miles in 45 minutes. Aged near 90 remember. His most popular book was the classic Way To Live and in that delightful work, his last words befit a true warrior, saying "Throughout my whole career I have never bothered as to whether I was a Champion or not a Champion; The only title I have desired to be known by is simply my name George Hackenschmidt". This enduring master of combat, winner of over 3000 fights died Feb I9th I968 at St Francis Hospital Dulwich, England. He was 90 years of age. By DAVID GENTLE. (c) I999

PART ONE

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