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Provided by J Michael Kenyon through WRESTLING AS WE LIKED IT.

"'Hack' comes back"

Health & Strength Magazine, March 7, 1931

   Hackenschmidt, the Russian Lion, is generally regarded as the most outstanding wrestler of his time, if not of all time. The feats he performed were always highly spectacular, and his rugged strength and lionhearted nature captured all who came into contact with him.

   It was with considerable surprise that I saw him seated at the "H. and S." display at the Holborn Empire on St. Valentine's Day, and I accordingly lost no opportunity of seeing him at his hotel.

   Naturally enough, physical development soon became the topic of conversation. He seemed eager enough to talk about wrestling in general, but when it came to enlarging upon his own feats, he closed up like the proverbial oyster.

   It seemed as though my task would prove a hopeless one when he suddenly twirled round and grasped me by the shoulders. So powerful was his grip that I felt I had been caught in the works; yet I am sure he did not intend to hurt in the least.

Giants of the Mat

   "Look here," he said eagerly, "you must come and dine with me. I should like you to meet my wife." I was thoroughly delighted, for it was a privilege I had never dreamed of.

   As a host, it is hard to imagine anyone more hospitable or genial than this giant. Both he and his charming French wife did their utmost to make me feel thoroughly at home. Dinner over, we fell to discussing the comparative merits and demerits of the wrestlers, past and present, the attraction of the mat, and various other problems near and dear to the heart of all true physical educationists.

   In the course of conversation, I learnt that Hack is still keen on physical development for its own sake. He looks as fit today as any man I have ever seen, though over fifty years of age. Most of the men who watched him when at the zenith of his fame are now fat and flabby, while this Hercules is so fit that he could enter the arena tomorrow.

   Of course, it is hardly fair to expect the same degree of physical fitness from him today as when he was in his prime. But the fact that he can give a standing jump over two chairs, a feat which he performed fully clothed in front of me, demonstrates his toughness. His enthusiasm remains truly boyish, and once we got on the subject of wrestling, I was able to extract various pieces of information about his wonderful past.

Hack's Suit

   Probably the most amusing story he related during the evening was one about his tailor, and it is characteristic of Hack that the laugh was against him. Unlike most strong men, Hack has a distinct penchant for good clothes and a neat appearance. He believes in looking his best always, and one day, when in his prime, a tailor called upon him armed with strong recommendations from friends.

   Hack decided to have a suit, and not very long after called for it. When he tried it on, however, he found that it hung on him like a sack! It had been sized too large and the champion was distinctly annoyed. The tailor, poor fellow, could not make head or tail of it. On consulting his book, he found the measurements to be correct. While he was apologizing, Hack took a deep breath and swelled out his massive chest. Immediately the coat was filled and fitted him like a glove! It seemed that he had expanded his muscles fully when the measurements were taken, and the suit had been made for his flexed limbs.

Brains and Brawn

   During our conversation, I found Hackenschmidt to be a man of deep learning, with a quick wit and very human leanings. Physical development is his hobby, and he devotes a great deal of his time to probing the mysteries of the human body. He had just returned from a protracted tour of the Continent, where he has been in consultation with some of the best brains at the various universities. He has rather original theories regarding the human structure, which he has been testing out. He hopes to return to England on a lecturing tour either this year or in the spring of 1932, when he will look up old friends, speak with leaguers, and generally try to further the cause of physical development.

A "Raw Deal"

   Our conversation veered round to his wrestling matches, and particularly to his contests with Gotch. In the first, Hack certainly got a "raw deal."

   For three months before the contest, Gotch rubbed his body with oil 'till it became so permeated with the liquid that it was almost impossible to get a grip of body or limbs. On the night of the fight, Hack suggested that Gotch should take a bath, which his cunning assailant refused to do.

   "The bout," said Hack, "took place in Chicago, and I am afraid I took Gotch too cheaply, and so did not train as thoroughly as I should have. As a matter of fact, the authorities at the Chicago gym, refused me permission to use their premises, and in consequence the greater portion of my training was done in the corridors of my hotel; also, I was troubled with water on the knee.

   "Gotch was a cunning and tricky wrestler, and as strong as a bear. I soon found it impossible to get a grip of him, and so was at a great disadvantage. In addition, Gotch was not above probing me in the eye from time to time with his thumb, until I was almost blinded."

   A terrific struggle ensued, and Hack was defeated.

   Hackenschmidt, a man who has always played fairly, was amazed at the foul tactics displayed by Gotch, and it was only after challenging him repeatedly, that the American could be induced to face him once more.

The Inside Story

   I do not think the inside story of the second match, which also took place in Chicago, has previously been related.

   Hack first trained at Shoreham under Zbyszko, and when he arrived in Chicago, was in wonderful condition; so splendid indeed, that whilst preparing, he threw Americus, of Baltimore, one of the most famous wrestlers in America, in one minute; then Koch in six minutes, and next Dr. Roller in seven minutes.

   "After this," said Hack, "Dr. Roller advised me to stop, but I requested him to hold me down once more, and I should endeavor to get up from the knees. I jumped up to my feet, but, unfortunately, Dr. Roller had the same movement as myself, and in consequence caught me with my right foot over his knee, and in doing so he tore the sinews from the bone-this only five days before the contest with Gotch was to take place.

   "When it was dark, I was carried home. The following day Dr. Mackenzie, the doctor who extracted the bullet from President McKinley, when the latter was shot, was called in.

   "Curley, my manager, and the promoter of the contest," continued Hack, "was insistent that I should not compete against Gotch unless I felt able to do so. I knew that tickets to the value of over £6,000 had been sold, and a lot of other expenses incurred, but it was the splendid attitude of Curley that finally determined me to go forward.

   "In addition to 20 yards of India-rubber bandaging round my right knee. I had ordinary bandages from my ankle upwards, and it was in that condition I engaged upon the match.

   "Before leaving my dressing room, Curley brought me my money for the engagement, but I told him to put it away until after the match.

   "On entering the ring, I requested the referee to call off all the bets. At first he refused, but on my saying that otherwise I should leave immediately, he did as asked."

   After a gallant fight. Hack was defeated-how could it have been otherwise? For two years afterwards the Russian Lion was compelled to wear India-rubber bandages, and even to this day he still at times, feels the effects of his unfortunate mishap.

The Terrible Turk Match

   His match with Madraldi, the "Terrible Turk," was the most sensational in which he ever took part. Hack told me that people in those days awaited the result of an important wrestling encounter with as much anxiety as they now look for the result of a championship boxing match. Thousands of people were turned away when he fought Madraldi.

   The Turk had been preceded by a fearsome reputation, so Hack determined to exert every ounce of strength to prevent defeat. His antagonist possessed an awe-inspiring appearance, though he was goodhearted enough when you got to know him. It was with considerable misgivings that Hack entered the arena, but when he saw the Turk stripped, he felt that his chances of victory were brighter than he imagined. The Turk looked a monster, but there was something about his condition that gave Hack confidence.

   On the signal he rushed in and in a few minutes the combat was over. Everyone knows what a sorry mess he made of the Turk. Hack said he was very upset at Madraldi having encountered the accident, but as his reputation was at stake, he could do no less than give of his best.

   Hack's colossal strength can be imagined from a story he told me. Thirty-five years ago the roads were hardly as safe as they are today, and it was not rare for actors, boxers and wrestlers to get beaten and robbed by footpads on their way home.

   One night Hack was leaving the theatre, when as attendant warned him to be careful, as the streets he had to traverse were infested by a singularly tough crowd. Hack, however, laughed at the man's fears and stepped into the night with a jaunty stride. He was crossing a badly lighted square, shaded with a number of trees, when a gang of seven or eight men sprang out and, brandishing sticks, attacked the champion. Hack immediately recalled the warning he had received, and darted into the middle of the gang. He picked the leader bodily off the ground, and grasping him by the ankles, used him as a flail!

Amazing Feats by Hack

   The man's terrified yells as the sticks of his confederates fell on him were appalling. The gang, though they had the advantage of surprise on their side, were routed, so Hack released his improvised weapon. The man bounded into a side alley and was lost to view.

   This is by no means surprising when you remember some of the remarkable feats he has performed -- 142 ½ kilograms in wrestler's bridge (a world record); 132 kilograms pressed with right arm; and 92 kilograms snatched with right arm.

   Hack told me that he was one of those fortunate men who possessed a considerable amount of natural strength, but that it was only by developing himself by progressive exercise that he managed to gain a championship. He is emphatic that only hard work and enthusiasm will help a man to win through. So, if you are endowed with natural strength, do not rest contented, but increase it by hard work.

   No one who meets Hack can fail to like him, for he is wonderfully good natured, clever and modest, particularly anxious to help the human race. As a living model for all a physical culturist should be, he is hard to beat.


[ Georg Hackenschmidt ]

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