It will, possibly, interest my readers to learn some details of my life
and of the process of my physical development.
I was born on
July 20, 1878 (Old Style), or August 2, according to English methods or
reckoning, at Dorpat, in Russia, my father being the proprietor of some
dye-works there. I have a brother and a sister younger than
myself. Both my father and my mother were of average stature,
neither of them displaying any unusual physical characteristics, but both
my brother and sister possess more than average strength. My
grandfather, the father of my mother--who, by the way, I never knew, as he
died when I was only three years old--was always described to me as a big
and powerful man. He had migrated to Russia from Sweden some sixty
years before. My mother always told me that I was very like my
grandfather, except that he was rather taller, being six feet in
So far as I can remember, I was, from my earliest
years, devoted to all bodily exercises, and by the time I was eight or
nine years old I used to order about a small army of boys of my own
age--being admittedly the strongest of them all. I was sent to the
Dorpat Grammar School (Realschule), and soon showed a preference for the
hours spent in the gymnasium. At a gymnastic competition in the year
1891, when I was fourteen years old, I won a prize as the best gymnast of
my own age, a fact which my instructor Herr Drewes, a German, communicated
to the press in Germany. At that date, I was 4 ft 7-1/2 in. in
height and weighed 8 st. 10 lb. being of a rather thickset build. I
was one of the best at club and dumb-bell exercises and could jump over 16
ft in length and 4 ft 7-1/2 in. in height. I could raise and lower a
dumb-bell weighing 1 pood (36 lb.) sixteen times with the right hand and
twenty-one times with the left, and I once ran 180 metres (about 197
yards) in 26 seconds.
My liking for bodily exercises I
inherited from my grandfather.
On leaving school in 1895, I
entered some large engineering works in Reval as an apprentice, with a
view to becoming a practical and technical engineer. But--Man
proposes, God disposes!
At this time I became a member of the
Reval Athletic ad Cycling Club, and threw myself heart and soul into
cycling, at which I won several prizes.
When autumn and bad
weather came round, I gave more attention to exercises with heavy weights
and dumb-bells and my ambition soon led me to excel all my fellow members
in these exercises.
The chief pastimes favoured in our club
were the lifting of heavy weights and wrestling. For the latter I
had at first but little liking and was often beaten.
this time I grew pretty quickly, my measurements in 1896, at the age of
eighteen, being as follows:-
Height - - 5 ft 7-1/2
Chest - - 41-3/4 in. normal and 44 in. expanded
Biceps - - 14
in. straight and 14-1/4 in. flexed.
Forearm - - 12-7/8 in.
We had a very judicious trainer in our club, a certain
Gospodin (Mr) Andruschkewitsch, a government official, who gave us young
fellows many excellent hints on the care and training of the xbody.
At a Club festival held about this time (autumn of 1896) I performed the
following weightlifting feats:-
With the right hand from the
I pressed - - - 145 lb. 12 times.
- 155 lb. 10 times
Ditto, Ditto- - 198 lb. 3 times
Ditto, ditto- -
214 lb. 1 time
And with one hand lifting slowly from the
ground to the shoulder (by the strength of the biceps) I raised a weight
of 125 lb. with the right, and 119 lb. with the left.
September, 1896, I made the acquaintance of the professional athlete and
wrestler, Lurich. He was only a few years older than myself, had
been a professional for a year, and was touring in the Eastern Provinces
with a small company.
Lurich challenged all comers to wrestle
with him and various members of our club came forward but were all,
without exception, defeated by him. Up to this time, I had shown but
little taste for wrestling and had wrestled very seldom, being more
partial to work with heavy weights. Still, I wrestled several times
with Lurich, who, even then, was a fairly good wrestler, though, as I
speedily recognized, scarcely my equal in strength. As can readily
be understood, Lurich had no great difficulty in throwing an experienced
man, such as I was, though on the one occasion on which I wrestled with
him in public--in the Standpfort Etablissement in Reval--he could not
throw me the first time, and in the second bout I was able to resist him
for seventeen minutes.
I mention this easily intelligible
defeat, incurred when I had had little or no experience in wrestling,
because, later on, Lurich used to boast that he had frequently beaten
This gentleman has, since then, for many years kept
carefully out of my way, but this defeat annoyed me and after it I
wrestled more frequently and, in the course of the winter, defeated nearly
all the members of our club.
In February, 1897, a German
wrestler, Fritz Konietzko came to Reval. It was said that at
Magdeburg he had beaten the famous Tom Cannon, then in his prime, who, in
his day, had often wrestled with Abs, a wrestler who enjoyed a big
reputation in Germany, and had thus achieved some celebrity in the
Graeco-Roman style. Konietzko was a rather smaller man than myself,
being 5 ft 6-1/2 in. in height and barely turning the scale at 165
lb. taking him all round his was not a very imposing figure.
Yet he was very quick and possessed a strength of hand which to me seemed
almost uncanny. These qualities enabled him to defeat all his
opponents; especially as he was always undermatched. I was the only
member of the amateur contingent to withstand the German. We
wrestled ten minutes without a fall. Not long after this Ladislaus
Pytlasinski, the Polish wrestler, then at the zenith of his fame, came to
Reval and, of course, defeated Konietzko. Pytlasinski defeated me
easily, and we all learnt a great deal from this great expert of the
wrestling arena. In the following year he was the first wrestler to
defeat the famous Turk, Kara Ahmed in Paris. I remember, too, a very
powerful village schoolmaster in the neighbourhood of Reval who was one of
the chief opponents of this professional wrestler. He (the
schoolmaster) had only a few holds, with which he defeated his
opponents. On one occasion, he got me down in seven
As I have said already, these defeats proved very
instructive to me and I gradually, if slowly, began to perfect myself in
I improved rapidly in lifting power and also in
general physical development, and by July, 1897, I was able to press a bar
weighing 243 lb. with both hands from my shoulders to the full stretch of
my arms. Even at this date, I established a world's record--which
was, of course, very soon broken, but afterwards improved on, and since
maintained by myself. With my hands crossed behind my back and my
knees bent, I lifted a ball weighing 171 lb. this feat proved that I
was fairly strong in the legs. Taking two balls weighing 94-1/2 lb.
each in either hand, I swung them with a single motion from the ground to
the full stretch of the arms. Our instructor, Gospodin
Andruschkewitz, took my measurements in December, 1897, with the following
Height - - 5 ft. 8-1/2 in.
Neck - - 18-1/5
Biceps - - 15-3/5 in. straight, and 17-1/4 in. flexed.
- 13 in.
Wrist - - 7-1/2 in.
Chest - - 44-7/8 in. normal and 46 in.
Thigh - - 23-1/2 in.
Calf - - 15-3/5 in.
Weight - - 12
st. 8 lb.
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