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THE WAY TO LIVE
- THE STORY OF MY LIFE -
Part 3

by George Hackenschmidt

There was, indeed, something singular, I had almost said something mysterious, about Dr von Krajewski.  Something in the man's being seemed to melt in his love for feats of strength and agility, and flowed forth in an inexplicable fire on all artistes of this genre.  These people often used to say to me, "We don't know how it is, but once the doctor appears on the scene one feels as though he had more strength."  This was just the feeling I always had, but it surprised me to hear my impression confirmed by others.  I went to Vienna in company with Dr. von Krawjewski, and the pick of the St. Petersburg amateurs, Guido Meyer and Alexander von Schmelling.  We were most hospitably received by the Vienna Athletic Club, and I made the acquaintance of various first-rate athletes and wrestlers.
 
It was there I first met Wilhelm Turck, a very strong man, at that time about forty years of age.  He is nearly 6 ft. high and weighs 18 st. 12 lb.  He could raise, largely by main force, a bar weighing 30 lb. to the full height of his hand simultaneously ( 264 lb. in all ).  My best performance at that time was 114 in each hand, or 228 lb. in all.  But in putting up a weight with one hand, which requires more skill, he could manage only 138 3/4 lb. as against my 242 lb.
 
I may ere point out that owing to the excitement attendant on such events it is very difficult for a man to do his best.  My performances were:-
 
Jerking a bar with both hands, 311 lb.
Slow pressing a bar with both hands, 249 lb.
Slow pressing a bar with both hands, 220 lb., four times.
 
In weight-lifting I was third behind Turck and Binder, the latter also a Viennese athlete.

It seemed to me that the arrangement of the contests was all in favour of the Viennese, for even the very strong French champion, Pierre Bonnes, could not win a place, owing to the fact that the Viennese had, undoubtedly, been exclusively trained for these special feats.  The same remark applies to the feats with separate weights (i.e., with the so-called short Bohlig dumb-bells).  My fellow clubman, Meyer, it is true, made a very creditable show, but even he could not score much.  Herr von Schmelling, a very tall man, 6 ft. 4 3/4 in. in height and about 17 st. 4 lb. in weight, had wrestled with me and with Paul Pons for a for hour without decisive result, and was reckoned a better wrestler than I, but be had very poor luck in Vienna, for, after defeating Wetesa, the best Viennese wrestler of that day, after a contest of one and half hours, he had, owing to a misunderstanding with the umpire, to retire from a second contest with Burghardt.  I was now Dr. von Krajewski's sole remaining hope in the wrestling bouts.  I was in excellent fettle, and, first of all, threw several Viennese amateurs in very quick time, less than one minute each.  I was then matched with the Bavarian champion, Michael Hitzler, a wonderfully good wrestler, but rather too light a weight for me.  I put out my full force and threw him after a plucky struggle lasting five minutes.  It took me only two minutes to settle with Burghardt, who was not so good a man.
 
I had now won the first prize in wrestling, the championship of Europe, a beautiful gold medal, and a magnificent championship belt.  Dr. von Krajewski was delighted, and congratulations rained down on me from every side.  Professor Hueppe of Prague was one of the umpires in this competition.  An enthusiast in gymnastics, he took a great interest in the wrestling contests and was good enough to praise me very highly.  I received quite a general ovation at the supper given at the close of the contest, and the Athletic Club invited Dr. von Krajewski, Meyer, von Schmelling and myself to a soiree.
 
Towards evening on the following day we found ourselves in the Club rooms, and the old doctor was the first to make himself at home and laid hold of the tools.  Great surprise was shown on every side seeing so old a man so keen at his work.  He put a bar of 154 lb. several times with two hands and performed a number of other feats of strength.  Fired by his example, I achieved the following performance:  lying on the ground I raised above the head and put up
331 l/2 lbs.
 
Next day, on the invitation of one the umpires, Herr Victor Silberer, we made an excursion of this gentleman's country house on the Semmering Pass, and spent a most enjoyable time.
 
Herr Silberer is the proprietor and editor of the Allgemeine Sport Zeitung, and himself a keen sportsman.  After our return to St. Petersburg, I was challenged on various pretexts by Wetasa of Vienna, and also by Lurich to wrestle for the championship of Europe or to defend the same.  Dr. von Krajewski undertood the preliminaries, but both men sought to insist on such impossible conditions that he contest fell through.  Even at that date I had not the slightest fear of them.  Wetasa was already somewhat past his prime, while I knew that Lurich, though somewhat more experienced, was a weaker wrestler than myself.  I spent the remainder of the year at Dr. von Krajewski's, and in January, l899, after a keen struggle won the championship of Finland from twenty competitors.
 
Although from the date of my first great success to the wrestling ring onwards, I trained less and less for weight-lifting records, yet in January, 1899, I pressed a bar of 279 3/4 lb. with both hands.
 
The time of my enrolment in the army had now arrived, and I was commanded to join the Preobrashensky Polk (the 1st Life Guards of the Tsar), but was released from service after five months. On May 16, in Count Ribeaupierre's riding school, I wrestled to a finish the contest with Herr von Schmelling which had been left undecided in the previous year and defeated him in twenty-five minutes by means of "half-nelson," thus winning the championship for 1898.  A few days later, on May 19, a second victory over Schmelling in forty-five minutes gained me the Russian championship for 1899.  Schmelling was one of my toughest opponents!
 
After this, I again trained for some time at weight-lifting and made some progress, as I jerked a bar of 330 lb. with both hands, but in trying to slow press 286 lb. with one hand, I strained a sinew in my right shoulder, and injury which was destined to trouble me for years afterwards.  At first I though little of this trifling pain and trained for the Championship of the World wresting contests in Paris, which took place in November.  I was firmly resolved to become a professional wrestler.  Although my arm had not yet fully recovered I went to Paris and took part in the contests.

The list of competitors for this tournament was as follows:  Charles le Meunier (France), Henri Pechon (France), Francois le Farinier (Swiss), Feriol Marius ( France), Henri Alphonse (Swiss), Loirdit Porthos, Trillat le Savoyard, Capitant le Parisien, Louis Chappe (all of France), Niemann (Germany), Camillus Evertsen (Denmark), Pietro Dalmasso (Italy), Barnet le Demenageur (France), Jaccavail (France), Devaux (Belgium), Dirk van den Berg (Holland), Raoul le Boucher (France), Raymond Franc (France), Victor Delmas (France), Edgar Joly (France), Hautier le Breton, Leon le Jouteur (France), Bonera Dominico (Italy), Aimable de la Calmette (France), Starck (Germany), Jean le Marseillas (France), Edouard Robin (France), Jax le Taureau (France), Henri Lorange (France), Fengler (Germany), Alis-Amba (Africa), Eberle (Germany), Robinet (France), Laurent le Beaucairois (France), Constant le Boucher (Belgium), Kara Ahmed (Turkey), Peyrousse (France), Charles Poiree (France), Miller, (Germany), Paul Pons (France), besides myself.
 
My first opponent was a medium wrestler, Loir, nicknamed Porthos. I got him down in eighteen seconds!  My second was a Frenchman from the South, named Robinet, a wrestler with a fairly good style and till then of fairly high reputation.  It is, perhaps, only natural that foreign wrestlers should be greeted with a certain amount of distrust.  I was at the time almost unknown to the general public in France, and every one was astonished to see me defeat the popular Robinet in the short space of four minutes.  Robinet was too sportsmanlike to attribute his defeat to accident, but, in answer to questions, said that I was very strong;  "he has a grip like a vice, and if he gets you on the ground you are done for."  It was about this time that people began to call me "the Russian Lion."
 
After the struggle with Robinet, the next morning I went to the Gymnasium Piaza, Rue Faubourg St. Denis, to train, when Leon Dumont, the French wrestler, put my shoulder out of joint, and for a long time my right arm seemed half paralyzed.  Monsieur Piaza used hot and cold shower-baths and electricity to try to restore the use of my arm, but with little result.
 
It has long been the custom in wrestling circles to put all sorts of difficulties in the was of beginners who threaten to prove dangerous rivals later on, and thus to scare the newcomers out of the profession.  I myself was told that "Beginners who may become dangerous must be defeated often and severely in order to get rid of them."
 
In accordance with this policy only the third opponent assigned to me was one of the best French wrestlers, the versatile Aimable de la Calmette.  This athlete, as I soon discovered, was not nearly so strong as I, but far more experienced, a fact which made it necessary for me to be careful, for an experienced wrestler is far more dangerous than one who is merely strong.  One is never safe from surprises, and it is almost impossible to calculate on what such wrestlers may do.  Well, I threw the worthy Aimable after forty-seven minutes, but learned a great deal in the course of this struggle.  On the following day Laurent le Beaucairois, a very strong and clever performed, appeared on the scene.  Till then I had not believed it possible hat so corpulent a man-Laurent weighed 18 st. 12 lb., though he was slightly shorter than I- could show so much activity and nimbleness.  Laurent was an old hand at the game, having wrestled for fifteen years, and it did not look as if there was much chance for me who had scarcely had fifteen months' experience.  In strength I was the Frenchman's equal, if not his superior, and I made up mind to be on my guard and give no chances.  We wrestled for thirty minutes when the referee declared the contest a draw.
 
After this bout the weakness in my arm gave me a good deal of trouble, and I thought it best to retire from the tournament, especially as a French surgeon had ordered me to avoid all overstraining for twelve months.  I sincerely wish that I had followed his advice!
 
I looked on at a few more contests and then returned home to have my arm seen to, going in for treatment with electricity for about six months, but I am inclined to fancy that this did me more harm than good.  All went well, and in May, 1900, I again began to lift heavy weights.
 
With the thoughtlessness of my youth, I soon began to lift the heaviest bars again, and my arm, which had scarcely recovered, was again injured in an attempt to establish fresh records in weight-lifting.  Dr. von Krajewski warned me seriously, and I grew more prudent and avoided tours de force of this nature.

Part 4


[ Georg Hackenschmidt ]

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