The Experiment

2 August 2021
The Experiment

Aleksandr Karelin has a unique place in the sports history as one of the greatest Olympic athletes. Now, this is the time to remember the legendary wrestler.

As you know, Greco-Roman wrestler Mijain Lopez made history by winning his fourth straight Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games. However, 21 years ago, Alexander Karelin’s heart was broken when he was on the mat for the fourth gold medal. Despite Karelin’s adventure at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games is a little bittersweet, his sporting legacy is worth remembering and telling in every respect.

Aleksandr Karelin had stepped into the world of Greco-Roman wrestling by starting to work with the famous trainer Viktor Kuznetsov in the beginning of 1980s. As an extremely massive and athletic boy, he tried his luck in different sports, but made his final decision on the mat, where he had a great talent. And the rest is history… At first, he did not lose any match between 1982-87 and put impeccable performances until he lost to Igor Rostorotsky at the 1987 Soviet Union Championship. In fact, many athletes could lose their rhythm after that defeat, yet he never lost again the next 13 years. It has been unbelievable that Karelin’s opponents had not been able to score points from him in the last seven years of this series.

No doubt that it was an unfortunate to do the same sport at the same time as Karelin, who competed in Greco-Roman wrestling’s heavyweight 130 kilos. Many talented names such as Tomas Johansson, Matt Ghaffari and Hector Millian have been always in shadow of him. “He didn’t just dominate the world of Greco-Roman wrestling, for 13 years, he terrified the world of Greco-Roman wrestling,” Philip Hersh, the Olympic sportswriter, said in a statement. Karelin, who is normally quite a humble character, also confirmed this statement by saying, “Honestly, I saw fear in eyes of my opponents.” There was no question of stopping Karelin, who was nicknamed “Alexander the Great” with his reign in the weight category, “Russian Bear” thanks to his massive physique, “The Experiment” because he was perfect as if it were a laboratory production.

One of features that make him unique was his flamboyant style and especially his “Karelin Lift” style. Karelin, who grabbed his huge opponents, each weighing at least 130 kilograms, by their trunks (in Greco-Roman wrestling, you can only attack him above the waist) and knocked them to the ground, won countless matches with a tactic that is rarely used in that weight class. According to Time writer John Greenwald, the wrestlers, who were swept off their feet during the lift, were like sack of potatoes. American Jeff Blatnick, who shares the same mat with Karelin, explained that when he faced him, his first goal was not to be caught and lifted. According to Blatnick, in fact, facing Karelin and not being knocked out was a victory. Bringing these incredible skills to the Olympic stage in 1988, 1992 and 1996, he won three heavyweight gold medals. He consolidated his dominance by adding nine world championships and 12 European championships. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, when he reached the final without facing any difficulty in his last competition, it was thought that he would bid his farewell with the fourth gold.

In the final, Karelin matched with Rulon Gardner, the son of a Wyoming farmer. To date, Karelin won 886 game and only lost one 13 years ago. When the match started, the Russian legend tried to make his famous lift, but he could not grasp the American, who had an oversized upper body. Just as many other unfortunate people have tried – they were failed-, the American made a very good job and therefore achieved to take the match to the salto. Even the referees could not believe when Karelin’s hands slipped after the struggle, and they watched the footage a few more times. Gardner had the advantage of 1-0 and then defended well enough; it was one of the biggest surprises in the Olympic games have never seen before. So much so that, one of the most dominant careers of the sports history closed the curtain with this defeat.

In the last photo of Karelin on the medal podium, he had an unfamiliar silver medal around his neck…