‘Iron’ champion

Defeat tastes of tears, victory and sweat, as Grodno’s Alexander Kurlovich knows. His emotions are various. In the autumn of 1987 — over 20 years ago — the young sportsman returned to the Soviet Union team after having spent two years recovering from injury. It was a triumphant return! He became world champion and a record-breaker, taking back his rightful role above other weight-lifters. He made some errors, but displayed the best results of the decade. However, he disappeared from the elite as unexpectedly as he arrived, taking on the role of judge
Defeat tastes of tears, victory and sweat, as Grodno’s Alexander Kurlovich knows. His emotions are various. In the autumn of 1987 — over 20 years ago — the young sportsman returned to the Soviet Union team after having spent two years recovering from injury. It was a triumphant return! He became world champion and a record-breaker, taking back his rightful role above other weight-lifters. He made some errors, but displayed the best results of the decade. However, he disappeared from the elite as unexpectedly as he arrived, taking on the role of judge.

This April, the ‘iron’ champion was the only person from the former USSR to be elected onto the technical committee of the International Weight-lifting Federation. He also became a senator, representing the Grodno Region at the Upper House of the Belarusian Parliament for six months.

What kind of judge are you?

“My colleagues say I’m not strict — that I take the side of the sportsman when there is the slightest doubt,” Kurlovich admits. “I’ve always been like this. I used to feel anxious when I first began competing; then, I learned the ropes. It’s been a big help to work on the technical committee of the International Federation.

What’s the judicial mechanism like?

Three judges sit on a platform and switch on a white or red light after each attempt by the weight-lifter. The decision is taken from the majority of votes. Five jury members also press buttons without the audience being able to see. If the judges decide white and the jury selects red, the jury is favoured.

Alexander, you were an umpire at the Olympic Games in Beijing and at the recent European Championship in Romania. What were your impressions?
It’s great that the Belarusian team won medals in China. I’m especially glad for Andrey Ariamnov — the Olympic champion and world record-breaker. It was important for our weight-lifters to demonstrate excellent results in Bucharest; they took two gold and one bronze medal, finishing fourth overall.

When you were competing yourself, did judges’ mistakes upset you?

I always tried to lift my weights skillfully — to avoid such situations — but I made mistakes sometimes. I won the Olympic gold in Barcelona ahead of schedule, even though I had one more attempt left. I ordered 250 kg and was preparing myself but the coaches forgot about me and time was passing. Only ten seconds remained and I almost ran to the platform. I grasped the bar-bell, fixed it on my breast and lifted it. The judges gave two white and one red signal to my advantage. The jury made a reference to the expired time and didn’t score the weight. I was cheered up by the applause of the audience.

Which Olympiad has been the most memorable for you?

I’m afraid that it’s impossible to answer this question — impressions overwhelm me. When I was stressed, it was difficult to perform. Seven days before my departure to Seoul in 1988, I had a terrible pain in my knee. It was so infernal, I was unable to walk. Naturally, I was upset. I called Grodno from Khabarovsk, where the USSR team was training, with tears in my eyes. I promised to come back home soon. However, I was lucky; an injection straightened my knee and the pain disappeared in two days. Four years after Barcelona, I strained myself and had pains in my lower back. Injections enabled me to carry on training. Six months before the Olympic Games in Atlanta, I shifted to a sound regime without extra strain. Unfortunately, I injured an inguinal muscle during my last training session, crouching with a small weight of 220 kg. I had to receive treatment, which interfered with my plans for a medal.

When did you first feel yourself to be a real weight-lifter?

When I was 10, and when I was 13, I broke the junior record in Belarus. I weighed 48 kg. At the age of 22, I beat Ukrainian Anatoly Pisarenko at the USSR Olympics of Nations, and set a world record.

Could you ever imagine your retired regime, void of daily training, tournaments and trips?

On retiring, I really felt the change. Coaches and administrators had paid me so much attention before. Suddenly, I was alone. Of course, it was strange for me. I didn’t lose courage though. I decided to stay connected to sport. Refereeing allows me to prolong my work in weight-lifting. I have many friends and acquaintances in different countries; the bar-bell united us. We have common topics of conversations and recollections.

People note that you’ve changed — no longer looking like a giant of 130 kg. How did you slim down?

Even my foreign colleagues don’t recognise me after having not seen me for a while. The secret of my diet is simple: I’ve given up professional sport but I continue to lift weights for at least an hour each day. I eased off gradually and lost weight. I’m now 103 kg.

Home exercises?

Sure! I spend 15–20 minutes daily with a bar-bell of 50 kg to warm up. Also, I park my car 30 minutes walk away.

He consults his watch. He’s obviously in a hurry. “I’m leaving for a parliamentary session and haven’t packed yet.” He promises to talk again when he returns. There are a few questions I haven’t asked yet. His life has been full of gold medals and world records — armfuls of roses as well as thorns. His rollercoaster has largely shown him success of course and he remains famous in Belarus and abroad.

Iosiph Popko
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