Eliza says she throws a tantrum if she can't find a sock. Konstantine isn't as easily rattled. When a truck carrying propane gas exploded like a bomb less than a mile from their house late one night in July, Eliza woke up thinking it was the end of the world. Her husband rolled over, announced that everything was O.K. and went back to sleep.
"If a bomb dropped on the area, everyone would die anyway," he says now. "So what's the big deal?"
Eliza takes glee in exposing her husband's occasional lapses into the role of sensitive male. She says he cried while watching the movie Ghost. At first he denies this, but she is insistent. "Well, maybe just a little," he concedes. "But it was so sad."
He also plays down the despair he felt two years ago. He was working on a construction site when the ring finger on his right hand was crushed in an accident and had to be amputated at the second knuckle. Starikovitch, who was about to resume his weightlifting, thought his career was finished. But two months later he was in the gym, attempting to grip a weight bar. Eliza says her husband was a mess after the accident, and it wasn't until he gripped the bar for the first time that he realized he had a future in his sport.
Since then Starikovitch has been on a lifting rampage. At a meet last February, after only minimal training, he put up excellent numbers—330 in the snatch and 418 in the clean and jerk—at 91 kilograms (200 pounds). In May, after deciding it was time to prepare seriously for the 1996 Olympics, Starikovitch moved to White Plains, N.Y., to work with Marc Chasnov, a physical therapist and weightlifting guru. A respected international-level coach with a self-deprecating manner, Chasnov launched Starikovitch's career as a personal trainer and found him clients. Chasnov also gave him access to superior facilities and ministered to his old injuries. As a result Starikovitch, with Chasnov at his side, performed unforgettably at this year's Empire Games.
A sort of mini-Olympics staged annually for residents of New York State, the games were held this time at Syracuse University, though weightlifting was shunted off to a high school auditorium across town. There, backstage, other athletes stole glances at Starikovitch. When he warmed up by snatching 264 pounds, more than most of them would attempt during the meet itself, they shook their heads and smiled, as if to say, "What can you do? I'm shooting for second."
Competing in the 99-kilogram (218-pound) division, Starikovitch snatched 160 kilos (352 pounds) on his third attempt. Though no one else of his size in the U.S. has succeeded at that weight, Starikovitch was upset at missing his second attempt, which cost him a chance to try for 165 kilos. He took out his disappointment on the clean and jerk, and on his last attempt went for a personal record of 210 kilos (462 pounds).
The 5'10", 211-pound Starikovitch strode onstage with a confident, rolling gait. As he cleaned the bar and got underneath it, he showed some hesitation, but he was able to stand up. As he stepped back and raised the weight over his head, the bar teetered forward. Not having received a signal from the judges that his lift was complete, Starikovitch, who by that time was shaking and hyperventilating, stepped forward and regained control of the bar.
"It was the gutsiest thing I've ever seen," says Joe Carbone, a nationally ranked lifter at 76 kilograms (167 pounds). "You never see a guy at his level make a lift like that when he's shaking so much."
Starikovitch's snatch and his clean and jerk bettered existing U.S. marks but are not considered records. Only weights lifted in national or international meets are official, and in any case, Starikovitch is not yet a U.S. citizen. That should change in April 1996, when he will become eligible for citizenship less than a month before the Olympic trials. If he makes the U.S. team he will become the first ex-Soviet athlete to compete for this country since the disintegration of the Soviet bloc.