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ALL GUTS, NO GLORY
Leigh Montville
November 03, 1997
THE WORLD WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS, IN SIBERIA, WERE NO PLACE FOR A U.S. ATHLETE TO FIND FAME, FORTUNE OR EVEN BASIC AMENITIES
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November 03, 1997

All Guts, No Glory

THE WORLD WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS, IN SIBERIA, WERE NO PLACE FOR A U.S. ATHLETE TO FIND FAME, FORTUNE OR EVEN BASIC AMENITIES

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"Well, the KGB," he replied with a laugh. "Or whatever it is called now."

Krasnoyarsk, turned into a manufacturing outpost during World War II when Stalin set up defense plants far from Moscow in the face of the German invasion, was closed to foreigners until six years ago. The only way a resident could see a foreigner before 1991 was to go to the train station. The Trans-Siberian Railroad stops here on the way from Moscow to Vladivostok. The foreigners would step off to buy sandwiches, to use the facilities. They would then return to the train and leave.

No McDonald's or Burger Kings confuse the landscape. No Wal-Marts or Tower Records have arrived. There are signs of change since the fall of communism—fresh coats of paint slapped everywhere, food in the markets, hotel rooms still being remodeled as visitors arrive, young women in the shortest skirts and highest heels imaginable—but the outline of the old Russia is still visible through the thin veneer of the new. Old grandmothers, babushkas, still sweep the streets each morning with brooms made of twigs tied to a stick with twine. Old men still wear their Communist party medals of achievement on the fronts of their old blue suit jackets. Dinner in a restaurant is still an adventure. A trip to a men's room is a bigger adventure.

The Americans were the strangest of all the strangers in town. They had traveled from as far away as anyone, checking in late for the tournament after training for a little less than a week at Sembach Air Base in Sembach, Germany. They would leave as soon as possible after the tournament ended. They hunkered down in their rooms on the seventh and eighth floors of the Hotel Krasnoyarsk, talked among themselves, ate among themselves, stuffed themselves onto buses with their opponents, went across the wide Yenisei River to the Yenisei Sports Palace to stand almost naked and fight for their reputations. Not one U.S. newspaper sent a reporter to record their deeds. Not one U.S. television network or station sent a camera.

"What do you think?" Larry (Zeke) Jones, the 119-pound American, asked. "How do you think some of those big-time baseball and basketball guys would like this? How long do you think they'd last here? How do you think Shaquille O'Neal would like this?" Jones smiled al the very idea. He looks a bit like Michael J. Fox.

"It's O.K. for me, because I'm a wrestler," Jones said, now serious. "This is what I do. I don't care where I am. I'd go to Mars to wrestle a Martian."

Forty-five countries entered the tournament, each allowed to place a wrestler in each of the eight weight divisions. The wrestlers came in all sizes. Their shapes were mostly the same—all except the heavyweights had shrunk to their most compact, lethal dimensions—but the differences in height gave an observer the illusion of passing the same person again and again in a day, his size subtly changing with each meeting. "You know those matreshka dolls they sell here?" one American said. "The dolls that open, again and again, each time revealing a smaller doll? That's what wrestling is like. Every country sends over its own matreshka doll."

The names of opponents were too foreign, too odd to the tongue for U.S. wrestlers to remember. Some of the opponents had three names. Some had their last name first. Some had names stuffed with consonants, crying for a vowel. Better to remember countries. Better to remember past performances, tricky moves or maybe a strange look in the eye. Here comes the Armenian. Here comes the Mongolian—Barcelona 1992. Here comes that bad boy from Belarus.

"I don't know any of the names of these guys," Douglas said. "But I know who every guy in my weight division is. I see 'em, I say, I remember when I got you' or 'I remember when you got me.' I see a guy like this"—he smiled at a wrestler from Uzbekistan, and the man smiled back—"and I remember a gift he got from the judges, just a gift. You didn't deserve that match, did you?" The man from Uzbekistan continued to smile, not understanding English. "Yeah, yeah, how are you?"

The strongest teams came from a virtual State Department list of trouble spots. Wrestling has always flourished in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. Russia has always been great. Iran is very good. Turkey is good. North and South Korea. Cuba. The breakup of the Soviet Union also broke a logjam of solid wrestlers who moved up to the international scene. Ukraine is now good. Uzbekistan. Azerbaijan. Georgia. Moldova. To climb through the draw, an American had to beat a collection of stereotyped villains from a Steven Seagal or Jackie Chan movie, flipping and flopping and twisting to the top.

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