A sweet, sardonic father of one, Vitali has a Ukrainian wife and the heart of a Russian novelist. He is as enthusiastic when quoting from the works of Mikhail Bulgakov as he is mimicking the moves of Muhammad Ali. In the summer of 2001 he read from Bulgakov to a crowd of literati in Hamburg, his adopted home. A week later more than 300 academics packed a Bundeswehr University lecture hall to hear him read from his doctoral thesis—The Ways to Define Sportsmen's Capabilities in the System of a Multi-Step Sportive Selection—in German, no less.
"Boxing exactly like life," Vitali says with a slightly professorial air. "In either, can be knocked senseless. Every day is fight with problems, every day is fight for dreams. Sometimes must clench teeth, sometimes must take low blow, sometimes must fall to canvas, stand up, go forward again."
A highly eligible bachelor, Wladimir is quieter, more self-contained. He thinks deeply before he talks, carefully spooning out a word at a time when he speaks English, one of the four languages that he knows. (Wladimir also speaks German, Russian and Ukranian.) He recites Shakespeare as if the bard were a boxing muse. " Shakespeare, I read in Russian," Wladimir says. "He writes, 'Life is big theater, and we're all the artists in this thing.' " Well, maybe it loses something in the translation from the translation.
Actually, Wladimir doesn't say much-he mostly just smiles encouragingly. He's elusive in the way a cagey welterweight is elusive, or a magician. In fact, his hobby is magic. "Trick to success in life is to produce positive fluids," Wladimir says, a fat grin pasted to his face. "I can feel more than positive fluids: I can feel psychic energy. Can smell it. Concentrate and can make coin appear in hand." He waves his arms like a sea anemone, then plucks a Euro out of the air with a dexterity that would dazzle a three-card-monte dealer.
"Heard of Magic Johnson?" asks Vitali. "Well, we magic brothers. Soon make Lennox Lewis disappear."
As close as the Klitschkos are, they don't step into the ring together. They haven't even sparred in eight years. "Would never fight one another," Vitali says. "Love mother too much. Fighting would break her heart."
Nadezhda Klitschko is a schoolteacher; her husband, Wladimir, an air force colonel. "Father six-foot-two," says Wladimir.
"Mother look like Mike Tyson," adds Vitali. He's talking height, we hope.
The Klitschko family was constantly on the move, from air base to air base. Wladimir's ambitions tended to mirror Big Brother's. "When I say, 'Want to be cosmonaut,' he say, 'Want to be cosmonaut,' " Vitali recalls. "When I say, 'Want to be air-traffic controller,' Wladimir say, 'Me want, too.' "
"He want to be boxer, I become boxer," Wladimir agrees. "He make Ph.D., I make Ph.D. He have baby, but for me, without wife or girlfriend, very difficult."