Kickboxing is another of Vitali's interests that Wladimir did not share. A onetime world champ in the sport, Vitali took it up partly so he could travel beyond the Iron Curtain. At 19 he did, for a competition in the U.S. "I went Florida," he says, "bring back Wladimir gifts." The booty: a pack of Bubblicious and a bottle of Coke.
Back then, bubble gum and Coca-Cola were as prized in the Ukraine as beluga caviar is here. "I would have sold soul for them," says Wladimir. "I wanted to smell air in America."
Wladimir saw boxing as the ticket to the States. But he was so afraid of hurting his opponent that he lost his first two amateur bouts. "I was all defense," he says. "Finally, in third fight I realized if I hit back, I win."
After winning 133 of his next 137 amateur bouts and Olympic gold, he and Vitali were courted in Vegas by Don King, the Houdini of promoters. King invited them to his lavish suite. "Don was impressive," says Wladimir.
"Was artist," says Vitali. "Showman."
King plopped down at a baby grand and, with a Liberace-like flourish at the keyboard, crooned, "Sign with me, just sign with me." The Klitschkos watched slack-jawed until Vitali noticed something funny. "Piano had two moving pedals," he says, "but Don's feet not on them."
The baby grand was computerized. "Don pretended," chortles Vitali. He and his brother weren't fooled: They turned pro in 1996 under the banner of a German promotional group and now hawk everything from fitness books to cereal.
When Fritz Sdunek started training them that year, they were all power, no finesse. And no guile. Sdunek taught them how to set up an opponent in Round 2 for a haymaker in Round 5. The thrill of the kill is what he tried to impart. "Most important thing is not muscles, power," says Vitali. "It's psychology, mentality."
Vitali needed convincing. Once, after decking an opponent in the amateurs, he peered into the crowd and spotted the loser's family. "See horror in eyes of wife, children," he says, still shaken by the memory. "Have such bad feeling. Feel like not winner."
Fear was the bugaboo Wladimir had to overcome. "Fear is like poison from cobra," he says. "Little bit can kill or make you well. Too much is death, just enough is success."