The feeling of one's own disharmony makes a person suspicious, jealous and spiteful, and such malevolence crushes a person's inner capabilities. Often physically strong people behave unpleasantly because of a feeling of mental inadequacy and, conversely, people whose minds are well educated sometimes behave unpleasantly because of a feeling of physical inadequacy. Only a harmony of the two elements leads to kindness, and kindness is the fullest expression of one's humanity.
For that reason I am a most fervent supporter of sport with a capital S, and I pity people who are not fond of sport, as I do people who are mentally undeveloped. After all, sport helps to uncover not only physical potential but mental potential as well. In the 20th century the mind has a hard time, and in difficult moments the body can help the mind—and the other way round.
How many people in Nazi concentration camps were saved by physical exercises, which they did in spite of all difficulties? It is an interesting fact that in particularly strict camps exercise was forbidden. The guards knew that some people survived only because of it. A certain Soviet pole-vaulter was a prisoner of war in a camp surrounded by electrified wire. One night he broke off a long pole on which a Nazi flag had been flying, and with its help leaped over the lethal wire and escaped. The famous goalkeeper Zhmelkov, of the Moscow Spartak team, who was a scout at the front line, was noted for his ability to catch enemy sentries without making any noise. He would creep up on a sentry and make one of his famous leaps. His goalkeeper's grasp served him well. I have read that John F. Kennedy, an athlete in his student years, was able to swim for hours once during the war, carrying a wounded comrade with him. Sport, which had been only a hobby for him, helped him in a real fight for his own and another person's life.
When the Ukraine was occupied, the Nazis arrested almost the entire Kiev football team and proposed that it play a match against a German army team. The invaders let it be understood that if the Ukrainians were soundly beaten, they would receive their freedom; but if they won, it would mean a bullet in the head. The Ukrainian footballers agreed to the match. When the news of this spread through the town many people called them traitors. The stadium where this historic game was to take place was filled with noisy Nazi soldiers and the silent populace of Kiev. For the Ukrainian footballers victory would be the equivalent of a death sentence. Every ball shot at the opponent's net was a bullet aimed at themselves. Nevertheless, the Ukrainians annihilated the Nazi team. After the match they were executed. People who saw this game said that the Ukrainians played as never before. For them the game was an expression of their hatred of the enemy and a way of raising Kiev's morale, which had fallen after the destruction of the city and its occupation. Had they ever thought, these footballers, how dearly bought a victory on the football field could be? Sport helped them show the enemy and themselves the spiritual strength of their people.
I could give you many examples of how sport has helped men in dire situations. Builders of the hydroelectric station at Bratsk used to go aqualung swimming in the Angara River—as a hobby, naturally. But when the filters became blocked in the dam they had built, the men risked their lives by going underwater with aqualungs to clean up the filters. Thus they managed to save what they had created. A Moscow policeman who was a weightlifter in his free time once saw a bus full of people rolling downhill and realized that the driver could not do anything about it, since the brakes had given way. Catastrophe seemed inevitable. The policeman picked up a large stone and, throwing himself at the bus, managed to get the stone under a wheel. The policeman died, but the lives of the several dozen passengers were saved. So body helped mind, and mind, fortified by body, helped to save people.
I want to tell you about a man who is remarkable in all respects. He is a poet, Grigory Pozhenyan. But he bears no resemblance to the usual notions of what a poet should be. He is only about five feet one, with slightly curving prehensile legs, and has a sly, dark face, like a Greek cafe owner, with a neat, almost penciled mustache; but his hairy, powerful chest and python-like muscles practically burst out of his jacket. He is like a portable, pocket-size giant.
Pozhenyan always travels with a tiny suitcase in one hand and a dumbbell that he considers lightweight—50 pounds—in the other. He often strokes the dumbbell lovingly and talks to it as if it were a living creature: "Oh, my fat little friend." Pozhenyan's life story is truly fantastic. Perhaps it is enough to say that on one of the streets of Odessa there is a memorial plaque, where, among the names of heroes who gave their lives for their country, you will find that of Pozhenyan. He fought as a lad of 18 with the famous marine unit that the Germans called the Black Devils. Pozhenyan was thought to have been killed, but he was miraculously saved.
After the war, wearing his sailor's striped shirt and already carrying his dumbbell, Pozhenyan enrolled in the Literary Institute, where he went about more or less pushing his way through his poetic rivals with a twitch of his mighty shoulders. He liked boxing, unarmed combat and whirling his dumbbell around one finger. Sometimes condescending to do paperwork, he wrote elevated romantic poetry about the sea. He even took his dumbbell with him into the Institute and practiced with it during the breaks. During lectures and seminars the dumbbell rested at his feet like a pet animal.
Once, when his verse was being discussed in a seminar, somebody criticized it fairly strongly. Pozhenyan, unable to restrain himself, jumped up from his place with a growl and instinctively reached for a nonexistent Mauser. Needing an outlet for his fury, he seized his dumbbell and, although he did not hurl it at the rash critic, he began raising and lowering it with alarming rapidity. The critic's eyes went up and down involuntarily, intently following the movements of the black mass of metal, and, as one might have expected, his critical fervor decreased. In any case, the critic's lips began to stammer something about the incontrovertible virtues of Pozhenyan's poetry, after which the dumbbell thumped back into place.
Those were tricky times, and it developed that Pozhenyan was asked to recant at a meeting of the Institute some supposedly "ideologically mistaken" poetry. But his thick sailor's neck would not permit him to bow his head. With his mighty tattooed arm Pozhenyan picked up one of his ideological opponents by the scruff of the neck, even though he was considerably larger, and threw him out of a third-floor window of the Institute right into a flower bed, where there was a neatly laid out portrait of Stalin in dahlias. Pozhenyan was called to the Institute director's office to explain his behavior. "You will never set foot in this Institute again!" announced the director furiously. When he heard that, Pozhenyan, pretending to take the director literally, stood on his hands and walked out of the director's office upside down.