O'Leary has also
branched out into "stand-up" arm wrestling, in which the opponents face
each other, as usual, elbows down on a pad, right hands in a thumb-to-thumb
grip and left hands gripping vertical pegs on each side of the table. But
instead of being seated, they stand. In both styles, a referee starts a match
by gripping the locked hands and centering them. He says, "Ready," then
shouts, "Go!" as he removes his hands. Purists correctly assert that
the stand-up style of play places a higher priority on technique than does the
seated, where raw strength is more important, but each style has its advocates,
and so O'Leary has decided to sanction both.
of the reasons for the popularity of the standing style is that it has received
a great deal of publicity through the years from the Petaluma contest on ABC's
Wide World of Sports. The Petaluma event has always featured stand-up play, and
this has influenced other promoters besides O'Leary. It also features the one
characteristic of wrist wrestling that continues to separate it from arm
wrestling: the opponents' left hands, rather than gripping vertical pegs, grasp
each other in the space between the planted right elbows and below the
thumblocked right hands. This double-grip style of play, in the opinion of many
competitors, vitiates the spirit of the sport by providing too many
opportunities for techniques that not only are hard to officiate but often foil
superior strength. The other major promoter in this country, Steve Simons, of
the World Professional Armwrestling Association, evidently agrees with these
competitors, because his organization, which for the last several years has
promoted events with the biggest purses, uses a pegged table.
Whether or not the
philosophical, personal, political and monetary differences among the three
major, and the dozen or so minor, organizations in the sport will ever be
sufficiently resolved to permit standardization of the rules seems unlikely.
Promoter George Koulizos of Houston is trying at least to bring the groups
together for discussions. One thing is certain—some sort of standardization
would benefit both the athletes and, in the long run, the sport itself.
"Hey, look at
it this way," Al Turner says, warming to the subject. "I pulled in the
220-pound class at Scranton, sitting down, then dropped to the 200-pound class
two weeks later for the big stand-up meet in Ontario, since they didn't have a
220-pound class. How can a guy train to be at his best at a certain body weight
and style with that facing him? How do you think a good light heavy would feel
if he had to fight one month at 166, the next month at 184 and the next at 175?
And if half the time he couldn't hit out of a crouch? C'mon."
In the old days,
these discrepancies would not have mattered so much to Turner. Back then he
took on anyone, any size, any style. But the purses are growing. He won the
$750 first prize in Ontario and $500 last month in Kansas City, and he has now
been putting in some hours in his homemade gym for a change because—dare it be
said?—he may not have more than 10 or 12 years at the top.
In 1974, having
lost in the finals of the nationals to Stanaway for the second year in a row,
Turner thought he would hang it up. Reasoning that he had had a lot of great
matches, a lot of laughs and a fairytale year in 1972, and that he was, after
all, 46 years old, he figured it was time to yield to the young bulls. What he
failed to figure on was a weight lifter and arm wrestler from Nashua, N.H., by
the name of Ralph Raymond, a New England Frenchman who invited him up right
after the "retirement" and told him, "Al, you got too much in the
heart and too much in the arm to let it go. You've never even trained, for
God's sake! Nature, she can only do so much. You come to my gym a couple times
a month and we train. Next year we get that Stanaway."
And next year they
did. Since 1974, when Turner began to train with Raymond and regained his
national championship, no one within 75 pounds of his body weight has put him
down, if you except a controversial decision last year in the finals of the
World Professional Armwrestling Championships in Houston, when Bob Howell, a
powerful young player from Reno, got the jump on Turner by making his move
before the referee had called "go." The ref didn't call it, and Turner
was so far down before he began to pull that, strong as he was, he couldn't
make it back.
Just how strong is
this 5'11�", 205-pound, 50-year-old man? Well, he can hold himself steady
for 15 seconds in a halfway position in a chin-up, with 75 pounds tied to his
waist, using only one hand. With four years of concentrated weight training
added to his natural gifts, no one in the sport, not even the super-heavies of
242 pounds and more, can handle the poundages he can in the specialized
exercises—one-arm curls, wrist curls, table curls—favored by arm wrestlers.
These days, although he often runs five miles a day and handles quite a bit of
lumber at the yard, most of his exercise is done in the attic over the
second-story walkup apartment where he lives with Barbara, his wife of 29
years. He goes up to the attic, which is lit by a single bulb on a long cord,
at least four evenings a week and tackles a two-hour session of arm, wrist and
hand work with dumbbells and pulleys and leverage devices that would sore up an
But his most
important workouts come once every two weeks when either he and Barbara drive
up to Nashua or Ralph Raymond and his wife drive down to Brockton. In a corner
of the Turners' neat dining room, in a place of honor surrounded by 50 or 60
arm-wrestling trophies, is a framed statement, given to Turner by Raymond.
"What a disgrace it is," the plaque reads, "for a man to grow old
without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is
And so, every
second Saturday, they stand side by side and read that statement (Raymond has
one, too) and then they put a case of beer in a cooler and disappear into their
gym, reappearing three or four hours later after having pushed, pulled, yanked
and twisted on the weights, after having pushed, pulled, yanked and twisted on
each other, and after, of course, having drunk every last beer in the cooler.
"I love those Saturdays," Turner says, in that wonderful boxer's voice,
"We don't drink fast, but we drink steady. It keeps us loose, prevents
injuries. We have to be careful. Ralph's 49, you know."