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"Look," he said, "I had the strength. That's the important thing. I was ready for this championship. If I could have gotten the weight in the snatch, I could have done 250 kilos [five more than Rakhmanov lifted in winning]. I am not finished."
For two years Alekseyev has been a man of mystery. In 1978 he was going for his ninth straight world championship, at Gettysburg, Pa., but in his first try in the clean and jerk he made a halfhearted attempt and then limped off, holding his hip. He didn't talk to the press afterward, and the speculation that came out of Gettysburg that night was that the world had seen the last of Alekseyev. For eight years he had been unbeaten. He had dominated the weightlifting world as no man ever had. He had set 82 records. John Good-body, a weightlifting expert from England, wrote that no athlete in any sport could match Alekseyev's achievements. He was 3� times stronger than the average man, and what athlete could say he was 3� times more proficient than the rest of the world? A runner? A swimmer? A shot or discus man? Not likely.
Alekseyev had moved to an apartment near Moscow, but after the Gettysburg disaster he went back to his house in Shakhty, a small coal-mining town 800 miles to the southwest of the Soviet capital. His training became a very private affair—if he was training at all. No one was quite sure. He was supposed to compete in the 1979 world championships in Thessaloniki, Greece, and the other lifters looked nervously over their shoulders waiting for the giant shadow to fall, but Alekseyev never showed up.
He hadn't competed in 1980. He was supposed to have qualified in a March 9 competition in Podolsk, U.S.S.R. but none of the reports of the event the next day carried his name.
"He told me, 'What do I need that for?' " said Aleksandr Gavrilovets, the chief of the International Sports Writers Commission of Weight Lifting. "He said, 'You know my training methods. I can achieve the qualifying weight anytime I want.' But he still had to come in with some kind of qualification before the Games, so a few days before the Olympics he strode into the Izmailovo Sport Palace, lifted the qualifying weight rather easily and left the hall. He was enormous. He weighed 379 pounds, which would have made him the heaviest man ever to step on the platform. He said, 'I will be lighter for the competition.' "
On Wednesday he weighed in at 357 pounds, and when he walked out onto the platform, rubbing his hands in front of him, his heavy brows drawn together, the crowd let out a cheer, broken by occasional shouts of "My s toboi!" (We're with you!). Twelve minutes later he was finished, and the crowd found another idol to cheer, the 6'2", 321-pound Rakhmanov, the 1979 world champion. Flat-faced, slightly Oriental looking, he is the product of a Ukrainian mother and a father from the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan.
After Rakhmanov had won his gold medal, tying Alekseyev's Olympic record of 440 kilos (970 pounds), he was asked how it felt seeing a great champion hooted out of the arena. "I was sad," he said, "but I don't think it was a tragedy. It was sort of an accident—no, not even an accident, an incident. It happens with weightlifters. Sport is sport."
"I didn't hear the whistles. I didn't hear anything out there," Alekseyev said. "The important thing is that now I am back."
"Back to show the people who whistled at you?" he was asked. Alekseyev drew himself up to his full height and paused before answering. "Alekseyev," he said, "will show himself."