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It’s 2016 and this year marks the end of my first 50 years in powerlifting. I have seen a lot in 50 years as powerlifting has introduced me to all of my friends as well as most good and bad memories. Looking back, I have seen all the best lifters of the past 50 years.
Most will remember the latest and greatest like Hoff, Frankel, Conan and Bridges. While they were undoubtedly unbeatable, they were untested for the most part. But there is one man that comes to mind that was contested by the fact he could be beaten on a bad day if someone else had a great day.
I met him in my first power meet in the summer of 1966 just prior to being drafted into the United States Army 50 years ago. In that meet there were four men who would become IPF World Champs: Milt McKenzie, George Crawford, Vince Anello and, last but not least, Larry Pacifico, the subject of this article. After getting out of the Army I started to compete in and around Ohio. Larry was the one getting all of the attention setting American records before World records were official. His form was a model of perfection, but his physical strength was amazing in the squat and bench.
He[MCJ1] was doing the Bridges Flair before Mike was doing it. He was a tremendous bencher. And there were no bench shirts until 1984, so his bench was raw as they say nowadays. Oh yeah, no squat suit until about 1976, and no disrespect, but the squat suits were not much. They were called Spanjam. There was a two-hour weigh-in and no round system. Yes, a 198 weighed 198 not 225 at meet time with todays 24-hour weigh-ins.
I recall weighing less after a meet back in those days. I would ask Larry how to push up my bench and Larry would say to train my triceps because they are 75 percent of your bench. I would hear it from him every meet when he told me if I did not get a better bench I would never win at nationals. He was right.
After 10 years‑‑from 1970 to 1980‑‑I won my first nationals with my first top-ten bench. He was right. He also would tell others if they wanted to get a bigger bench gain weight. Yeah he was right. Well most know he won nine straight before making a tactical error when he jumped five pounds on his second attempt on the deadlift, which nullified a third attempt, letting Mark Dimiduk win the1980s nationals and worlds.
Larry told me if I would open lighter I would do better, and he was right again.
I remember Larry making a 530-pound bench press and a 1,900 total in 1972 in Cincinnati, Ohio, at a body weight of 198. And in Daytona, Ohio, eight weeks later he made a 590-pound bench press at 228 bodyweight. There was no 220 class yet. This was one of the most amazing feats of strength I had ever seen at that time. But while he was doing amazing feats of strength, Larry also was always making a judge, Jerom Weiss, mad. One time while weighing in Larry was standing on one foot just to bug him. We know Larry was one of the greatest lifters of all time, but not much is known about many. Things like how they trained in the beginning.
I started training at Bob Matz’s gym in Toledo, Ohio, with George Crawford and Milt McKenzie, but won world titles along with Larry.
Larry would drive from Dayton to Toledo for four years using a simple 5-3-1 system. I envied Larry for having such good training partners and a coach like Bob Matz. Bob Matz would judge meets and was down right scary to look at. No one ever say a word to him no matter what.
Lou: I recall soon after getting home from the army in 1970 you set a national total record on the same day as Joe Weinstein at 1675 at 198.
Larry: Yes. We had a rivalry in the early 70s.
Lou: Before we get into your powerlifting life, did you ever play other sports?
Larry: Yes. I was a gymnast in New York where I grew up. I also was a shotput and discus thrower and won Athlete of the Year in New York in 1964. I weighed 150 pounds back then.
Lou: When you moved to Dayton what was your occupation? And tell me something about your personal life.
Larry: I was vice president of Holiday and New Life Spas, there were 20 of us all total. I have three kids: Jimmy who works with me at Pacifico Power, Pat who lives in Coco Beach, and daughter Theresa Nelson. I was married three times.
Lou: How many world records did you break in your illustrious career?
Lou: I know you had rivals along the way. I also know you were never cocky or arrogant, but totally confident and fun when I was around you. At meets a certain aura surrounded you.
Larry: My first rival was Joe Weinstein. Then Ronnie Ray from Texas and a guy they called Mel Hennessey of Minnesota. He trained with Don Cundy the first to make an 800 deadlift, and Jerry Gones who would wear a superhero suit at a meet and a wig. They called Mel the king of the bench press. When we competed against each other I won 575 to 505.
Lou: Was there somebody you loved to beat?
Larry: Yes. Ed Baueuscroft of California. I guess he got too much publicity and I wanted to crush him. That’s what makes powerlifting such a great sport. There was no money meets back then.
Lou: What motivated you back then?
Larry: A strong desire to be the best and win all the time at anything.
Lou: There were other super stars from England. Ron Collins who would mostly lift at 181 and you were mostly a 198 and there was a lot of talk of a match between you.
Larry: Yes, it would be at 198, but never happened.
Lou: You won nine worlds starting in 1971, it ended at Wisconsin in 1980. What really happened that day that allowed Mark Dimiduk to win the 1980 SR nationals and that would select the 1980 world team members.
Larry: On a second attempt deadlift I wanted a 5 kg jump. I must have said 5 pounds which was a 2.5kg jump[MCJ2] . The rule said small jump of 2.5 kg would nullify a third and that is how I lost the bid for my 10th world championship.
Lou: Tell us about your most memorable world championship.
Larry: That would be my first in 1971 against John Kanter. I won on bodyweight after John missed a third deadlift. Both of us totaled 1,815.
Lou: What happened when you lifted against Paul Jordan of Austraila?
Larry: Paul was talking about winning the world against my friend and fellow Ohioian Vince Annelo the greatest deadlifter. So as we got off the plane Paul was waiting for us to step off the plane. When he first saw Vince he could tell he had dropped down to 198, then he saw me all bulked up and ready for battle. I could not believe it Paul was calling my room and even trying to send girls to my room. In the meet Paul tore a quad and broke an ankle. And I won the worlds. It seems that Jordan’s powerlifting was gone, but good fortune would be his as he began to train horses and became Australia’s top horse trainer.
Lou: You know all the greats and beat them all: Marv, Phillips, Roger Estep … the list is too long. And then one day it was over.
Larry: Yes I have had 16 surgeries from powerlifting including one freak accident when I almost cut my fingers off when I dropped a bar on myself.
Lou: I know you were one of the first to sell power knee wraps and suits.
Larry: Yes. I came up with a wrestling singlet with legs, but somehow George Langas took the idea and sold them under the name Spanjam, which I distributed.
Lou: You had a lot of lifters come stay with you such as Mike Bridges who you said was the strongest man under 200 pounds. And Don Reinhoudt the SHW world champ. And your team Power Elite with your lifters including Topsogov Studer.
Larry: We had a great team back then and I will always look back to the early days without so much politics.
Lou: I want to thank you for doing this interview and for the memories you have left imprinted on powerlifting and after knowing you for the last fifty years, on me. Thanks.