WSBB Blog: The Russian Bear Aleksandr Karelin

WSBB Education
Thu Apr 22, 2021

Tags: Grappling, MMAGrip

Time to Read: 4min

One of the most prolific grapplers of the modern era, and one of the most successful wrestlers of all time, Aleksandr Karelin is a Russian wrestling legend. Born September 19, 1967 in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia, he was reported to have weighed 15 pounds at birth. At age 13, he began wrestling and was coached by Viktor Kusnetzov.

He had made a name for himself by becoming a master of the reverse body lift, a maneuver not typically seen in heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling matches. Karelin was reported to stand 6’3” and weigh in at 290 pounds at his athletic peak, and due to his rare strength was able to use the reverse body lift to devastatingly slam his opponents into the mat. He was known for his strict and intense weight training regimen, utilizing olympic lifts and kettlebell training.

He advanced quickly through the junior ranks, and in 1987 he became world junior champion earning him a place on the Soviet national wrestling team.

Once on the Soviet national team, Karelin quickly made a name for himself. In that same year, 1987, he took the gold medal at the World Cup. In 1988 he would have continued success, winning gold at both the European Games and the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics.

After starting out with massive success the bar was set high, but Karelin continued putting together an unbelievable gold medal winning streak. He would win gold at the 1989, 1990, and 1991 World Wrestling Championships, the 1989, 1990, and 1991 European Championships, and the 1992 World Cup. His next stop was the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

He would go on to pin all but one of his opponents, winning yet another Olympic gold medal. Now, being a two time Olympic gold medalist, Karelin had become a Russian sports superstar. He continued on the path of wrestling immortality winning gold at the 1993, 1994, and 1995 Wrestling World Championships, as well as the 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996 European Wrestling Championships.

At this point in his career, Karelin had become one of the most feared wrestlers on the planet. At the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, Karelin went on to win yet another Olympic gold medal solidifying himself as not only a Russian sports icon, but an Olympic Games legend. Most would consider this an incredible career, however Karelin was not finished yet.

He went on to win gold at the 1997, 1998, and 1999 World Wrestling Championships, and at the 1998, 1999, and 2000 European Wrestling Championships. With the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia approaching, it was expected that Karelin would go on to dominate and win yet another Olympic gold medal. He would win his first four matches of the Olympic Games, not giving up a single point to any opponent. However, in the Gold medal match, he would lose to Rulon Gardner 0-1 following a penalty for an illegal grip.

The penalty that cost Karelin the point, and ultimately the gold medal, was only instituted in the 2000 Olympic Games.

Aleksandr Karelin finished his career with 12 European Wrestling Championship gold medals, 9 World Wrestling Championship gold medals, 2 Wrestling World Cup gold medals, and 3 Olympic gold medals. Leading up to his silver medal finish at the 2000 Olympic Games, Karelin had not given up a point in six years. Once retired, Aleksandr Karelin continued to excel. He holds a PhD titled “Methods of execution of suplex throw counters”, as well as a law degree.

He was named the best Greco-Roman wrestler of the 20th century, and is a member of the International Wrestling Hall of Fame. Aleksandr Karelin embodies all of the traits a champion must have; discipline, intelligence, willpower, and aggression. We at Westside Barbell tip our cap to Mr. Karelin, and hold him in high regard as both an athlete and a human being.