Yury Petrovich Vlasov (Russian: Юрий Петрович Власов; born 5 December 1935) is a Soviet writer and retired heavyweight weightlifter and politician. He competed at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and won a gold medal in 1960 and a silver in 1964; at both games he was the Olympic flag bearer for the Soviet Union. During his career Vlasov won four world titles and set 31 ratified world records. He retired in 1968 and became a prominent writer and later a politician. He was a member of the Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union (1989) and then of the Russian State Duma (1993) and took part in the 1996 Russian presidential election.
Early life and competitive career
Yury was born in Makeyevka, Ukrainian SSR, to the family of Pyotr Vlasov (1905–1953), a military journalist and Komintern agent. His father worked as the General Consul in Shanghai and then the Ambassador to Burma.
Yury studied at the Saratov Suvorov military school (1946–1953), then at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy in Moscow, from which he graduated with honors in 1959. In 1956, while studying at the Academy he became interested in weightlifting, joined the Armed Forces sports society and soon became Master of Sport of the USSR (1957). He was noticed in 1958 when he finished third at the Soviet Union championships. Between 1959 and 1963 he won all the competitions he participated in, with a major success at the Rome 1960 Summer Olympics where he set three world records and became the first man to clean and jerk more than 200 kg (202.5). He was proclaimed the best sportsmen of the 1960 Olympics and the "Strongest Man on the Planet". He was considered a nerdish intellectual in rim glasses, going against the stereotypes attached to weightlifting.
At the 1964 Summer Olympics he finished second, after another Soviet weightlifter, Leonid Zhabotinsky. Vlasov was breaking world records at the 1964 Olympics and was aiming to retire from competitions with the gold medal. He was bitterly disappointed by the tactical tricks played by Zhabotinsky during the final clean-and-jerk event, which he considered dishonest – Zhabotinsky intentionally failed his second attempt, and talked and behaved as if he does not compete for the gold medal. In reality Zhabotinsky merely positioned himself behind Vlasov, who started the event first, and in his last attempt would order (and lift) any weight required to win the overall competition.
Although Vlasov announced his retirement after the 1964 Olympics, he resumed top-level training in 1966 for financial reasons. He set his last world record on 15 May 1967, by pressing 199 kg, for which he received 850 rubles. Vlasov retired from senior competitions in June 1968. Around the same time he also retired from the Soviet Army, where he worked as a sports instructor. He held the rank of Captain. In 1969, while lecturing in Norway, he was asked to lift 200 kg, which he easily did despite a year-long break in training.
- Olympic champion (1960); silver medalist in 1964;
- Four-time world champion (1959, 1961–1963); silver medalist in 1964;
- Six-time consecutive European champion (1959–1964);
- Set thirty four world records.
Legacy and awards
At the peak of his popularity Vlasov was frequently included to international delegations visiting foreign leaders, such as Fidel Castro and Charles de Gaulle. He was a favorite of Nikita Khrushchev; Leonid Brezhnev offered him a position of a personal adviser on China, and Yuri Andropov was supervising his book The Vladimirov diaries: Yenan, China, 1942–1945 as it involved Soviet intelligence activities.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, seven-times Mr. Olympia, considered Vlasov as a major motivation for his career as a bodybuilder and a strongman. They first met at the 1961 World Championships in Vienna when Schwarzenegger was only 14. Vlasov does not recall what he said to Schwarzenegger then, but remembers that he was excited after winning the championships and encouraged Schwarzenegger to continue strength training no matter what. In 1988, while filming Red Heat in Moscow, Schwarzenegger insisted on meeting Vlasov, who by then fell out of grace of Soviet leaders, and gave him his photograph signed "To my Idol Yuri Vlasov".
For his weighlifting victories Vlasov was awarded the Order of Lenin (1960) and Order of the Badge of Honour (1964 or 1965). He was a member of the Union of Soviet Writers and is a member of the Union of Russian Writers.
Post-retirement sports activities
Vlasov's health suddenly deteriorated in 1978–1979, which he related to a nervous breakdown due to his writing activities but not to weightlifting. Later he had a few surgeries on his spine. In the 1980s he returned to the top sport as a functionary – between 1985 and 1987 he was president of the Soviet Weightlifting Federation, and from 1987 to 1989 headed the Soviet Bodybuilding Federation. A doping-free athlete, he was stunned by the massive use of anabolic steroids by weightlifters and bodybuilders in those years.
Vlasov continued training with weights through most of his life. In 2004, aged 69, he took part in a masters competition in Moscow and lifted 185 kg in the clean and jerk event. By then he lowered his body weight to 109 kg, while his maximum senior weight was 136.4 kg at the 1964 Olympics.
Vlasov became a professional writer and journalist years before his retirement from competitions – his short stories were published by Soviet newspapers back in 1959. In 1961 he won a prize for best sports story from the Union of Soviet Writers. Starting from the 1962 European Championships, he was attending international competitions not only as a weightlifter, but also as a special correspondent to the major Soviet newspaper Izvestia. Before the 1964 Olympics he published his first book, a collection of short stories titled Overcoming Yourself.
After retiring from competitions and from the military service in 1968 Vlasov fully dedicated himself to writing. He published over 15 novels, most notably the Flaming Cross trilogy (1991–93) about life during and after the Russian Revolution, and more than 10 short story collections. His books were translated into several languages, including English. In 1973 he edited and published his father’s diaries titled The Vladimirov diaries: Yenan, China, 1942–1945, which were translated into six languages, including English and Chinese. In that book, Vlasov uses the pen name of his father, Vladimirov.
Other books by Vlasov (with ISBN numbers) include
- (3 volumes)
Vlasov was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies for the Lyublyansky district of Moscow in 1989 and broke from the Communist Party. In parliament he started as a member of the liberal Inter-regional Deputies Group, along with Andrei Sakharov, Anatoly Sobchak and Boris Yeltsin, but later became close to nationalists and Christian Democrats.
In 1993, he was elected to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. He was a candidate in the 1996 Russian presidential election, but received only 0.20% of the votes and retired from politics.
Vlasov had a brother Boris. He first married in 1957, to Natalia Modorova, a student of the Moscow Institute of Arts who was visiting his gym to draw athletes. They had a daughter Yelena. Vlasov remarried in 1976, after the death of his first wife, to Larisa Sergeyevna Vlasova, a student 21 years his junior. In his memoirs Vlasov mentions that he had another daughter, perhaps with Larisa. According to his 1960 Olympic teammate Boris Nikonorov Vlasov spoke fluent English at the Rome Olympics.