Written by Chad Wesley Smith
In the age of YouTube, Instagram, and the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of Internet fitness, it is easy to forget about many of the trailblazing athletes who helped push the envelope and inspire the lifters of today. As a fan of all things strength, I think it is important to celebrate the history of these sports and be aware of the greats who came before. Last time we introduced you to these greats, here are a few more of my favorites:
To me, Jon Cole is the ultimate strength athlete, excelling at the highest levels in a variety of sports, Cole has been a huge inspiration to my strength sports career. With a background in track and field, Cole transitioned to being one of the world’s greatest powerlifters of all time, while concurrently competing at the highest levels of American weightlifting.
Cole, though, did not simply dabble in a number of sports – he dominated. A true athletic phenom, Cole’s talents weren’t limited to just one discipline; he very likely could have excelled in any field of his choosing.
Cole’s track career was storied, with a National Championship in the discus in 1969, he owned PRs of 70.59m/231’7” in the discus and 21.74m/71’4” in the shot put, both which would be top-level throws in the world today. Plus, he had other unique and amazing accomplishments of a 9.9-second 100-yard dash at 258 pounds bodyweight, and he reportedly kicked a 68-yard field goal and threw a baseball 435 feet (think from deep in the center field stands to home plate).
Cole’s weightlifting career, while limited, was also impressive. He owned a three-lift total (back when the clean and press was still included) of 1,200 pounds, just 100 pounds short of then-World Champion Ken Patera. Cole’s weightlifting bests were 155kg in the snatch, 195kg clean and jerk, and 195kg clean and press.
Powerlifting, though, is where Cole earned his greatest achievements, as he dominated the 242, 275, and 308 weight classes in the 1970s. With ace bandages on his knees and a belt on his waist, Cole totaled 2,135@242 (797/424/813), 2,259@275 (869/570/820), and an amazing 2,364@308 (901.5/580/882.5).
Cole’s incredible 2,364-pound total in the 308 class was done at just a 283-pound bodyweight (2-hour weigh-in) and stood as the all-time total record from 1972 until 2014 when it was broken by Eric Lilliebridge. Cole’s supertotal (snatch + clean and jerk + squat + bench + deadlift) of 3,163 pounds has only been surpassed by Mark Henry and Misha Koklyaev.
Urik Vardanian is one of the most celebrated weightlifters in Soviet History (hailing from what is now Armenia), and for good reason. Vardanian’s career is a long list of amazing lifts and titles won.
Vardanian is a 7x World Champion (plus one silver) in the 75kg class up to the 90kg class and was the first lifter to total 400kg at 82.5kg class. Urik added the 1980 Olympic Gold medal to his resume as well as five European Championships and four USSR National Titles.
In his 1980 Olympic Gold Medal performance, Vardanian became the first light-heavyweight (82.5kg class) lifter to total 400kg in competition, crushing the World and Olympic records and also out-totaling the 90kg, 100kg, and 110kg class champions!
Vardanian finished his career with PRs in the 82.5kg class of 182.5/224/405kg and in the 90kg class of 190/228/415kg. His 417.5kg total in the 90kg class is only 4kg below the current 94kg class total World Record of Ilya Ilyin.
Vardanian broke 43 World Records during his competitive career, a number only surpassed by David Riegert and Vasiliy Alexeev and is one of only three athletes ever to break World Records in three different weight classes.
As amazing as all of his weightlifting numbers are, a story I recently heard about Urik stands out to me about his amazing general athleticism. A few weeks ago, a new NFL Combine record was set in the standing broad jump of 3.73m/12’3”, and that lead to one of my coaching friends bringing up a story of Urik – known for his great leaping ability and explosive power – performing a broad jump of 4.10m/13’5”. That’s more than a foot better than the best ever result of an NFL player!
Vardanian has gone on to a long and successful political career in his home country of Armenia and is the father of one of the U.S.’s current best lifters and 2012 Olympian Norik Vardanian.
Feuerbach is another athlete who excelled in multiple strength disciplines and displayed freakish athleticism.
At only 5’10” tall – relatively diminutive for World Class shot putters – Feuerbach broke the World Record with a throw of 21.82m/71’7”, breaking another all-time great Randy Matson’s 7-year-old record. Feuerbach also utilized the glide technique, a throwing style normally not ideal for short throwers, making his accomplishments all the more impressive.
Feuerbach was a 4-time U.S. Champion in the shot and finished second in the heavyweight division of weightlifting nationals. At 110kg/242lb. bodyweight, Feuerbach snatched 155kg and clean and jerked 190kg to finish second at U.S. Nationals.
Feuerbach should also be inducted into the 1970s Hair/Headband Hall of Fame to go along with his amazing strength exploits. Like Vardanian, Feuerbach also possessed amazing jumping ability. At a nearly 250-pound bodyweight, he is reported to have completed a standing broad jump of 3.78m/12’5”, 2 inches farther than the best NFL Combine result of all time at more than 50 pounds higher bodyweight.
There are lots of amazing athletes throughout the history of strength sports, and I would encourage you to look beyond the current top competitors in your particular sport and find lots of great training information and inspiration from athletes of the past and to celebrate all types of strength!
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