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Maestro of the Iron Game

Interview with Rudolf Plukfelder, December 2002
by Yevgeny Malkin, Kiev Vedomosti, December 2002
Translation by Arthur Chidlovski

I was shocked to see Rudolph Plukfelder there. Multiple national, World and European champion, legendary Soviet weighlifter, he now resides in Germany. What happened?

My departure from Russia is connected with my conflict with Vasily Alexeev, famous super heavyweight and my student. After he publicly burned his tape of an honored citizen of Ryazan where he lived at the time, he was offered to move to his old place in Shakhty. I lived there and trained local weightlifters. He nicknamed me as "SS Rudolph" pointing to my nationality. Because of Alexeev, I lost my best students David Rigert and Nikolay Kolesnikov. But it wasn't enough for Vasily and he began to threaten me. By that time, Alexeev already served time in jail for ruthless beating of a man. But they pulled him out from jail because he was a "pride of Soviet sport". Anyway, I received an invitation from Lithuania and left the town. But the perestroika's mess and especially execution in front of the Vilnus TV Center pushed our family to depart for Germany.

Rudolph, why was your last name changed in the Soviet media?

When I was arrested after escape from the Narym's exile, my papers were lost by police. My birth certificate was taken by the German authorities when they occupied Russia. I got a duplicate certificate based in my brother's words. The clerk thought that Plukfelder is easier to pronounce than Plugfelder.

What was the reason for your exile?

Like all Soviet Germans, I was deported to Siberia. Our family was deported on September 29, 1941. My father and brother were shot to death on November 5.

Why did you choose Olympic weightlifting?

I began with wrestling. In 1947 and 1948, I won the championship of Siberia and Far East. But when they added another 25 years of exile to all deported Germans, we were forbidden to travel to other cities. I had to change my specialty to Olympic weightlifting. Life taught us early how to weigh things up. By 1958, I set several world records, but the sports media and authorities tried to ignore that. In order to make it to the national Soviet team, I had to be heads and shoulders above my opponents. Beginning with the USSR vs. Poland meet, I won all tournaments for six consecutive years inluding the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

You managed to beat all world records of the first Soviet world champion, legendary Grigory Novak from Kiev...

When I was introduced to him, Grigory was very suprprised by my physique. My biceps was 36 cm, his biceps was 48 cm! If he was performing the press strictly by strength, I used techniques. We were very friendly up to the day he died. I consider Novak one of the best lifters of all times, along with Arkady Vorobyev, Yury Vlasov and Leonid Zhabotinsky. As for the younger generations, I would say David Rigert and Yurik Vardanyan are part of that group.

You are the best coach. You are the only coach in the history of Olympic weightlifting that prepared six Olympic champions that set over 200 world records.

During all my career of competitive weightlifter, I was making notes about training process and by the time I moved to Shakhty I had a solid material for coaching. I never allowed any "medics" to get close to my students. I was always against usage of medical stimulants and didn't let my students use them too. I can proudly say that my students - Olympic champions Alexey Vakhonin, Nikolay Kolesnikov and David Rigert won clean, no medications involved.

Rudolph, you look very trim and energetic at 74. How do you manage to do it?

I don't drink alcohol and I don't smoke. I do daily running and do weightlifting exercises 3-4 times a week. My bodyweight is 90 kilos and I clean and jerk 100 kilos and squat 160 kilos. Ten years ago I won a gold medal among seniors in England. It was my last trip to such tournament. I am not interested and it's expensive. My pension doesn't allow me to wheel araound Europe.

How about the national German team? Have you ever been offered to work with it?

I assume they have enough local experts. I don't think the German federation of Olympic weightlifting even know that I live here.

Do you have nostalgic feelings about Russia?

My family and myself don't have very pleasant feelings remembering that country. Remember what happened when they started to talk about bringing back the autonomic republic of Germans on the Volga River? There was even a saying "Better having AIDS than Germans on the Volga". No one calls us Nazis here, we are not afraid to walk on the streets and don't have daily problems. We feel free here.

 

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Gallery

Videos and Gallery of Rudolf Plukfelder is available in his section of the Hall of Fame @ Lift Up.

 

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