Soviet Legends: The Tale of Vyacheslav Lemeshev (Part 2)

18.04.05 - By Izyaslav “Slava” Koza, and Andrei “the Shark” Nikolaev: In 1978, Lemeshev, who was part of the armed forces, found himself in the German Democratic Republic. This honorary assignment as trainer of the military contingent was used as a way of painting over the current situation of the former number one in Amateur boxing. Still young at 28, Vycheslav the trainer, could not handle being outside the ring and from time to time put on a pair of boxing gloves.

Victor Ageev: “I was Lemeshev’s second in a fight with some unknown class one fighter. When he went to enter the ring, he was so worried that his lips became blue. He didn’t seem like himself; he was so entrapped, so wound up. He couldn’t land his right. His speed was gone. His opponent was staring wide-eyed at the Olympic champ, and suddenly landed a right of his own and scored. Vycheslav didn’t have a chance to block or even brace for the punch. It was a very vicious knockout.”

Alexander Vasushkin: “One time in Germany I was a second for this one guy, a soldier, in a fight with Slava. So I’m telling him before the fight, something like don’t be that scared, nothing horrible will happen, box as best you can, and if anything goes wrong, remember the guy is an Olympic champ, so you know I can throw in the towel and that will be it. So, no worries, go get him. So he goes out there and hits him so hard, Slava flies under the ropes.”

Time flew at that point for Lemeshev. At 29, his health rapidly deteriorated. Lemeshev: “When I lived in Germany, I was serving there as a retiree. I went through a medical examination, and there the illnesses were only starting to show up. I started fainting a few times. Doctors told me straight out: you are relegated to doing physical labor. In fact, only outdoors. Your organism has gotten used to great physical stress.”

Nickolai Puchkov and Evgeni Vasyushkin: “In order to be successful in boxing, your regiment has to be consistent and very stringent. You have to hold yourself in a vise. If you begin to relax, then all of it comes down on you.

His brother, master of sports in boxing, now deceased, Yuri Lemeshev: “In 1983, Slava came back from Germany. He was already being overcome by sickness: epilepsy, Cerosis. At first, he was given class two disability, and after awhile class one. Some friends of his found him a job digging graves, because living on a single disability pension was impossible.”

This episode of his life was later the topic of many different theories, in regards to how was it that an Olympic champion can sink so low, digging graves with some blue collar bums.

Vyacheslav saw this a bit differently: "Working as a gravedigger? Well, that’s a little harsh; I did it for only a couple of months. I’m not embarrassed by it though. What’s so wrong about it? When I got back from Germany somebody offered me the job purely by accident, so I took it. You know how good I felt about myself? Although I did have to travel really far to get there. Tell me why is it so unfair: a famous athlete like a hockey, or soccer player, or even a boxer cannot just hide somewhere. Everybody is always examining you like an insect specimen or something; Oh look, first he moved that leg then that one. What if I would be standing next to a bar, with hat in hand, begging under a picture of a beer mug, collecting bread for my family? Would that really be better? Then somebody would say more confidently: see now he has hit rock bottom. But I worked. It was nothing for me; once I got used to working, that’s it… You could say the same thing about a mechanic (as a boxer): wow, look at how well he fixes cars. Why do we have to answer differently for our big names?”

At that time, Vyacheslav had to start putting little notes in his pocket, because his memory could not remember the long route to work.

“I finished my career because of age, and then I started getting sick. There are always rumors about how it was the sickness that did me in. How I could have won had I not been drinking? It was practically impossible either way. Its regular gossip. As soon as a person reaches his peak, attempts are made to drag him down by any means. Either he is an alcoholic, or cheats on his wife, or some such other thing…. Just as my wife Zina, we have lived together a long time, already bored to death of each other.”

Atrophy of the brain, epilepsy, severe loss of vision, Cerosis, and liver problems. “Who helped? Well, first of all, Otarik (Otari Kvantrishvili, author’s note), found me himself and offered to help. He always came by, and brought money, paid for the hospital. Told me: ‘Don’t be shy, Slava; If you need anything, just ask.’ He knew I wouldn’t go and beg at somebody’s doorstep, so he never asked. He knew the pension for disability was 47 thousand, and another 2 thousand from the Olympic committee. Last year I was lying in the hospital all the time, so I received my quarter. My friends helped too, of course. Vasili Solomin, Vladislav Zasipko, trainer Yuri Mikhailovich Radonyak. Doctor Steklovskii helps. Also didn’t wait for an invitation. Sends me powders, rubbing crème, single use syringes. Zina over there does the jabbing.”

In 1995, Slava underwent Cranial trepanation (holes drilled into the skull). For seven days he was lying in a coma half-dead. Yuri Lemeshev: “ We sat in the hospital the three of us, me, his wife Zina, and our older sister. After the trepanation, I took him to the World War Two veterans hospital. The doctor who examined him told me in all his years he had never seen such a damaged human brain.

Slava could not remember what happened that morning, but he did remember what happened long ago. How he met with his friend the forester, how he used to fish, how he went hunting that he remembered clearly. He was constantly hunting. In the Moscow countryside, rarely could somebody shoot down the rare game birds, but this kind of luck somehow fell in his lap. He used to shoot well. You could throw an apple in the air and he could hit it. Him and his friend Vasili Solomin used to love to go hunting different game together. The only problem was, that Vasya had an issue with hearing, while Slava had one with seeing. Still though regardless, the two of them, a deaf and a blind guy, brought back some good meat. For a long time, he was being promised money for treatment abroad. In the end, they promised to hand him a check for 10,000 dollars at a tournament dedicated to 100 years of Russian boxing. Slava couldn’t get there, however, he could not get up from bed. His wife went to receive the money. When I met her, she told me Slava wanted us to get him a pair of boxing gloves. Something about him being a boxer but not having gloves… We brought him a good pair. Slava put them on, hit them against one another and said: “ech, I was so strong once….” In one month’s time he was gone…”

“I lived with boxing all my life. Why is it scarier then other kinds of sports? Don’t hockey players get hit in the head too? Not long ago, they were showing the worst moments in hockey, when players were checked against the board and such. What about the 10,000 meters, and people who lose their consciousness at the finish line? What about weightlifting? And female gymnastics too? Its just all of it has to have qualifications. There has to be a competent judge and referee in there. We don’t have to many cowards here. All of us have to get up after a knockdown and jump back into battle. The result can only be left to a judge, in determining how the fight will end. He and only he can determine the condition of a boxer. We used to have some protection-some sort of lid on our head, with strings and ties. It mostly covered the ears well, so you couldn’t hear well probably. Although in truth anything you can find to put on, won’t save you from a skilled punch that connects well. So its not a matter of blaming the sport, but those who don’t do their job well.”

Lev Markovich Segalovich, who everybody called the the man with the smile, outlived his favorite student by five years. Now they lie together, at the Vagan’kavskaya cemetery (Moscow), although the trainer as deserved, lies a bit before the student and in a more honorary spot. This is how he remembered his best pupil: “ He was tall - 187 centimeters - and very strong. However, he didn’t give off the impression of a gladiator, seeing as his elongated muscles were almost unnoticeable. He could work relatively easily against boxers with powerful muscles, who depended on the strength of their punch. Usually these athletes are never that fast. Slava did everything unbelievably fast and accurate, and that is why most of his feints and punches were usually unexpected by his opponents.

After his victory in Munich, I met him at the airport. He came over and kissed me. Slava never forgot me; he always called, always wished me a happy new year, congratulated me on my birthday. Because he always called me his trainer, Radonyak and I both received a bonus, given to those who prepare an Olympic champion. Also, I was allowed to get a car, before my turn on the list. Finally, Slava’s success made me a “deserved, famed trainer of the USSR.”

The surprisingly shocking and severe boxing career of Lemeshev was played out in a very short period of time. At 20, he was the best at his weight class in the entire world, and at 28 he was terribly sick, and unable to do much of anything. It is such a shocking human fate, the fate, of Lemeshev, which was the most tragic of all the Soviet Olympic champions of boxing. Now when we, the boxing fans, speak of the Olympics, we first remember the amazing and very self strict Boris Lagutin, and also his biggest rival Viktor Ageev. Visiting boxing tournaments, we have the honor of talking with the wonderful Olympian of the 60’s, Oleg Grigorievich Grigoriev, and the Silver medallist of the Moscow Olympics, Petr Ivanovich Zaev. We speak with the humble and very honorable champion of the USSR Igor Yakovlevich Vysotskii, and four time Soviet champ Evgeni Gorstikov. We meet the member of the Soviet Senior team and participant in the USSR USA tournament, Aleksander Vasushkin. Yet, the name of the Olympic champion of the 1972 Munich games, Vyacheslav Ivanovich Lemeshev, who left us so early, is heard among boxing fans less and less. It’s not fair. His success belongs to all of us, and we all have the right to be proud of him..

Dedicated to the memory of Vycheslav Ivanovich Lemeshev. Gold Medalist of the 20th Olympiad in Munich, 2 time European champion (1973, 1975) and champion of the USSR in 1974.

1. Boxing Encyclopedia. Publisher Terra Sport, Moscow, 1998.
2. Newspaper “Soviet Sport,” Interview with V.I. Lemeshev’s wife, Zinaida Lemesheva. Author, M. Mayorova.
3. Newspaper “Sport Express” the article “Lemeshev, and opponents who dreamed of going three rounds with him.” A. Batasheva.
4. Newspaper “Moscow Komsomoletz.” Article of I. Stepantzev.

”Special thank you to all the above listed authors, as well as Nickolai Puchkov, Aleksander Vasushkin, as well as all my friends on the boxing sites and forums, and especially Gennadi “Komar” Komarnitzky, for organizing the trip to V.I. Lemeshev’s grave and for all his kindness” (Andrei “Akula” Nikolaev. 03, 04, 2005)

Article posted on 18.04.2005

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