Soviet Legends: Gennadi Ivanovich Shatkov - City, Legend, Hero

17.06.05 - By Izyaslav “Slava” Koza and Gennadi “Komar” Komarnitsky: “Victory Day” in the “Great Patriotic War (WW2),” is one of the most revered holidays in Russia. It wasn’t that we just saved the world from the Nazi plague, but that we also showed that we are ready to make those heroic sacrifices, which will be remembered forever. The war impacted practically every Soviet family forcing the country from June 22, 1941, to fight as a whole, single, united organism.. The Nazi army reached the city of Leningrad in a very short period after the start of hostilities. The significance of this city for Russia and its people, is not something that needs any unnecessary introduction. Even so, government officials were ill prepared for what lay ahead for the city and its inhabitants.

The process of evacuating people to the East had begun. “Vanya, grab the kids, or we won’t make the train. Don’t forget Genna’s textbooks and his winter clothes.” Seraphima Alekseevna was visibly worried. Should they leave everything? What is waiting for them in their new home? Can they settle there? Can their kids continue going to school?

Her husband, Ivan Grigorevich Shatkov, didn’t allow for any unneeded emotion. The boys should not be allowed to see their mother worry like this. The war will definitely end, and their children have to grow up and become real men. He always believed this. The train slowly crept away towards Gorky. There, but more precisely, in the village of Kulebaki, in the Nizhegorodski province, the Shatkov’s lived through the Leningrad blockade.

It’s hard to imagine the fate of this superb boxer, if his family had stayed in the besieged city. The same city, born a few centuries earlier, but on the same day as Gennadi Ivanovich Shatkov-May 27. Their fates (the city and the person) were intertwined forever. One of the most beautiful European cities, containing within it tremendous architecture, magnificent museums, and an Athlete-Scholar demonstrating magnificent quality in the ring and in the classroom. The great city and the great boxer Gennadi Shatkov.

Both of them lifted Russia up; they fought with such heated passion that could have easily incinerated any city and any person in its path. The victory in war proved our military determination as a people to fight. However, now came the time after the storm, where in we had to convince the world, that the same determination lives with in us outside our military prowess, when we do not have to face such uncompromising evil.

Soviet boxers were first able to compete at the 1952 Olympic games. Four years later, at the next competition in Melbourne, three guys in red shirts with the letters “USSR” on the back became gold medallists, while drawing applause and good-natured smiles from the crowd.

This was another victory. This time we as a nation were being stared at in a different light. We were equals thanks to these victories. So without further ado lets talk about one of the heroes from this “Mighty Trinity.”
1. A Kid from Petersburg

Komar: You were born in Leningrad? Were you there at all during the blockade? How did you come into the sport? Who “made” you a boxer?

Shatkov: I was born and raised in Leningrad and left it for an extended period only during the time of the blockade. Three months after the start of the war, my family and I were still in Piter (Leningrad), and then moved to the Gorky Region. If I had had to stay in Leningrad, I would not have survived, seeing as that feeling of hunger hits me worse then other people.
In my youth I really wanted to be a diplomat, but I didn’t have the important characteristics of being able to speak calmly, as well as make decisions in critical situations.

Thanks to my parents and my first trainer, Ivan Pavlovich Osipov, I never had problems in school. You can’t imagine, what kind of a person my trainer was though. He was my teacher, mentor, and most of all my role model in almost everything. The poorer the family that the teenager came from, the more attention he paid to the kid in the gym. I learned to imitate him in every way: I walked like him, talked with the same intonations, and I even learned to write like him.

Komar: You combined excellent grades in school with excellent results in the ring. Where did you excel most?

Shatkov: Well I finished school in 1951, but before that I had my first success in boxing in 1949. I became the bronze medallist among juniors at the USSR championships held in Rostov (-on-the-Don). In 1951 I was already Champion of Leningrad among Adults. During Soviet times, the government paid a lot of attention to the Junior and Adult sport programs, and every member of the USSR national team, found it necessary to do very well in school and improve their knowledge.

After I finished school I entered the Leningrad State University, and chose Law as my major. Five years of going to school, culminating with a diploma and full academic honors, ran parallel to victories in Soviet and International competitions.
I loved to learn, and it was easy for me to do so. In the ring at that time it was a bit harder. At my weight we had such tough opponent as Muscovite, Zhenya Feofanov, and representative of the Moscow region Askold Lyasota, who was by the way a great actor and journalist. If I can allow myself a bit of digression: At that time in our sports programs we had a lot of these multi talented, uncommon, athletes. For instance, Yuri Vlasov, a Weight Lifter, became a great writer, while Speed Skater Zoya Mironova became a great surgeon. Sport wasn’t the only thing that we had an opportunity to excel in.

2. Helping a World Legend

If we try to explain to American boxing fans, that a boxer from the middleweight division (<75 kg. After 1952), in which he has competed throughout his career, specifically gains weight to compete in a heavier division, they will not likely understand. This is not quite the same as say a special event, like the Roy Jones vs. John Ruiz super show, which is rather an exception that proves the rule not denies that it’s a fact. This is also not an instance where, a boxer is unable to make weight anymore, or wants to get a bigger payday for fighting a larger opponent. It’s also not a matter of methods of dropping weight in order to get in under the limit of a specific weight category, when in reality that boxer weighs 5-10 kg’s more.
I once asked Kostya Tzsyu, why he doesn’t compete at Welterweight. He explained to me that even for his own weight category he isn’t very tall, and at Welterweight he would be put at an even bigger weight disadvantage.

What we are talking about here is doing something “in the interest of the team, or in the special interest of certain government officials.” At the 1960 Olympics in Rome Gennadi Shatkov tried to disprove simple boxing logic. At those Olympics he met with one of the greatest fighters in the history of boxing. They both became champions, although at different weights, and they were both tested by life, and keep being tested by life, and have shown why they have accomplished what they did in their lives.

Its difficult to imagine to some perhaps, but if by some chance the Olympic games will be held in St. Petersburg in the near future, Gennadi Ivanovich, might also get the chance to light the Olympic flame.

Komar: The height of success for an amateur boxer is of course an Olympic medal (preferably gold). You earned your gold medal, at Middleweight, thus laying down the foundation for a tradition of successful fighters and victories at that weight. Your second attempt at a medal was not as successful. However that attempt is the one your fans and others remember and talk about most.

Shatkov: I always competed at Middleweight, and that is the weight I became Olympic champion at in 1956. Later, that was the weight that produced some of our other legendary fighters such as: Valeri Popenchenko, Vyacheslav Lemeshev, Viktor Savchenko, and Andrei Kurnyavka.

We had such dominating tendencies at that weight, that international boxers after watching our successful performances, felt fear and doubt in their own abilities. This is not really something you can say about the heavier (i.e. cruiser, heavy, and super) weight divisions, because these were primarily dominated by black fighters, who were usually both fearless and frightening in the eyes of other boxers.

As far as my second attempt at gold, here is how I remember it. I was the captain of the Soviet national team, and I couldn’t refuse the proposals of the trainers, and officials to compete, “in the interests of the team,” at light heavyweight (<81 kg.) and not at my own weight (<75 kg.).

As a result Zhenya Feofanov lost to Polish Walasek, who I beat at the European championships. Walasek took home the silver at Middle in Rome. As for me I had to meet with Cassius Clay in the quarterfinals.
I had to drink water right up until the weigh in, just so I could get in over 75 kg. And into light-heavy. Even for that weight I wasn’t a tall fighter, and facing me I had a tall, athletic, difficult fighter, and really one of the best representatives of the American school of boxing in Clay.

The adage “ A good big man beats a good little man,” doesn’t exist for nothing, because that is exactly what happened. He was taller and bigger.

My kind of fight, in keeping the action at a distance, was something I couldn’t rely on from the get-go. Even so the fight was even after two rounds. Everybody in the media at that time was going crazy about that fact. However in the third the “crafty” Middleweight, could hardly find something with which to bother the great Cassius.

I really believe that if we fought at middleweight, the chances for victory would have been 50/50.

Komar: Your battles in the ring had come to an end, however the fight on the educational front still raged on?

Shatkov: Two years after the Olympics in Rome, I successfully defended my dissertation, and after going through a series of formalities, became an adjunct instructor (approximate equivalent) in the university department of “Government theory, history and rights.” Like my first trainer, I became a teacher. Of course the contingent of students, was a bit older and more serious, then the neighborhood kids which is what made it a bit more challenging, both in earning trust and respect from them as well as my colleagues.

In 1964 the president (equivalent) of the university-Alexander Danilovich Alexandrov-called me into his office. The conversation was quite unexpected for me. The university had just created a position for a department chair, to deal with all issues and relationships concerning international students, and I was offered the job first.

To some degree in this position, I realized my childhood dream of becoming a diplomat, and for the first time in my life felt, what it was to be famous. My responsibilities included talking with ambassadors, meeting with high ranking military and police officials, and solving other important issues of that nature. I found myself in that job, however that is also the time when something serious happened which seriously affected my life forever.

3. Rebirth. Miracles Do Happen.

When people try to prove that boxing is the most dangerous type of sport, please do not believe them. First of all, no amount of statistics have ever proven this, and second of all, each person has their own disposition to certain illnesses or injuries.

Yes, boxers have their own professional injuries (i.e. wrist, nose, liver), however illnesses, like those we see, in Mohammed Ali for instance, probably have no direct relationship to boxing.

However the strength of someone’s spirit, that which very often leaves fighters after they in turn leave the ring, is an illness most do not recover from. Very often, these brave, strong people, break and falter. However this is something we cannot attribute to Gennadi Shatkov. His accomplishments in the ring were appraised at the level of “the order of Lenin,” an honorary medal he received after his victory. However, how can this be compared to that which he conquered in 1969?
To put it simply it was a unbelievable.

Komar: Gennadi Ivanovich, a little while ago I told my Neuropathologist about you, and he thought I was simply lying and that it was impossible. Can you tell us what I was referring to?

Shatkov: In July of 1969 I had a stroke. For the longest time the doctors couldn’t make a real diagnosis, but for the most part agreed there was some damage to the blood circulation in my brain. The “sentence” as they say was very serious. There was a chance of regaining basic motor functions (in the best case scenario), however it was more likely that all physical function loses would never be regained.

My life became similar to a math problem in grammar school. From point A- The Leningrad Neurological institute- to point B- the Central neurology institute of the USSR. It was then that I realized what it meant to “fight for your life.” It was a blow worse then any I had received in the ring, believe me. However, we have to remember as people that we live in a society and not alone like Robinson Crusoe. Expert Doctors like Viktoria Katzovskaya, and Marianna Shochar-Trotskaya, my many friends, and my wonderful wife Tamara were there to help me. My wife did something that no doctor on earth could have even imagined. She started taking me walking outdoors. My little Ukrainian girl sure did make a miracle. Maybe its because, she was master of sport in Volleyball, and competed for the Ukrainian national team. A fisherman sees another fisherman from a distance, and an athlete always sees and understands another athlete. Maybe its because she is so damned educated and works as junior professor at the St. Petersburg Architectural-Constructional University. Anyway only God knows why. I am happy that she is in my life period.

Komar: So you came out victorious against an even tougher opponent then the “Greatest,” in facing even more impossible odds. So did boxing get tiresome for you? Do you keep up with the sport?

Shatkov: Are you kidding? I am thrilled, that for instance we have our own professional world champions. They are just terrific guys. Yuri Arbachakov, and Oruzbek Nazarov, and of course Kostya Tzsyu. These boys proved that our amateur boxing is not worth less then the professional ranks. I am proud of the fact that I have a friend like Oleg Saitov. I like how the native of St. Petersburg Ivan Sobolev performs.

I am not modest in stating that there was already a 31st International Junior Tournament held in honor of G.I. Shatkov. Although it doesn’t sound so serious or realistic now, I am sure, that I could have fought for a world title as a professional. Even before me guys like Korolev, Michailov, and Sherbakov, as well as guys from my time like Popenchenko, and Ageev, as well as guys who fought after me like Lemeshev, Ribakov, Savchenko, and Ruzhnikov could have very well cemented their name in the history of boxing, had they been given a chance.

Komar: Were you really a department chair for our president when he was in college?

Shatkov: Yes, during that period of time in his life I was the department chairperson in our university. You know if you were to tell me after my defeat to Ali, that he is a future legend and superstar, I wouldn’t have likely believed you. A boxer is a boxer, even if he is very talented. That’s why it’s hard to say which student will hold the highest political position tomorrow. I’m grateful to Vladimir Putin, for not forgetting his city, and for loving different sports, including boxing, and for finding the time to congratulate me personally during the 300 year Anniversary of St. Petersburg.

Not long ago we said goodbye to famous German boxer Max Schmeling, who didn’t reach his one hundred-birthday mark by only a few months. The world press gave this tragic news the recognition it deserved. However a few weeks later Dan Pozdnyak, our Olympic champion also passed away. Unfortunately I couldn’t find or read one serious piece of news regarding this tragic news. We are responsible for keeping the memory of our legends alive.

Career Profile:
217 bouts. 203 victories.
Gold Medal at the 1956 Melbourne Games.
European Champion (1955, 1959)
Champion of the USSR (1955,1956, 1958)
Third Place at the USSR championships in 1953
Second Place at the USSR championships in 1954
Winner of the First Championship of Nations of the USSR Tournament.
Winner of the International Student Games.

Author’s Note: The Answers to these questions were written by Mr. Shatkov, a very impressive feat for someone who had survived a stroke. Boxing fans all around the world thank him for his courage in and out of the ring, and for not giving up on life.

Article posted on 17.06.2005

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