Wednesday, July 20, 2011

THE WAY TO LIVE - (Circa 1908) - The Story Of My Life - Part 4 - By George Hackenschmidt

In June, 1900, a wrestling combat took place at Moscow. This was my first appearance as a professional wrestler. The tournament lasted forty days, my salary being 2,500 francs (or L 100) per month. We were wrestling for two prizes, viz., the Championship of St. Petersburg and of Moscow. As I succeeded in winning both I gained another 1,500 fr. For the St. Petersburg championship and 2,500 fr. more, being the amount of first Moscow prize.

I met Aimable and Petroff, and defeated them. I also threw the eel-like Constant le Boucher, a young Belgian in five minutes. Petroff was an immensely strong Bulgarian. Constant was incredibly clever and agile, but seem to undervalue me as an opponent. As he admitted afterwards, he had heard me described as being somewhat clumsy, though very strong. After defeating Constant, the French wrestlers put Peyrousse forward against me. This wrestler was tremendously powerful, but had little heart, so that hardly had we commenced struggling than he practically threw himself, greatly to the surprise of his compatriots, who had counted on his crushing me. My second bout with him lasted only seven seconds. Following Peyrousse I met and defeated an enormously strong Cossack in Michailoff, whom I threw in ten minutes.

While our championship matches in Moscow were still proceeding a great wrestling competition had already commenced in Vienna. Unfortunately I entered too late and did not reach Vienna until the final stages were in progress. My old opponent, Pons, took first prize. Kara Ahmed, a first rate Turkish wrestler, was second, and the corpulent Laurent third. Neither Pons nor the Turk would consent to meet me. Apparently they were in no hurry to risk their freshly-won laurels. The good-natured Laurent alone was willing to wrestle a fall with me. I first of all had a bout with a very tall and heavy Spaniard, named Chorella, whom I threw in the short space of twenty-nine seconds. I had more trouble with a Dutchman, Dirk von den Berg, a finely built athlete. Van den Berg played a defensive game, looking out for some oversight on my part, but at length I defeated him in twenty-two minutes. I found an even more wily opponent in the German, Fengler, who seemed a good-natured man and made all sorts proposals to me before the contest, but once we set to work I found that he was only too anxious to beat me. I now began to realize that in order to win one requires not only brute strength, but must also employ in a far greater degree that the uninitiated would suppose, both judgment and reflection. I threw Fengler in twenty-six minutes.

On the next day I wrestled with the doughty and corpulent Larent le Beaucairois. We had a pretty lively set-to, and the Frenchman let it clearly be seen that he no hope of beating me, for at the end of an hour he withdrew from the contest.

Early in September I went to Dresden, the capital of Saxony, to attend a small wrestling competition. I was the chief attraction there, and wrestled almost nightly with from three to five opponents, nearly all of whom I defeated very quickly, e.g.- Winzer of Hamburg in seven minutes. The Austrian Burghardt in six minutes.

And the nimble Italian brothers, Emilio and Giovanni Raicevich, in three and six minutes respectively, all in a single evening! I threw Fengler and Konietzko on another evening in three minutes altogether. At Dresden I met a very stout and heavy wrestler named Sebastian Miller. This worthy man weighed nearly 24 st., and was fairly strong, but so deficient in science that I threw him in three minutes, and immediately afterwards a nimble but smaller Frenchman named Maurice Gambier in five minutes and Hitzler in twenty-three minutes. Hitzler had improved greatly. I took first prize at Dresden.

From Dresden I went to Chemnitz, another Saxon town of somewhat less than a quarter of a million inhabitants. Here the contestants were: Gambier (France), Hofer (Germany), Seb Miller (Germany), Konietzko (Germany), Buisson (France), Hitzler (Germany), Winzer (Germany), Giovanni and Emilio Raicevich (Italy), Rossner (Germany), Petri (Holland), Oscar Uhlig (Germany), Burghardt (Austria), Dirkis (Belgium), and myself.

At Chemnitz I, for the first time, met my old antagonist, Lurich. As often happens, the management of another theatre, in order to compete with our undertaking, had engaged Lurich and a number of other inferior wrestlers. Lurich went about boasting loudly that he more than once defeated me with ease. His impresario billed Lurich as the strongest man in the world and "the invincible wrestler."

Though as a rule I have no great liking for impromptu challenges, yet in view of this continuous and brazen puffing of Lurich I could not refrain from challenging him to a wrestling match, when I found that he persisted in these wanton personal attacks upon me. Accordingly Hitzler and I strolled round one evening-it was Monday, September 17-to the theatre at which Lurich was engaged and offered to wrestle with him. Although Lurich had declared himself ready to meet any wrestler, amateur or professional, who chose to come forward, our challenge was not accepted on the plea that the "invincible" had already his full quota of opponents. It was nevertheless announced from the stage that Herr Lurich would wrestle with Hackenschmidt on the following Wednesday. On the appointed evening we were punctually in our places, but we noticed that Lurich was already provided with two opponents. One of these, who seemed to be quite ignorant of wrestling, he threw in less than a minute. He then prepared to serve his second opponent in similar fashion when this latter suddenly vanished from the stage, crying out as he went, "Yonder stands Herr Hackenschmidt" ( pointing at me ), "he will take my place, as I don't feel well."

I went on to the stage, amid thunderous applause from the crowded audience which had assembled, in order to wrestle with Lurich. But no sooner did the "invincible wrestler" catch sight of me than he turned deadly pale and bolted into the wings, and in spite of repeated calls he absolutely declined to return.

The Chemnitz Allgemeine Zeitung (No. 29 of September, 21, 1900,) printed the following note on this incident:

"As our readers are aware, George Lurich, who describes himself as the 'Champion of the World' and 'Strongest Man in the World,' has for some days past been appearing at eh Mosella Saal. In addition to a glowing advertisement of his powers, he has issued on his bills, etc., a challenge to all wrestlers, whether amateur or professional. On Monday evening George Hackenschmidt, who is taking part in a wrestling competition at the Kaufmannische Vereinshaus, challenged him to a wresting bout on Wednesday evening. News of this spread very quickly among all the sporting elements of Chemnitz, with the result that the Mosella Saal was packed from floor to ceiling on the evening in question. Everyone looked forward with impatience for the beginning of the wrestling match. The disappointment of the spectators can therefore be imagined, when Herr Lurich appeared on the stage in the company of Herr Gleissner of Borna and another gentleman of whose identity we are ignorant. To dispose of a wrestler like Herr Gleissner was, of course, mere child's play for Herr Lurich. The second wrestler retired in favour of Herr Hackenschmidt, who challenge had been given on Monday evening, and who therefore had the prior claim.

Hereupon the curtain was abruptly lowered amid stormy scenes on the part of the indignant audience. Cries of 'Come out!' 'Shame!' 'Swindle!' were quickly heard, mingled with whistling and cat-calls enough to make one's flesh creep. All this was directed at the 'invincible' Herr Lurich, who we are informed, has caused similar scandals in other towns such as Elberfeld, where the competitors in the International Wrestling Contests were unfortunately prevented by the terms of their engagement from exposing the Russian in the manner adopted on Wednesday. Even the management of the Mosella Saal failed to persuade Lurich to meet Hackenschmidt. Presumably Lurich will not be allowed to appear again until he has wrestled with Hackenschmidt, who is ready to meet him on any evening." Lurich left Chemnitz on the following morning.

My sole object in recording this unpleasant incident is to enable the English public to estimate at their true value the insinuations directed against me by a fellow countryman in the summer of 1904. We continued our tournament at Chemnitz undisturbed, and in addition to winning first prize I received a splendid ovation from the public. Hitzler and Gambier gaining second and third prizes respectively.

From Chemnitz I journeyed to Buda Pesth, the beautiful capital of Hungary, where a wrestling contest had commenced on September 24. The participants were: Kara Ahmed (Turkey), Robinet (France), Muldoon (of America, but not the celebrated Physical Culturist), Charles (France), Krendel (Austria), Weber (Germany), Hitzler (Germany), Celestin Moret (France), Lassartesse(France), Ignace Nollys (Belgium), Albert de Paris (France), Giovanni Raicevich (Italy), Pibius (France), Burghardt (Austria), Mayer (Hungary), and Sanborn (Hungary), Aimalbe (France), etc.

One of first opponents was Robinet, who was a great favorite with the Buda Pesth public, on the strength of his performances some years previously. I threw the Frenchman in eight minutes, and, later on in the competition, I defeated Albert de Paris, a very clever wrestler in five minutes. My severest bout was with the Turk, Kara Ahmed, whom it took me nearly three hours to defeat. But never, while I live, shall I forget what then took place. The whole audience rose like one man, and thunders of applause echoed through the building. I was seized, carried shoulder high, and decked with flowers. For fully a quarter of an hour I was borne like a victorious general through the streets, kissed, embraced, etc., etc. I can assure you I was heartily glad when at last I made my escape to the privacy of my dressing room. Never, even in Paris, have I experienced a similar ovation. I am not likely to forget those worthy Hungarians. The result was as follows, I won the first prize of 1,500 kronen besides my salary, the second prize of 1,000 kronen going to Kara Ahmed, and the third of 600 kronen to Dirk van den Berg, and fourth of 400 kronen to Aimable de la Calamette.

We left the hospitable walls of Buda Pesth, and I next won the first prize at Graz, in Steiermark. None of contests there were of great importance. At Graz I was pitted against the German athlete, Rasso, an exceedingly powerful man, but no wrestler. I threw him as I pleased, clean and cleverly in five minutes, to the great surprise of the good people of Graz, who were familiar with Rasso's Herculean feats as an athlete.

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