Here in my little corner of the internet, I like to put in a bit of effort. To go the extra mile. To over-deliver. Sure, my brief is simply ‘Hot Dead People’, but I think you deserve more. So I’ve always done my best to inject a little bit of substance into this thing – we’ve had philosophers, mystics, monarchs, doctors and poets.
But sometimes, you just want a bit of eye candy. So allow me to peel away the shiny wrapper of Georg Hackenschmidt.
Born in Estonia in 1877, it didn’t take young Georg Hackenschmidt long to discover he was really very good at sport. By the time he attended secondary school, he was training in cycling, track and field, swimming, gymnastics and weightlifting. He spent his school years becoming the best he could be – he broke records and won trophies and lifted lots of heavy things up and down until he had bigger shoulders than everyone else. This was no ordinary teenager. He could pick up a small horse.*
Shortly after finishing school, he got a job with a blacksmith in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. The city’s Athletic and cycling Club provided Hackenschmidt with many opportunities for staying fit and increasing the number of lumps on his body. Then one day, an experienced strongman called Georg Lurich came into town, challenging young men to wrestling bouts for entertainment**. Hackenschmidt fought Lurich and lost, but was hooked on wrestling from that point forward. He moved to St Petersburg and began training in earnest.
The very strong and muscular Georg became even stronger and musclier. His coach, Vladislav von Krajewski, was certain he could become the strongest person in the world. At the age of 25, Georg was so fit and so strong that he could jump over a table 100 times with his feet tied together.***
Bout after bout after bout, Georg bettered his opponents. He wrestled in Moscow, Paris, Vienna and across England, where he was given the nickname The Russian Lion****. Wrestling was enjoying the peak of its popularity across Europe, and Europe was enjoying Georg Hackenschmidt. He would often fight several bouts in a single night, pleasing crowds in music halls, theatres and opera houses with the squishing of faces and the throwing of men. He began to tour further afield, wrestling in Australia, the USA and Canada, and becoming the freestyle heavyweight champion of the world.
Hackenschmidt wrestled professionally in 3,000 fights, give or take a few. He won all but two matches, and those were against the same man – Frank Gotch.
Gotch was an American man covered in oil. He faced Hackenschmidt in April 1908 in Chicago, fitter, leaner and much shinier than his opponent. Our Georg was harbouring a slight knee injury during the marathon match, which took more than two hours to finish. It was this injury and Hack’s inferior stamina that finally lost him the bout and his title.
Gotch and Hackenschmidt’s second meeting was three years later and an hour and forty minutes shorter. Again, the fitter and less-tired Gotch got the better of Georg, and shortly after his defeat, Hackenschmidt returned to England, his new home, and retired.
So what does a bit of beefcake eye candy do when his professional wrestling career is over? In this case, Georg, who dabbled in philosophy and writing and could speak seven languages, wrote several books about fitness, health and mental wellbeing, instructed several members of the House of Lords in the finer points of physical education and HEY WAIT A MINUTE. That doesn’t sound like some dumb muscle-head himbo – that sounds like substance. We’ve all been fooled! I hate it when eye candy does that.
Though retired, Georg never stopped jumping over furniture. In his eighties, he could still bench 68 kg and then run 11 kilometres in 45 minutes, only occasionally slowing down to shout angrily at teenagers about the stupid way they wore their pants.
Georg Hackenschmidt died in hospital on February 19, 1968 at the age of 89. He was a man of big dreams, bigger achievements and an astonishingly big neck.
* Imagine if everyone was strong enough to lift a small horse off the ground. We would no longer have to store them at ground level.
** This was a common pastime and test of strength for the youth of the day, before muscle cars and glassing strangers became popular.
*** Handy for when one has been tied up by bandits in a furniture store, restaurant or casino.
**** Georg wasn’t Russian, of course. And lions hadn’t been seen in Russia since the 10th century. But English people are ludicrous, and challenging them only makes them cross.