A Sense of Perspective - the Soviet Spartakiade

Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Do not reproduce or republish in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. © 2001

The results presented here were from the 100 kg class at the 1983 Soviet Spartakiade. The Spartakiade was a National Games for the Soviet Union, modeled after the Olympics. They were held every four years, on the odd year prior to the Olympics. In weightlifting, seventeen teams were entered; one from each of the fifteen Soviet Republics and one each from Moscow and Leningrad.

At this time the Soviets claimed to have approximately 400,000 lifters. So, this competition reveals the vast resources of the old Soviet Union, as far as the quantity of quality lifters is concerned.

When you consider that the number of American lifters who have totaled 400 kgs (at any bodyweight) can be numbered on the fingers of one hand; then the results of this one weight class (from one day of competition) with fourteenth place at 400 kgs, gives one a sense of how far international standards were ahead of ours.

It was an illusion from this side of the Atlantic that we were not that far behind (at that time) because we could still place in the top six - eight at the worlds championships. However, the rules do not allow a team to enter more than two lifters in one weight class. Furthermore, the world championship is not a competition where only the top 25 or so on the world ranking list are permitted to enter. If this were the case, our top lifter in the 100 kg class, (who could expect to place in the top ten at the worlds) for instance, would not even have been permitted to enter such a competition.

It is however, very American to point an accusing finger at the opposition and say, "they cheat". They were using performance enhancing drugs.

With that thought in mind, consider this; the results of this Spartakiade competition took place in the summer of 1983. "A sensitive, reliable test for anabolic agents did not debut until 1983, at the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela. ".. The use of the new technology in Caracas was not announced in advance to the competitors. As a result, 19 athletes tested positive for drugs at those games. More telling, many athletes - including a huge U.S. contingent - refused to be tested and left without competing" (1).

At that very same Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezulea, several USA lifters bombed on purpose, to avoid testing.

Later in the fall of 1983, seven of the eight USA lifters entered at the world championship in Moscow bombed, ostensibly, on purpose, for the same reason.

Our fearless leader (in weightlifting) of that time was quoted as saying: "If we find that any of our people , lifters or coaches, were involved in a decision to purposely fail, those people will be removed from the sport. We will not kill our athletes in any attempt to produce champions"(2).

That statement has a rather hollow ring to it. First, no such action as threatened was ever undertaken. Two, considering the speaker's long standing support, bordering on idolatry, for a certain equipment manufacturer, this statement is all the more hypocritical (4).

That being said, let there be no illusions that the Russians and the other east bloc lifters were also using drugs.

However, it is hard to imagine that in a country like the Soviet Union where virtually nothing worked except athletics, that their pharmaceuticals would be better than ours (another lame excuse).

Performance enhancing drugs have been used in this country at least since the 50's (3,4). Testing for performance enhancing drugs (which includes, unannounced, out of competition testing) is now commonplace. The fact is that the use of performance enhancing drugs has nothing to do with the USA's loss of competitiveness. The steady decline was occurring before wide - scale testing began.

The main effort in this country over the past 20 plus years to become competitive at the international level, has been administrative in nature. If anything, that has accelerated the decline.


1. Zorpette, G., "The Chemical Games", Scientific American 11:03:17 – 18, 2000

2. Todd, T., "How Low Can You Go", Sports Illustrated, 59:21:79-80,1983

3. Wade, N., "Anabolic Steroids: Doctors Denounce Them, but Athletes Aren't Listening", Science, 176:4042:1399 - 1401

4. Fair, J.D., Muscletown USA p269 – 70; "Schultz's Drug Store"