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An Interview with Leonid Taranenko

Andrew Charniga, Jr.

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

This interview took place at the Olympic Royal Hotel in

Athens, Greece on September 23, 1989, the day following the completion of the 1989 World Championships. Unfortunately, Taranenko was quite depressed because he was denied the opportunity to compete in Athens. Mr. Alex Mizhun acting as interpreter, was of invaluable assistance.

About his Training.

B.C. Tell me about your training.

Taranenko: I train six days per week: three-times per day for three days, for a total of six (6) hours per day and twice-a-day, for the other three days, for a total of four (4) hours each day.

B.C. Who makes out your program?

Taranenko: My coach writes my program. He is not a professional coach. He is an engineer by profession. He watches every workout.

B.C. Do you employ a special device in your workouts to help assess the barbell trajectory?

Taranenko: Yes. My coach designed a special device, made of three planks; mounted vertically on a base. The planks are marked out in centimeters. I do lifts with the end of the barbell between the planks.

B.C. What about the exercises you employ in training?

Taranenko: I usually snatch every day, sometimes twice-a-day. I do the clean and jerk and the snatch in separate workouts. I do pulls and the lifts from the floor, from the hang, from planks, and while standing on a raised surface. I do push-jerks but no presses in training. Some years ago, I pressed 230 kg in the old Olympic style, so I don't feel I need to do them. Furthermore, I usually do not separate the clean and the jerk; but execute clean and jerk as a whole.

B.C. What strength exercises do you favor?

Taranenko: The back squat is the most important strength exercise. I usually squat every day, sometimes more than once-a-day. My best back squat is 380 kg (837 lbs). But this is with a two-second pause at the bottom.

B.C. How many reps per set?

Taranenko: Usually no more than three. However, I occasionally do sets of five for explosive speed. I can use 300 kg for sets of five, done rapidly. Typically, I pause at the bottom for a count of two, when doing squats.

B.C. Do you have problems with sore knees?

Taranenko: No.

B.C. Do you do front squats?

Taranenko: No. I used to do front squats about twice a week, but stopped some years when I was able to do 300 kg for three reps. At that point I felt I was way beyond what I need to recover effectively from the clean. And besides, that much weight is an excessive load on the chest.

B.C. Do you do bench step-ups and lunges?

Taranenko: Yes. I do the step-ups occasionally, just to exercise the legs while unloading the spine. The lunges are not big deal, I use them once in a while as a change of pace.

B.C. What about the Hyperextension Exercise?

Taranenko: I don't do this exercise. It's not an important strength exercise. Usually, people only do this exercise if they have a sore back.

B.C. What back exercise do you like?

Taranenko: I do good mornings with the legs slightly bent. As you begin to lean over, you should feel the pressure (your balance, Ed.) near the hell of the foot. Begin to straighten up as soon as the pressure nears the ball of the foot. This is very important principle when doing this exercise. But, nobody ever things about it. It is very useful to have a strong back for weightlifting. When I was younger, I could lift more in the good morning exercise than in the snatch.

B.C. Do you do any jumping in your training?

Taranenko: Only with a barbell. I do jumps with 100-120 kg; with the barbell on the shoulders.

B.C. What are your best results in training?

Taranenko: My best results are 210 and 262.5 kg. But I do not try to lift record weights in training, as a rule. For instance, the heaviest weights I handled prior to my world records in Australia, last year, were 200 kg in the snatch and 245 kg in the clean and jerk.

B.C. Do you do any abdominal exercises?

Taranenko: No. I'm too lazy. However, I believe that the abdominals are strengthened when one exercises the back, just as the biceps are strengthened when one exercises the triceps.

B.C. How has your training changed over the years, with respect to your methods as a 110 kg lifter?

Taranenko: My training has changed dramatically. I used to train only four times per week as a 110 kg lifter. The single most dramatic change is the intensity. For example, my average training weight is 190 kg. This includes pulls, squats, etc. When I do squats, for instance, my first set is with 170 kg. From there, I take 50 kg jumps, until I get to the heaviest weight for that workout.

B.C. What about Alexeyev's training?

Taranenko: Nobody knows how Alexeyev trained. He trained alone or when no one was around. I trained with him from 1976 on (at the national team camps). He seemed to do more repetitions per set than the norm. He never squatted with more than he cleaned.

B.C. I read where Alexeyev was quoted as saying he never used more than 270 kg in the squat?

Taranenko: That sounds about right. He never revealed his actual strength in training or competition.

B.C. What abound Pisarenko and Gunyashev?

Taranenko: Pisarenko wasn't that strong. For instance, Zakharevich beat him snatching, without a hook grip, 175-170. He probably couldn't squat much more than 290 kg. His legs were not that strong. But he has good clean technique. I don't think he could stand up with his cleans, if he had to sit at the bottom for a few seconds. Gunyashev couldn't lift in training or competition. He was always injured.

B.C. What is your salary?

Taranenko: 300 rubles a month. (note: the buying power of 300/month may be roughly equivalent to a current US salary of $35 - 40,000/year).

B.C. How much are you paid for a world record?

Taranenko: 1,500 rubles.

At this point, Taranenko attempted to explain what his living standards are like compared to a professional athlete in the West.

Taranenko: A Soviet sports writer began an interview with Magic Johnson: "What kind of car do you drive?" Johnson replied that he owns a Rolls Royce, a BMW, a Porche and two trucks. This ended the interview because the writer could ask no more questions. You see, it takes 10 years to buy a car in the USSR. And, if you are lucky enough to own one, you can drive it for 10 years and sell it for more than what you paid for it; because the buyer doesn't have to wait in line.

On the subject of Special Restoratives.

B.C. American lifters think that the Soviets have the best restoratives, that is why they, (the Soviets) are so much better.

Taranenko: That's nonsense. If we had access to the American restoratives, you would see a significant increase in world records. This is the main reason for the Bulgarians recent successes over our lifters-they have closer ties to the americans and can obtain their restoratives.

B.C. I've heard the Khristov and Vardanyan were not very strong when not using restoratives?

Taranenko: I've heard that about Khristov too. Vardanyan was incredibly weak, without them.

B.C. Do you know the significance of a 273 kg clean and jerk?

Taranenko: Yes. It is the 600 pound barrier. I read about the track meet, where $500,000.00 was offered for a world record in the long jump. I would settle for much less than that, to do a 600 pound clean and jerk.

B.C. What results were you expecting here in Athens? (Note: this was a very touchy subject).

Taranenko: 210 and 267.5, 270 if I needed it.

B.C. Why was Geliskhanov moved up to the 110+ and your name dropped for the start list? (Note: I will not repeat all of the responses, just the "less controversial").

Taranenko: It is very difficult to make a USSR national team because there are so many good lifters. Furthermore, there is the necessity to rejuvenate the team and give the younger lifters a chance.

B.C. You have a degree in electrical engineering. Do you plan to be an engineer, or perhaps a coach when you retire from competition?

Taranenko: Neither.