Ivan Abadzhiev: Very Heavy Weightlifting

Here is an interview with the coach who developed what has come to be
known as the Bulgarian method. Also, you can get the book on
Suleymanoglu, which outlines his training through the years. If you plan
on doing something like this you better understand it. And it will take
several years to develop the work capacity to actually use it. Lifters
don't start with 5-7 training sessions per day.

If you do a search for "Bulgarian Blitz" you'll find a pretty good
template on what they are doing recently. However, that is not what
Abadzhiev had his lifters doing.

Ivan Abadzhiev: Very Heavy Weightlifting
by Yelena Vaytsehovskaya, November 1999
Translation by Arthur Chidlovski

I wasn't ready for this interview. I wasn't ready to bump into Ivan Abadzhiev
himself in the dark section of the Peace and Friendship stadium in Athens.
But it happened. At the moment when the greatest coach was opening the door
to the training hall that journalists are not allowed to enter, I decided to
call his name: "Ivan!"

Abadzhiev stopped and looked at me.

- Wait! I would like to introduce myself. And if you don't mind, I would like
to take an interview with you.

- What for?

- I think there are not too many coaches of your caliber in the world. And,
unfortunately, not too many new names were added in the recent years. Too
tough of a business.

Abadzhiev looked tired.

- What can you possibly know about it?

- My father was a head coach of the Soviet national swimming team. But you
probably don't know him.

The coach grabbed my accreditation card and flipped it to read my name.

- Is Sergey Vaytsekhovsky your father? Of course, I heard of him.

He paused for a second.

- Stop by the hotel. I am there up till the lunch time. Our lifters don't
compete in the B groups.


Abadzhiev became the head coach of the national Team Bulgaria purely by
accident. He dreamed about a career of an artist. But too many things
happened to him by accident. It was an accident that he came to the gym as a
gymnast. Then he switched to weightlifting. In 1953, he terrified his coaches
when he became to train twice a day. He won a silver medal at the world
championship and he was the first Bulgarian weightlifter to be awarded with
the title of the Merited Master of Sports. Then he became a sports
functioneer. He pushed papers and pencils in the sports committee and once in
a while spoke up about the stupid training methods of the national Bulgarian
team. In 1968, Bulgaria flopped at the Olympics and the sports leaders
overheard one of the loud comments of "mad man" Abadzhiev. "Who is he? Smart
guy, huh? Let him take the national team and let's see what he can do We
have nothing to loose anyway!"

At the 1972 Olympics in Munich Bulgarian lifters won three gold and three
silver medals.


- Theoretically, we expected just two silver medals, - remembered the coach.
- But it's only theoretically. As a matter of fact, our featherweight hopeful
was Norair Nurikyan, my student and prayed to God that he will make to the
top 6. There were at least six equally strong lifters in his class. Dito
Shanidze was an obvious leader. But we got lucky. Nurikyan showed an
unexpectedly good result in the first lift type and he got a chance to
compete for the second place.

I was already pleased. Before that, Bulgaria had no medals at the Olympics. I
knew that Shanidze would start clean-and-jerk with 147.5 kilos. Then he will
lift 152 and then he will try 155. This will make him an Olympic champion for

I made only one mistake in my predictions. Shanidze failed with lifting 155

- You know. The coach is never positive 100 percent if his lifter will win or
not, - continues Abadzhiev. - Sometimes, it's enough to catch an eye of your
opponent and to loose confidence in yourself. At the Olympics, it's the end
of the story. But I saw Nurikyan going to the platform without any sign of a
doubt on his face.

There was this deputy of our sports committee sitting next to me. He turned
to me and whispered loudly: "Will he be able to lift it?" I was ready to kill
him. "Are you crazy? Of course, he won't be able to lift it!"

While we were arguing, Nurikyan got it.

David Rigert was a middle heavyweight favorite. In those times, he was
winning over his Bulgarian opponents by 10-15 kilos in each lift. So, I
wasn't worried. Andon Nikolov was supposed to get the silver or bronze
anyway. And all of a sudden, our team doctor came to our room and told us:
"Rigert bombed out!"

I couldn't believe it. Anyone could have failed but not Rigert. You won't
believe me but I dumped my guys and ran outside to see the scoreboard. It was
true - three attempts, three zeros.

At the moment, I felt really bad for David. He was supposed to win. I guessed
that he wanted to win with a big advantage and started with a too big of a

- How many years have you been working with the national team?

- Since 1969. 30 years. I would have retired long time ago. I wanted to do it
many times. But I can't afford it. I won't be able to support my family.
Although, many Bulgarians think I am a millionaire.


Abadzhiev became a legend in the world of Olympic weightlifting. Bulgaria was
never especially distinguished in sports began to challenge the Soviet Union.
And it happened in the sports of weightlifting. At the 1976 Olympics,
Abadzhiev's team won two gold, three silver and one bronze medal. Four years
later, they brought two golds, four silvers and two bronzes from Moscow.

There were different interpretations. Some said that Bulgarian training
methods didn't make any elementary sense - no diversity in training, no basic
training, no conditioning. Only weightlifting. Maximum weights to be lifted
in the training. Someone came up with the saying: "Had Paganini instead of
playing violin 15 hours a day played also a flute, he would have never become
the greatest." There were talks about Bulgarian lifters using banned anabolic
substances. Although, everybody knew that the Soviets were following the
pharmacological prescriptions with the same extend.

The real panic came in 1984 when all Eastern Bloc countries followed the
USSR's boycott of the Olympics in Los Angeles and went on with the
alternative Friendship Cup. Bulgarians won in six weight classes, the Soviet
Union in four classes. After that Abadzhiev was told to resign by the
Bulgarian sports committee. The coach refused.

- I said "Why? Because we won over the USSR?" I knew the answer anyway. I
heard the conversation between the IWF General Secretary and our sports
deputy. It was about that it's not good that two countries are so far ahead
of the other countries. It slows down the progress of the Olympic
weightlifting overall.

Of course, the actual meaning was that the USSR is a big and powerful country
and it's acceptable that they are so far ahead in sports. But it wasn't
allowed for some Bulgaria. Everybody knew that when Bulgarians beat the
Russians, it went beyond the sports and had a political connotation. I
realized quiet clearly that the main goal the Soviet weightlifting
authorities had wasn't the World and European championships but to win over
Bulgaria. But we kept winning.

In that conversation with the General Secretary, he asked me: "Is it OK that
only one country keeps winning?" Of course, I said: "It's not OK" He jumped
and even began to kiss me.

Four years later, before the Olympics in Seoul, Abadzhiev was approached by
one of the top sports officials in Bulgaria. "That's it. You can only win two
gold medals. If you win three, they will chop your head off. And mine too."


- I knew alot about the Soviet lifters' training, - says Abadzhiev. - I knew
that they were not as well prepared as we were. Of course, you experts knew
what was going on in our team. With all these said, the IWF was helping the
Russians. No one helped us. But even I couldn't understand why your officials
predicted five gold medals for the Russian team.

- For the whole world, the Olympics in Seoul were associated with the
weightlifting scandal. Bulgarian lifters were disqualified and the whole team
left for Bulgaria before the end of the competitions.

- It was a very strange story. In Bulgaria as well as in the USSR, we had
local doping control tests before competitions. We made over 50 tests. And
despite this, they began to catch our lifters with the furocemide. It belongs
to the diuretics. At that time we studied how it worked. We did research how
it changes by hours. It was practically impossible to detect it 72 hours
after you took it. However, according to the Seoul tests we had a monster of
a dosage detected via those tests. Needless to say that positive tests were
shown in the weight classes where we were competing against the Soviet
athletes. For example, Grablev was disqualified and Oxen Mirzoyan got the
gold medal. After Gerchev's positive test, Militosyan got the first place.
And their lifts were weak. And in the classes where the Soviet lifters didn't
compete, Bulgarian tests were clean.

When the scandal just started to take place, we decided to set up a meeting
with the Soviet delegation. We met in the part - we were afraid of
microphones and that someone will tape the conversation. Bulgarian chairman
asked Marat Gramov to help and to make test of Bulgarians in the Russian lab.
They lied to us. They said there was no Soviet lab there. It was there. It
was on the boat. I knew it for sure.


- You are Russian, right? - Abadzhiev paused for a moment.

- Yes.

- It's not very good that I tell you all this. But it's the truth. You know I
love Russia. You can see I am fluent in Russian. I admire Russian painters -
Repin, Surikov, Kramskoy, Polenov, Vasiliev, Shishkin, Ayvazovsky, Levitan,
Serov, Vasnetsov. I think I know more Russian songs than you do. Your singers
are not as well known as the ones from the Western Europe but they were
outstanding. By the way, we brought Lemeshev's recording with to Athens. I
love to listen to Vinogradov. He san in the war and post-war times. As for
the weightlifting, it's a different story.

- Did you leave the national team Bulgaria after the Olympics in Seoul?

- No. I worked for one more year. We changed the whole team. I put together a
very young team and we won again. Then they kicked me out. Right after the
European Championship.

He came back to Bulgaria where no one wanted to see him. During the 20
years of coaching, he prepared 9 Olympic champions, 57 world champions, 64
European champions and he couldn't find a coaching job even in the peripheral
sports clubs. He tried to coach abroad but the foreign federations politely
refused with "we can't afford to pay to a coach of such a high
qualification". His phone at home got quiet. He had two children and a wife
who left her job. Desperate Abadzhiev landed a security guard job in a
kindergarten. Then he worked for a firm manufacturing metal doors for the
apartments. A few years later, at the 1993 European Championship in Sofia,
Abadzhiev decided to attend the competition. No one approached him there.

And then the fortune became nice to Abadzhiev. He became a coach of a
badminton team. Two years later, on December 15, 1995, he got an invitation
from Turkey where his favorite student Naum Shalamanov defected two years
before the Seoul Olympics. In Turkey, the lifter got a new name Naim
Suleymanoglu, won two Olympics, was considered the main contender for the
third one in Atlanta and desperately needed a coach.


In Atlanta, Suleymanoglu won his third gold Olympic medal. Halil Mutlu also
became a champion. It was two gold medals versus one silver and two bronze
medals of Bulgaria. "What did you want the most at the time?" I asked
Abadzhiev in Athens. "I wanted to win over Bulgaria. Least of all I expected
that they will offer me to come back and that I will not turn the offer down.

- Why?

- I was mad at them. I could have left Bulgaria long before the Seoul. But I
couldn't even think about it. I thought that my methodology was our national
treasure. That's why I kept it in secret for so many years.

- What about now?

- Not now. Too many Bulgarian coaches and lifters are working all over the
world. And then it's too late. Though when I just started to work on it, they
called me a mad man.

- Because of your methodology?

- It wasn't like any other method in the world. It contradicted every basic
principles. In Bulgaria, many other sports disciplines are build on the
methods developed by the Soviet experts. The main concept is distinct
periodization, preparation stage, interim stage, competition stage. I threw
it away. When a rabbit is being chased by the wolf, does he have an interim
stage for running? Yes, he can hid in the bushes but he is ready to start
running 100 percent at any time. Is it logical to achieve outstanding results
by hard work and then stop and go back to a lower level?

I began to think about it and then I saw a very interesting research study of
Swedish scientists. You know each muscle consists of various textures. The
fast ones - the one that the lifters need the most, and the slow ones. Under
certain training intensity, the slow ones can turn into the fast ones and the
other way around. The first process requires a long-term work and high
intensity, the latest happens instantly, just decrease the intensity. That's
what happens in the interim stage.

- But it's very hard to train with a constant high intensity and stress.

- And how about the adaptation theory? It's a science by the way: if you
place a body into a certain environment, it begins to adapt to it.

- Too tough.

- Professional sport is a tough activity overall.

- But Olympic weightlifting is not the sport where competitions go one after
another one. I know that the Russian lifters have three to four competitions
per year.

- I tried to set up as many competitions for my lifters as I could. Even in
the old times, when our team was definitely the best in the world, we had
nine to ten competitions per season. The first one was always the national
championship. We mixed the big sports competitions with the commercial ones.
So, the lifters had a better motivation.

- Do you have any dreams as a coach?

- I don't have dreams anymore. I stopped to enjoy competitions. I think there
is a limit for neurological reserves. My heart hurt. I am tired of arguing
with young coaches who at first don't want to listen and then couldn't
understand why they underachieve in the results. Besides, I am not sure if I
can achieve more than what I already did. For example, there won't be a
lifter able to lift a three-bodyweight lift. Shalamanov whose bodyweight was
less than 60 kilo could do it. He cleaned 202 kilos. It was over 10 years
ago. I was very proud of him. It's very different in Bulgaria now. We had to
sell the whole team to Qatar in order to finance the one that was left. And I
am still not happy with the world championship results. We have a world
champion - Galabin Boyevsky. He won both lifts, set world records in total
and clean-and-jerk. But in training he lifted much more. Two month before the
championship, he relatively easy cleaned-and-jerked 205 kilos.

- Do you think that the lifters should always lift their maximum weights on
the platform?

- It's a good question. On the one hand, I don't like heroics - it's just too
easy to get an injury. Boyevsky simply didn't lift what he was ready for.
Many people blame me that I overload lifters in the training. 15-20 kilos
more than needed for the win. They say that it's enough to lift 2.5 kilos
more than an opponent does and you are a champion. What is 2.5 kilos?
Nothing. You get a light cold before the competition or a small injury and
that's all. Someone else will win. Even if you win, 2.5-5 kilos doesn't give
you any psychological advantage. But I am tired to argue. After Sydney, I'll
quit the weightlifting.

- And then what?

- That's it. I am very old. I don't think I will live much longer.

- I used to know one old lady who all her life, up to when she turned 105,
lived in a small village, had a small farm and a cow. And then decided that
she is too old for early morning wake-up, farm work. She gave her cow to the
neighbors. And then she died in a few months.

- When a person stops to work intensively - whatever he's doing - his body
loses it. He gets ill. But I'll think about it. Maybe I will keep my cow for
a while.

source: misc.fitness.weights newsgroup, posted December 2, 2007

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