I am regrettably a few days late in noting the untimely passing of Vasily Alexeev, the famed Soviet athlete who dominated the sport of weightlifting for most of the 1970s. Alexeev was an object of great fascination in the West, for he seemed to embody our deepest fears about the world behind the Iron Curtain: that somewhere east of Leningrad, the Communists were breeding supermen who would help the “Evil Empire” win the future. When we cast our eyes upon Alexeev’s bear-like frame and prodigious gut, we stared into the Cold War abyss. And, per Nietzsche, the abyss stared back and told us we were weak little girlie men whose great cities would soon be overrun by the Soviet hordes.
Yet we were also sucked into the mythology surrounding Alexeev’s physical prowess, as if the man himself emitted a gravitation field on par with that of Saturn. This was most evident in the rumors surrounding Alexeev’s appetite, particularly in regards to eggs. In one Canadian obituary, his pre-Olympic breakfast was reported as 26 eggs. Elsewhere, he is credited with devouring a 36-egg omelette, though more contemporary accounts detail a pre-noon diet of a dozen eggs plus an entire leg of lamb. (There are additional reports that he enjoyed his eggs whipped in milk.) Yet the reality, as observed by a young Tony Kornheiser, was somewhat more prosaic: At a New York deli, Alexeev was observed eating a mere “two orders of ham and eggs, five glasses of orange juice, and God knows how many rolls.”
I feel no sense of shame in asserting that I could have done likewise in my eating heyday. Though, obviously, Alexeev’s feats of strength have always been well beyond me. His water-skiing prowess, too.