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Paul Anderson and the birth of the “Chudo Prirody” – Part 2

BY ALEX CAMPBELL

The Russians began to wonder what manner of phenom they were going to see take the place of Schemansky. This would surely be the heir apparent to Schemansky’s heavyweight crown and those were no small shoes to fill.

As Paul stepped onto the stairs of the plane, the whole metal beast creaked and groaned under the strain as the Russians were visibly disappointed.

Paul later recounted, “I must have looked like a mascot,” with his boyish chubby cheeks, wide smile, and stumpy body. Most heavyweight Olympic lifters of the time were tall and tapered like Schemansky who spent most of his competition days no more than 250 pounds.

Portly Paul was a disappointing 5’9″ and a pudgy 340 pounds.

The event was scheduled for the massive 300-acre Gorky Park near the heart of Moscow. The perfect outdoor venue for an epic showdown of such massive proportions.

Over 16,000 fans packed the stadium for the event, and not even a driving rain could scare them away. They had come to see their country’s finest compete in their favorite sport, and without the American team’s bell cow, their prospects of winning (and finally defeating the Americans) drastically improved.

Not only the Russian people, but the government officials and bureaucrats nearly salivated at the chance to defeat the Americans and prove their way of life was superior to America’s.

Remember, no lifter was just competing for his own glory but that of which political and economic philosophy should rule the world.

The Russians and Americans duked it out just as they had done in the previous Olympics, and everyone was primed and ready when the heavyweights finally took the stage.

For his first weight, the Russian lifter called for what would be a new personal best of 330.5 pounds. He lifted it easily. Most fans did not think that young American would even try to equal that attempt and would most likely wait for the coming lifts to make his move.

Instead, Anderson did something that left the crowd stunned.

Paul called for an amazing 402.5 pounds. It was 30 pounds over the world record. The crowd literally gasped when the weight was called.

After looking around in amazement for a moment, many in the crowd began to laugh. Surely this chubby-cheeked and smiling newcomer was taking the dedicated Russian fans for fools in calling for such an incredible weight.

This had to be a joke. The laughs didn’t die down as the rotund and smiling young man waddled to the platform. For many in the crowd, it was their first good look at the American. The guffaws and jeers only grew louder.

When Paul settled over the weight, the crowd finally quietened to see if this buffoon would actually attempt to hoist such a Herculean weight.

To their amazement, the weight flew overhead with ease. The weight came crashing down to the floor upon the completion of the lift, but the entire arena went deathly quiet and all that could be heard was the patter of the rain as it pelted down.

Later, Paul remembered, “I felt like the man at the end of the newscast who says, ‘good night’ and the camera stays on him.” Paul didn’t know how to react, so he decided to just saunter off stage when some noise finally escaped the crowd.

At first, it was just a faint sound, but it grew louder with each rhythmic repetition. Paul couldn’t even understand what they were saying, but eventually, the chant grew louder and louder.

“Chudo Prirody!” “Chudo Prirody!” It became deafening. The fans stood to their feet, men clapped and screamed – some even cried.

The crowd actually began to cheer Paul throughout the meet and exploded when Paul bested the world record weight on the following lift.

“Chudo Prirody!” “Chudo Prirody!” rang out, again and again, echoing through Gorky Park and down the streets of the capital. You could even hear the chants through the windows of the Kremlin (the main government building of the communist party) as the leaders had to listen to their own people cheer the representative of their arch-nemesis.

Their chance for a triumphant win over America was destroyed by Paul Anderson, the pudgy man with boyish features. To consider that he had been invited last minute to fly to the most hostile place for an American in the world without even a team uniform had accomplished this was unthinkable.

He not only won, but he cemented himself as the strongest man on the planet. The world saw once again that America and its system of free-market economics, world trade, and democracy had produced the greatest of men in the world.

Backstage, Paul finally found someone who could speak Russian and asked them what the crowd kept chanting.

“Chudo Prirody” the man laughed. It means, “wonder of nature” or maybe a more connotative translation would be “freak of nature”.

An elderly gentleman was heard saying as he shook his bewildered head and tramped out of the arena, “I can now die happy as I have seen the greatest feat in the history of the world.”

Tears were streaming down his face.

On this fateful night in Russia not only were champions crowned, but the “Chudo Prirody” was born.