Aleksey Vakhonin: Getting One Leg Up on the Competition to Take Gold

Foldi Vakhonin Ichinoseki
Foldi, Vakhonin and Ichinoseki on the medal stand

It was an image that went round the world – a smallish man lifting a huge amount of weight, and then lifting one leg like a stork, lounging about in a lake.

Alexey Vakhonin, competing in the bantamweight class (56kg or less) was attempting a clean and jerk of 142.5 kilograms. If he succeeded, he’d win gold. Imre Folde of Hungary had already lifted 137.5 kilograms in the clean and jerk to take the lead. In fact, the Folde camp thought they had gold locked up.

In 1964, at the Tokyo Summer Games, there were three types of lifts required in the weightlifting competition: the press, the snatch and the clean and jerk. The best of the three lifts were totaled to determine the winner. Folde had started well, pressing 5 kilos more than Vakhonin, and 10 more than the Japanese favorite, Shiro Ichinoseki. Vakhonin lifted 105 kilos in the snatch, 2.5 kilos more than Folde, so Folde was leading by 2.5 kilos before commencing the clean and jerk.

Vakhonin had to lift 140 kilos to tie Folde, or 142.5 kilos to win. Lifting 142.5 kilos would also result in the highest weight total ever lifted in bantamweight competition up to 1964.

Aleksey Vakhonin on one leg_1964
Aleksey Vakhonin wins gold on one leg

Here’s how eyewitness and British journalist, Neil Allen, described the lift in his book Olympic Diary, Tokyo 1964:

He walked fast, the little man from Shakhty City, across the platform. Like some cowboy film hero in a hurry to get the gunfight over. He breathed out, breathed in, and down went his hands wrapped round the bar. It came up to shoulder level and Vakhonin’s face was blank with concentration. Then his neck strained, his eyes started from their sockets, his face slowly turned purple. But the bar went up.

Slowly the normal colour returned to the new Olympic champion’s face. At the same time his introvert behaviour changed to that of an extravert. As he stood there under the load of iron he gently lifted first his right foot and then his left to show that it all had been comparatively easy.