The Russian athlete weighed 27 kg. He survived a concentration camp and became an Olympic champion

In April 1945, the US Army liberated the Buchenwald camp. And thousands of unfortunate people who lived in a natural hell were given freedom. One of those who was released that spring month on the eve of the surrender of Nazi Germany was Ivan Udodov. A 20-year-old boy who literally had to be carried out of the barracks in his arms – being emaciated to 27 kilograms, he could not move independently. Years of recovery awaited him, but seven years later the young man won the Olympics in weightlifting, becoming the first Soviet Olympic champion in this discipline.

Young people in a concentration camp

The future Olympic champion Ivan Udodov was born in 1924 in the village of Glubokoy in the Rostov region. Not much is known about the strong man’s childhood. In some versions of the biography it was written that the boy was orphaned in infancy, but in reality the story was not so tragic. His he father worked as a butcher, after the start of the Second World War he went to the front, where he served as a sapper. He survived hostilities and saw Victory Day.

During the war, my mother remained in her native village, which ended up in the German occupation zone. One of the Wehrmacht officers settled in the Udodovs’ house, and the summer kitchen was left to the landlady and the children, where they huddled.

In January 1943, Soviet troops managed to recapture the settlement, but German soldiers, leaving the territory, took some local residents with them. Among them was Ivan. He became one of the few Ostarbeiter who ended up in the countryside. The boy liked one of the Wehrmacht officers and took him to his farm as a groom. However, life there was not much different from prison. Ivan was starved and beaten. Once he could not stand it and, having received another blow with a pitchfork, in response he struck the tormentor with a scraper for cleaning horses. Subsequently, Udodov was sent to Buchenwald as punishment.

Buchenwald knowingly bore the title “extermination camp” – tens of thousands of people died there during the war years. Ivan could have been among them, but the boy had incredible willpower. References to a lively-tongued boy named Vanya can be found in many works about Buchenwald, for example, in the book “In the Underground of Buchenwald” by Valentin Logunov.

Naturally, the boy was also helped to survive by the mutual assistance of other prisoners. Vanya was looked after by a Soviet officer, whose name was Uncle Sasha. She shared with Ivan a ration, which was already negligible, and once completely pulled him out of the other world. During one of the riots, the prisoners managed to get hold of food supplies. Many then died in agony: starving organisms were not ready for such a meal. Ivan ate a large amount of dry bread that day and was even on the verge of death, but Uncle Sasha took him away from food and gave him warm water to drink.

Oh sport, you are life

After being released from Buchenwald, Udodov was sent to the hospital. However, dystrophy hit the future Olympic champion hard. In the first months he practically did not gain weight. Then the doctors decided that physical education could help the young man. And it worked! Udodov started small: dumbbells, horizontal bars and running. He trained for a whole year. As a result, the main choice of the guy fell on the bar.

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Two years later, Ivan Udodov became the champion of Rostov-on-Don in the flyweight category, and another two years later – the champion of the country. So his candidacy has not raised any doubts about the formation of the Olympic team.

Ivan did not come to Helsinki as a favorite: 33-year-old Iranian Mahmoud Namju was considered to be such. Behind him were three world championships won and one victory at the Asian Games. The Persian athlete was so confident that he refused to shake Udodov’s hand. To this Ivan replied: “Yes, you went! Not even Hitler could beat me.”

And at the competitions, Udodov’s superiority turned out to be undeniable. First, he showed a bench press result of 90kg. In the second movement, he lifted 97.5 kg and Namjoo – 95. The clean and jerk was decisive. Udodov was able to support the weight of 127.5 kg, and Namju asked for 132 kg, but he did not master the barbell. Udodov gained 315 kg in total, setting a new Olympic record.

After the triumph

Udodov returned to Rostov a real hero, he was literally carried in his arms. After those same Olympics, Ivan will set three world records and five Soviet records. However, already for the next Olympics, Ivan will adapt only as a reserve athlete, and after another three years he will completely leave the sport. As a result, Udodov followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a butcher at the market.

In the 70s, Ivan again touched the big sport, but already as a coach, imparting experience to young weightlifters. And at the age of 57, in 1981, the famous Soviet athlete died. The agony of the concentration camp significantly shortened his life, but he remained forever in the history of Soviet victories. Now, in memory of the athlete, an annual tournament is held in his native Rostov, and 10 years ago his memory was fully immortalized on the Prospect of Stars, placing a nominal star on it.

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Ivan went through real hell in a concentration camp, but thanks to his unshakable character he managed to survive and recover, showing true heroism and an incredible will to live. And, even having left at an early age, Ivan Udodov was able to forever write his name in history. As in the history of Soviet victories and all world sports.


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