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Ivan Piddubny was born in a Cossack’s family in the village of Krasenivka near Zolotonosha in Poltava province in 1871. His father Maksym owned a small farm in Krasenivka. He had three sons and three daughters. Maksym Piddubny had colossal physical strength: he alone could easily lift five pood heavy sacks filled with grains to throw them onto a cart.
His fellow villagers recollected the following: one day Maksym Piddubny bought a cast-iron back of a cart. He had to heave it onto his cart. He had no help nearby, so he decided to do it alone. Having laid two logs between the ground and the cart like two rails, he started slipping the bought cart back along them by pushing with his whole body. Suddenly the logs rolled apart, the back slid down. Maksym held it back with his leg but he broke it. Not minding his broken leg he held the cast-iron part up for a while until other people came running up. However, he brought the purchase home by himself.
Ivan Piddubny’s mother, Hanna Danylivna, came from the old Cossack family of Naumenko famous for their longevity. They told Ivan’s grandfather on his mother’s side, a former soldier served in the army for 25 years, lived to 120.
Ivan grew up as good as all the peasants’ children. What made him different from the others was his being able to bring a cow down to the ground by the horns when he was 16.
When he was 21 he decided to leave home and betook himself to the Crimea to search for earnings as somebody had advised him to go to the southern part of Russian Empire in order to make big money as a docker. So he was hired by the Lavas barge company. He worked each day for sixteen hours on gang-planks by dragging freights in Sevastopol. He did it easy and joking. After half a year long work, the docker’s strength rang throughout all the Crimean ports.
His career began in the arm in 1896 in Feodosia circus. Since 1899 Ivan performed at the circus arena as a weightlifting athlete and wrestler, and then switched to classical (French) struggle. He won all the famous athletes in Europe. Has been on tour abroad many times.
After two weeks of performances on the arena Piddubny did not lose a single fight. Its iron resistance, weight and tenacity hands allowed him to get victory for victory. He laid on the carpet even famous Lurich George, who later became world champion against the French. Only one match in the championship ended in a draw. It was a clash with Peter Jankowski, who spoke under the name Ursus, who weighed more than 10 puds and possessed great agility.
Season ended in the circus. Wrestlers have parted, and Ivan stayed in the same working port, where was before. But the joy of success has violated his peace of mind. Increasingly, he began to think of devoting his life to sport.
In early 1898 Piddubny again moved to Sevastopol, to finally become a fighter. He joined the local circus, which belonged Gigetto Truzzi, one of the oldest members of Italian circus Truzzi family who moved to Russia in 1880.
An attentive and curious, he took over and quickly mastered all the intricacies of the struggle "on the belts". Started to beat opponents not only by brute force but through technics, causing endorsement of the viewers by beautiful and dexterous tricks. After reading books on weight lifting and wrestling, Ivan made a program for training. Every day involved running, jumping, doing dumbbell exercises, put breath, poured cold water onto the body. He rejected excesses in food, meals hours were strictly set. Refused smoking and alcohol. By the end of the season in a circus Truzzi Piddubny couln't be recognized. From the clumsy and brutal warrior, he became a sportsman, well mastered the technics of wrestling and considered his profession an art.
From Sevastopol Piddubny moved to Odessa, then to Kyiv. Began his tour around various cities. He gave it not only as a wrestler, but as an athlete. For example, three people, bound up with each other, he lifted up on the straight arm and carried around the arena.
During the performance in Novorossiysk occured interesting incident. Against Piddubny fought known Swedish fighter Anderson. One minute later the Swede was picked up in the air and laid on the blades. It happened so quickly that the public has decided - Swede succumbed Ukrainian fighters. Piddubny offered to repeat clash. When Swede was given the proposal, he said that will fight only if Piddubny will agree to loose. Ivan was just outraged. But the circus director's wife, where the competition was held, tearfully pleaded Piddubny to agree. Otherwise they would have to return the public money for tickets, that would lead to the ruin of the circus.
Piddubny accepted. Feeling victory Swede entered the arena. But here happend incredible - Piddubny took him by the belt raised over him like a kitten, and, holding in his hands, laid down on the blades, and put the opponent on own chest. Audience was mad with delight. Confounded Swede escaped from the arena.
Fame of Ivan Piddubny strengthened and grew every year. But he was irritated by dishonest customs of championships, and in 1902 he almost returned to work as a loader in Feodosia. Fortunately, this intention never happened. While on tour in Voronezh, Ivan received a letter from St. Petersburg from the head of athletic association lord G.I. Ribeaupierre. He suggested Ivan urgently to come to St. Petersburg.
Arriving in the capital, Piddubny learned that athletic association received from the French magazine "Sport" proposal to send to Paris the Russian representative - to participate in competitions at the World Championship in 1903 against the France. They immediately began to seek a candidate throughout Russia. It turned out that there was no better fighter than Piddubny. Having made preparations for the championship, he began under the leadership of coach of the French wrestling Eyzhen. It was an old professional wrestler, who knew perfectly how to struggle.
World Cup against France in Paris in 1903 brought together many outstanding fighters of the time. Member who lost just one fight, retiring from the championship. Ivan Piddubny got 11 wins.
This day he clashed with the champion of France Raoul Le Boucher. He was 15 years younger and higher by 2 cm, duel began in a very fast pace. Boucher tried to stun the opponent with cascade of classical sleights that were changing very quickly. Piddubny withstood this pressure and began to attack. A few minutes later the Frenchman was already quite wet. And then something strange began. All techniques of Russian fighter failed one by one. Boucher slid out of his clinch. Then Piddubny guessed that Frenchman was oiled with some fat. He expressed the protest. The judges checked and found out that Boucher smeared himself with olive oil. This was a blatant violation. Boucher wiped dry, but as soon as he started sweat, oil appeared again. French judges instead of setting off his defeat, decided to wipe dodger every 5 minutes. This is not helped - sweat came out again. French judges enrolled more points to the Frenchman, Piddubny was withdrown from the event. Crowded hall met imaginary victory of Boucher in grave silence.
Russian athletic association offered Le Boucher to fight again against Piddubny, and guaranteed him the prize of 10,000 francs in case of victory. But the Frenchman refused this offer. Piddubny after the championship went to the village. He decided to quit sports. Only friends and the coach convinced him to change the decision.
Soon Piddubny took part in the Moscow championship. In the first days he pinned down the favourite of Moscow Ivan Shemyakin. In 1904, in Petersburg at the World Cup final, he again met with Boucher. Frenchman lasted 41 minutes, then was pinned down. End of 1905 Piddubny competed again in Paris at the World Cup, where gathered 140 strongest fighters in the world. Piddubny managed to overcome all his opponents. By the last day of the championship there remained only one enemy to fight - Dane Iess Peddersen.
International press considered him the most powerful man in Europe. Peddersen initially used defensive tactics, trying to exhaust our countryman. But Piddubny cheated Dane. He pretended tired, he began to pant. Peddersen immediately changed his tactics. He caught Piddubny in arm's span, but he was only waiting for this moment. Ivan leaned back and began falling on the carpet, pulled by an opponent. At the time of the fall Piddubny overcame Dane under himself and threw it on both blades.
The throw was so strong that when Piddubny already released Peddersen, he continued to lay. Ivan was officially awarded the prize of ten thousand francs and diploma conferring the title of world champion in 1905. Piddubny’s victory was a major event in the history of professional sports. Newspapers gave messages - "Iron Iess was pinned down".
Piddubny received numerous invitations to tours in many countries. He chose Italy and soon won a championship of this country. Later events were in Nice, Liège, Berlin.
Piddubny’s buddy, well-known in Kerch rhyme maker clown Petrus Tarakhno wrote about him: "Everything in him was of the same size, all full of power and powerfull bauty, all spoke about the extraordinary power..." Similarly with delight wrote about Piddubny another friend of his, son of Donetsk miner, acrobat clown Vitaly Lazarenko.
With great power Piddubny at the same time was distinguished by speed of reaction and great execution of the most difficult sleights. It was a smart fighter who estimated his strengths and oriented well in abilities of the enemy. He did not drink alcohol and did not smoke, he tempered his body with morning exercises, rub-down with cold water, made long walks every day. For 40 years of his sporting career he knew no defeat. The strongest opponent was Pole from Western Ukraine Stanislaw Zbyszko-Cyganiewicz and Piddubny that finally prevailed in the United States.
After performing, Piddubny went to Poltava and bought the same manor in which still being a boy worked for the landowner Abel. The wrestler had money at that time because Piddubny received the highest fees in Europe. And the title of world champion was also generously paid hard cash. In 1910, John married Nina Kvitko-Fomenko, settled with her in the village of Bohoduhivka in Poltava region, built a house and a mill, and three years did not go out on the carpet. But the favorite sport called, and Piddubny began performing again.
After the revolution, when the peaceful life began to improve, Piddubny was invited in Petrograd circus. Of course, it was no longer the Piddubny whom knew thousands of fans of wrestling, although he was still very strong. But there was no pursuit, which only recently tripled his already considerable strength.
In 1920 in Odessa, he received news that his wife went to the other. Ivan long suffered, and in 1922 married again. In Rostov-on-Don, where he was on tour, Ivan Piddubny met a young fighter Ivan Mashonin’s mother Mariya Semenivna. The woman worked in a bakery. Widow, too, liked this powerful and good man, so she agreed to become his wife. To start a new life with Mary Semenovna, was needed money, and Piddubny went on tour to Germany, where worked hard all year round. But it was not those fees that could allow him a comfortable life, and in autumn 1925 Ivan went to distant America, where he had to fight due to freestyle wrestling rules! He had to learn again. However not new rules daunted the celebrated champion, but the feverish excitement, which caused the fighters fighting in public. And more dirty and tougher the struggle was conducted, the more was satisfied the public. And, of course, all of America expected much from awaited duel between Piddubny and the America champion of the same year Joe Stecher known for its terrible, "scissors" (foot grab), with which he managed to win even Ivan Zaikin. Believing in himself Joe wanted to test his threatening weapon on our fellow countryman. Imagine frustrated Americans as tense clash ended in a draw. Then Piddubny two more years traveled the U.S. cities. As it was in Europe, also here they tried to bribe and intimidate, and even make a drunkard of him, but the bogatyr never winced and finished all his fights in victories.
Missing Ukraine Ivan Piddubny announced his departure by the end of 1927. Organizers of fighting not want to lose such a fighter, they induced, blackmailed and even threatened him. But nothing could keep him in America anymore. Returned home, Ivan moved to Eysk at the Azov Sea coastline, where he bought a beautiful house with a large garden.
Asked who was his greatest love Piddubny answered: "Ukraine, of course, what else?". His victories in the sport he explained so: "Coming on the stage, I prayed for Ukraine. That's why I was winning". In the age of 57 he was recognized the most beautiful man in the international male beauty contest in the U.S.
One surgeon said that he cupped Piddubny and saw that there were terrible scars from burns on his back. Staid silent bogatyr replied the question: “Engels taught me lenizm” (he couldn’t pronounce leninism). As it turned out, being taken into custody in 1937 in NKVD Rostov prison on Engels Street, Ivan was tortured with electric solder, demanding the name and address, account numbers of foreign banks, in which he could keep the savings. Year later he was finally released to "freedom." He said that he's imprisoned for "tongue" and "passport". For "tongue" he meant his stories about life of people in other countries. For the "passport", there was such story. Piddubny was recorded "russian" by nationality and letters "i" in the name was changed to "o". The police denied his request to change the passport. Then he corrected the name by himself by crossing out the word “Russian” and wrote “Ukrainian”. This is when he was taken to prison.
Piddubny visited over 150 cities in 14 countries. Although he lost some matches, did not lose a single tournament. During 1905 to 1909 six times became a world champion in the classic struggle among professionals. In November 1939 the Kremlin for outstanding achievements in the development of Soviet sport he was awarded the Order of Red Banner of Labor and awarded the title of Honored Artist of the RSFSR. Title of Honored Master of Sport in 1945.
He died in Eysk on August 8, 1949. He was buried in the city park named after his name. There was an inscription on the black tomb stone: “There lies the Russian bogatyr here”. In 1988 the stele at his grave was broken, and there were written with a brown paint "Khokhol-petlyurovets!". In 1955 a book entitled "Russian Bogatyr Ivan Piddubny" came out in Moscow. He has been called a Russian wrestler in all the books about circus, newspapers and magazine articles. There is scarcely anybody whom Russia doesn’t refer as Russian to! And only Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia said Ivan Piddubny was a Ukrainian athlete (vol.8, 1982).
There is also a monument to the outstanding athlete, and a museum nearby.