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Thread: Mr. Weightlifting: Norbert Schemansky by Richard Bak

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    Mr. Weightlifting: Norbert Schemansky by Richard Bak

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    About the Author
    RICHARD BAK is a Detroit-based journalist and the author of twenty-five books, including 'Henry and Edsel: The Creation of the Ford Empire' and 'Peach: Ty Cobb in His Time and Ours.' He has received three ForeWord magazine Book-of-the-Year awards, the Stuart D. and Vernice M. Gross Prize for Literature, and two Emmys for his work as writer and coproducer of "Stranded at the Corner," a feature-length documentary about the fight to save Detroit's Tiger Stadium.

    About the Book
    In short, Mr. Weightlifting, Norbert Schemansky" History's Greatest Olympic & World Champion Heavyweight LIfter" by Richard Bak, is simply a biography of one of the heroes of American Weightlifting. But if you summon the gumption to spend $200+ on a copy, what you'll get is a brilliant collection of untold Weightlifting history worth untold value. For those who take more than a casual interest in the sport, you may know of Norbert Schemansky, and you may know that he represented the United States in the Olympics, but getting a more intimate look with his career via Richard Bak's writing takes you through a mind blowing recounting of the life of what may be one of the greatest athlete's of all time.

    The book chronicles Norb's life, describes his upbringing an family life, and paints and sets the stage for who he would come to be in the Weightlifting world. Schemansky fought in World War II, and most of his sporting career took place alongside the Cold War. As such the book is rife with classic "US Hero defeats evil communists" overtones, which I found to be wildly entertaining. The entire book is chalk full of stories of our protaganist rubbing elbows with fitness culture icons: Tommy Kono, Bob Hoffman, Doug Hepburn, Alexei Medvedev, Leonid Zhabotinsky, Paul Anderson, etc... Of course anyone could look the the time stamps of history and see that these figures all existed in the same period, but to hear tales of their actual competitions, conversations, etc... really creates a special kind of nostalgia for the Weightlifting enthusiast.


    I'm torn on how much to tell you. On the one hand I think every strength enthusiast should read this book. On the other, copies are difficult to find, and are damned expensive. I will say there was some very interesting things that stood out me throughout the book:

    • The book critizes the AAU heavily for mismanaging American Weightlifting. A theme which continued with USAW up until some major changes to the people in charge
    • The book often laments how unrecognized Schemansky was in the states, often mentioning that Weightlifting is THE sport of choice in European countries, a sentiment that many today still tout, but is often argued
    • There are accusations in the book of the Russians taking drugs even in the 40s and 50s. Again a common narrative today



    Now down to Norb and his accomplishments. First of all, this guy is totally under appreciated in our day and age. Some of the things he did in his career are just phenomenal. Not only did he compete in four Olympics, but he medalled every time. He was the first American to win 4 Olympic medals, but they weren't in succession! He missed the 1956 games due to injury. That means for 20 years that guy stood on top of the podium, even as the sport was changing around him, he still could hang with the best. Here are his best numbers:

    164.5kg SPLIT SNATCH
    202kg C&J
    182kg clean & press


    In the book the touch upon his training briefly, though considering how long his career was, I'm sure it wasn't always the same. During his first Olympic appearance he was only training 3x/week. He said jerks were his strong lift, so he rarely did them in training. It wasn't until his back surgeries in the mid to late 50s that he started incorporating more squats and pulls into his training. There's a section in the book where they outline his training in the 60s toward the end of his career, when I get a chance I'm going to type it up into a spreadsheet.

    Although I felt a bit of guilt spending so much money on a book, it turned out to be completely worth it, in my opinion. The book itself is a beautiful hard bound, and is signed by Norb. I wish I was more aware of his accomplishments earlier in my Weightlifting life as I would have made the trip to Detroit to meet him.

    Pros
    Great story
    Full of awesome Weightlifting history
    Lots of great photos

    Cons
    Hard to find
    Expensive as heck
    At times took the "Norb is an unsung hero and the whole world is against him" theme a touch over the edge.

    Where to buy:

    https://www.amazon.com/Mr-Weightlift.../dp/0972363785

    Relevant links:




    Update: Rick sent me the word doc and I converted it to a PDF for download in the members only forum.
    Last edited by FFF; 04-08-2017 at 07:36 PM.
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    First of all thanks for these well written reviews. I really enjoy them.
    I know Schemansky from Tommy Kono's books. Always interesting to study these older lifters as they (most likely) had no PEDs at their disposal. Their training is often more reasonable. Instead of training several times a day they train a few times per week. It would be interesting to know whether they had less injuries. Today it seems that the top lifters are either banned or injured most of the time.

    One sentence seemed odd to me. When and where was weightlifting ever "THE sport"? I have the impression that some Americans think weightlifting is a big deal in Russia for instance, but most Russians never come in contact with weightlifting nor would they care to watch it. Yes there is a culture, but that is focussed on a small number of clubs. The same is true in Germany.

    Anyways, thanks for the review. I wouldn't mind if you could tell some of the stories from the book.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leon Kaz View Post
    First of all thanks for these well written reviews. I really enjoy them.
    I know Schemansky from Tommy Kono's books. Always interesting to study these older lifters as they (most likely) had no PEDs at their disposal. Their training is often more reasonable. Instead of training several times a day they train a few times per week. It would be interesting to know whether they had less injuries. Today it seems that the top lifters are either banned or injured most of the time.
    Schemansky had two back surgeries in the 50s for a herniated disc, but they mention they don't believe it was directly related to Weightlifting. Hard to say since the science, medicine, diagnostics, etc... weren't near what they are today.

    Regarding PEDs, they mentioned amphetamines a bit in the book during the 40s and 50s, that the Russians would "come out on stage with a patch on their skin and be enraged and lift like an animal." One thing I learned that surprised me though, was that despite synthetic testosterone being used as early as the 50s, it didn't become banned by the IWF until the mid 70s, and they didn't start drug testing regularly until the 80s (according to the book).


    Quote Originally Posted by Leon Kaz View Post
    One sentence seemed odd to me. When and where was weightlifting ever "THE sport"? I have the impression that some Americans think weightlifting is a big deal in Russia for instance, but most Russians never come in contact with weightlifting nor would they care to watch it. Yes there is a culture, but that is focussed on a small number of clubs. The same is true in Germany.
    They talked about this a lot throughout the book, about how the "Russians valued strength above all else" and that Norb was practically a household name in Russia, but had no notoriety in the states. This was all during the Cold War era. The book does picture several foreign publications that feature Schemansky on the cover. When I have some time this week I'll post that along with some of other stories.
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    I don't know if it was ever "THE sport" but it used to be much bigger in the states.

    http://www.tias.com/11804/PictPage/1922627335.html

    Quote Originally Posted by Leon Kaz View Post
    First of all thanks for these well written reviews. I really enjoy them.
    I know Schemansky from Tommy Kono's books. Always interesting to study these older lifters as they (most likely) had no PEDs at their disposal. Their training is often more reasonable. Instead of training several times a day they train a few times per week. It would be interesting to know whether they had less injuries. Today it seems that the top lifters are either banned or injured most of the time.

    One sentence seemed odd to me. When and where was weightlifting ever "THE sport"? I have the impression that some Americans think weightlifting is a big deal in Russia for instance, but most Russians never come in contact with weightlifting nor would they care to watch it. Yes there is a culture, but that is focussed on a small number of clubs. The same is true in Germany.

    Anyways, thanks for the review. I wouldn't mind if you could tell some of the stories from the book.

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    Based on your description of its tone, and the book's price, I assumed this was published in the 70s or early 80s. But 2007, whut.

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    Quote Originally Posted by erpel View Post
    Based on your description of its tone, and the book's price, I assumed this was published in the 70s or early 80s. But 2007, whut.
    The book was published by Immortal Investments Publishing which no longer exists. They were a father son duo that specialized in "direct to customer" book sales. So they didn't wholesale to bookstores or online retailers. That said, they likely didn't print very many copies of their books, especially this one. As far as I can tell, all copies are signed by Norb as well.
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    This probably explains why Immortal Investments doesn't exist anymore.

    http://www.detroitnews.com/story/new...ilia/85771956/
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    Attached you'll find a copy of Norb's program in the 60s. Granted, this wasn't exactly laid out in a spreadsheet in the book. It was more loosely described. It's also noted that closer to competition, Norb would drop his training to 3x/week instead of 4, and he would replace the power variations with the "full lifts" being a split snatch, and I think by that time, a squat clean. It's pretty obvious he was very focused on pressing, as that was his worst lift, especially compared to the other open class lifters, who were getting bigger and bigger every year.

    Check the list of his PRs above to get a rough idea of what kind of percentages these were. Keep in mind those numbers were hit in competition, and basically only once at various times, so his training maxes were probably 15-25lbs lighter in each lift respectively.

    Norb Schemansky 1960s Program.xlsx
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    if the company is out of business and this is hard to find/expensive, is there any way to get this reprinted fairly easily? enough to get copies out to weightlifters who are interested, without breaking the bank?

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    I actually got in touch with the Author, Richard Bak. He said as of right now there are no plans to have it reprinted, but if someone did want to, they would have to go through him. I didn't press the issue, and he told me he's working on two big projects right now due this summer, so I'm sure it's not really near the top of his priorities list. He seems like a really great guy though, so I'll try to keep the dialogue open about it, but I don't want to be a pain in his ass.
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