|Select magazine number|
Valery Lutsak — bodybuilding as an occupation and a hobby
Champion of Ukraine many times over in bodybuilding; winner of Ukraine's cup in bodybuilding; winner of many competitions held in the 1970s and 1980s in the former Soviet Union; a member of the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB), the largest and most prestigious world organization of its type; winner of the bronze medal at the world championship of 2001 and of the silver medal in 2002; Mister Ukraine of 2003; master of sports, world class; holder of honorary titles, among them — Merited Coach of Ukraine; judge of international category; height — 180 cm; weight — 95 kilograms.
The main reason we wanted to interview Valery Lutsak was not so much because of the fact that he was the champion of Ukraine in bodybuilding and because he won the silver medal at the world championship in 2002, but because he is a legendary figure in the development of bodybuilding in Ukraine. He was instrumental in launching the bodybuilding movement in Ukraine, but now when he has turned forty five, he is going to retire from big-time sport. But retirement is not the end of a career yet.
Mr Lutsak, you have turned forty five recently — our congratulations. You must have a secret way of keeping in shape, very literally in shape too.
No particular secret, just doing things right. And you don’t have to have phenomenal abilities, to start with. The more you stay in bodybuilding, the better things go for you. I began doing bodybuilding exercises when I was sixteen, but I think I reached my best shape when I was already on the wrong side of thirty. It takes quite a few years for a bodybuilder to gain enough muscle mass, to reach the best shape and most impressive muscle relief. In fact, the age of thirty — something and a bit more is the physical acme in the life of a man. These days I use as much weight in my exercises as I did when I was twenty and I seem to handle them with a greater ease. I’m surprised at myself!
Schwarzenegger, as far as I know, began doing bodybuilding exercises when he was still quite young, but in the former Soviet Union bodybuilding was not exactly banned — it was not encouraged to say the least.
No, it was not. I’d say it was rather discouraged. No official competitions were held but non-official ones were. Back at the end of the 1960s-early 1970s, such competitions began to be held in the Baltic states, then “Soviet republics.” Bodybuilding was called “kulturizm,” in the Soviet Union, probably from cult of the body. I was the first bodybuilder from Ukraine to take part in a large-scale championship. It was in 1983, the unofficial championship held in the Lithuanian town of Kaunas. And I won the second place. There was a lot of interest generated and I began getting invitations to other competitions. I represented Ukraine, but there was no Ukrainian team, and I had to take care of all the things by myself. It took a great enthusiasm to be a bodybuilder in those days.
For the first time I saw the pictures of bodybuilders in a magazine some time in the 1980s. I understand in those times it was difficult to find any information about bodybuilding, to find places for workouts.
In the mid-seventies when I just began, there was very little information to be found about bodybuilding in this country and no gyms equipped with the things that you need for bodybuilding. I began pumping iron in a room in the basement, with no hot water, no electric light, and no fresh air. There were several boys who joined me and we read primitive booklets about “getting strong” and about exercises with dumbbells and about weightlifting — that sort of thing. But we did manage to find ways of increasing the size of our muscles — our muscle mass grew fast. We were young, you know, and when you’re young such things develop fast. Later, I could lay my hands on some bodybuilding magazines, published mostly in Poland and Czechoslovakia — no western magazines at that time were available behind the iron curtain. I was eager to show people my achievements, not just to go on pumping iron just for the fun of it. When I learnt that there was an excellent coach in Vilnius, Vitaly Asovsky, I went to Lithuania to meet him. I did, and after I showed him what I could do, he asked me whether I’d be prepared to devote the next fifteen to twenty years to hard work, workouts and nothing but workouts. I was taken aback — I was already over thirty, but thinking things over I agreed to follow his instructions. He began coaching me and we won a lot of tournaments. After some time we parted company, but it was when I had already begun training others myself. Among the athletes I have trained, there are a dozen champions of Ukraine, and one champion of Europe and of the world in fitness.
Does Ukraine occupy any noticeable position in the world’s bodybuilding movement?
In amateur bodybuilding all the leading positions are taken by Eastern European countries — Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic. In fact, the Ukrainian team of bodybuilders is among the top five — or ten — best teams among 175 IFBB members.
Does the state provide much support?
You must be kidding! What support are you talking about? Even the Olympic sports survive in this country only thanks to the athletes’ enthusiasm. We cannot provide participants for all the weight categories and we choose only those who have excellent chances of winning. More’s the pity, since there are so many promising athletes who could be trained and sent to all kinds of competitions. Alas…
What about sponsors?
Business people do not see much reason in supporting bodybuilding financially — they think they would get no or very little returns. TV stations take too much money for filming — they don’t understand that bodybuilding is potentially a very visually effective show, and as such could be lucrative. It is possible to earn money through advertisement — but only occasionally. If bodybuilding becomes an Olympic sport, then maybe we’ll have more of those who will support it financially.
In fact, amateur bodybuilding is not a sport that attracts a lot of capital. In sports, the more money is pumped into them, the better the results are. Professional bodybuilding is quite another matter. It’s highly competitive, there’s a lot of money in it, there’s much hyping, well-advertised tournaments and high prizes. Mister Olympia — the main world tournament, is annually held in Las Vegas, USA, with much pomp and fanfare. The winner gets a prize of a hundred and ten thousand dollars and a car worth dozens of thousands of doodlers. On the other hand, it’s not that much if you compare it to the prizes in professional boxing.
Did you ever think of going professional and moving to the west?
Probably, fifteen years ago, if I had been then what I am now, there’d be a reason for me to go to the west… Some of the Ukrainian bodybuilders did go professional but none of them achieved any spectacular successes. One of the athletes who was in his time a champion of Ukraine, of the Soviet Union, of Europe and of the world among the amateurs went to the USA — and failed to achieve anything. His career in sport came to an end — for a professional bodybuilder he was too short. Another Ukrainian bodybuilder of a considerable potential, Oleg Zhur from Odesa, went to the Czech Republic, took part in European competitions as a professional bodybuilder and even went to Las Vegas to compete in Mister Olympia 2000. He did not win any prizes but the fact of his participation in Mister Olympia remains the highest achievement of Ukrainian professional bodybuilders. Unfortunately, he has no sponsors to support and promote him and in the past three years he has not been taking part in competitions. And it is essential in professional bodybuilding to be regularly seen at the prestigious tournaments, to be written about, to keep in touch with champions — and to live in California.
Of course, with such a governor, bodybuilding is on the go!
Right. Incidentally, the second most important bodybuilding tournament in the world, Arnold Classic, was launched by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
What will you do after you retire from the big-time sport?
I’ll do what I’m doing now — I’ll keep on coaching, I’ll work as a judge at competitions in Ukraine and abroad, I’ll conduct seminars. I’ve written a book about bodybuilding and it will soon be released. Some of the chapters from this book have already been published in Ukrainian and Russian sport magazines.
How does attitude to bodybuilding vary from country to country?
Attitudes do differ. For example, about two years ago the European championship was held in Lausanne, Switzerland. It’s a very developed country, in every respect, but the place that was given for holding the championship was small and the hall was half-empty. Juan Antonio Samaranch himself, the then president of the International Olympic Committee whose headquarters was next door, visited the competitions and promised to promote bodybuilding and make it an Olympic sport. But now the new IOC president is a different person who rejects the idea.
By contrast, the world championship held in the much smaller town of Bratislava, in Slovakia, was given a huge hall equipped at the cutting edge of technology with three thousand fans in enthusiastic attendance. Two years ago, the world championship was held in Cairo, Egypt. The championship generated a lot of interest — it turned out that bodybuilding was an extremely popular sport in Egypt! Excellent advertisement and promotion!
But the best reception we had was in Brazil. Bodybuilding there is almost as popular as football! There was so much excitement around the tournament, probably like during a carnival. It seems to me that bodybuilding is particularly popular in the developing countries where the economy, culture and sports are on the rise. Characteristically, the world championships are more often held in Turkey, Malaysia, India, and Burma rather than in such countries as Holland, Spain or France as they used to be. The most important bodybuilding events are supported by the state — they understand that such events attract a lot of tourists.
Which events in your bodybuilding career were most memorable?
Of course, it was nice to win the silver medal at the world championship in Portugal in 2002, but it is the year 1992 and the championship held in Austria that stand out in memory as an event of a particular importance. The airports were closed because of the weather and we decided to go to Austria by car. It was in the middle of the winter — lots of snow, mountain roads, fog. We — the president of the Ukrainian Federation of Bodybuilding, and three athletes, were driving for two days with only a few stops but we did arrive on time. We did not win the top places but we did show our mettle. Ukraine was elected member of the International Federation of Bodybuilding.
What happened in December 2003? Why did you fail to show up on time at the world championship in Spain?
The championship was held in the Canary Islands. There had never been any problems with Spanish visas before but last December we encountered so much bureaucracy and red tape! We had to fill out all kinds of unnecessary papers, to do a lot of things that we had never done before! We did get visas — but twenty minutes before our flight was to take off. There were no explanations, no apologies. I’m sure it was the inefficiency of an employee of the embassy that was to blame for this unpardonable delay. Of course, indignant letters from the Bodybuilding Federation and organizers of the championship were written and sent, but it was too late…
I was pretty sure I’d win that championship. In fact, when I looked at the photographs of the winners I realized that it would have been an easy win for me. I hoped it’d be a well deserved finale of my building career… A week later I won the championship of Ukraine as a sort of cancellation.
Maybe you’ll make another attempt?
I don’t think so. It takes so much effort, money and health to keep it going. And my wife is dead against it.
What then made you go on all these years?
Love of sport, enthusiasm, and in my younger years — ambition. I wanted to show what you could do with your body, I wanted to be the best. Besides, it felt so great to win a championship and hear your name and the name of your country in the announcement about the winner. And I enjoyed all those workouts, that very special feeling that pumping iron brings. It’s like an addiction.
Besides, don’t most men want to have an athletic figure and finely shaped muscles?
I achieved that early in my career of a bodybuilder. In the 1970s, I saw people in the street staring at me and probably wondering, ‘What kind of sports this guy is in?’
What about the reaction of the people when they see you on the beach?
I don’t go to the public beaches anymore. No time, besides, I feel awkward when people stare. So if I want to sunbathe I do it at my sport club or by a private swimming pool.
It must have taken twenty four hours seven days a week to build a body like yours.
No, not really. I have four or five workouts a week, each one lasting an hour or even less. But these workouts are of a great intensity with practically no rest. The main thing in bodybuilding is keeping a diet. It’s really hard, both physically and psychologically. It can be even harmful to health — there are times when you must not have any salt, any sugar, any fat in your food, and very little water, to burn out all the fat from your body. There must not be an extra gram of fat or liquid under your skin. You have to figure out things very carefully. My wife Tetyana helps me a lot in this respect. She’s an experienced dietician. She worked for almost ten years at a well-known western sport club. She even won the NABBA world championship in 1993 and the title of Miss Figure.
Athletes in all other kinds of sports are advised to have a lot of juices and fruit before the competitions and with me it’s the other way round — I stop having them because they give too much liquid and sugar. Dieting, bodybuilders’ style, is no fun, really. Plus it may cost a lot of money. One of my trainees, for example, must have thirty eggs a day — in fact, he uses only the whites. He buys fresh eggs at the market and the vendors are sure he buys the eggs to resell them at a higher price! Plus all kinds of food additives and vitamins.
How much weight do you work with?
I used to hold a barbell of 200 kilograms and then go into a squatting position and then straighten up again — 15 times in a row. I could do that with a weight of 260-280 kilograms but I don’t do it any longer. For the biceps, I use dumbbells of 18–20 kilograms — 10 to 15 movements at a time — six times. But the main thing is to know how to do it right, and which muscles to engage.
Is it true that bodybuilders use anabolic steroids a lot?
Special preparations are used in all the sports, you can hardly do without them any more, but unfortunately some of these preparations are hazardous to health. Besides, their use is limited by all sorts of regulations. And actually it’s not the synthetic hormones that determine the athlete’s success — it’s the genetic makeup, a coach and conditions of training that determine your success or failure. And, of course, your determination, your resolve, and your strength of character are of a paramount importance.
Mr Valery Lutsak was interviewed
by Yevhen Budko, senior editor
of Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine