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Strong and handsome

 

Among the men who have proved at competitions that they are the strongest and toughest in the world are several Ukrainians among them Vasyl Virastyuk, the Klychko brothers and the more recent addition to this cohort — Serhiy Konyushok. Mr Konyushok, who last August won the 105-kg Strongman World Record Breakers, was interviewed by Yevhen BUDKO, senior editor of Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine.

When the athlete walked into the magazine office, he became the center of immediate attention among the female staff — his build, his movements revealed that he was, on the one hand, strength incarnate, and on the other hand, his general appearance was that of a strikingly handsome manly man, complete with blond hair and charming smile (one of the young women whispered behind his back, “Awesomely strong and irresistibly handsome”). I personally was greatly impressed by his refined Ukrainian — something you don’t hear too much these days even among intellectuals, much less among athletes.

t the 105-kg Strongman World Record Breakers contest which was held in Finland last August Serhiy Konyushok won the top prize, proving the contest name was for real as he broke the world record in the farmer’s walk, 120 kg/70 meters in 30.82 seconds.

Other events included the medley carrying, the log lift for maximum weight, carrying a car down the 25 meter course, a truck pull, the deadlift, the Conan’s wheel and the Atlas stones. Overall top three at the competition were Serhiy Konyushok, Janne Hartikainen and Marius Lalas.

 

Is this 105 category a recent innovation in the world of strongman sport?

No, not really very recent. It was introduced at the end of the 1990s. One category remained without any limits on the weight, and the other limited the top weight up to 105 kilograms — I would say for esthetic reasons.

At the time when the strongman sport started to gain in popularity, huge men of enormous weight showed their Herculean strength by carrying outsized rocks, pulling railroad freight cars and performing other stunts. With the passage of time, these mountainous creatures began to look somewhat revolting, and the emphasis began to shift on the more harmonious appearance of the participants. It was then that the 105-kilograms category was introduced.

I understand that this year’s competition at last saw you win the top prize, leaving your main competitor behind as the runner-up.

Our “rivalry” began in 2007 at the strongman competition held in China. I was doing fine, being in the lead after the log lift event — the log weighs 110 kilos and you have to lift it so many times in as few seconds as possible. At the push-pull event you have to push your opponent out of the six-meter ring by pushing or pulling the log equipped with handles which both the opponents hold. I was quite confident that I would win the next event, the Conan’s wheel and thus open the way to winning the competition (incidentally, I’m somewhat better at the Conan’s wheel than even Vasyl Virastyuk who is much heavier than I am). But during the push-pull event in which my opponent was Janne Hartikainen I had a leg tendon injured — because the Finn broke the rules in handling the log. He was not disqualified as he should have been but the referees gave the victory in that event to me. Unfortunately, that injury prevented me from performing to the best of my ability and I was only the fourth in the overall count. The organizers even insisted that I quit altogether, but I signed a statement in which I took all the responsibility for possible aggravation of my injury on myself.

So this year I had the upper hand over Janne Hartikainen and the victory is all the more sweet since I did it in his native Finland. He remains to be in the excellent form and the competition was very tough. Marius Lalas from Lithuania was the third close competitor for the top place.

When did you begin doing power-lifting and then strongman sports full time?

I’ve been doing it for about ten years now. During the past two years I’ve been training particularly intensively, with every little detail taken into consideration, diet included. So my win in Finland was not accidental.

Do you have a coach, a trainer?

I’m my own coach and trainer. I plan my workouts, training and everything else all by myself, but there are several people whose advice I seek — Mykhailo Heraskevych, Serhiy Ponomaryov and Yury Lahutin among them.

I use new technologies as much as I can. One of them is taking videos of my workouts and then carefully studying them — it helps me see what may be wrong and introduce improvements. I keep abreast of the latest advances in physiology, dietology, pharmacology and other fields getting information that can be useful for me in my sport. Basically, I consider training to be a process in which at first you put a great stress on your body and then work to restore the balance, find compensatory mechanisms and achieve desirable progress.

What is your educational background?

I graduated from the National University of Physical Education and Sports, majoring in power sports. Then I studied at the post-graduate courses and wrote a dissertation that deals with some aspects of the influence that certain plants and substances made from them may have on athletes doing power sports. The preparation for the public presentations of my dissertation is almost complete.

When did you begin to do sports? Was it a family tradition?

No, not at all! My parents are engineers and had nothing to do with sports. I think it was one of the teachers at the kindergarten I attended that gave me the first push. She organized all sorts of competitions in running, pull-ups, you name it. In high school I did wrestling, karate, pushball, swimming… Arnold Schwarzenegger was an example to follow!

Do you think it would be true to say that certain sports are dominated by some nationalities and ethnics, while in other sports other nationalities do better?

Yes, there may be something to it. I don’t think anyone can outrun athletes from Central and South Africa, or from Caribbean. They have higher concentrations of hemoglobin in their blood. Similarly, I think there’s something in the genetic heritage of the Slavs and Scandinavians and some other ethics that produces very strong men. In Ukraine, you will find a man of extraordinary strength almost in every village. I saw young men, straight from the countryside with practically no previous training, handle two-hundred kilo weights, doing sit-ups with them. I could do that only after years of training! Strongman traditions in Ukraine seem to have a very long history — one of the characters of ancient Kyivan Rus-Ukrainian fables, Illya Muromets is the patron saint of power sports. He was a historical personage, not just a fairy-tale character, who lived in the eleventh or twelfth century and was buried in one of the caves of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv…

But winning at championships involves much more than just great strength — you have to do a lot of things other than just to have a genetically or God-given strength, to achieve success. And though many of such countryside boys are enormously strong, most of them go back to their villages without achieving great results.

Do the power-sports athletes get some support from the government in Ukraine? Their achievements are very impressive!

There is no government support whatsoever. It takes about a thousand dollars to keep a professional strongman athlete in shape and readiness to take part in competitions. The money comes from the prizes and royalties for performing at shows. In amateur power sports the situation is much worse and it is only the enthusiasm of those who do it that keeps these sports going.

There is — or rather was, the Federation of the Strongest Athletes of Ukraine. It did not in any way promote the power sports or provide any support, and nine of twelve of the strongest athletes resigned from that federation in protest.

Are you planning any other strongmen union?

We are. We want to set up a league of professional strongmen to provide support for the athletes in many things they need and help organize competitions.

Do your workouts and trainings leave you any free time?

Well, between the competitions there may be periods when there is some time left for things not connected with power sports — like giving this interview, for example (laughs). But even then, my life is pretty regulated by the needs of the sport. I must keep my weight below 105 kilograms and that means I’m on a sort of a diet which must give me enough energy but not increase my weight. So I don’t eat anything that contains sugar, living on meat, fresh vegetables, and porridge.

I love Ukrainian borsch and kefir of the kind which I can’t find anywhere except in Ukraine, and I miss this food a lot when I go abroad.

Are there any places that you genuinely liked?

Saint Petersburg in Russia and Paris in France. They have a very special atmosphere. In general, I like big cities but, say, I don’t care for Moscow which looks to me as a city that has retained too much from the soviet times. A couple of art galleries and the Kremlin are all that I’d care to see there.

Do you attend any national strongman competitions in foreign countries?

Yes, I do but I do not take part in them. Incidentally, our compatriot, Kyrylo Chuprynin broke a record at the Highlander Games in Scotland, he was even granted an award personally by the Queen Elizabeth II. Some of such games and shows are real fun to watch, but they are amateur and I care for professional sport.

Is there anything else that you devote yourself to in addition to strongman sports?

I am very much interested in ethnic anthropology.

May I ask what it is?

This science studies the peculiarities of different human races and ethnicities — the body peculiarities, culture, history and beliefs. I spend quite a lot of time when I can looking for information on these subjects in the Internet and elsewhere. I would like to write a doctoral thesis that would deal with some aspects of ethnic anthropology — not biological aspects but sociological ones.

That sounds very interesting… To change the subject — do any of the athletes you meet at the competitions come to Kyiv on visits?

Yes, some of them do. Recently some of the Estonian strongmen visited Kyiv and I took them around showing architectural and historical landmarks. They were impressed and said that when I visit Tallinn, they, before they take me on sightseeing tours, will have to do a lot of homework to learn about their city’s past to pay me back in kind (laughs).

Is there any place in Kyiv that you like in particular?

Yes, there is. It’s a park in the Darnytsya District, on the left bank of the River Dnipro. It has a sentimental value for me. Recently, it has been reconstructed and now it is really a very nice place.

May I ask you a personal question?

Shoot.

You must be aware that you are a very handsome man… do you have — how should I put it? — many female admirers?

I’ll answer your question in this way — I have not yet reached the level of popularity when it becomes a liability rather than an asset.

 

 

 

 

In Lviv, with the Chapel of the Boim family in the background.

 

 

 

Performing the Atlas stones stunt at Estonian Open Championship.

 

Photos from Serhiy KONYUSHOK’s archives

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