Andrei Chemerkin Was Crazy, Stupid Strong

For most of the 1990s, Olympic weightlifting’s heaviest weight class was ruled by the Russian giant Andrei Chemerkin. At his competition peak, Chemerkin’s 6 foot frame supported nearly 400 pounds of bodyweight, which he used to move world record loads. While he’s best known as an Olympic gold medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Chemerkin’s international accomplishments spanned a decade, and he was also World Champion in 1995, 1997, 1998, and 1999. Oh, and he made the heaviest clean & jerk attempt in weightlifting competition history, but more on that further below.

Below is a video of the superheavyweight session from the 1999 World Championships, one of his last major international victories. It’s an epic battle between the Russian, Iran’s Hossein Rezazadeh, and Qatar’s Jaber Salem. One thing about Chemerkin that’s hard to forget is his incredible, raw strength; while rarely the top snatcher on the international stage, Chemerkin usually dominated the clean & jerk portion. Often times, he did so with what many would call…unorthodox, brute-force technique.

This video is a prime example: around 6:15, Andrei cleans 245 kilograms without it even touching his chest. Later, he does the same thing with 257.5 kg, holding 567 pounds with bare arms and wrists like most people would approach a light and poorly-racked strict press.

Here’s another no-front-rack clean & jerk from the 2002 Russian Championships. At this point, Chemerkin had taken a step back from international competition, but he’s still clearly strong as an ox, holding 230 kilograms in the air like an empty barbell.

Here’s another video of one of his more successful sessions from the 1998 World Weightlifting Championships. Video courtesy of Frank Rothwell.

While his Atlanta victory signposts a storied career, Chemerkin also earned a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Athens. There, he actually bested his winning total from 1996 but finished third behind a young Hossein Rezazadeh and veteran German lifter Ronny Weller.

The event also marked the heaviest clean & jerk attempt in weightlifting history – a staggering 272.5 kilos, just above the 600 pound mark. Chemerkin needed to secure the massive lift in order to repeat as Olympic Champion, and his run up the stairs and onto the platform remains one of the more enduring images of those Games.

Honestly, it looks pretty spry for a man of his size. At his heaviest, Chemerkin — who also had a career as a police officer in his native Russia — weighed around 175 kilos in Olympic competition and nearly 400 pounds during the 1999 World Weightlifting Championships. Of course, he had a head start, and according to at least one Chemerkin profile from around 2000, he entered the world as a 12.5 pound newborn.

Now retired, Chemerkin is still an influential figure in the Russian lifting community. He’s still a big, big man, but a 2013 profile for Russian TV profiled a slimmed-down coach and ski enthusiast who’s personally more focused on competitive table tennis than world record clean & jerks. Note: The video is in Russian, so unless you understand that language, it may be more worthwhile rewatching the above clips.