In sad news coming out of California, Armenian news sources and the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) are reporting that Olympic weightlifting champion Yurik Vardanian has passed away; he was 62 years old.
Vardanian, an ethnic Armenian athlete who competed for the Soviet Union (USSR) National Team, was an athlete considered by many to be one of the greatest weightlifters of all time. Between 1977 and 1985, he won gold at seven World Weightlifting Championships and also took home gold at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. He also won silver at the 1982 World Championships and the eight medals he won rank him second of all time behind Vasily Alekseyev, himself a legend in the sport of weightlifting. He also won five European Championships and was the first athlete in the -82.5kg category to total 400kg, which he accomplished at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
He was a favorite to repeat as Olympic Champion in 1984, however due to the Soviet Union’s boycott of the 1984 Olympic Games, Vardanian competed at the Friendship games where he easily won with a 405kg total. As of today, 405kg stands as the highest total ever accomplished in the -82.5kg division.
Vardanian finished his career setting 41 World Records and was decorated with the Order of Lenin in 1985 by the government of the Soviet Union. The Order of Lenin was the USSR’s highest decoration presented to civilians for outstanding services to the country.
In the early 1990s, Vardanian and his family immigrated to Moorpark, California. He was a pillar of the Armenian-American community in Southern California, working in the private business sector and helping other immigrants from Armenia with the transition to American life. In 2009 he returned to Armenia where he worked directly with former President Serzh Sargsyan to better the country. First as an advisor, then as the Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs in the president’s inner cabinet. In 2014, he became the ambassador to the country of Georgia, working to improve relations with the two former USSR countries.
Vardanian is survived by his wife Eleonara; as well as sons David, Norik and Michael. Norik followed in his father’s footsteps and represented Armenia at the 2012 Olympic Games in the -94kg category. Deepest condolences go out to the Vardanian family and the weightlifting world as a whole.