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Karlis Pumpurins

by Arthur Chidlovski, 2007

There is an old stereotype - weightlifters don't talk much.

Whether it is true or not but one of the legends of Latvian Olympic weightlifting, Karl Pumpurins probably fits the most into this old perception of the lifters.

He really didn't talk much.

A native of Latvia (part of the Soviet Union at the time of his competive career), Karl Pumpurins was one of the finest students of the iron game in his home republic. Latvia produced many elite level lifters - from Albert Ozolins and Karlis Leiland of the 1920s to the superhavyweight Victors Scherbatihs of the 2000s. Pumpurins is often mentioned among the names of the graduates of Latvian weightlifting such as Vasily Stepanovs, Gennady Ivanchenko, Anatoly Mayasin, Sergey Poltoratsky.

Pumpurins had a phenomenal physique. By all means, his appearance was a subject of jealousy of experienced bodybuilders. His strength and power could have made some of todays powerlifters think about switching to the Olympic style.

Pumpurins could have become a poster boy for the Olympic weightlifting before poster industry actually arrived behind the Iron Curtain.

Boys wanted to look like him. Boys wanted to be as strong as Pumpurins.

Legendary Yury Vlasov called Pumpurins a real deal weightlifter. Vlasov has been retired from competitions and almost fully disaccoiated from the sport after the painful fiasco at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Asked about the most promising athletes and Olympics hopefuls in the late 1960s, Vlasov without hesitation named the young mid heavyweight lifter Karl Pumpurins.

Table 1. Karl Pumpurins in the Top USSR Tournaments

Tournament Class Press Snatch CJ Total Rank
4th USSR Spartakiade
42nd USSR Championship, Moscow, 1967
90kg 160 135 170 465 6
1970 USSR Cup 110kg Press: 192.5 kg (Gold); CJ: 202.5 kg (Gold)
5th USSR Spartakiade
46th USSR Championship, Moscow, 1971
110kg 195 145 200 540 5

Such high praise definitely marked Pumpurins as the top elite lifter of his era. However, big promises didn't exactly materialize into gold rush at the Olympics. Pumpurins strongest lift was Olympic style press. In this lift, he was head and shoulders above his competitors. He broke five press world records with the last one (181 kg) set in 1969.

On the other hand, his results in dynamic lifts were not quiet enough to climb to the top of the mountain. His snatch and clean-and-jerk lifts didn't allow him to show competitive results in total against such candidates to Team USSR as Jaan Talts, Anatoly Kalenichenko or Alexander Kidyaev.

A few years later, press was eliminated from the official Olympic weightlifting competitions and that didn't exactly improved the status of the press masters like Pumpurins.

To this day, Karl Pumpurins remains one of the most enigmatic figures in the Soviet and world Olympic weightlifting. Multiple world records holder, highly respected by fellow weightlifters and coaches, he had almost no exposure to the international weightlifting arena. Yet, the walls of the old basement gyms in the Soviet Union in the 1960s were covered with the self-made posters of Karl. Pumpurins was truly inspirational and brought many young lifters into this sport.

Off the platform, Karl Pumpurins studied engineering in the Politechnical Institute in Riga. After his retirement from sports, Pumpurins served in the Internal Affairs units in Latvia. Life was rather challenging for many elite athletes during the transition from the Soviet economy to the today's free market reality. Recently, Pumpurins was spotted working as a butcher on the meat market in Riga. His name and results certainly continue to live in the memories of the old-timers.

The visual snapshots of Pumpurins' lifts below is just a small tribute to Karl Pumpurins, one of the most memorable lifers of the 1960s.

Note: You might view the profile of Karl Pumpurins @ Lift Up or scroll down to see Karl Pumpurins' Gallery. Special thanks to Sergey Lukjanov (Latvia) and Maris Andzans (Latvia) for their contribution in preparation of this article materials.



Karlis Pumpurins: Interactive Gallery





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