George Karl Julius Hackenschmidt
Grappling with his options
George Karl Julius Hackenschmidt, also known as "Hack" or "The Russian Lion", was born in Dorpat (now Tartu), Estonia, on August 2, 1878. He put aside an early interest in lifting for what proved to be a profitable career in professional wrestling. Had he not done so, he could have set, in our humble opinion, even greater records than the ones that peppered his strength resumé.
Hackenschmidt’s early gymnastics training cultivated his agility and control of his body, which formed the physical foundation for lifting feats and later for wrestling. By the age of 18, Hack could raise more than 200 pounds overhead with one hand.
After studying to be a draftsman, Hackenschmidt entered the army and was assigned to the regiment guarding Russia’s Czar Nicholas II. Hack spent his leisure time doing gymnastics, weightlifting and wrestling. In 1897, in some of his early wrestling matches, he was billed as Lenz.
Prescription to Grow
In an effort to win a pair of pants, Hackenschmidt eclipsed his own previous lift of 256 pounds in a bent-press by hefting 271 pounds at the 1898 Russian Weightlifting Championships. Around this time, he went to St. Petersburg at the invitation of Dr. von Krajewski, founder of the St. Petersburg Athletic and Cycling Club, who encouraged Hack in his weight-training and wrestling pursuits. In April 1901, in Vienna, he won the European championship in Greco-Roman wrestling by defeating Turkish matman Ahmed Madrali.
Lion Left Out
Going west, to Europe, Hack sought more challenging wrestling competitions and bigger cash prizes. In Paris, he won the 1901 France World Championships. The following year, he crossed the channel to London, and on March 2, 1902, at the Alhambra Theatre, challenged Jack Carkeek to wrestle. Carkeek was an English strongman known for defying audience members to last just 10 minutes in the ring with him. When The Russian Lion volunteered for a bout, Carkeek, knowing Hack’s reputation, narrowed the contest to Englishmen only – and the match never happened.
Early Ring Hype
Wrestling promoter Charles Cochran took an interest in Hack’s career, and tried to inculcate in the young wrestler a spirit of showmanship, helping to increase both Hack’s and the sport’s popularity (this might explain why Hack, in early bouts, wore lemon-colored tights). Hack solidified his reputation as Europe’s top wrestler by besting British wrestler Tom Cannon for the European Greco-Roman wrestling title in Liverpool on September 4, 1902.
On January 30, 1904, Hack wrestled Madrali again, this time in London. The match was over in 44 seconds – Madrali’s right arm had been dislocated in two places. Six months later, Hack squared off against top American heavyweight wrestler Tom Jenkins at Albert Hall, and won, lending credibility to his claim of being the world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Shillings and Pence in the Outback
After wrestling for two and a half years in England, Hack went down under – to Australia – in the autumn of 1904, where he made the equivalent of $600 per week for four months, an astronomical wage at the time.
Pinning Down the Best
Madison Square Gardens was the site of a rematch between Hack and Jenkins in 1905. Hack’s victory, combined with his earlier wins in Europe, gave him the right – although there would be no international governing body for wrestling until 1912 to legitimize the claim – to call himself the worlds’ best in the sport.
Wrestlemania, The Prequel
Herbert Turner, writing in 1907 about the revived interest in the art of wrestling over the previous five years, credited Hack “…since [his] meteor-like advent…it is not too much to say that the sport has increased in the public’s favour by leaps and bounds,” and said that wrestling’s popularity was “primarily due to the outstanding personality of the Russian phenomenon.” (Although he was born in Estonia, Hack was often described as being Russian.)
Can You Hack It
In German, the word hacke refers to the heel of the foot. In the hack lift, as it was originally performed, the hands were crossed behind the back, and the weightlifter squatted on his toes while bringing the bar as close as possible to his heels. Hack, in that sense, meant heels. In 1902, using the original style, Hack completed a set of 50 reps with 50 kilos (about 110 pounds). Around 1958, Hackenschmidt was startled to learn that English speakers assumed the lift (the modern version, with arms parallel) was named after him.
Hack wrote several books, including The Complete Science of Wrestling (1909); Man and Cosmic Antagonism to Mind and Spirit (1936); Attitudes and Their Relation to Human Manifestations (1937); Fitness and Your Self (1937); The Three Memories and Forgetfulness: What They Are and What Their True Significance Is in Human Life (1937); The Way to Live in Health and Physical Fitness (1941); and Consciousness and Character: True Definitions of Entity, Individuality, Personality, and Non-entity (1957).
Hack died on February 19, 1968, at St. Francis Hospital in East Dulwich, England, the town where he had lived for 15 years with his wife, Rachel.
Hall of Fame Inductees for 2007