The Strongman Leonid Taranenko

The Strongman Leonid Taranenko

By RIA Novosti archive, image #484445 / Dmitryi Donskoy / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Leonid Taranenko is a strongman and weightlifting champion who still holds the records for the heaviest weight lifted in the 20th century. Taranenko was an impressive competitor on the international stage and represented 2 countries in the Olympics. While his impressive lift record is what he is remembered for, there is much more to this great athlete.

Weightlifting Career

Leonid Taranenko was born in Belarus which was part of the Soviet Union. In his youth, he trained at the VSS Uradzhai in Minsk and was a candidate for the Soviet Union national team as early as 1975. He made his debut on the world stage in the 1980 Olympic Games when he was just 24.

In his first Olympics, he represented the Soviet Union in the 110 kg class. He won a gold medal in this class with a total weight of 422.5 kg. In the 4 years leading up to the next Olympic games, he continued to train and would be ready to defend his place.

However, this was not to be as the Soviet Union did not take part in the 1984 games. This was due to the Soviet-led boycott of the games. This boycott had a large impact on the weightlifting event because 94 of the top 100 athletes did not compete due to it.

While competing in the Olympics was impossible that year, Taranenko did compete at the Friendship Games. He took part in the 110 kg class and won with a total of 442.5 kg. This winning weight was greater than the one from the Olympic games. At the Olympics, Norberto Oberburger won gold with a total weight 52.5 kg lighter.

Moving To Super-Heavyweight

After his showing at the Friendship Games, Taranenko took the risky step of moving to the Super Heavyweight class. As Taranenko was 6’ which is a respectable height in most sports, but was considered on the shorter side for this weight class. He was also facing a long list of young Soviet athletes wanting to become the world’s strongest man. This was a title which had been vacant since the retirement of Vasily Alexeev.

Despite the risks, Taranenko took to the stage in Canberra, Australia where he would set the world record for the heaviest weight lifted in competition. In a clean and jerk, he was able to lift 266 kg. During the competition, he also lifted 210 kg in the snatch and set a total of 475 kg.

The 266 kg lift is no longer recognized as the official world record because of changes which were made to the competitive weight classes. His total of 475 kg would remain unbroken from 1988 to 2017 when Lasha Talakhadze broke it at the World Championships.

Taranenko continued to compete after the fall of the Soviet Union and represented the Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics. In 1996, he represented Belarus in the European Weightlifting Championships which he won. However, age and a history of injuries would prevent him from competing further.

Leonid Taranenko still holds the record for the heaviest weight lifted in a competition even if this is no longer the official record. Other records of his held for many years and he is still considered one of the greats of weightlifting.

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