Despite being the perfect build for wrestling – at birth he weighed 7 kilos and at 13 he was taller than his father – Aleksandr Karelin didn’t enjoy the sport at first. He was considering quitting when he met coach Victor Kusnetzov, who renewed Karelin’s enthusiasm.
At the 1988 Seoul Games, in his first Olympic appearance, Karelin won gold in the super heavyweight event of Greco-Roman wrestling. He then remained undefeated in the four years between Seoul and the next Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Karelin successfully defended his gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, he became the first wrestler to win the same weight class three times, outscoring his five opponents 25-0. By the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Karelin had been undefeated for an amazing 13 years. He made it to the final again, but his quest for a fourth gold medal was thwarted when he experienced a rare lapse of concentration and lost 1-0 to Rulon Gardner of the United States.
Despite his intimidating presence, Karelin was a soft-spoken student of literature. In 1999, he was elected to the State Duma lower house. In 2001, he received the Olympic Order from Juan Antonio Samaranch, then President of the International Olympic Committee.