Aleksandr Medved was well named. His surname translates as “Bear” and the giant wrestler fitted that image perfectly. He was eventually to be considered one of the finest wrestlers the world has ever known, but such acclaim lay ahead. Tokyo was his first Olympic Games, and it was to prove a formidable debut.
Medved was competing in the greco-roman wrestling light-heavyweight division and, even thought he was making his Olympic debut at the age of 27, few were going to underestimate him. Medved had taken World Championship bronze in 1961, and then had won the world title in both 1962 and 1963.
His first opponent was the Romanian Francisc Balla, who lasted just over two minutes before being pinned by Medved.
The final bout proved a demonstration of his excellence – he pinned Said Mustafov of Bulgaria after just 39 seconds. Lennary Eriksson was beaten on the judges’ decision, before a draw with the Turkish wrestler Ahmet Ayik, one of the toughest opponents in the competition. Peter Jutzeler, of Switzerland, was then pinned in just under four minutes to earn the unbeaten Medved a place in the final round.
He was now sure of a medal, but its colour was uncertain. Victory over the Bulgarian Said Mustafov, though, could win him gold – and Medved set out like a man determined to fulfil his dream. He probed for an opening and found one almost immediately, grappling with Mustafov before pinning him down. The bout was over after 39 seconds.
It was the first of three gold medals that Medved would win in his memorable career. He would move up to heavyweight, and then again in 1972 to super-heavyweight, winning every bout he contested in the Games before retiring after winning that third gold.
In 1980, he returned to the Olympic arena when he recited the Athletes’ Oath at the Opening Ceremony in Moscow and, more than three decades after his last medal, he carried the Belarus flag at the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Games in Athens.