Waldemar Baszanowski: Polish Hero

In response to a request from Larry Sheppard of North Bay, ON I am writing a little bit on one of his (and many others’) favourite lifters. The man in question is the fabled Waldemar Romuald Baszanowski, who was born on the banks of the famous river Vistula in Grudziądz, Poland on August 15, 1935 . This town was part of the First German Reich from 1871 to 1920. After the Treaty of Versailles redrew the map of post WWI Europe, it became part of the revived nation of Poland. Nineteen years later this part of Poland was directly in the road of Hitler’s invaders and still later was to come under the domination of the Soviets. This is typical of the fate of Poland, being a sometime buffer state forever fought over between its contentious German and Russian neighbours. This has produced a distinctive Polish mindset that must have influenced the young Waldemar.

His first name is derived from “vald mari”, an Old Germanic name meaning “famous ruler.” How prophetic that would eventually be. He would take part in four Olympic Games (from 1960 to 1972), taking gold in the two middle ones. Twenty five World Records and many other European and Polish ones would also fall to him over the course of his long career. When looking the name “Waldemar” up on the web, only two examples of famous people come up as results. One of them is Baz.

Baz cleaning using the split style

In his earlier athletic endeavours, he had excelled as a sprinter and a gymnast, two skills that would stand him in good stead in future. After doing his compulsory military service, he entered the Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw in 1957. He took the bronze at 60 at the 1957 Polish nationals.

He was often thought of as a muscle-less wonder, and maybe he was, by weightlifter standards. He was too tall for the 60s and was still too tall when he settled into the 67.5s. This was a time when Polish coaches seemed to have all of their lifters competing one or even two categories too low. But closer examination revealed a very athletic physique that was more muscular than first met the eye. He would always be the example given when any coach was describing a lifter with lean athletic lines. This unlikely physique probably contributed much to his great popularity.

As for style, he was an enigma, changing from split to squat and back again all through his career. Other lifters have done this but they did not set world records with both. He did. He started as a splitter probably because it was another Pole, American Norbert Schemansky, who greatly influenced East European quick lift styles. The Soviets took many films of the Old Professor, whose bottom positions were low and faultless. His pulling was primitive, often done on sharply bent arms but once he dove under he hit the right positions. They then taught this style to all of their lifters right up into the early 1960s. While the Americans adopted the squat style during the mid 1950s, many of the Soviets and Poles retained the split until the late 1960s. Baszanowski was undoubtedly influenced by this. But when the advantages of the squat style were shown him, he easily learned it as well and put it to use. He was the last man to set world records with the split and also the only one to set world records in both styles in the snatch. As far as I know he cleaned only in the split style, at least when at the elite level. Hoffman claimed he also squat cleaned at one time, but I have seen no photos of such. The fact that he used a squat snatch and split clean is also unusual. Most lifters who employ both styles use a split snatch and squat clean. He was never a threat to breaking a press record due to his slim build and long arms but with the loosening of the rules during the 1960s he was able to stay close enough so that he never had to make up too much in the quick lifts.

His first international meet was the 1960 Olympics in some very fast company. All of the top five would win world titles in their careers. Baz had arrived in the sport late in life for a lifter. Many have arrived and retired before he even started his international career. Few would have imagined that he would soon come to dominate his category in the coming decade.

1960 Results
Lifter Nat Sorry, no lift-by-lift available Total
Press Snatch C&J
BUSHUEV Victor URS 125.0 122.5 150.0 397.5
TAN Howe Liang SIN 115.0 110.0 155.0 380.0
ABDUL Wahid Aziz IRQ 117.5 115.0 147.5 380.0
ZIELINSKI Marian POL 115.0 110.0 150.0 375.0
BASZANOWSKI Waldemar POL 105.0 117.5 147.5 370.0
HUZSKA Mihaly HUN 110.0 107.5 147.5 365.0

All of that would change at the 1961 Worlds in Vienna. Baz would overcome all of the erstwhile favourites in the 67.5s and win quite unexpectedly. Strength and Health titled their story on him “Poland’s Surprise Champion”. One of the reasons, of course, was his age. He was 26, about the age when most elite lifters start to wonder how long they will last. He totaled 402.5 that day. He finished 2.5 ahead of Sergei Lopatin (URS) and beat the man who would be his long time nemesis, team-mate Marian Zielinski, by 7.5.

1961 Results
Lifter Nat Press Snatch C&J Total
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
BASZANOWSKI Waldemar POL 115.0 120.0 120.0 122.5 122.5 127.5 155.0 160.0 162.5 402.5
LOPATIN Sergei URS 120.0 125.0 130.0 115.0 120.0 122.5 150.0 150.0 152.5 400.0
ZIELINSKI Marian POL 120.0 125.0 127.5 112.5 117.5 120.0 150.0 155.0 155.0 397.5

In its article, Strength & Health mentioned the track and field and soccer work that Baszanowski did to help his conditioning. This was treated as quite the novelty at the time but hindsight has shown this to be a desirable practice, and it is now a common one in the re-adaptation cycles. Baz was thought to be the first exponent of such work and also thought to be one of only a few who did so. Such work would eventually be known as “general physical conditioning”, or GPP for shor,t after it was adapted to weightlifting from other sports by writers like Medvedev and Matveev. Baszanowski’s great condition and his ultimate successes did much to popularize this aspect of total sport preparation. The days of the slow, lumbering lifter, if they ever existed, were now definitely gone, even for big men.

In 1962 the Worlds had been scheduled for the USA, but its unwillingness to allow the East German flag to fly caused the event to be moved to Budapest. In his third Worlds, Baz added 10 kg to his total but only managed the silver. He thus showed that his performance the previous year was no one-time wonder. But if he wanted to hold the gold again in ever tighter competition, he would have to do better. The Russians had won this category every year from 1953 to 1960 with a different lifter almost every year. In 1962 they had yet another new lifter, Viktor Kaplunov, better than all the others and reputedly a professional bear hunter up near Archangel. He would prove too much for our man, even though his 412.5 total tied the world record. The Russian took gold with 415 while Zielinski got another bronze with 405.

1962 Results
Lifter Nat Press Snatch C&J Total
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
KAPLUNOV Viktor URS 125.0 130.0 132.5 115.0 120.0 122.5 150.0 155.0 160.0 415.0
BASZANOWSKI Waldemar POL 117.5 122.5 125.0 122.5 127.5 127.5 155.0 160.0 162.5 412.5
ZIELINSKI Marian POL 120.0 125.0 127.5 115.0 120.0 122.5 150.0 155.0 160.0 405.0

About Dresdin Archibald

Dresdin Archibald has been an IWF International Referee since 1970 (Category 1 since 1980). He was president of the Canadian Weightlifting Federation 1980-84 and 1997-2001 and was also on the IWF Audit Committee 1984-88. He was treasurer of the IWF Masters Committee for many years and is currently vice president of the Canadian Masters. He has served as referee or team leader at various international competitions such as the Olympics, Junior, Senior, Collegiate and Masters Worlds plus Commonwealth and Pan Am Games. He has also served as referee and other positions at most Canadian Senior Championships since 1968. He has written an "Officials Manual" for every Olympiad since 1972. This manual (usually nearly 200 pages) takes the IWF rules and explains their history, rational and how to apply them, and explains what the new official can expect when going to his first international meet. He takes a keen interest in our sport's history as well as many other issues. And he has met many of those in this world who have contributed to our sport over the past 50 years.
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