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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3 responses to Walde­mar Baszanowski: Pol­ish Hero

  1. Laura Reid says:


    I very much enjoyed read­ing the note on Walde­mar Basz­nanowski. How­ever I also would like to point an error in your first table on the 1960 Rome Olympic Games results. Tan Howe Liang is from Sin­ga­pore, not from the USA.

    Thank you

  2. Walde­mar Baszanowski died on the 29. april 2011 almost 76 years old. The last two years of his lift his was paral­ysed after a fall from a tree in his gar­den.
    The “great” Baszanowski did not have con­tact with his som Marke Baszanowski who had prob­lems with drugs.
    The “great” Walde­mar Baszanowski was a poor dri­ver and father, — but lived for weightlift­ing and fame.

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