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Zudo’s got a weight on his mind—He can’t get the bar-bell off his chest !

Magnus the Muscle Man, the astonishing person whose full story I am telling for the first time, was the centre of an amazing scene in the great hall in Moscow that was used for a Weight-Lifting Congress.


I could see that the officials were worried, not knowing quite how to deal with the unexpected situation  that had developed. On the other hand, the spectators were roaring with excitement. Let me just tell you quickly what was happening. Magnus, the new holder of two world weight-lifting records, was the only Britisher to receive an invitation to compete in the Congress. During the interval the famous Zudo had appeared in order to demonstrate some of the unusual lifts he employed in training. Zudo was an Olympic champion, the Russian champion and holder of the world record for the Two Hands Snatch. In a demonstration of the lift called the Press On Bench, Zudo had lifted 400 Ib.—and, by way of comparison, the British record was 361 Ib. at the time of which I write. Magnus, leaving his seat, had tossed off his coat and waistcoat and exclaimed, “Let me have a shot at it!” He had succeeded in making the lift. Zudo, looking furiously angry at having his thunder stolen in this manner, pointed at the bar-bell. “Add five kilos.” He snarled. This meant an additional weight of 11 Ib. The officials decided that they would have to give way to the demand of the spectators, and steps were taken to increase the weight. The keen enjoyment of the unexpected contest showed in the gleam in Magnus’s piercing blue eyes. He was a young man of splendid build, with a mane of tawny hair and a deep cleft in his chin. Even in his braces he did not lose dignity. I believed him to be the Marquis of Melchester and a very wealthy man. Feats of strength, calling for the development of the body to its highest degree, interested Magnus greatly. I am Jack Trafford, a Birmingham journalist, and I was making the trip to Russia because of my friendship with Magnus and because so few newspapermen had any real knowledge if the Iron Game. Magnus was accompanied by his coach, Charlie Corbett, and Clifton, his stately manservant. The weight was soon ready. The spectators stamped and clapped as Zudo took off his dressing-gown. Zudo’s shoulders were colossal and his huge chest curved out like a cape. He stepped on to the central platform, one of five in the hall. Set on the platform was a bench. Zudo flexed his biceps. He marked time to loosen his legs and the platform shook. Then he lay back with his head and body on the bench and his feet on the floor. “I am ready,” he said. His words were interpreted for me by a Russian journalist, Daniel Kerelko. The audience became quiet as two burly weight-lifters raised the bar-bell. Zudo lifted his arms and grasped it. The assistants held it until it was balanced. “Let it go,” he snapped. Zudo lowered the weight until it touched his chest in the starting position. This lift, of course, demanded great strength in the muscles of the arms and shoulders. Zudo had arms of stupendous thickness. The weight began to rise as he pressed it slowly overhead. The judge clasped his hands as a signal that it was a good lift, and the assistants took the weight from Zudo’s grasp. Zudo rose from the bench. He bowed to the crowd.

An episode of:

Magnus - the Muscle Man

taken from The Wizard #1794

July 2nd 1960

He turned to Magnus and raised a hand in a challenging gesture. Magnus was in his shirt sleeves, as I have told you, and was wearing the tie of a famous regiment. He removed his cuff-links. Clifton, wearing a bowler hat and dark clothes, took the cuff-links and Magnus rolled up his sleeves. Then he stepped up. Charlie Corbett caught my eye and shook his head anxiously. Charlie had been a fitter in a Smethwick engineering shop, who devoted much of his spare time to coaching youngsters in the Iron Game.


Magnus rubbed his hands hard. He approached the bench and lay back on it. He raised his arms and the assistants heaved up the bar-bell. He grasped it and they let go. He lowered it on to his chest. Could he press 411 Ib. ? Corbett was holding his breath.

Clifton watched with no expression on his face. “Look, he’s doing it,” Corbett suddenly whispered. I flashed a glance at Zudo and it was certainly a surprise to him to see Magnus thrusting at the weight until he had completed the press and held it rigidly overhead. The judge clapped his hands, showing the lift was good. There was an outburst of applause from the crowd. This unofficial contest continued to their liking. The assistants took the weight. Magnus got up. He made a courteous bow to the crowd. Zudo raised a clenched fist. “Add another five kilos to the weight,” he roared. Excitement increased. This was stupendous! The weight was made up to 422 Ib. and Zudo returned to the platform. He paced up and down for some moments before he lay back on the bench and raised his hands to take the weight. The assistants grunted as they heaved it up. Zudo took hold of the weight. It wobbled, but he held it. He brought it down to his chest. Zudo took a deep breath and then, with a really prodigious effort, pressed the weight into the locked position. Zudo had done it. Magnus was not out of the contest. With a gesture he showed he was going to continue. He took off his tie and passed it to Clifton. “They’re making history,” Charlie spluttered. “I never thought to see over four hundred pounds lifted in the Press On Bench.” Magnus gave his hands a vigorous rub. He lay down on the bench. The assistants tottered towards him with the weight. His hands shut round the bar-bell and at a word the assistants let go. Magnus lowered the bar-bell to the starting position. Up, up, up! I saw the weight going up. Magnus was succeeding and the crowd broke into a sudden storm of applause. Perspiration glistened on Magnus’s face. The judge clapped his hands. It was a good lift. Magnus gave the weight to the assistants. He had tied with Zudo again. Zudo drew attention to himself with a shout. “Add five more kilos!” he roared. The discs were added to the weight amid even greater excitement. Zudo prowled up and down on the platform and then turned to the bench and lay back. The assistants held the weight over him and he gripped the bar. The assistants stepped off the platform. Zudo let the weight sink on to his chest—and there it stayed. “Lummy, its pinning him down,” Corbett gasped. What a babble there was in the hall at the sight of Zudo. There he lay with the bar across his chest. As Corbett said, it was pinning him down. He could not lift it and he could not get off the bench. He struggled furiously, seeking to start the press, but it was beyond him. The assistants at a word from the judge, hurried to remove the weight and release Zudo. The huge man rose to his feet with a prodigious scowl on his glistening face. “There’s no need for you to try it,” Corbett said to Magnus. “I must attempt it,” retorted Magnus. “I can’t stand down now.” The officials and the spectators were regarding him questioningly, wondering what his decision would be. They knew he was going to tackle the lift when he pulled his braces off his shoulders and let them dangle. After rubbing his hands he positioned himself upon the bench. He lifted his arms. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the assistants give Magnus the weight. He lowered the bar-bell on to his chest. Would he ever lift it again? Was he going to be pinned like Zudo? The weight was rising. Magnus, with a stupendous effort, was making the press. There was nothing jerky about it. Once he had started the weight moving he kept it going. Up it went until it was overhead. The judge completed the tremendous drama of the occasion by clapping his hands together to indicate that Magnus had completed the lift and that it was a good one. Freed of the weight by the assistants, Magnus rose slowly from the bench. The magnitude of the effort showed in the tension in his expression and his quick sharp breathing. “I dunno how you did it,” Corbett gulped. Magnus smiled. “I was at my absolute limit,” he said. “If a butterfly had settled on the bar it would have come down.” Zudo had a sullen air. He spoke to Magnus. “You won,” he mumbled, “but I shall defeat you to-morrow in the Olympic lifts.” Not long afterwards I left the hall with Daniel Kerelko. “I am not sure now that Zudo will be Magnus’s most formidable opponent to-morrow,” said my Russian friend. “True, at the moment, he is the champion, but champions come and go, and some excellent judges think that Peter Ustilov will prove to be the better man. Ustilov is five years younger than Zudo and so lacks something in experience, but he showed wonderful form in a congress held recently in Leningrad.” “That’s interesting,” I replied. “Have you seen Ustilov yourself?” “No, but I have seen him in films,” said Dan. “He has a very good style and, as all champions have to be, is very determined.”


Soon after daybreak in the morning, Magnus, who had been given accommodation in the British Embassy, went out for a training run. It was later on that I was able to piece together what happened. He went by himself. Magnus was wearing a sweater, moleskin trousers and sandshoes.


He ran at a vigorous pace. The police on duty near the Embassy knew him, and though they stared curiously, took no action to stop him. Moscow is a city where people work early, and the lone runner caused heads to turn. He intended to run round a couple of blocks and return for a work-out with his dumb-bells, but missed the way and found himself in a drab street with high buildings on the one side and a railway on the other. He was wondering which way to turn when he found his way blocked by three suspicious policemen. Magnus told them in English who he was and that he was British. This appeared to increase the suspicions of the police officers. The sergeant in command of the patrol, using signs, demanded to see Magnus’s identity papers. Magnus shook his head. He had not brought his passport and visa out with him. The lack of documents made the police feel that this suspicious character must be arrested, but Magnus had an idea for demonstrating what he was. The encounter had taken place outside one of the entrances to the railway yard. It was a section of the yard where wagons were repaired. What caught the eye of Magnus were some railway wheels and axles, ponderous objects because of the broad gauge of Russia’s railways. He strode away from the police. They closed round him as they caught him up inside the yard. Magnus halted and gestured to the puzzled men to give him room. He took his stance behind one of the axles and its pair of wheels. Railwaymen, in their grimy smocks, came running up. A shunting engine stopped and the crew looked down. Magnus wondering for an instant if he had bitten off more than he could chew. He decided that the best way of demonstrating to the Russians what he was, was to use the Two Hands Snatch. He grasped the axle as if it were a bar-bell and, with a terrific pull from the arms and shoulders, combined with a powerful drive from the legs, lifted the axle and wheels chest high. Magnus moved his right leg forward and his left back to achieve the “split” position and, by lowering the body, get the weight overhead. He thrust it up vigorously and rose into the upright position with the axle and wheels held rigidly over his head. The strain was tremendous. Magnus lowered the weight and dropped it with a ponderous thud. As, with his chest heaving, he looked round, he saw that the police officers had lost their suspicious looks. Magnus had identified himself as one of the weight-lifters visiting Moscow for the Congress. The policemen and the railwaymen applauded. Magnus was sure he had saved himself endless trouble and time by proving beyond the shadow of doubt that he was a weight-lifter. Far from marching him away to prison, the police officers, decided that a Britisher would wish to get to the British Embassy, escorted him most of the way back and shook hands most cordially on parting.


That night lights blazed in the vast hall in which the Weight-Lifting Congress was being held. The name of Magnus was on everybody’s lips. The championship would go to the weight-lifter with the highest poundage for the three Olympic lifts, the Two Hands Clean and Press, the Two Hands Snatch, and the Two Hands Clean and Jerk.


At the interval the first two lifts had been completed and the total poundages were: — P. Ustilov 600 Ib. Magnus 589 Ib. Zudo 584 Ib. It was still anybody’s championship. The audience awaited the thrills of the Clean and Jerk, the lift that enabled a competitor to elevate the heaviest of weights overhead. Many a contest had been won by the final lift of a competition. I noticed that Magnus had appeared with a bandage round his left wrist in the Snatch. Some weight-lifters always had the support of wrist bandages, but not Magnus. I wanted to find out why he was wearing a bandage. I was walking down the corridor when I met another journalist. He was a Swede named Wittemann and spoke English well. He stopped me. “Magnus won’t win,” he said. “I think he can do it,” I retorted. Wittemann shrugged. “You don’t seem to get my meaning,” he replied. “He won’t be allowed to win.” I thought that Wittemann was feeling annoyed. A fellow countryman had just been pipped in the final of the light-heavy-weight class. At that moment a bell clanged as the signal that the interval was over and the corridor filled up. Peter Ustilov came out of one of the dressing-rooms followed by his coach. Peter was, of course, a big fellow, but there was nothing dull about him. His expression was lively as he turned to say something to his coach. He had that keen and intelligent air you find in top-class athletes in every sport. Magnus came along and I inquired about the bandage. “There’s just a slight strain,” he said, “and Corbett insisted that I should have the support of a bandage. “You can’t take any chances,” declared Corbett. I returned with them to the hall. The three judges had already taken their seats at a table at the side of the main platform. The usual method of signalling was being employed—red lights for no lift and white lights for a good lift. Let me remind you that the Clean and Jerk was really two lifts combined, the Clean bringing up the weight to the shoulders and the Jerk raising it overhead. Each competitor, under the international rules, was allowed three attempts—but not at each weight. Watched by the intent audience, the proceedings began. Zudo failed at 371 Ib.—a disappointing performance and one that caused his supporters to whistle with disapproval. Photographers were active round the platform and their flash bulbs kept going off. For his second attempt Ustilov had the weight at 391 Ib. While his coach crouched at the edge of the platform, he prowled up and down for a full minute, bringing himself up to the point when he felt he could make the lift. There was a deep indrawing of breath among the spectators as he turned. With a savage effort he heaved the great weight to his shoulders and then thrust it to arms’ length. Tremendous applause broke out when three white lights gleamed. Magnus, as he had the right to do, called for five kilogrammes— 11 Ib, —to be added. The hall buzzed with excitement. The scoreboard indicated that if Magnus were successful he would be level with Ustilov at 991 Ib. The weight was made up. Magnus stepped on to the platform. I saw him make a slight adjustment to the wrist bandage. Charlie Corbett caught my eye and shook his head. He tapped his wrist and I took him to mean that the strain on Magnus’s wrist was more severe than the Muscle Man had admitted to me. The sounds died away as Magnus crouched and gripped the bar-bell. As he was making the pull a photographer crouched just in front of the platform and let off a dazzling flash. Magnus must have got the blinding light full in the eyes. I remembered what Wittemann had said, and while I could not believe that any deliberate attempt would be made to handicap Magnus, no official notice was taken of the photographer. Again, of course, that proved nothing. It could have been sheer eagerness on the part of the photographer to get a good picture. A moment or so later, Magnus had the weight in the locked position overhead. Had he made any error because of the flash? The slightest check in the Clean or hesitation in achieving the Jerk would be sufficient to disqualify him. The judges switched on their lights. I shouted elatedly and a huge smile split Corbett’s face. There was no red gleam. Three white lights shone. It had been a good lift. Attention switched to Ustilov. As it was his last attempt he could chose to take an increase of only two and a half kilos. He brooded over this, glancing at Magnus. Then obviously he decided that this would not be enough to defeat the Britisher and he called for the additional five kilos. This put 413 Ibs. On the bar-bell, equivalent to the Olympic record at the time of which I am writing. You could almost have heard a wrist watch ticking while Ustilov was pacing to and fro. Once he approached the bar and turned away again while his coach mumbled in the background. Ustilov’s face became grim with determination and he took his stance. With a prodigious effort he pulled the weight to his shoulders and then jerked it to arms’ length. He staggered before he quite completed the lift, and down came the bar with a tremendous thud. Magnus could win. As he stood on the platform the same photographer who had dazzled Magnus before came edging forward again. “Corbett, I’m not going to be dazzled again,” snapped Magnus. “There’s a handkerchief in my dressing-gown pocket. Blindfold me!” There was a real hubbub when Corbett bandaged Magnus’s eyes. The reason was very quickly understood and the referee ordered the photographers to keep back. No, I don’t really think that there was any plot to prevent Magnus winning. Certainly there was none among the crowd or the officials. Magnus retained the blindfold. My heart was in my mouth as he crouched, felt for the bar, and secured his grip. With explosive force he hauled the great weight to his shoulders and then shot it up to arms’ length. There was no wobble. In spite of his strained wrist he completed the lift. The spectators yelled applause and stamped their feet with great enthusiasm as the three white lights glowed and the new heavy-weight champion pulled away the blindfold.

Magnus – the Muscle Man 26 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1785 - 1810

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2005