Like teacher, like pupil: A meeting of minds that raises many questions

Christos Iakovou met a lot of people when he himself was a weightlifter, but no one made such an impression on him as Ivan Abadzhiev. In the 1980s, the coach of the Bulgarian national team and inventor of an entire system of coaching brought about a revolution for all athletes wanting to be faster and stronger. Abadzhiev asserted that an athlete’s gradual development, kilo by kilo, centimeter by centimeter, with a slow adjustment of the body’s capabilities simply delayed an athlete’s progress. The Soviets took about 12 years to develop an athlete’s capabilities in that way. On the other hand, a system that allowed an athlete to break personal records on a daily basis without a gradual adjustment would allow the athlete to progress much faster. Abadzhiev’s theory was adopted by Iakovou in 1989 and two years later by Christos Tzekos, the coach of Olympic champions Katerina Thanou and Costas Kenteris, who failed to show for a doping test on the eve of the 2004 Athens Olympics. Naturally, in order for athletes to withstand this kind of training, they would need to boost their intake of supplements. Abadzhiev openly touted the benefits of such substances and told his athletes how not to get caught. However, in implementing his theory, Abadzhiev had the support of a team of doctors and ergometric centers, and athletes were chosen on the basis of their body types. In Greece there were no such facilities. As Bulgaria’s national athletics system began to fall apart after 1989, the Greeks were welcomed as they could provide the funds required for the survival of the most important figures in the Bulgarian team. Abadzhiev could not compete with his pupil as the entire Bulgarian team was disqualified at the Sydney Olympics after they all failed the doping test. At the time, he and his athletes blamed the factory in Bulgaria for supplying them with the wrong preparations. A representative of the Greek Weightlifting Federation recalled last week that a declaration to that effect resulted in the Bulgarian athletes being paid compensation. However, no one believed Abadzhiev’s story, but his theories continue to hold sway, not so much in Bulgaria as elsewhere.

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