Monday, October 29, 2018

Bruce Wilhelm Profile/Interview (Complete) - Herb Glossbrenner

Bruce Wilhelm was unleashed on the world on July 13, 1945 in Watsonville, CA. Coincidentally, three days later in the white sands 50 miles NW of Alamogordo, a city in Southern New Mexico - the first atomic bomb was detonated. Was it a belated announcement of the Iron Game's most outspoken strongman? Watsonville, a quiet community in Northern California registered her protest 45 years later. It was the epicenter of the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake. 

Bruce's unquenchable thirst to acquire great athletic strength became, through the years, a sounding board for his exuberant, extroverted personality. Some found his brash manner offensive. In the Iron World of patronizing politicians and wishy-washy wimps, I find his "tell it like it is" attitude a breath of fresh air.

It was March 1985 when fate intervened. It was after Bruce had retired from the combat arena, leafing his indelible mark in the annals of strengthdom. He was in Hawaii commiserating his terminated marriage. Cupid harpooned the great white whale - it was love at first sight. A poolside beauty grabbed his attention. Bruce, never known to be shy with the ladies, got her attention immediately. Moby Dick flopped down on the concrete beside her. His persuasiveness paid off. Yumi soon became his lovely Japanese wife. She is now 31 and Bruce is 49 (1993). Beauty soothes the savage beast. They are the proud parents today of two children; Jennifer (6) and Brian (8). Family life has mellowed the strongman and changed his perspective on life. 

As a competitive athlete he was the center of his own world. Now he revolves around his family. Every great athlete can become a legend in his own mind if not his own time. After all the years of shelling oysters, Bruce finally found his prize pearl. Bruce, who once kept company with crude dudes, distanced himself from former associates. The Japanese culture refined Bruce. "I'm not the easiest person to live with. Her tolerance made me want to change," Bruce confided. "I find myself never cussing around the house. I respect my family too much." These days his co-existence with others is much more bearable.

He proudly tells that both his kids, at age 5, could do 5 complete pullups (something the average red-blooded 14 year old American boy can't do. Both like soccer. He does not encourage them to take up the weights. Pictures of his own lifting days grace the living room in full view. Both have watched his World's Strongest Man video tapes numerous times. They have found it outrageously funny. "Just in case they might be so inclined," Bruce explained, "they can be anything they want in life with my blessings, as long as it's not a (expletive)."

Bruce thrived on athletic achievement. His older brother Bob and younger Steve made it a family affair. In Jr. High he grappled, swam and threw the shot, and punched a few mugs. In 1959, at age 15, he got his first barbell. He quickly outgrew his beginner's set and got into it heavy duty. He stood a shade over 6' and weighed 180 when he started. By his senior year he reached his full height - 6'3" - and filled out to 240. He did it all: water polo, shot, discus and wrestling. He was All American in both athletics and wrestling. 

When just a freshman he threw the shot further like a baseball than via the conventional style. This style hurt his elbow. In his senior year, after learning proper technique, he sailed the 12-lb. ball 65'8". Bruce saw his idols, O'Brien and Long, throw in the '60 Olympic trials and later on witnessed Gubner and Long at the '62 US/USSR Dual Meet in California.

So, it was no surprise that Bruce picked Stanford as his collegiate choice among numerous scholastic offers. He won the PAC Hwt. wrestling title there, going undefeated. An elephant never forgets. Bruce recognized an opponent as one who'd beaten him in high school. The guy was then pinned in a whirlwind 16 seconds - a school record. He later transferred to OSU to concentrate on wrestling. He was national runner-up in Greco Roman grappling and 3rd in the Nationals - freestyle. He made the World Team, but untimely injuries kept him out of the spotlight (torn knee cartilage, sprained ankle and separated shoulder). 

So, back to the shotput. Bruce, always a southpaw, chucked the 16-lb. iron ball 66' 1/4", at the time a left-handed World Record. His best ever throw was 68' 9" in an impromptu competition. He bettered that by 1/4" in practice and threw the hammer (only two turns) 179 feet. He also spun the discus an impressive 205' 9". By 1970 his bodyweight climbed to 275 and he'd taken up weightlifting. Wilhelm also tried a few power meets and won, but never trained on them. 

Uncle Sam interrupted his education and he was stationed at Ft. Benjamin, Harrison, outside Indianapolis, IN. Bruce made contact with Winston Binney, Indiana's strongest man (1st teenager in the world to Clean 400 lbs./1961). They made connections and Binney drove down from South Bend. Announcing their arrival beforehand they pulled into the driveway at Ron Hale's garage gym in New Castle (Hale was the 1969 165-lb. Sr. National PL Champ). Our usual Sunday afternoon workout became an important event. Winston put on quite a show and clean and jerked 400 lbs. Bruce, whose best at the time was 375, was equally impressed. Bruce predicted that not only would he be doing that amount in the clean and jerk soon, but someday he'd snatch it!

A boisterous outburst of a prophecy? I wasn't sure at the time but I never forgot it.  

Weightlifting soon became the full time focus of his talents. He improved by leaps and bounds. In 1974 he was Senior National runner-up by just 11 lbs. (330 - 419 for a 749 total). The following year (1975) he won his first National title (336 - 430 = 766) by a 22 lb. margin. Bruce earned a trip to the World Championships in Moscow and improved dramatically.

He snatched 369 and jerked 441 for a 7th place finish. The Pan Ams in Mexico came shortly thereafter. Bruce developed a bad case of dysentery (don't drink the water) and spent three miserable days before he lifted, not expecting to earn the crown. Two bottles of Pepto later, Bruce rose to the occasion and met his Cuban opponent - Fernandez. It was like two runaway locomotives coming head on. Bruce lifted excellently, especially in his weakened condition. He snatched 363 and jerked a personal best - 468! He was only 5-1/2 lbs. shy of the gold medal, but earned a great deal of respect for his courageous performance. His 832 total moved him up several notches on the world SHW ladder. 

Olympic year rolled around. At a meet in Glendale, Ca, he made his all time best Clean and Jerk - 485 on May 1st. Bruce won the Nationals by a 49.5 lb. margin over Texan Sam Walker. He lifted a 374 snatch and 474 clean and jerk for an 848 total. His landslide victory earned him a coveted berth on the Olympic team going to Montreal, Canada.

At the Games he gained a surprise silver medal in the snatch event with a tremendous lift of 380-1/4 lbs. Bruce clean and jerked 474 in the second event and was in 5th with an aggregate of 854 lbs. During the lift he strained a knee ligament. He valiantly tried a PR equaling 485 going for the overall bronze medal finish. He cleaned it, but couldn't exercise full strength in the second phase.Due to the injury, he missed the jerk. So, Bruce took home one medal instead of two, as well as a badly swollen knee. Nevertheless, it was a remarkable demonstration of intestinal fortitude.

Following the Olympics, Bruce underwent knee surgery. He was born with Osgood-Slaughter's Disease, a congenital bone defect. It caused a painful protuberance of the knee called a tibular tuberosity. It was removed and they reattached the patella tendon, but he may have pushed his recovery a bit too fast.

Bruce was physically unable to defend his National title in 1977, re-injuring himself in a tuneup meet. Earlier in the year he traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania for the Friendship Cup Tournament. He placed 2nd there with 358 and 452. It was there his knee problem flared up again. By August he'd healed sufficiently to eclipse Patera's longstanding (5 years) American snatch record of 386.5, when he lifted 391.3. Later that year he became the first American to snatch 400 (402.3) at Bakersfield, CA. I vividly recalled his forecast of only seven years earlier. 

Wilhelm held himself together long enough to earn a high 5th place finish at the Worlds that Fall in Stuttgart. His showing drew considerable attention and he was invited to participate in the World's Strongest Man competition ("Strength is his realm and none could overcome Wilhelm").

He came  out the winner and turned more than a few heads. He was voted Strength & Health magazine's Lifter of the Year, winning the tally be a considerable margin. Bruce retired from active W/L competition due to recurring elbow and knee problems, but defended his WSM title in July 1978.

The competition was even tougher the second time around. Bruce was at full strength and big as a house at 326. It came down to the final event - the tug-o-war. His semifinal pull against Sweden's massive Lars ("Large") Hedlund was extraordinary. Bruce won and both men required oxygen after due to the smog, heat and exhaustion. Wilhelm faced the the Levittown Leviathan in the final pull. It was Son Reinhoudt, 5 times World Powerlifting Champion. At 6'3"/344 he was the biggest man in the contest (18 lbs. heavier than Bruce). He was a most formidable foe and a bit miffed as well.

Bruce had been chiding him for the benefit of the TV cameras. It was a titanic struggle. Bruce figured that Don may have underestimated him, and Bruce - an opportunist from the word go - rose to the occasion. Wilhelm overwhelmed and took home all the marbles. Don trained like a demon his mind on revenge for 1979. The rematch between these two superstars never transpired. Bruce had his elbow operated on and was unable to participate. Don won the WSM the next time around and we can speculate until the cows come home as to what might have been.

HG: Bruce, you are one strong (expletive)! What made you decide to concentrate on weightlifting and not on powerlifting?

BW: The main reason was that I wanted to go to the Olympics. Weightlifting is an Olympic sport, powerlifting is not. I was best suited for explosive movements. Heavy squats and deadlifts for prolonged periods could have wrecked my knee sooner. I couldn't have beaten Reinhoudt on the powerlifts anyway.

HG: Neither could anyone else. What were your powerlifts? Did you ever try a max on them?

BW: Yes, at different times over the years. In 1973 I Oly squatted (bar high on neck) 775. Power-style with knee wraps I did 800. I never practiced deadlifts, but had a lot of back strength from power cleans (best 462). When my knees were really bothering me, I resorted to this style. In 1977 I did a 793 deadlift. It was a one time deal. I benched 562 with a pause in 1980 after specializing on it a while. That's 2155 - no big deal for a SHW, but not too shabby for an Olympic lifter.

HG: No, indeed. what were some of your other best lifts?

BW: 485 press on an incline bench of about 40 degrees. Unassisted, I cleaned a pair of 207.5 lb. dumbbells and pressed them for 5 consecutive reps on a 45 degree incline bench. I did a pair of 187.5's for 13! Front squat - 515 x 3. Rack jerk - 551, jerk behind the neck - 573.

HG: Who is the best superheavy powerlifter of all time?

BW: No question in my mind - it's Reinhoudt.

His 2420 lasted seven years. Kaz beat it by only 5 pounds. Don wore no belt or wraps or any of today's supportive gear. Kazmaier did. Remember, Don had nobody to push him. If they'd met, head to head, Don would've creamed Bill. I may have ruffled Reinhoudt's feathers at the WSM, but I'll credit where credit is due - he was the BEST.

The section on Don Reinhoudt from Terry Todd's "Inside Powerlifting" is here:

HG: What about Cole? Is he the greatest amateur athletic strongman of all time?

BW: Using your criteria of combined W/L and P/L total, the proof is in the pudding. Stats don't lie. He deserves that title. I have no problem with that.

A four part article about Jon Cole, here:

Cole weighed 283. Don broke his 2370 by 50 lbs. but he was 70 lbs. heavier. If Jon could have weighed 300, he'd have done 975-625-925! That's my opinion.

HG: What about Anderson.

BW: Come on, Herb. I've previously told you I can't compare anyone with Paul. The Mega Monarch of Might was one of a kind. He's in a class all his own. If anyone has a problem with that let their Id tussle with their Ego until Turkish prisons become tourist resorts!

HG: Who are your other favorite powerlifters?

BW: Two were Hugh Cassidy and James (Gene) Roberson. Roberson weighed only 280 and blew Terry Todd off the map - high bar squat, no wraps and he quit at age 23. If he'd continued, he would have done 2300. After a 30 year layoff, he's back now, winning World Masters titles.

An article by Terry Todd on Roberson, here:

Cassidy beat Williams and won the '71 World Power meet. He had balanced lifts - good in all of them. His form was impeccable, bottomed out on the squats and wore no supportive stuff.

HG: Who do you admire most in weightlifting?

BW: Schemansky, Vlasov, and Patera.

 Schemansky's career lasted 25 years. When he retired at 46 he could still C&J 400. He was the only guy in W/L to win four medals in four different Olympics. He set 29 USA records and 24 World records and was National, World, and Olympic champ. After three major back operations returned at age 38 and broke the World Record snatch with 362. He almost beat Vlasov in '62, a man 11 years younger than himself.

Note: Schemansky, as a real hero, is important to America, because America was founded on ideals. An ideal is a standard of perfection for all men, a model of excellence. An image is an illusion, pseudo ideal. The hero reflects ideals. A hero is a human figure who has shown greatness in some achievements. He is a man of great deeds. A celebrity or punk hero reflects illusions. The hero created himself. The punk hero is created by publicity and mass media. The celebrity is a big name, the hero a big man.

Vlasov was the first streamlined SHW with great muscularity. He was a scholar as well - five times World and Olympic champ, six times European champ and he set 32 World records. If it were not for the changing of the guard, he'd have won the '64 Olympics in Tokyo. If you believe that B.S. story that Zhabo outsmarted him you must still believe in the tooth fairy.

Yuri later became a writer and was very outspoken about the oppression of the Russian people under Communist rule.


Patera was one of the strongest men of all time.

He set 18 USA records and was Pan Am and National champ. He had the highest 3 lift total of all time behind Alexeev - 1397-3/4! He was 2nd to Vasily at the '71 World Championships in Peru and won the bronze medal in the Press at the '72 Munich Olympics. He was the first man in the world gto clean 500 (503 - Nov. '69) before Alexeev did it. Injuries kept him from reaching his full potential. His 485 Press at the '72 California State meet was, in my opinion, the greatest strict press EVER. He quit weightlifting after the '72 Games and spent the next 20 years pro-wrestling because you can't make diddly in amateur weightlifting.

HG:What about Alexeev?

BW: He was one strong mother. His will was indomitable.He intimidated everyone but me. I really got cranked training with him.

HG: Why couldn't you beat him?

BW: Because of my (expletive) knees, you knucklehead. What are you, another Bob Beatty?

HG: Speaking of him - what about your color commentator days on the tube? Were those guys a bit slow grasping things?

BW: Oh, man! How many times do you have to tell them what a kilo is? Beatty didn't give a (expletive) about W/L. His mind was off in the French Alps skiing somewhere. Mussberger was too patronizing. At the WSM I heard him telling a colleague to get it finished before we fall apart or drop dead of heat exhaustion. Lynn Swann was the worst.

HG: I got the feeling they enjoyed ridiculing the lifters.

BW: Yeah, they got off showing the lifters falling on their asses, grunting loudly with wide open mouths like a fish on dry land trying to suck oxygen. They played up Paul Jordan's injury to the public - big time - showing it over and over. Paul even was invited to their 25th anniversary show. They know the public gobbles that stuff up like . . .

HG: Steve Neece eon a Dodger dog?

BW: You took the words right out of my mouth.

HG: What killed title coverage of W/L and P/L on TV?

BW: At the Tokyo World Cup, the IWF got 165 grand. It was too costly for ABC to pay.

HG: What did the athletes get?

BW: A royal fucking!

HG: What of Terry Todd?

BW: Very odd. The only guy I know who has a vendetta trying to discredit a legend. He has surpassed me - in one category - a whole lot more enemies.

HG: Sri Chinmoy?

BW: Ole Sly Chimney Boy - what a farce that old geezer was. The sooner we all forget all that shit the better off we'll be.

HG: Isn't it true all his followers went broke buying knee pads?

BW: You're starting to sound like me.

HG: You are one of my idols, Bruce.

BW: I think there may be some hope for you after all.

HG: Tony Fitton?

BW: A great guy. He's welcome at my house for sushi and a bowl of rice pudding anytime - you too!

HG: I've got some herb tea I can bring. It's a brew that will knock your socks off.

BW: Sounds good. Where did you find it?

HG: John Ford got it for me while he was in Vietnam. The guy didn't want to give it up. John buried him in a rice paddy overlooking Saigon. Before I forget - what did Alexeev do on the powerlifts?

BW: I could never pin him down on that subject. He was evasive.

HG: However, you did pin him in arm wrestling. Moby Dick struck again, silent and deadly like a thief in the night.

BW: Surprised the big puppy - I did. He strained his milk or something and couldn't lift in the Record Makers at Vegas. I really felt bad about it.

HG: Some claim you sidewinded him. You told me the particulars. Mike would censor it if I printed it.

BW: Fuck! I'd never do anything so despicable. What I told you is the way it really happened. Do I lie?

HG: No sir! Never! Could a powerlifter switch to W/L and become successful?

BW: Absolutely: Ikei and Henry already have. It proves you can. A good coach is essential.

HG: What about Ed Coan?

BW: Unquestionably the best P/L, probably ever. He'll be the first to do 2500, but he'll be 242.With a 425x2 power clean he claims, he'd be very successful at W/L. If he'd allow me I'd be glad to train him. He's be doing 396 Snatch and 484 C&J in 6 months - guaranteed!

HG: Why has W/L died while powerlifting has flourished?

BW: P/L is more accessible. O/L is being run by self-serving people. They are nearsighted to the big picture. We need 25,000 doing W/L. W/L's biggest hold-back is discouraging powerlifters or other athletes from coming into it. Powerlifters have been brainwashed into believing it's too complex to learn - it's not! Some may try it on their own and become discouraged. A knowledgeable coach is important to show them how - correctly. They've been told W/L takes great coordination and technique. Powerlifting takes more coordination. Backing out of the rack with 1000 pounds takes the utmost control . . . making sure you don't get the bar oscillating. It could cause a bad vibration that makes the teeth rattle and could cause your spine to drop through asshole and break your neck. It takes great coordination to time the bar's whip and control it down and back up. If you get out of the groove - forget it, you're dog meat. Technique? Wrapping is a real technique. You got to get 'em on and off before you lose circulation and gangrene sets in. Powerlifting takes more concentrated thought for a long duration than W/L. An explosive movement like a Snatch is so fast you don't have time to think. Boom! It's done.

HG: It sounds strange to hear a top weightlifter defending powerlifting.

BW: Bruce speaks the truth. You don't win World W/L titles with technique alone. My closest buddies are power people. Take Cole and Patera for example. You don't get any stronger than them. The bottom line is power. That's what it's all about. The USWF doesn't have anyone that is really strong anymore - except Henry, and he has nobody to push him to improve. That's why weightlifting has gone to the dogs. 

HG: What about Antonio Krastev?    


  BW: The USWF blew it - big time! They had a golden opportunity. They didn't want him. Somebody had a cockamamie idea that he was a troublemaker, a disruptive influence, undisciplined? Bullshit! Here's a guy who snatched 476 and Clean & Jerked 556 officially. He did 485 and 573 in practice and jerked 600 from the rack! He's also capable of beating any superheavy powerlifter in the world had he given it a chance. A great athlete, 385 lbs. and strong as a bull! I had a sponsor lined up for him - George Steinbrenner. George pulled strings and got him citizenship pronto with his big bucks for backing. He'd have been a sure medalist in Atlanta. Can you imagine the inspiration he'd have given our guys at the Olympic Training Center? It would have lit a fire under Henry and spurred him. Weightlifting is singing its swan song and some want it that way. Blame a small group of people with close political ties with (Tamas) Ajan. Anyone who crosses the IWF hierarchy is politically beheaded. Now Krastev has flow the coop to Canada. We've lost the goose who lays golden eggs. Our loss is not necessarily their gain. Canada has killed off their lifters with drug testing fanaticism. It's a crying shame.

HG: Could powerlifting ever be in the Olympics?

BW: Sure it could, but not the way it is now. All the supportive suits, wraps and shirts would have to go. You couldn't have nine guys on stage hovering over you as you squat. No crazy theatrics like headbutting, slapping and yelling. The present circus atmosphere would not set well with the IOC. The IPF must not align with the IWF. That would be a disaster. They would not be satisfied until they absorbed powerlifting and took control. The first step would be for the USPF to absorb all the lesser organizations within. United we stand, divided we fall. All the squabbles, petty jealousies and differences must be shelved (easier said than done). That would be a big step in the right direction.

HG: Bruce, thanks for your enlightening honesty.

BW: I just call it like it is. I can take the heat and I'd like to see somebody try to get me out of the kitchen.         

1 comment:

  1. At 75 I was just looking at 1977& 1978 WSM and wondered why Bruce wasn't there in 1979 found out.
    I watch more women's OL less drugs except for a few and lifts have certainly gone down so natural strength shows up.


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