Thursday, November 26, 2020

Steve Stanko, Human Derrick - Charles Coster (1954)


There's a few more things on Steve Stanko on this little blog.
But, like the raindrop on a rose, Serendipity is one of my favorite things. 

Although the name of Steve Stanko came into prominence fifteen years ago, his rise was so rapid and colorful that he is bound to be remembered by the faithful for years to come.

His activities commenced in 1938. He went from the bottom to the top in three short years - and then a tragedy occurred, for he ran foul of a serious illness and shortly afterwards it became plain that his athletic career might finish. 

it was a great tragedy that this misfortune should beset him, for at 22 years of age he was establishing 1,000 lb. Totals in the three Olympic Lifts in public weightlifting competitions and during his training, and there seems no reason to suppose that he had reached his ultimate "peak" by any means.

His athletic ability blossomed in conjunction with that of Louis Abele and John Davis and these three men left the whole weight-lifting world gasping with the immensity of their achievements. There is no doubt at all in my mind that America suffered the greatest single blow she has ever experienced when Steve Stanko's Olympic career came to a standstill. 

5'11" Steve Stanko competed at around 220 lbs. bodyweight, and he was magnificently equipped physically for the sport he had chosen. Some idea of the magnitude of his natural ability may be estimated when I tell you that he had only a few months of training behind him when gaining 2nd place at the World Championships at Vienna in 1938. 

The German heavyweight Joseph Manger was the winner with 903 but Steve, who was virtually a novice by comparison, made a total of 875 lbs. with individual lifts of 253-280-152.

He made the heaviest Snatch and the biggest Clean and Jerk of anyone, and received a great reception from an audience which was composed largely of experts in the ancient and noble art of barbell magic.

Judging by the speed, precision and timing with which he went about his business America had discovered a w-l star of the first magnitude in this man. I recall very clearly the first glimpse I ever had of Steve in Vienna. He came into the gym walking slowly and adjusting a wrist strap. Consequently the first part of him to appear past the doorway was his forearms. They were colossal. Huge tendons writhed and twisted about like steel cables. The brachialis anterior tendon seemed to be joined to the upper arm about half way up.

His legs were tremendously powerful and as I watched him lift I understood why Bob Hoffman labelled him "The Human Derrick." His lifting just oozed with speed, power, and courage and anyone who has been associated with out sport for any length of time will remember that these three assets were rarely encountered in one individual in days gone by. Especially did this remark apply in respect of SPEED, and in this Steve was an eyeopener. My interest in him grew rather than lessened after the 1938 tourney. 

Enquiries revealed the fact that that he was of Hungarian ancestry . . . and was born in 1918. He was fond of athletics generally and was a powerfully fast swimmer, excelled at baseball and football, and was selected on one occasion as all star fullback. He could still chin the bar with one hand when he weighed 220 lbs. 

I am not aware of him maximum recorded measurements, but my scrapbook tells me that when he was 21 years old and weighing 210 his neck was 17-1/2", biceps 17-1/4, chest 48, waist 34 and calf 17". 

His thigh was measured at 26-1/2" which I regarded as significant and it is reported that he once ran the 100 yards in full football uniform in a little more than 10 seconds.

Before his 21st birthday this prodigy was taking 275 lbs. Snatch as a "commencing" poundage, and 350 as a first attempt Clean & Jerk. In April 1939 at the YMCA Championships he pressed 260 and made a 275 Snatch, and a Clean & Jerk of 350 - both of which were starting weights. He also cleaned 370 but missed the jerk. Two months earlier, during training, he had snatched 290. 

In July 1939 he recorded an 885 total with commencing poundages only, and his best training lifts added up to about 925.

At this period Louis Abele and John Davis appeared in the picture, and a great rivalry was born.

According to my diary, they seemed to take it in turns to make starting lifts, and there can be little doubt that this intense competitive atmosphere was responsible for the creation of many, many astonishing weightlifting records from then onwards. 

In July that year John Davis definitely succeeded in establishing a big temporary lead by pressing 290, and there is proof that they were both repeatedly cleaning 370. 

As a youth Louis Abele concentrated on leg development by undertaking extensive and varied Squat or Deep Knee Bend schedules.  

As a light-heavyweight Abele's thighs became extremely muscular and made a good foundation for his future activities as a heavyweight . . . when on one occasion he performed 4 deep knee bends with 540 pounds, and he finally finished off with a thigh measurement of very nearly 30 inches.

John Davis was often busy lifting as a light-heavyweight but as time went on it becasme increasingly obvious that this could not continue indefinitely. 

In early 1940 Abele increased his competitive tempo by scoring a 941 total at Philadelphia with lifts of 280-296-365. H weighed 215 when he lifted. 

Shortly after this at the Middle Atlantic Championships Stanko, Abele and Davis lifted on the same platform. Stanko was 21 years old, Abele 20, and Davis 19. Steve was the winner, pressing 280, snatching 301 and clean and jerking 370 for a 950 lb. total. Only 10 pounds separated them, with Davis and Abele both totaling 940, Davis placing second by way of his lighter (197) bodyweight. 

On they day before the 1940 York Outdoor Exhibition Picnic Steve pressed 300, snatched 300, and clean and jerked 380. When doing the 380 he cleaned it once and made three repetition jerks from the shoulders.

In my scrapbook I have a remark on Steve from Bob Hoffman about that time, saying "He was so good at that period that he was able to commence with single lifts of 300-300-380." And he also said that he "had known Steve to elevate these poundages eight separate times during the course of one day." He has also curled 200 pounds and performed a pullover and press on bench of over 300. 

Before the advent of lifters like Steve Stanko, the heavyweight ranks had been notable for an almost total lack of speed and precision. Men of huge bulk and ponderous movements had held sway for many years on International platforms . .  but the "modern school" has altered all that . . . thanks to men like Ronald Walker, Steve Stanko, John Davis, and more recently the phenomenal Norbert Schemansky. In some respects Schemansky reminds me very much of Steve. Both exhibit superlative style for heavyweights, and both have shown the public a blinding turn of speed and this is something which is very rarely encountered in men weighing around the 220 lb. mark.  

By September 1941 Steve Stanko was in real trouble due to his illness, and it was announced that it would be surprising if he was ever able to lift again. He was bedridden for several months and several surgeons attended him.

Before the final crash came, his love of lifting was so great that he tried to lift without any leg movements. He snatched 235 like this, and clean and jerked 340, and at Chattanooga on one occasion he clean and jerked 360 in the same manner. 


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