Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Angel Spassov Interview -- Tony Graves (1990)


Angel Spassov was born on November 18th, 1941. He is affiliated with the Department of Weightlifting in the Bulgarian Higher Institute for Physical Education and Sports Instruction. 

He has trained such notable lifters as 

Norair Nurikian 

and gold medalist 

Asen Zlatev 

Since 1980 he has worked with 760 coaches from 52 countries. 

Q: How many years have you been involved with the Bulgarian weightlifting program? 

A: Thirty-one years.

Q: Were you ever a lifter yourself? 

A: I lifted from 1958 to 1970. My highest placing was fifth at the 1965 Europeans. 

Q: How do you feel about the publicity given the doping situation? 

A: The IOC has done the most fighting to prevent the sport from doping. In 1976, the first time it tested for steroids, five lifters were positive. In Seoul, it was five positive. It was not a successful fight. It's becoming a fight between law and criminals. The law trying to prevent society from the crime. The crime still increasing. We will stop doping when something replaces it. People already know the price of using it. They still use it because they believe it is the only way. 

Q: How do you feel about random testing? 

A: It will be effective if we can control all countries. I don't believe it's possible to control all countries. 

Q: How do you feel about the new rule changes that make it more difficult to set world records? 

A: The rule changes represent the IWF weakness in the fight against doping. 

Q: Are there plans for Mitko Grablev and Angel Guenchev to return to competition. 

A: Both are training hard and will return to competition.

Q: How much of a shock was it to the Bulgarian Federation when they tested positive? 

A: It was quite a shock, as both lifters had tested negative two weeks earlier. It was the first time a lifter had been caught on diuretics. For them to test positive was miscalculation of the Federation and Doping Control.     

Note: Both were banned owing to use of diuretic drugs.   

Q: Where do you thing the future of weightlifting is going? 

A: The sport needs some changes. Since the press was eliminated seventeen years ago, there have been no changes in the competitive program. 

Q: Would you like to see the press returned? 

A: No, the removal of the press did a good job of preventing back injuries. Without the press the athletes were able to train more on the lifts and squats, which produced higher results. With these higher results has also come an 85% increase in arm and shoulder injuries. 

Note: A guy can get hurt within any, or any combination of lifting genres if he falls off the razor's edge onto the injury side. And who doesn't want to push it just a little harder? 

Q: What are some of the causes of these injuries? 

A: By working extensively on the lifts and squats and neglecting the upper body, the lifter creates an imbalance. Lifting and squatting build accelerative power. But when the accelerative power is combined with no increase in upper body strength, the arms and shoulders are not always able to carry the load and injuries occur.

Q: How do you think upper body injuries could be decreased?

A: PUTTING THE BENCH PRESS IN AS A COMPETITIVE LIFT WOULD HELP. The lift would not only strengthen the upper body of the lifter but also draw more people into the sport. 

Q: How is that? 

A: The bench press is the most popular exercise out of all the lifts. It would give athletes that don't have the athletic skills to execute a high snatch or clean & jerk a chance in competition. 

Q: Have you ever proposed this to the IWF Technical Committee? 

A: Yes, as I also believe it would also increase the sport's popularity and stem the tide of powerlifting which is knocking on the Olympic door. 

Note: Thirty-three years and still nothing on the horizon with that. 

Q:  What other things could be done to cut back on injuries? 

A: We need to replace drugs with better training. To increase the culture of training without drugs would mean a longer time for strength qualities to develop. It would also cut back on problems with joints and tendons.

Q: How would you rank yourself with coaching greats Abadjiev and Medvedev? 

A: I am younger. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!     



  1. >My buddy Joe Gazio was Antonio Krastev's roommate for 18 months. Krastev said Spassov was a secretary, not a coach, and the lifters hated him. This lead to a couple of explosive scenes in NYC Lost Battalion Hall.

    1. This was not "explosive" lifting, eh!

    2. Sorry, forgot to add my name.

    3. No worries, Friend, I forget my name outright sometimes!

  2. Spassov's comments might be 33 years old, but they are interesting to read even now. International Olympic Weightlifting adopting the bench press? When donkeys fly! The purity and simplicity of Olympic lifting has always been it is just a lifter against a barbell on the platform. No other equipment involved. Barbell off floor to overhead. For that matter, let's have powerlifting contests go to the front squat. Sure, that will happen!

    The "modern day" overhead press probably did encourage low back problems due to the officiating allowing the original military press to degenerate into a standing bench press. If the original rules of strict military pressing are observed, the one man-one barbell format is preserved with a lot less lower back injuries. Yes, the poundages would not look so spectacular, but they would be real. However, the sanctioning bodies would not like the optics.

    1. Hello Jan! It'd be fun to create a graph that showed the gradual progression to the "modern" Olympic Press, charted against the increasing occurrence of low back injuries. To say nothing of the spike in Press records that went on. It's still one strange sport, composed of only two movements. Only two movements that can take years and years to get good at . . .


  3. "Note: A guy can get hurt within any, or any combination of lifting genres if he falls off the razor's edge onto the injury side. And who doesn't want to push it just a little harder? "

    EXACTLY. Cripes, never mind that I got injured at times across 52 years of bodybuilding pushing harder on heavy compound movements, I once wrecked a left biceps head pushing myself doing Seated Incline Dumbbell curls!

    Plus, in my humbly arrogant opinion, the overhead press made Olympic lifting a bit more relatable for the average guy.
    While the C&J and the Snatch not only rely on more technique (which typically requires some time to learn) in order to "see how much I can lift" than the overhead press, those two lifts are not commonly done anymore by the average guy-in-a-gym. In contrast, almost every if not every guy who's picked up a barbell has done some variation of an overhead press. While I've always admired Olympic lifters, as a young bodybuilder who built his foundation on 5-to-8 rep, progressive-strength-to-build-muscle, sets, I could immediately compare the superhuman Olympic overhead pressing poundages of a Grimek or Kono or Davis to my puny Clark Kent poundages, for that instant "Hoooooly Fuuuuuck!..." motivation.

    Anyway, I like the overhead press. I'd interchange dips, incline presses, and bench presses in my decades of routines, but never omitted overhead presses, whether barbell of dumbbell. I'm relatively weak at them, but have always liked them.

    My fantasy, alternate, non-geared powerlifting federation would replace the squat, deadlift, and bench press with the Front Squat (off racks), Pronated-grip-only Deadlift, and the Overhead Press (off racks).

    1. "Humbly arrogant position" is getting a huge smile out of me all day today! Thanks for that one, Joe! There's nothing like watching an elite Oly lifter succeed beautifully with a lift to create motivation here too. Motivation for ANY type of lifting, well, you know, pretty much any 'cause there's some odd stuff out there now. I have no ideas at all on picking three lifts for competition. The All Around USAWA deal appeals more to me. Oly lifting seems to have become quite a stodgy, near-rote affair. Maybe now that it's out of the Olympics they'll ease off on the self-importance . . . but don't hold your breath once the AAU gets hold of any sport. My ideal competition would include your choice of any five all around lifts. No one would win anything, other than the chance to hang out with fellow lifters shooting the shit and driving each other to make PRs. Possibly a Wheaties contract as well, but only for those single-serving packages.

  4. I've always agreed with Gorner's 3 fundamental tests of strength which are how much you can pick up, how much you can walk around with and how much you can put overhead. So, if I were in charge of powerlifting, I'd make the 3 contested lifts be the deadlift, farmer's walk with individual log handles, and the clean and press. Those 3 lifts require the utmost strength and power without crazy excessive cheating or equipment. It'd be a pure test of strength athletes.

    1. Hey Jeff! How much you can pick up, how much you can walk around with, and how much you can pour overhead. That brings back fond memories of summer beer-parties. Yeah, yeah. Your three selections would definitely be a good test of strength! In my flaky, halfbaked and not practical opinion I'd like to see all sorts of different groupings of strength tests for events. The competitors wouldn't know what they are till the event is set to start and they'd be tested in from a pool of many, many lifting challenges. It'd be interesting to see for me. I'd go to a comp like that, one that hasn't gotten to the point of the extreme specialization we see now. "See that loaded bar over there, tough guy? You got 120 seconds to see how many times you can get it from the ground to overhead any damn way you choose. Now, grab that wheelbarrow loaded two engine blocks and head over direction. Whoever gets the farthest five minutes wins a kewpie doll." You know, looser, less solidly baked events that may actually interest people who aren't the competitors' family and friends.

    2. Interesting setup you've got there with randomized chaotic styled competition which levels the playing field for the lifters due to the lack of being able to prep beforehand with the knowledge of what the events will be.

      I wonder if that's how the early strongman contests were in the late 70s and early 80s. Kaz claimed to never have trained for the events specifically and that it was his static strength and explosiveness that led him to dominate the events. I happen to think that if you possessed the same insane strength Kaz had in the powerlifts that would definitely give you the edge over other competitors going into the contest. It still blows my mind watching Kaz literally toss 160 lb. kegs into a truck! Another awesome feat was when he strict pressed a 290 lb. barrel. What a joke it was when the world's strongest man organization banned Kaz for many years for him being too strong!


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