Ivan Piddubny, Ukrainian World-Famous Wrestler Whose Legacy Russia Tried to Appropriate

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Two years ago, in 2021, Google devoted a Doodle to the 150th anniversary of the world-famous wrestler Ivan Piddubny. The text of it is: “Few professional wrestlers enjoy a career lasting over 40 years, and many fewer retire undefeated from every tournament in which they’ve competed. Today’s Doodle celebrates a world champion Ukrainian wrestler who accomplished both—Ivan Piddubny. Ivan Piddubny was born on this day in 1871 in the small village of Krasenivka in what is now central Ukraine. The young Piddubny developed his grit and brute strength by throwing haystacks into carts and plowing the land on his family farm. After leaving home at 17 in search of a better life, Piddubny found work in the ports of the Crimean town of Feodosia. While spectating a Greco-Roman wrestling match hosted by a touring circus that visited the port town, he decided to put his strength to the test. Piddubny requested to join a match and to everyone’s amazement, he defeated every opponent—including a handful of famous world-class contenders. Piddubny joined the circus as an indomitable wrestler in 1897, marking the start of a whirlwind career entertaining audiences around the globe. By 1906, he was the first wrestler to win two world championships. The winning streak continued with six world titles that earned him prestigious names such as “The Champion of Champions.” He astounded onlookers and fellow athletes alike with both his Herculean strength and unheard of longevity—even winning the 1926 American championship at 55! Although he retired in 1941 at the age of 70, his powerful legacy endures as many Ukrainians are known to still say “like Piddubny” to describe someone’s strength. Happy birthday, Ivan Piddubny. Here’s to an athlete who turned the world of wrestling upside-down!”

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Ivan Piddubny is not the first Ukrainian strongman whose legacy Moscow tried to appropriate. Ilia Morowlin >

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