Jul 23, 2014

Lurich and Aberg: Wrestlers Who Lived and Died Together

The Estonians love wrestling, and they love nudity.  So Georg Lurich (1876-1920) is a national hero.  He grew up in Väike-Maarja, Estonia, which was then part of the Russian Empire, and became a professional weight-lifter, Graeco-Roman wrestler (where they wrestle nearly nude), and strongman (the precursor to the modern bodybuilder).

Although he lived in St. Petersburg, he toured frequently in Estonia, helping to establish the spirit of Estonian nationalism that would result in independence in 1918. Amandus Adamson used him as a model for the famous sculpture of mythic hero Kalevipoeg at the Gates of Hell, and also for a statue entitled Champion.

There are two other statues of Lurich in Tallinn, and one in Väike-Maarja

He became a folk hero, with Paul Bunyan-style exploits based on his superhuman strength.  Here he's holding up four rather chummy guys and a barbel, just as Kalevipoeg formed a bridge to allow villagers escape from a fire.

Lurich befriended a number of young athletes, including wrestling great George Hackenschmidt.

But his long-term companion was wrestler Aleksander "Leks" Aberg (1881-1920, below).  They toured together in America, China, Japan, and throughout Europe.

They were touring in southern Russia in 1917, when the Russian Revolution came.  Troop movements trapped them in the village of Armavir, near the Caucasus Mountains, for three years.

They both contracted typhus during the winter of 1919.  Lurich died in January 1920.  Aberg recovered, but then succumbed to pneumonia in February.  They were buried in a single grave in the German Cemetery in Armavir.

Every year, Georg Lurich and Aleksander Aberg Graeco-Roman wrestling competitions are held in their honor.

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