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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Botev Shoes

Ivan and I would like to introduce the America’s to Stefan Botev Weightlifting shoes. These are fantastic, high quality shoes made in Bugaria, worn by actual Bulgarian lifters using the Bulgarin training system. Even lifters in Romania were seen sporting these shoes (they do over 600 reps per week!).

**See bottom of blog for detailed pictures; we also are offering leather weightlifting straps.**

It is our goal to bring a long needed alternative shoe brand– a high quality/highly durable brand that can endure over 20,000 repetitions per year. Please look at picture on right hand side of page of Sylvia and Nikolai. They are shown training in Botev shoes which are over 4 years old, over 20000 reps per year. Please also look at my Adidas weightlifting shoes for comparison; my shoes are 3.5 years old and see a meager 10,000 reps per year.

Perhaps, the best aspect of the shoes is Stefan Botev’s close involvement of the design and manufacture of the shoes. As multi-time Olympic medalist and World Champion weightlifter, he sought to create shoes from a weightlifter’s perspective. Over the years here are some features he incorporated:

1. Above all, made in Bulgaria and European Union to ensure high qulality. (not to mention, associated Euro working conditions)
2. The Textured rubber footing design has eveolved over years of lifter feedback. He even chose to import expensive rubber footing from Spain, as in this case, Spanish rubber has less slippage and longer life.
3. Botev, specifically, eliminated that annoying strap at the top of the shoe.
4. Lots of double stitching. Double stitching enables the leather outer to hold-up to the routine beating associated with training the Bulgarian way.
5. Inside of heal is lined with leather – not synthetic material. The intent is to mold nicely to the lifters heal, preventing heel of foot from sliding out of shoe.

Contact me or Ivan at 207 319 7607 or gsisto@netscape.net
( I’m recommending you please email my netscape email. Many reported problems with the bittume_32@yahoo.com address, perhaps its the “_” between “bittume” and “32″).

Training in Bulgaria, Part III – Stoichkov and the lifters

In Bulgaria, there seems to be three categories of elite past lifters: Olympic Champions, Stefan Botev, and European/World Champions. We’ll leave Stefan Botev, who I like to think of as the Bulgarian Arnold Schwarzenegger for another post. Stoichkov fits into the third category.

Going back to our arrival in Slavia, General Secretary Tenev gave us a poster comemmorating 100 years of Bulgarian weightlifting. The poster tallied World, European, and Olympic medals and had pictures for each of Bulgaria’s past champions in these 3 categories. Lifters who “merely” medalled at Worlds, Olympics, and/or Europeans did not have their photo on the poster–this even includes our multi-strength sport prodigy, Euvgeny Popov, who won Silver at Europeans! (see below pictures of Popov today). The poster was our first view of Stoichkov.

When we meet Stoichkov in Slavia, he looks relatively similar though now about 92kgs bodyweight vs 75kg at his zenith. Coming from America, I had never heard of Stoichov before. Sure, I was very familiar with Botev, Georgiev, Boevski, Minchev, Peschalov, Ivanov, Vanev, Dobrev ..etc, etc… but I had not heard of Stoichkov. By the end of the week, this all changed my view on Olympic greats and the ramfications of boycotting Olympics.

Anyhow, soon we see pictures in the lifting office of Stoichkov winning the Druzba Game in 1984. I then realize– he out clean and jerked my all time hero Pyrros Dimas!! Stoichkov had lifted 167.5 and 211 at 75kgs bodywieght, and , at 82.5kg , he did 217 clean and jerk! He had accumulated atleast 6 senior world records plus Junior world records. He had a standing long jump of 380 cm !! And, again, did I mention, he out clean and jerked at lighter bodyweight my all time hero, Pyrros Dimas !?! …And I had never heard of Stoichkov before?

With the above, I have another epiphany: due to misfortunes of boycotted ’84 Olympics followed by knee injury, Stoichkov, perhaps like American athetes in 1980, would outperform the 1984 Olympic Champion at an Eastern Block supplementary meet but never have the benefit of being called “Olympic Champion”. Having not been alive in 1980, the ’80 and ’84 boycotts were always someting of an after thought – ya know “it happens”. Now, I really appreciate the gravity of it. Sport transcends politics; it is the athlete who is the ultimate ambassador for unity (Not Jimmy Carter … ahhhhh …and I’m usaully partial to Carter as he also spent time at Georgia Tech and is a nuclear engineer ).

Aside from past achevements, Stoichkov is a fascinating character. At 42 and 92kgs, he works out between training sessions. He does light sets with over 200kgs in Back Squat and did vertical leaps at eye level. Most surprisingly, his biceps are huge!! Seriously, look at the pictures; one might never guess that his biceps are larger than my calves– maybe, even larger than my quads.

What surprised me mst was the appearances of Georgiev and Peschalov later in my training camp. The first few days, Stoichkov was coaching 3 male junior lfters and 4 female junior lifters (3 of whom had been lifting barely a month). His son, Nikolai , was one of the most advanced lifters: about 85 kgs with lifts easily rivalling our best JR’s in the US and good looking. There was Munchel lifting about a month; Sylvia, schoolage champion; “Howa”, the not so serious JR lifter; two girls who’d show up; and the 12yr girl, super dedicated and fluent in English. Stoichkov was also named coach of Bulgaria’s 2008 Junior World Team within the first few days of our stay in Bulgaria. From the above, I had the inital impression that Stoichkov coached mostly Juniors. Then, Georgiev and Peschalov show-up.

Serendipitously, the training cycle for the Bulgarian Olympic team started a few days into our stay in Bulgaria. Stefan Georgiev had already been named to Bulgaria’s 2008 Olympic team and began showing-up for double sessions to train with Stoichkov for the Olympics. Apparently, there is another training facility for the national team, but Georgiev prefers training in Slavia and must stop in for training with the national team every few weeks. Similarly, Peschalov, lifting for Croatia but living in Bulgaria, arrives to train with Stoichkov. It is then I also learn that Peschalov trained with Stoichkov prior to his gold in Sydney.

So, here I am in Slavia, and I find myself surrounded by a 12 year old girl doing jumps, a 14 year old female champ, a 15yr old guy whose been liftng for a month, Howa, Nikolai Stoichkov….AND Georgiev AND Peschalov. Each lifter getting appropriate attention from Stoichkov. The Champions, Georgiev and Peschalov, each having a turn racking or loading the 12yr olds’ weights. When I am liftng, I even notice the Champs paying attention to my lifts- some eye contact, politely not talking.

I cannot not describe how nervous I was just cleaning 80 kgs when Peschalov walked-in: it was like being in high school…thinking to myself “please don’t look stupid, please don’t screw up”.
I should also mention that several champions stopped by just to hang out, including Svedalin Minchev, Stefan Botev, and 56kg Olympic Champion Gidikov. Evoking similar sentiments of admiration.

Training in Bulgaria – Intro to Slavia

At 10 AM, Ivan and I arrived at Slavia for our first training session. Slavia is south of Sofia’s city center. Located here is a training complex and adjoined hotel, Hotel Champion. The complex houses over 15 sports. There is even an equestrian rink and track and field stadium on the premises. All sports are under the same team founded in 1913. Athletes from different sports and coutries (perhaps part of IOC Olympic solidarity?) could be seen arrving to hotel Champion.

The weightlifting hall is about two stories high and rectangular in shape. On one of the longer sides is stadium seating, with the top most row of seats bounded by glass windows and doors leading to other areas of the facility. Opposite this is a wall covered with large portraits (pictures about a meter in length) of famous Slavia Alumni: Botev, Peschalov, Stoyanov, …. etc. Overall, the hallis very Eastern European in look: no frills/utilitarian, slightly delapidated, and muted earth tones.

The weightlifting hall has about 7 dedicated wieghtlifting platforms which are arranged in a U-shape. It is stocked with Eleiko bars and a melange of bumper plates. Plates range from vintage to new Eleiko training, columbian plates from the 1998 Sofia Jr Worlds, and Leiko.

Upon arrival, we are met by the Coach Zdravco Stoichkov. Again, initial greetings are formal- polite, lacking vivacity . We set-up training times and –oooohhhh– sauna times (my usual New England “sauna” being steaming hot bath ). After seeing the attention paid to energy/cost savings during winter time, the sauna priveleges are much appreciated. To Ivan’s delight Stoichkov knows Rhumen Stoyanov, one of Ivan’s Bulgarian friends from competing abroad in the 80′s. Stoichkov points out Rhumen’s portrait on the training hall wall.

Anyhow, my first training session is quite eventful. I complete my strenght cycle and do snatches from the hang up to 72.5kg and power clean and jerk 80kg. At the sametime, Stoichkov lifters are training; at this point, 3 junior men and 2 junior women. On day 2, I go up to 70 kg in full snatch, which is actually more difficult than my 72.5 from hang.

And this brings us to our initial glimpse of Bulgarian lifting wisdom. According to Stoichkov, roughly, a lifter’s best snatch should be the same as their best/MAX power clean. To elaborate, let’s use a — perhaps a bit self fulfilling– example from my training:

OK, if I power clean 80kg, I should snatch 80kg, ATLEAST 75kg (53kg bodywieght) . So why am I such an under achiever ?
Start position! (see photo below) AND we are talking MINOR flaw in position. Just having the hips a hare high causes the bar trajectory to pull forward as well as lost opportunity for generating additional kinetic energy from the floor to above knee. My ability to snatch the same from the hang as the floor is another clear indication. Likewise, this means my 2nd pull and expolsiveness are just Fabulous. Wow, I can feel the kilos piling on to my total with this start positions epiphany

By my 3rd training session I learn that:
1. My start position is off – AND how to fix it
2. I should be lifting a lot more (always love to hear that especially form an expert)
3. I need to do lots of front squats (ehh old injury stopped me squatting b4 american open)

Honestly, to travel to Bulgaria to train does pose some risk to a lifter’s ego. What if I’m told I have the poor body proportions, or I’m too slow, or my technique is awful…or I plain I suck?!? I mean no one ever told me to quit my day job and trian full time. Usually, the type of lauding I get is “you’re really tough” not “you’re the future of weightlifting in the US”. Seriously, isn’t that what every nationally ranked lifter wants to hear? Does doubt ever enter one’s mind when a competitor lifts a few more than you and gets disproportionatley more attention? I mean, I dont exactly exude that “I’m so athletic look”, well in American terms anyhow; espcailly, when I have been told, in the past, that I didnt need to do sports since I’m smart (huh …. maybe that was a backhanded compliment come to think of it).

In other words, transcending the technical analyis I receive is the realization that I can do something in this sport. Rather, I have gotten confirmation that aspects of my lifting most influenced by my genetics — flexibility, speed, body type — are great. That my major obstacle to realizing my potential is having my butt 2 inches too high at the start of my pull. Most importantly, I am receiving this affirmation from someone who’s opinion is objective and well informed. (Sure, Ivan has always told me that I have conditions for being a great lifter, but we are married… ha ha ha! )

Take away point: you must always believe in yourself first, before worrying about whether others believe in you.

Still, let us examine my prior sentence though — “affirmation from an objective and qualified coach” . What exactly invokes such respect for Coach Stoichkov……

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