In the fall of 1952, under cold gray skies, Ben Weider arrived in the former Soviet Union at the invitation of Mr. Nikolai Romanov, the former Minister of Sport, for the Soviet Union. Weider was invited to discuss the development of a strength and conditioning program for Soviet athletes. During the early 50's, the athletic and medical communities consistently ridiculed the Weider's in the United States and Canada for their promotion of strength training and bodybuilding. To his credit, Minister Romanov recognized the benefits of a strength training program and was quite familiar with the work Joe and Ben Weider had been doing in the promotion of bodybuilding.
Minister Romanov believed that if the Soviet athletes followed a well-designed strength training program, they would be the dominating figure in the Olympic Games. Romanov requested Ben work with the Soviet Sport Researchers in developing a strength training program, based on the Weider training methods for Soviet athletes.
Upon his return to Canada, Ben Weider wrote a series of articles in the National Canadian press commenting on the passion and intense manner in which the Russian athletes embraced strength training. He was certain that they would soon catapult their standings in the Olympic Games and produce many world champions while breaking records--which they did. Weider was often criticized in Western newspapers and magazines for aiding the Russians and providing them SECRET information that dramatically improved their athletic ability.
During these meetings, Ben Weider asked Mr. Romanov to consider allowing a bodybuilding federation to develop in Russia. After listening to Weider discuss the positive benefits of bodybuilding, Mr. Romanov replied, nyet or no.
The "Iron Curtain," was not ready to except bodybuilding as a sport and considered the activity "alien."
Unfazed by their chilly response, for the next 36 years Ben Weider (pictured right) kept the lines of communication open with the leading Soviet sport authorities and through "iron diplomacy" he educated them on the many health benefits associated through bodybuilding. "Without question, getting the former Soviet Union to join the IFBB has been one of the toughest challenges I've faced as President, " Weider said.
Since the Soviet Union was in a "Cold War" with the United States, Weiders task of trying to convince Soviet officials that bodybuilding (considered to be an American sport) was worthy of official recognition was a very difficult task during a politically sensitive time.
Through great patience, open communication and faith, Weider finally saw his dream come true. In August of 1987 the Soviet Union officially provided recognition to bodybuilding and the IFBB.
In recognition of this special occasion, Weider and Mr. Rafael Santonja, Executive Assistant to the IFBB, traveled to Moscow where they were greeted by Mr. Vasily Tchaikovsky, President, Soviet Bodybuilding Federation, Mr. Vladimir Dubinin, head of the Soviet Bodybuilding Judges Committee, and a number of bodybuilders who were eager to greet and thank Weider for his role in obtaining official recognition for bodybuilding.
History Being Made!
In June of 1988 bodybuilding history was made as the first women's bodybuilding championships, were held in Leningrad. Journalists and television reporters from the entire country converged on Leningrad as nearly 2,000 passionate fans jammed the theater and enthusiastically supported the 48 competitors.
The success of this competition paved the way for future bodybuilding competitions as the Soviet bodybuilders displayed grace, agility, showman-ship, and strength. The competition won by Madaar Merike of Estonia, had the formal sanction of Mr. Njkolai Popov, the former Chairman of Leningrad's Physical Culture and Sports Committee. This important event occurred after 36 years of diligent work to ensure Russia's place in the bodybuilding community.
"After the Soviet Union broke up into 15 different republics, the IFBB was fortunate enough that the majority of them have continued their association with us and eagerly joined the IFBB independently," commented Weider. Today, bodybuilding continues to grow and enjoy immense popularity in the former Soviet Republics and boosts one of the strongest Federations in the IFBB with nearly one million members.
Rob Wilkins is a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force stationed at The Pentagon, Washington, D.C. Wilkins is also a Special Assistant to the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) and a recipient of the IFBB Gold Medal. To contact Wilkins e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.