Poprad biceps bulged in this mountain resort town Sept. 11-13, and some of the biggest bulges were Slovak. For three days, Poprad played host to the 7th European Armwrestling Championships, which brought together more than 260 competitors from 23 countries for the largest European championship ever held.
An obvious East-West divide dominated the contest, as if the Cold War were still in full swing. The Russian team, sporting shirts that read "Armsport: European Championships" in Cyrillic characters, took home the lion's share of the prizes, winning twenty contests, but the home team placed a respectable third, ahead of Belarus but behind Georgia.
Ján Germánus was the Slovak hero, powering his way to first place in the men's 85 kilogram right-handed category and second as a left-hander. Elena Koczková, undefeated at home this season, took sixth in the women's 55 kilogram right-handed division, while Slovak champion Dana Mučaková had to settle for eighth in the women's 70 kilogram group.
"Last year the women did better than the men," said contest organizer Milan Čapla, a vice-president of the European Armwrestling Federation (EAF) and President of the Slovak Armwrestling Association (SAPR). "This year it's the men. They're fighting to see who's better in Slovakia, the men or the women? And that's pushing Slovak armwrestling forward."
Westerners noticed the Eastern dominance of the contest, and had several explanations. "We do it as a hobby," said Israeli left-hander Arnon Bain. "They train professionally and get government support."
He also speculated about "illegal things," and mimed shooting up, but he wouldn't mouth the word "steroids." Neither would Neil Pickup, 'Mr. UK Natural,' who was expected to do well here but double-faulted twice, knocking himself out of competition. "I'm not the kind of guy to cast aspersions," he said. "But I have my suspicions."
There was no drug testing at the contest, organizer Čapla explained, because the Slovak anti-doping committee was in Bratislava monitoring a powerlifting contest. But he agreed that there was a need for drug testing.
At least one Western competitor, Jock McKay, said that the Russians and Georgians in particular had missed the point of armwrestling. "It's a sport to have fun, to enjoy. You win, you lose, it makes you a better person. They have no fun, no emotion, no feeling."
That certainly wasn't true of Elena Koczková. She won several matches on the way to her sixth place finish, and jumped for joy and cheered after each victory.
25. Sep 1997 at 0:00 | Richard Allen Greene