Remembering Antonio Krastev
by Artie Drechsler
For 30 years he was able to claim the heaviest snatch ever made by a human, and even today his 216 kg. snatch, is one of the greatest ever made. What is perhaps even more amazing than the lift itself, is that it was performed by a man who the sports scientists in Bulgaria said had no potential, because of his poor jumping ability, flexibility problems and naturally non-muscular physique. Yet despite these (at least perceived) handicaps, across his career he established five world records (four in the snatch, one in the total), won a Jr. World Championships, two European Championships and two World Championships, not to mention many additional medals and international events.
He rebelled against the authoritarian coaching style of legendary Bulgarian coach, Ivan Abadjiev, and of his country. So he left Bulgaria shortly after the “Iron Curtain” parted. He truly loved lifting, but he valued his freedom above all, and, as so many before him had, he came to the US to find it.
Although he did not like coach Ababjiev’s authoritarian style, he was a great believer and advocate for many of the methods Abadjiev developed, obviously convinced that in many ways his coach was a genius. For instance, Antonio believed in singles in almost all of his training (I only saw him do a double on rare occasions during the more than two years that I trained with him in the same gym}. He believed that training should almost exclusively be on the Snatch, C&J and Front and Back squats. He only occasionally could be seen doing pulls, and power versions of the lifts.
Concentration was a foundation of his success. He mentally prepared for every lift, from 60 Kg. to 250 kg. in the same manner – with a deep and consistent focus. He constantly thought about how he could improve his lifting, focusing on the very smallest details to add even a kilo to his performance.
He showed me a consistency in his lifting that I’d never witnessed before, missing perhaps half a dozen snatches across the two plus years that he trained seriously at our gym. And only one of those misses was due to a technical mistake - the rest were missed because the weight was just too heavy that day. He rarely even took a step forward to save a lift. It occurred to me that his longevity in the sport (he had started training at around age 11 and was entering his early 30’s when he trained with us), was at least in part due to the precision of his lifting. He could do 10 near maximum singles with less apparent wear and tear than the average lifter doing one, because he was so precise. Perhaps that is why he had no apparent aches and pains during the period I knew him, even though he’d been lifting very heavy weights for a very long time.
Antonio was at times a very sarcastic guy, but meant no harm with his sarcasm. He used it to make points he considered important. For instance, he often bantered with a coach from the former USSR who was in charge of our gym in those years, Naum Kelmansky, a coach who believed in the USSR tradition of great variety in one’s training exercises. Seeing one of Naum’s lifters perform some lift that was only remotely related to a competition lift (e.g., a snatch seated in a chair) he would mimic the exercise and say “maybe if I do this I’ll break another world record in the snatch”, with a snicker.
Another example of his humor with a point came up when, after seeing his first meet in the US, a local competition that took place during the early 1990s, he came over and said “You know what you need?”. Taking the bait, I asked “What?”. He responded “A high hat, a whistle, and a few bears. Because then you’d have a real circus.” What he meant was that he’d never seen so many people in one competition who lacked basic lifting skills. He explained that in Bulgaria one never competed until one’s coach approved of it. And since all the coaches in Bulgaria were professionals, none would ever let one of his charges lift unless that lifter had a good level of skill. Any coach who permitted an unskilled lifter to compete would have been shamed. Of course today things are better in the US, as there are many more competent coaches, but I never forgot Krastev’s point.
Across the years Antonio trained with us, I had the pleasure of seeing him snatch 200 Kg. on several occasions, and C&J 250 kg. once, as he prepared for the 1996 Olympics in hopes of earning US citizenship by then, and representing the US in the Atlanta Games. But when he could see that his citizenship could not be gained by then, causing him to miss his third chance at an Olympic Games (he’d missed 1984 due to the boycott and 1988 when his team was pulled out half way through the Games), he lost his drive to train and retired.
I’m very sad to see Antonio come to such an early and tragic end. But I’m truly grateful to have known him. He was a lifter’s lifter and an independent man. I’ll miss him.