1964 Olympic Gold Medalist Valeri Popenchenko
By: Ken Hissner
Known as Mr. Knockout!
In a recent visit to the office of neurologist Igor Porotov I asked if he was Russian? He said he was so I asked him if he ever heard of Nikolai Valuev and he said he did. He then asked me “have you ever heard of Valeri Popenchenko?” I said I didn’t but when he handed me Wikipedia of Popenchenko the 1964 Gold Medalist in the middleweight division I really found myself interested.
Popenchenko took up boxing at the age of 11 in 1948. By 1959 he was more interested in track & field. Eventually being a natural athlete he was asked to return to boxing which he did. In 1959 he won his first Soviet title. He came in second in 1960, but reclaimed the title in 1961 through 1965. He retired in 1965 and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.
In 1968 Popenchenko graduated from the Leningrad Military Higher School of the Border Service and from 1970 until his death worked as a head of physical culture department of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University. I guess I should get back to his winning a Gold Medal at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964.
Popenchenko had a record of 200-13 winning the Gold in 1964 and being voted the Val Barker Trophy, becoming the only soviet boxer to receive the honor as the best boxer in the Olympics. He had won the 1963 Moscow European Amateur Championships and the 1965 Berlin Championships.
Let’s take a look at the Olympians that year who were Gold Medalists like “Smokin” Joe Frazier who would become the heavyweight champion of the world. At flyweight Fernando Atzori of Italy would go onto win the European Flyweight title as a pro and finish up at 44-6-2.
Bantamweight champ was Takao Sakurai of Japan had a record of 138-13 and went onto finish with a 30-2 record as a pro only losing to Lionel Rose in a world title fight and stopped by Ruben Olivares. Nothing to be ashamed of. At featherweight was Stanislaw Stepashkin of the Soviet Union who finished at 193-11. At that time Communist countries like the Soviet Union and Poland were not permitted to turn professional.
The lightweight champion was Jozef Grudzien of Poland who then went on to win the Silver Medal in the 1968 Olympics with one of his wins over Ronnie Harris 4-1 of the USA. At light welterweight was another Pole Jerzy Kulej who was a two-time Gold Medalist also winning in 1968 in Mexico City defeating a Cuban. In 1964 he defeated a Soviet Union opponent. His amateur record was 317-25-6.
The welterweight was Marian Kasprzyk of Poland who in 1960 was a Bronze Medalist. He suffered an injury in the semi-final and couldn’t compete. In 1964 he broke his thumb in the first round of the final. The light middleweight was Boris Lagutin of the Soviet Union who in 1960 won a Bronze Medal, and win back to back Gold Medals in 1964 and 1968. He finished at 241-11. At light heavyweight was Cosimo Pinto of Italy who would not go onto a professional career. In 1967 he was a Bronze Medal at the European championships. He was the Italian champion in 1965 and 1967.
Valeri Popenchenko won the Val Barker award and out performed this fine group of boxers.