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The white prisoner: Galabin Boevski's secret story Kindle Edition
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But this story doesn’t start there. It starts in a Sao Paulo prison with an incarcerated Boevski awaiting trial after being accused of smuggling cocaine. From there we look back over his life in the sport and out of it, moving from young football hopeful to the top of the weightlifting world and to a Brazilian prison cell. Quite the rise and fall.
Told by Bulgarian sports journalist Ognian Georgiev, a sports editor for the newspaper Bulgaria Today, the level of detail included is impressive, as one would expect from a journalist of course. Tracing Boevski’s rise to prominence through the lifting schools and academies of small town Knezha to the capital city Sofia, what comes across as clear as day is what a tough world that was to inhabit. The competition is fierce, as befitting the sport’s status in Bulgaria and the Balkan region, and the coaching regime is frequently brutal and intimadatory. Only the toughest will rise to the top and Boevski was certainly one of those.
As he reached international level, the thorny issue of drugs rears its head. Bulgarian weightlifting has been decimated by numerous high profile failed drugs tests culminating eventually in 2008 with the entire national team being withdrawn from the Olympics for failing pre-Games tests. They wouldn’t compete at world level again for five years. Boevski wasn’t involved at that time, he was himself already banned for having twice failed tests, but was part of the 2000 Olympic squad which was initially sent home after three failed tests before a late reinstatement on appeal. It’s fair to say that Bulgaria’s recent weightlifting past is controversial to say the least.
With that in mind, Boevski’s story shines a light on the practices of those years, where coaches gave lifters their “vitamins” regularly. Weightlifting is of course a sport where the extra stimulus of performance enhancing drugs can have a significant effect and the stench of its influence is never far from the surface. For instance, Boevski and a colleague were prevented from competing in a European event early in their careers for fear of failing a test.
As the level of competition increased, so did the intake of drugs and supplements. As Georgiev puts it: ‘The cup with the pills is getting fuller.’ Some are legal supplements of course, but also in there was the metabolic booster Orocetam; a banned substance within a supplement that the head coach applied huge pressure to his charges to take. The national federation was complicit in all of this, and also had a tidy sideline in selling athletes to other countries, notably Qatar, in order to compete for them. Murky in the extreme.
It is in these details that this book is at its most revelatory for the casual observer. It’s not so long ago that each Olympic Games would see a seemingly daily weightlifting drugs scandal hogging some headlines. It became so frequent that the watching world came to expect it and the sport was in disrepute. This book will at a dose of meat to the bones of those Olympic scandal memories, seen from the inside with the focus on one of that eras key protagonists.
To the weightlifting enthusiast, this book provides a fascinating look behind the scenes of a top level weightlifting career and gives a deep insight into a true star of the sport at that time. With that in mind Georgiev takes us back to the Sao Paulo prison throughout as that later narrative is intertwined with that of Boevski the competitor to build a sympathetic view of the eponymous athlete.
It does occasionally jump around a bit quickly, but that keeps the pace moving along nicely. The translation from Bulgarian could have been slicker too; some sentences at times reading slightly unnaturally in English. But in the overall knowledge and detail there is a lot on offer here; intriguing and insightful and for the sporting enthusiast, a little depressing on the drugs front, while equally fascinating with regards the personal story of an Olympic champion.
This review is from my website The Sports Book Review .com
For many years Bulgaria has been an international power in the sport of weightlifting, winning a number of championships far greater than one would expect based solely on the population. One of the oddest aspects of this is that there is no unique training method that the Bulgarians have perfected. In reading this book about one of their champions, it seems that they succeed more in spite of their training program rather than because of it.
Some of the champion lifters smoke cigarettes and don't follow the kind of rigid training program that one ordinarily associates with world and Olympic champions. As is related in this book the Bulgarian sports authority for weightlifting is rife with brutal political battles that have to have negative consequences for the sport.
This book is a biography of Boevski with an emphasis on his entry into the sport of weightlifting, his experiences there, his time in a Brazilian prison and then his involvement in the sport after his release. In general it is not a pleasant story, while his triumphs are mentioned, most of the text deals with the problems between individuals and Boevski's claim of innocence of any knowledge of the cocaine the police found in his suitcase.
His claims have some plausibility, for the cocaine was relatively easy to find and there was no reason for Boevski to take such a risk. He was a successful person and to attempt to smuggle drugs is to risk everything. Furthermore, the act of switching suitcases in an attempt to have someone unknowingly serve as a drug mule is not unheard of.
While this book is not a riveting read, it is an interesting look into the world of a relatively obscure sport as well as Bulgarian society in the decade after the fall of communism. It was an unsettled time in the country, and weightlifting is a sport where muscle-building drugs would have the most dramatic consequences. If you follow weightlifting or have an interest in how the societies of Eastern Europe evolved after the end of the rigid communist state then this is a book that will interest you.
This book was made available for free for review purposes.
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