Viktor Kapitonov, 1960 Olympic Champion
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  Posted November 30th, 2013 by Zdenko  in Cycling | No comments yet.

Retrospective

Sources: Fast Eddy’s blog, Top Dog Cycling

Viktor Kapitonov’s gold medal ride on a Cinelli bike!
Sporting legends… Who was yours when you were 12? When I got seriously hooked on cycling in 1978, one of the first cycling books I read was by one such legend, Viktor Kapitonov. At the time, he was the only Soviet rider ever to win an Olympic road race. The book was called “It’s worth living for” (Ради этого стоит жить). Almost 35 years later, looking at the title, I think I understand what he meant.

Viktor Kapitonov: Olympic gold medal

We’ll take a little nostalgia trip back to Rome, Aug. 30, 1960. The 1960 road race was a mass start race held over 175.38 km., with the riders completing 12 laps of a 14.615 km. loop, termed the Grottarossa Circuit on this hot day. This was wide open course in northern Rome. On each loop, they ascended a slightly steep climb, and a series of switchbacks, just after the 6 km. point, and then ascended gently for the next 2½ km. The course began on the Via Flaminia, turned left onto the Via Di Grottarossa, and then returned to the start along the Via Cassia. An almost perfect triangle comprising the beginning of the Via Flamania and the end of the Via Cassia, with nothing to keep the 42 degree C (108 F!) Lazio sun from melting the riders. Your Gelati didn’t last long that day.

In weather as far from stereotypically ‘Russian’ as you can get, Viktor Kapitonov – who later became the ‘direktor supremo’ of Soviet cycling – got off and was joined in the break by the homeboy Italian, Livio Trape.

Viktor Kapitonov

The 1960 Olympic road race in Rome was a dramatic one. Raced in 42°C, it destroyed the hopes of many as the Italians set it on fire almost from the gun, setting their team leader and pre-race favourite, Livio Trape, up to make his move. It was, however, Kapitonov who broke away and forced Trape to chase. When he was caught, the two became one team, sharing the workload until such time when one would not need the other anymore.

On a penultimate lap, probably because of the heat, Kapitonov made what could have been a fatal mistake – he miscalculated the remaining laps. When he launched an attack a couple hundred meters from the line, Trape didn’t respond. Thinking Trape was completely spent, Kapitonov continued surging to the line only to discover, as he crossed it with a raised hand of a winner, what a terrible mistake he made – there was still one lap to go!

In his book, Kapitonov said he was immediately attacked by Trape as soon as Italian realized what had just happened a minute ago. Trape now had a shot, a real shot at winning the biggest road race of them all, and in his own country to make it even better, and he went for it. Who wouldn’t?

Olympic road race circuit in Rome

The chase was on, a devastated Russian against a galvanized Italian going for an Olympic triumph on his home soil. The spectator’s roar, Kapitonov wrote, was deafening. He caught Trape with about one kilometre to go. They exchanged a few turns and then Trape just sat on. Without a doubt, he was afraid, afraid to lose at home, afraid to be beaten by this mad Russian who just came back from out of nowhere. As Kapitonov led the pair to the line, slowly and looking at his back all the time, Trape attacked. Kapitonov was ready. He caught Trape’s wheel right away, sat on it for a few seconds and then shot from behind to cross the line first.

On a hot Italian day, on a hot Italian Cinelli, hardman Viktor Kapitonov outsprints Italian Livio Trape to win the gold.

It was a victory that heralded in two decades of Soviet dominance in world ‘amateur’ (I use the word loosely) cycling, a dominance which Kapitonov would lead, and orchestrate.

Reaping the fruits of the ol’ Darwinesque Russian method. Gather up the best regional talent from the sports schools. Throw them into a training camp from hell. A week, maybe more of death rides in the mountains, and team time trials. Oh, they loved team time trials. The last men standing? There’s your team comrade. Give each guy a plain red jersey, a red adidas tracksuit, a very likely used but still functional Colnago, and a plane ticket.

Three minute clip from this race is available on Youtube here:




The video cannot be shown at the moment. Please try again later.

And now to the point of this post. During the press conference, someone asked Kapitonov, “What reward are you going to receive for your Olympic gold medal?” He replied, “I’ll be rewarded with the best reward a Soviet athlete can have – the admiration and respect of our nation.” Even at the age of 12, I thought this statement was a baloney. Surely, I thought to myself, that’s not what made him sacrifice literally years of his life to achieve this one win, a win which by no means was guaranteed in the first place. So if it wasn’t ideological hogwash that invigorated Kapitonov and many others like him, what was it then?

If he was a professional (as in “someone who earns a living from a sport”), this would be a trivial question. For sure, fame and glory is part of what drives an athlete to succeed at the highest level of the sport, and yet, without a pay cheque, how far can they go, really? Monetary remuneration is the chief incentive, the primary motive behind one’s willingness to forsake all other life avenues of earning a living and concentrate on this one alone – race a bike (or kick ball or someone else’s face, or whatever you have found you’re good at). Even for Trape, who was an amateur at the time, as much as winning Olympic gold in Rome would have been a dream in its own right, a nice professional contract after the Games for several years ahead would give him a solid financial platform to build the rest of his life on. And that’s just a first step. If you’re talented and dedicated to your sport, you can retire a wealthy man, and a young one too. It’s that simple.

All of this, however, did not apply to Kapitonov. As far as the UCI was concerned, he was an amateur, i.e. he was not paid to compete, to the best of UCI’s knowledge that is. There were no contract offers either, at least not officially (unofficially, many, but I’m getting off the subject), everyone knew Soviet athletes were not allowed by their government to compete for anybody except their own country. The only way to circumvent this was to defect to another country as a political refugee, a possibility not too many considered seriously. This was an act of treason and even though you would most likely be left alone (if you kept your mouth shut), your family back home would pay certain consequences and of course you would never see them ever again. Not an attractive prospect.

If ideology nor contractual prospects were the most prevailing motivational factors behind Kapitonov’s win, and indeed, his whole career, what was it then?

Viktor Kapitonov with Jan Schur (DDR)

I was once told a story by an older rider who had raced in some Eastern bloc stage race in the late sixties or early seventies. He said he was coming down from his room for his pre-stage breakfast at the hotel the teams were staying in, and he was walking past the open doorway of a room where the six Russian team riders – in red jerseys and shorts – were all lined up, and standing at attention. Curiosity piqued at this unusual pre-race scene, he discreetly observed what followed. In walks a Soviet General, in full military uniform, who barks at the riders, “Iorder you to win this race.”

“So what happened?” I asked.

Shrug. “They won the race.” Disobeying an order while in the Soviet military was not advised, or so I was told.

Not sure about that story, but am pretty sure that in our ‘everybody’s a winner-I’m ok-you’re ok-we’re all ok even if we’re obese’, increasingly soft American society, a little Kapitonov style hardness and reality slap would do us some good. Great blog post here with more about Kapitonov.

The ‘direktor supremo’ of Soviet cycling: Victor Kapitonov 1933 – 2005

Viktor Kapitonov died in 2005. He was 72 years old when he died.

Birth: Oct. 25, 1933, Russian Federation
Death: Mar. 5, 2005
Moscow, Russian Federation

Victor Kapitonov — the Soviet bicycle racer, the Olympic champion, the couch of a national combined team of the USSR on cycling was born in Tver. The deserved master of sports of the USSR (1959). The deserved couch of the USSR. The numerous champion of the USSR: 1959 in pair race on a track; 1962 in command race on highway; 1956 in lasting many days race; 1958 in group and command race.

Seven times has started in bicycle race of the World. The winner of this race in command offset — 1958, 1969, 1961, 1962. On the Olympic Games of 1956 first for in Melbourn Victor Kapitonov has acted unsuccessfully, in highway race it was thirty second, the reason for a failure became falling during race, in command race the Soviet bicyclists were content with the sixth seat.

On following Olympic Games in Rome, in structure of the four within the limits of command race Kapitonov becomes the bronze prize-winner of games. In highway group race Victor Arsenevich becomes the champion of Olympic Games, having bypassed on finishing feature, only on a floor of a wheel of Italian Livio Trappe. In following Olympic Games Kapitonov already participation did not accept, completely having concentrated at trainer’s work.

In 1975 and 1976 it is named by the best couch of the USSR and awarded a gold medal for preparation of a combined team of the USSR for the world championship 1970 where it for the first time became the world champion in command race. Under its management the command of the USSR won on bicycle race of the World — 1970—1972, 1975 and 1977. In 1983 has defended the dissertation, having received a degree of the candidate of pedagogical sciences.

Victor Kapitonov’s grave in Troekurovo Moscow Russia

The honourable citizen of Tver, the gentleman of an award of Lenin, “the Sign on Honour”, “Friendship of people”, “October revolution”.
Olympic road race 1960 – Final Standings

 Rank

Athlete

Age

Team

NOC

Medal

T

 

1

Viktor Kapitonov

26

Soviet Union URS Gold

4-20:37

2

Livio Trapè

23

Italy ITA Silver

at 0:00

3

Willy Vanden Berghen

21

Belgium BEL Bronze

at 0:20

4

Yury Melikhov

23

Soviet Union URS

at 0:20

5

Ion Cosma

23

Romania ROU

at 0:20

6

Stanisław Gazda

22

Poland POL

at 0:20

7

Benoni Beheyt

19

Belgium BEL

at 0:20

8

Janez Žirovnik

25

Yugoslavia YUG

at 0:20

9

Jacques Gestraut

20

France FRA

at 0:20

10

Antonio Bailetti

22

Italy ITA

at 0:20

11

Bogusław Fornalczyk

23

Poland POL

at 0:20

12

Erwin Jaisli

23

Switzerland SUI

at 0:20

13

Roland Lacombe

22

France FRA

at 0:20

14

Roby Hentges

19

Luxembourg LUX

at 0:20

15

François Hamon

21

France FRA

at 0:20

16

José Antonio Momeñe

20

Spain ESP

at 0:20

17

Paul Nyman

31

Finland FIN

at 0:20

18

Jim Hinds

23

Great Britain GBR

at 0:20

19

Giuseppe Tonucci

22

Italy ITA

at 0:20

20

Egon Adler

23

Germany GER

at 0:20

21

Erich Hagen

23

Germany GER

at 0:20

22

Bernhard Eckstein

25

Germany GER

at 0:20

23

Gustav-Adolf Schur

29

Germany GER

at 0:20

24

Michael Hiltner

19

United States USA

at 0:20

25

René Andring

20

Luxembourg LUX

at 0:20

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