3 Soviet leaders who were physically active (PHOTOS)

Vladimir Musaelyan/TASS
Neither Mikhail Gorbachev nor Nikita Khrushchev made the list – and, in general, only the founder of the USSR was a real athlete.

Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin and Nadezhda Krupskaya in Gorki near Moscow

"Lenin was a physically sturdy, strong man. His stocky figure, sturdy shoulders, short, but strong arms – everything showed an inordinate strength in him. <...> Had it not been for Vladimir Ilyich's iron health, he would not have survived the severe wounding as a result of an assassination attempt," wrote Nikolai Semashko, People's Commissar of Health.

Indeed, Vladimir Lenin, who usually drank nothing stronger than beer and did not smoke, spent his entire life concerned about his health. His favorite sport was cycling. He became acquainted with it in Moscow in 1894, when Mark Elizarov, the husband of Lenin's older sister Anna, bought himself a bike.

Catalogue illustration of a Hyslop men’s bicycle

In 1903, Ilyich, already an avid cyclist, was in Geneva in the first serious accident – at full speed, he rode across some streetcar tracks, broke the bike and injured his eye in the process. But, Lenin did not give up his hobby. Bolshevik Grigory Zinoviev recalled: "How many times in Paris, Vladimir Ilyich took us on a bicycle for 50-70 kilometers just to swim and walk on the picturesque bank of a beautiful river. A trip of 50 kilometers by bicycle to a beautiful French forest to pick lilies of the valley was considered a common thing.” 

Nadezhda Krupskaya wrote to Lenin's mother from France in 1910: "This week he and I have been riding bicycles until we dropped. We made 3 rides of 70-75 km each, three forests were scoured, it was very good. Volodya loves such trips, to leave at 6-7 o'clock [in the morning] and return late in the evening." Unfortunately, the memoirs do not mention what brands of bicycles Lenin and his wife had.

In the same year, Lenin had an accident with a car: "I was riding from Juvisy (near Paris) and the car crushed my bicycle (I managed to jump off).The public helped me write down the license plate number, gave me witnesses. I recognized the owner of the car (a viscount, damn him) and am now suing him through a lawyer. I hope to win," Vladimir Ilyich wrote."That's how I encountered dialectics," Lenin joked after this incident, "I was on a bicycle and then I jumped off a pile of scrap iron.”

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin playing gorodki

Stalin's daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, once recalled: "Billiards, bowling alley, ‘gorodki’ [an ancient Russian game] – anything that required a keen eye – were the sports available to my father. He never swam – he just did not know how, did not like to sit in the sun and only enjoyed walks in the woods, in the shade."

The garden of Stalin's dacha in Kuntsevo was equipped with a ‘gorodki’ court. Marshal Ivan Konev recalled: "After lunch, we sometimes played ‘gorodki’. Stalin himself wasn’t bad at it. He threw a bat eerily, as if stabbing, but he knocked out most of the pieces.” Stalin's personal guard Alexei Rybin wrote: "All members of the Politburo often played ‘gorodki’. And they were good! Stalin preferred to fight in pairs with Altshuller or Pomerantsev – excellent players.”

Vladimir Stalin playing Russian billiards

Another passion of Stalin was billiards. Marshal Konev wrote that "at billiards, he played well, quiet accurate blows, never hit hard, carefully aiming”. At Stalin’s dacha in Kuntsevo near Moscow, the billiard room is in a separate building and the original table on which Stalin played is still intact.

Leonid Brezhnev

The time of Leonid Brezhnev was the heyday of Soviet hockey, which the general secretary loved very much. But, what sport did Brezhnev himself do? A living symbol of the stagnation era, always unhurried in his movements, behind the official image Leonid Ilyich was an avid hunter, driver and swimmer.

Vladimir Medvedev, Brezhnev's personal security guard, recalled that "Leonid Ilyich used to swim often”, and spend a long time in water. “There were swims up to two and a half hours. The guards who swam with him were already freezing, but he still swam.” After such swims, coming out of the water, the guards immediately asked the doctor for some alcohol, while Leonid Ilyich went either under a hot shower or in the pool, where the water was much warmer.

READ MORE: Brezhnev's car collection

Leonid Brezhnev was also an avid driver. During his visit to the United States, President Richard Nixon gave Brezhnev a dark blue Lincoln ‘Continental’ as a gift. Nixon recalled that Brezhnev decided to try out the gift right on the roads of the presidential residence at Camp David. “He got behind the wheel and motioned me into the passenger seat,” President Nixon wrote. “The head of my Secret Service detail went pale as I climbed in and we took off down one of the narrow roads that run around the perimeter of Camp David… At one point, there is a  very steep slope with a sign at the top reading: ‘Slow, dangerous curve.’ Brezhnev was driving more than 50 miles an hour as we approached  the slope. I reached over and said, ‘Slow down, slow down,’ but he paid no attention. When we reached the bottom, there was a squeal of rubber as he slammed on the breaks and made the turn… ‘You are an excellent  driver,’ I replied. ‘I would never have been able to make that turn at the speed at which we were traveling!’”

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