Jaakko Kailajärvi (“Jaska”) FINLAND an orginal 1960’s Olympic weightlifting quick lift specialist

You have to love Olympic weightlifting historian David Webster’s description of Jaakko ; “his intense concentration, aggressive demeanor on the platform, noisy breathing, exclamations of exultation in victory and annoyance on failure to lift a weight were eagerly anticipated by all who watched him in action.” From Webster’s book “The Iron Game.”

Two world records @ 82.5kg in the snatch

  • 143.5 kg set on 1.7.1962
  • 146.5kg set on 20.9.1962

The 146.5 kg WR set at the 1962  World Championships in Budapest, Hungary was described as follows; He strides fiercely up and down, glaring at the bar, making faces at it, as if to intimidate it. Finally he stops striding and stands facing the bar, staring at it for at least a minute, his small, dark eyes gimlet like. In time he quiets down, seems to relax, and then goes for the bar. He uses a rather close grip, pulls high, sits so low that his trunks appear to touch the platform, and fixes the bar overhead. I am sure what we witnessed was a case of self-hypnosis, something we had never seen before. He sat nearby for a few minutes, then leaped up and started pacing again. He made a good try 147.5 kg. ” It should be noted he had lifted as much as the WR in the 90kg category (Alexander Gavrilov USSR).Kailajarvi Snatch Tracing Kailajärvi’s snatch technique naturally was of great interest as evidenced by these tracings done by coach David Webster (ENG). The tracings are probably from the video below.

World championships 1962 Budapest, Hungary the weight loaded was 145 kg which would be a new WR, the WR’s of that era were reweighed and it weighed out as 146.5kg which then became the official WR. A great reason for certifying barbells.

He competed in four Olympics 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976. The photo on the below left from the 1976 Olympics looks somewhat strange, I was trying to capture the  body positioning at that critical points from just above the knees to hips, therefore I saw no need to include the weight on the bar. I could capture ONE frame with my manual film advance camera. The equipment side of photography has dramatically changed for the better in 30 plus years.

Kailajarvi Jaakko FIN 90kg lifting at 1976 Montreal Olympics -photography Rob Macklem

Kailajärvi Jaakko FIN 90kg lifting at 1976 Montreal Olympics -photography Rob Macklem

The Olympic games at Mexico City 1968 @ 90kg  seemed his best chance for an Olympic medal. However,after only making one press of 145kg (12th place) the prospect for any medal appeared bleak. But not for “Jaska”, the battle was still on because he was moving on to his specialties, the quick lifts of the snatch and CJ. In the snatch it still didn’t go as  planned as  he was  only able to get one attempt with his opening weight of 150 kg.  Fellow countryman and eventual gold medalist Kaarlo Kangasniemi (FIN)  snatched 157.5kg. Although the formal snatch competition was over, the rules of the day allowed 4th attempts for world records. Jaakko called for a WR  158.5 kg,  “he breathes hate and fire at the barbell, he made a gallant attempt but could not lock his arms under the weight”. On to the CJ where Jaakko made his first two attempts with 185kg and 190 kg.  He then waited….and waited…until all lifters were done. He would need 200 kg to win a bronze on BW over Golab(POL) . Jan Talts (RUS) had minutes earlier set a new world record 197.5kg.  “Kailajarvi pulled 200kg  in but fell to his knee and dropped it off “.  But hold on, was Jaako done ? No, he called for a WR 4th attempt of 198kg.  Regrettably the result was same as 200kg, no lift. Jaakko Kailajarvi in the tradition of all great champions set no limits to his performance on the platform.

At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal  in his 4th Olympic games Jaakko was still on stage in the 90kg A session.  Jaakko didn’t figure in the dramatic battle that day, David Rigert winning gold and Lee James (USA) winning silver. That is another story. For those interested in Olympic weightlifting history here is a link to an article written in 1965-66 on the  Kailajärvis brothers and their training. (pdf format)

I was traveling on my way home after the 2008 European championships in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy with my friend Walt Lampert when I recognized Jaakko at a train station.  I think Jaakko was a little surprised we knew of him and his weightlifting past.

Jaakko Kailajärvi and Walt Lampert at train station in Italy, both going home after the 2008 European championships

Jaakko won no Olympic medals in four tries, however Jaakko aptly personifies one of my favorite quotes,

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

“Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910


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