SOFIA (Reuters) – Former Bulgarian weightlifting coach Ivan Abadzhiev, one of the sport’s most successful and prominent figures, has died aged 85, officials said on Saturday.
Widely known as “The Pope of Weightlifting,” Abadzhiev led Bulgaria to 10 Olympic, 57 world and 64 European titles between 1968 and 2000, making weightlifting the Balkan country’s most successful sport.
As a competitor, he won Bulgaria’s first world championship medal after finishing second in the 67.5-kg category in Tehran in 1957.
Voted the coach of the century in Bulgaria, Abadzhiev introduced a training methodology based on high-intensity sessions that is still followed widely by top weightlifters and coaches.
He was known for the level of discipline and commitment he demanded from his athletes.
Abadzhiev, who went on to train the Turkish national team in the 1990s, also served as a lawmaker in his homeland before moving to work in coaching in the United States.
Despite Abadzhiev’s renown, Bulgarian weightlifting has been embarrassed by a series of doping scandals, however.
Under Abadzhiev, the weightlifting team hit a low at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul when the country’s former Communist authorities sent them home after two athletes were stripped of their gold medals due to positive doping tests.
Abadzhiev played down the scandals, telling a local newspaper several years ago: “Bulgarian weightlifters’ successes were not based on steroids and doping but on enormous work.”
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Helen Popper)