Schwarzenegger's Ukrainian weightlifting idol dies

Ukrainian super-heavyweight weightlifter Leonid Zhabotinsky, an idol of Arnold Schwarzenegger who won two Olympic gold medals and set multiple world records while competing for the Soviet Union, died on Thursday at the age of 77.

In this file photo taken on , Oct. 18, 1964, Leonid Zhabotinsky of USSR, centre, gold medalist; Yury Vlasov, left, also USSR, silver medalist, and Norbert Schemansky, of U.S.A. bronze medalist stand on the winners platform during the awarding ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo   -  AP

Ukrainian super-heavyweight weightlifter Leonid Zhabotinsky, an idol of Arnold Schwarzenegger who won two Olympic gold medals and set multiple world records while competing for the Soviet Union, died on Thursday at the age of 77.

Zhabotinsky first won the title of "The World's Strongest Man" at the 1964 Games in Tokyo at the age of 26 before defending it in Mexico City in 1968.

Know as "Big Zhabo", Zhabotinsky was impressively built, weighting 165 kilogrammes (365 pounds) and standing 1.89 meters (6 feet 2 inches) tall.

He was a personal hero and friend of Schwarzenegger — the Austrian bodybuilder who made his name in Hollywood before gaining US citizenship and becoming governor of California.

The US star once famously marveled at how Zhabotinsky was strong enough to carry the huge Soviet flag single-handed at the opening ceremonies of the Mexico City Games.

The red and gold hammer and sickle banner and its pole weighed 18 kilogrammes, a weight that others at the ceremony could only tackle with difficulty with both hands.

Sergiy Bubka, the Ukrainian pole vaulting hero who won the gold medal for the Soviet Union at the 1988 Seoul Games and now heads the country's National Olympic Committee, called Zhabotinsky's death "a great loss".

"It is hard to overestimate (his) contribution to the development of Ukrainian weightlifting and the Olympic moment," Bubka said in a statement distributed by the committee.

Zhabotinsky died of undisclosed causes in Zaporizhia, an industrial city in southeastern Ukraine, local authorities said.