May 29, 2012
Jericho not first Winnipeg wrestler in hot water
By DOUG LUNNEY - Winnipeg Sun
Chris Jericho’s abuse of a flag in Brazil isn’t the first time a pro wrestler from Winnipeg has caused an international stir, but you’d have to go back to the height of the America-Russia Cold War to remember the tale of George Gordienko.
Few Winnipeggers know Gordienko’s story, but the ring legend with a colourful history was posthumously inducted in the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, N.Y., earlier this month.
Born in Winnipeg in 1928 and discovered while working out at the local YMCA as an amateur, Gordienko wrestled from 1946-76 and was considered one of the best in the world. His career, however, was dealt a blow when it was learned he was a member of the Communist party in the early 1950s. It ended his success in the U.S., but he continued to wrestle all over Europe before returning to Canada to finish his career at age 48 in Vancouver.
My two favourite Gordienko stories are how the weightlifter turned heads as a 16-year-old when he was a walk-on at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp, and his brush with fame with Pablo Picasso.
The story goes that Gordienko became an accomplished oil painter and artist after his retirement. Apparently, Picasso was a big wrestling fan and it was the renowned artist who jumped at the chance to meet Gordienko, who was equally thrilled.
"George Gordienko being recognized is a big deal for Canadian wrestling," said Vance Nevada, another Manitoba-raised wrestler and author of Wrestling in the Canadian West. "He came up from an era where wrestlers were required to have a strong amateur background and he sought out opportunities to compete in those countries where those fundamentals would be best appreciated.
"George has now been recognized by the Cauliflower Alley Club for his achievements and has been inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Let’s hope that the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame also follows suit and recognizes a Winnipeg athlete who is celebrated internationally -- even a decade after his death."