I just discovered that the name Larisa Belaya has been mentioned on this site. As a matter of fact, Larisa is my great-grandmother. Although not much information about her has survived and it's not the first hand one, I will attempt to recall what I have heard (mainly from my grandmother who was her daughter in law).
"Undefeatable in wrestling Larisa Belaya. Just three days in Penza. Lifts and throws up weights. Challenges any volunteer of either gender to a wrestling match."
Larisa Belaya was born approximately in 1885 on Altai (southern Siberia) in the family of "starovery" (persecuted branch of Russian orthodox church). She had outstanding physical parameters, unusual for a woman: grenadier's height, broad shoulders (as well as hips) and large thorax. She was not just formidable by nature, she also developed her strength due to hard work she had to perform since childhood – the starovery's life was lucking of any conveniences brought by the civilization. Everyone in the community had to work, especially strong people. The starovery's way of life was very isolated but Larisa wanted to be among people and to study. So, in the age of 18 she left her parents' home for the local center Barnaul. During a circus show given by guest performers Larisa’s appearance attracted an entrepreneur who offered her to join the troupe of strongmen, clowns and gymnasts and to travel with them. She began to travel all over the Volga region, the Urals and Siberia where demonstrated exceptional strength lifting two 70-pound dumbbells overhead. Whoever doubted that she acted for real was invited to repeat her exercise – to pick up the two dumbbells. Usually, volunteers were ashamed and returned to their seats embarrassed. When wrestling competitions became popular on the circus rings Larisa was taught fundamentals of this pastime of strong men. Like the most of big strong people Larisa was good-natured and not aggressive (she was called "Russian furnace" for a definite reason), so she decided on bringing herself to such a violent and unfamiliar activity as wresting not at once. Although Larisa had not mastered all meticulous wrestling techniques (due to her natural smoothness of movements), her outstanding physical features and size “frightened” potential opponents, so very few ventured to challenge her. I heard that she successfully competed against men but I have never heard about those sly tricks that are described on your site. But I wouldn't dispute that because I know that entrepreneurs became refined in order to have a maximum profit. Larisa compensated some lack of technique and dexterity by uncommon strength, patience and endurance. I have heard that she visited Europe for a couple of times where she demonstrated her strength abilities and competed against local strongwomen in powerlifting and wrestling. I don't know any of the details though. I also heard that she met with a famous female wrestler from Baltic region (it was probably Maria Loorberg) who helped Larisa in mastering wrestling techniques. Perhaps, they wrestled each other, although Larisa definitely substantially overweighed Maria.
Despite looking formidable, Larisa was very attractive and feminine, so men strived to obtain her vying with one another. The most of them instantly disappeared though after they had been offered to measure their strength against Larisa. In 1911 Larisa got married a Russian army officer, a mighty Ural Cossack who was just right for her (in that case Larisa didn't have to ask him for measuring strength against her ). She had two sons and one of them Stepan is my grandfather. After getting married she finished her circus career and settled with her family near Orenburg (southern Urals). In 1914 her husband was draft for the WWI and was killed there. During the Civil War Larisa with the children had to move to the Russian Far East where she died of pneumonia in 1921 in the prime of life. The family of friends of their father took orphaned Stepan and his brother...
My grandmother who told me about Larisa wouldn't know her personally – she learned about her from her husband's stepparents. She categorically considered Larisa as a great queer bird. In fact, she not just disapproved female wrestling, she also considered any power exercises as not natural and harm for women...
Aleksandr Fundukleev August 2004
Female Single Combat Club Exclusive
At the end of 1900 in a circus female powerlifter Larisa Belaya (”Russian Stove”) from Siberia became famous.
The most famous match Larisa had when being about twenty travelled through Europe with a mobile circus and visited Brumbach family's circus where the father of young Katie Brumbach (future "Great Sandwina") challenged volunteers to wrestle against her. At that time (1900s), women’s wrestling tournaments were very popular. Certainly, many female wrestling matches were staged (as men's were as well) but there were female wrestlers who competed for real without any shams and tricks demonstrating strength, boldness, skills and athletic rage. Circus family of Brumbachs took the opportunity and involved Larisa in a "French wrestling championship" where Katie, Larisa and a few other female heavyweights participated. Larisa had not easy time but won three matches out of four (having weight advantage though) but lost to Katie who turned out to be a little more brisk and skillful. Katie tried to arrange the tournament and her victory on it as a celebration and a triumph of a “liberated woman”. The match consisted of three rounds; in the first two rounds Larisa (265 lb) dominated by weight over Katie (187 lb). Nonetheless, she wasn’t able to turn Katie on her back. In the third round she got tired and eventually was unable to resist indefatigable Katie’s attacks accompanied by powerful locks. After all, Katie managed to grab Larisa, lifted her and threw to the ground where Larisa found herself pinned. This match between Russian and German strongwomen was waged on the equal footing and kept the audience rapt until the very last moment. Larisa was acting persistently with dignity and deserved applause of the audience, albeit she had been defeated. This match was called “The match of the century” because it was as thrilling and hot as the best famous male wrestling matches were. It is important to note that the both robust participant came out to the ring wearing unusual for that time uniform - loose athletic clothing which looked like contemporary training suits - it was the bold Katie's innovation.
Tall and heavy Larisa (she had weight 265lb and height 6'1") was touring all over Russia and abroad showing ploys with weights and also practicing in circus wrestling which was organized very skillfully and evoked indescribable ecstasy of audience. Circus poster of 1900s said: "Undefeatable in wrestling Larisa Belaya. Just three days in Penza. Lifts and throws up weights. Challenges any volunteer of either gender to a wrestling match.” She wrestled men very successfully for whom she had special “ladies tricks”. In the middle of a circus show a master of ceremonies announced that a spectator who managed to defeat Larisa in wrestling would get a good money prize. But a man who wanted to challenge the prize met some obstacles. First of all, the challengers had to wrestle each other in order to determine the best wrestler who would wrestle with Larisa. The problem for the challengers was that after several qualifying matches they got quite tired and didn’t get enough time to rest and recover. But this obstacle was not the last one. Before a match, Larisa and her male opponent were requested to stand in a special initial position – they had to stand closely right up against each other and to tightly embrace each other interlocked hands on the opponent backs. A person in charge always tarried with setting up the position correcting the participants’ pose for a while. As a result of the long tight contact with the young and buxom body of Larisa, her opponent got embarrassed, uneasy and aroused which confused him and physically got in the way of wrestling. As soon as a referee signal was heard, powerful Larisa instantly crouched, sharply tilted back dragging the confused man along with her. During the fall she managed to turn him to the side and to pin him down under her. After that the “referee” immediately stopped the bout not allowing the man to regain consciousness (although after such a shock he would unlikely actively resist anyway). This move was so impressive that the audience applauded Larisa for half an hour.
A scandalous event took place when not a man but a subtle woman challenged Larisa. No qualifying tournament was held and no “position setting up” either. Larisa superciliously looked at the petite babe wore ladies dress who was barely able to touch her shoulders. As wrestling opponents the two looked weird which caused loud ridicules – nobody had doubts about the match outcome. The audience was totally astonished when the tiny lady skillfully and very impressive pinned the giantess down. She moved down to the Larisa’s legs, sharply overthrew her to the back and firmly pressed her both shoulder blades against the ground holding her in the position for a while until the match was stopped. But the astute Larisa showed resourcefulness though and standing up she just lifted the winner’s skirts up and lowered her tights slightly, so everyone just saw… male particular features. The male wrestler-flyweight shamefully ran out although, frankly speaking, if you consider Larisa’s more than double weight advantage, the beautiful instant pin was not a bad achievement, even against a female wrestler.
Lack of experience in wrestling against women and the fact that Larisa’s special “ladies tricks” didn’t work against them was the reason why Larisa was ignominiously defeated in Siberia by a real woman, the famous Estonian strongwoman and wrestler, Maria Loorberg (Marina Lurs) who were touring through Russia at the end of the 1900s. (Using real biography of Maria Loorberg, the writer Andres Ehin wrote a novel with the self-explanatory title, "She floored a hundred men"). Despite significant weight and height inferior to Larisa, Maria (5’6”/176 Lbs) instantly chopped the stout opponent off and threw her just on her back. The appearance of the helpless fallen giantess made the audience laugh, so that defeat was double distressful for Larisa. Nonetheless, she drew a lesson from this incident; she adopted Maria’s firm neck lock which along with Larisa’s huge weight made her almost unbeatable. In a while, after a few convincing victories over women they got scarred to wrestle her because nobody wanted to get choked and pressed by a freight of 260 pounds.
Due to the huge weight Larisa Belaya was moving over a wrestling ring too slow, so she was unable to resist quickly and sharply conducted moves. That’s why she instantly lost to the male flyweight and to Maria Loorberg. At the same time, her unique parameters: size, strength and combative heart would ideally match female form of Japanese wrestling sumo. It’s a pity that they didn’t know sumo in Europe in her times.
Revised in March 2011
Exclusive of the Female Single Combat Club
Report in the newspaper Wiesbaden Dagblatt, сirca 1905 (in German):
Katie, wrestling world champion.
Who is the strongest woman in the world? Can women do anything men do?
Now we know the answers!
Two best female wrestlers met yesterday on the wrestling ring in the outskirts of Wiesbaden. Two muscular ladies had an extremely intensive fight. Who are these brave ladies? Formidable Russian giant, Fraulen Larisa Belaya (“Russian Oven”) and local strongwoman, Frau Brumbach. It was an incredibly fascinating battle! Frau Brumbach managed to lift and throw down her giant opponent! Outright victory! Fraulen Katie won the title: “The world wrestling champion!” This wrestling match became a landmark in women’s sports and the emancipation movement.
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