The 1964 Tokyo Games saw him compete against his Soviet team-mate Yuri Vlasov, who was as studious as Zhabotinsky was lazy. During training with the Soviet national team six months before the Games, Zhabotinsky’s personal habits so infuriated Vlasov that he retreated to work on his technique alone at Moscow’s Central Army Sports Club. Come the day of the contest, on October 18, Vlasov seemed well ahead of all competitors in the clean and jerk lift – where the athlete hefts the barbell to rest on the shoulders before thrusting it overhead.
Zhabotinsky, meanwhile, made a great show of struggling with the weight. He dropped it on the second attempt, and hugged Vlasov as though to congratulate him. Then, with a casual wink to his coach, he broke his own record on the third and final lift, hefting a total of 479.5lb. The feat gave him an overall score of 1,262lb lifted, against Vlasov’s 1,256.5. “I was choked with tears,” Vlasov recalled. “I flung the silver medal through the window … That night I understood that there is a kind of strength that is nothing to do with justice.”