Klitschko brothers spurred on by the other's achievements
"When little brother saw that I was a boxer he wanted to become a boxer, too... And when I won a heavyweight title little brother was not satisfied until he had won a title. Now I want to accomplish…"
Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko fired their hooks almost simultaneously; Vitali at a sparring partner in the Austrian Alps, his younger brother on the 12th hole at Kingsbarns Golf Links near St. Andrews in Scotland. Both hooks did damage.
"Out of 10 drives, I can sometimes hit one straight and as far as the pros," said Wladimir, who was playing with Swedish Ryder Cup golfer Soren Hansen in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. "The trouble is, the other nine can go anywhere -- and one of these was on the 12th hole. It was not pretty."
Klitschko`s golf game received mixed reviews. The Times (London) reported that witnesses suggested "making contact with the ball was a problem for [Wladimir]," while The Press and Journal (Aberdeen) insisted that "he looked far better than his 18 handicap suggests."
"I was afraid he was going to let it go on a few holes and break a few clubs," Hansen said.
The irony is that Vitali is the one who might have been expected to be playing golf last week -- back strains and knee injuries permitting.
Instead, he was wrapping up his training ahead of arriving in Berlin to challenge heavyweight titleholder Sam Peter on Saturday at the O2 World Arena. It will be his first fight in four years.
"I have had to order some new sparring partners because a couple of them could not spar any more," Klitschko said. "My preparation has been great and I am hungry to fight. This has been my dream and my brother`s dream, that we should both hold heavyweight title belts at the same time. This is a moment that we are looking forward to sharing together."
In a Hamburg apartment several years ago Wladimir described the emotion of watching his brother box as "the bungee jump feeling." They have been in one another`s corner throughout their respective careers. Now they are on the verge of an unprecedented kind of domination, for two brothers have never ruled the heavyweights simultaneously.
Regardless of title belts, if Vitali beats Peter, the Klitschkos will be the two best heavyweights in the world. This might be a moderate boast in one of the most mediocre periods in the history of heavyweight boxing but it says something for the way two brothers from Ukraine have been spurred on by the other`s achievements.
"When little brother saw that I was a boxer he wanted to become a boxer, too," Klitschko told ESPN.com. "When little brother saw me receive PhD, he had to get PhD also. And when I won a heavyweight title little brother was not satisfied until he had won a title. Now I want to accomplish what little brother did three years ago by beating Sam Peter … now I am following Wladimir."
Little brother expects big brother to encounter fewer problems than he did against the Nigerian Nightmare when he was floored by him three times at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City before he prevailed on points in an elimination bout in September 2005.
"Peter, just like other heavyweights, is able to punch hard and I think that Vitali knows this and will knock Peter out before anything else can happen," said Wladimir. "Vitali`s last opponent, Danny Williams, was the same size and style as Peter and Vitali was exceptional against him. I expect the same from Vitali when he faces Peter."
But the destruction of Williams took place in December 2004. Since then, Klitschko has spent more time in the political arena than he has in any other.
In 2006 the two brothers stood shoulder to shoulder with Viktor Yuschenko as they addressed a rally of 250,000 people in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in the center of Kiev at the height of the Orange Revolution.
Speaking directly after Yuschenko, Vitali applauded the people who came onto the streets "to protest against the liar [then Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych]" after Yanukovych attempted to steal the presidential election "by falsifying results," according to Vitali.
"Our future, our lives will begin to change when the country votes again," Vitali told the crowd. "This fight of ours is for democracy, for our country to become a true democracy and for our president to be Viktor Yuschenko."
Yuschenko came to power in the subsequent election and Klitschko retired from boxing in November 2005 after undergoing an operation on his right knee, which he had injured in sparring ahead of a title defense against Hasim Rahman.
Four months later he campaigned for mayor of Kiev and won 25 percent of the vote, polling second to Leonid Chernovetsky and ahead of the incumbent Oleksandr Omelchenko. He was elected as a people`s deputy to Kiev City Council.
"I saw that the rules worked for a very small group of people while the vast majority, maybe 90 percent, had to wait for something to improve their lives. I wanted to make a change in my country," said Klitschko.
Since 2002 he and Wladimir have been ambassadors for UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) which supports more than 180 projects in 87 countries in need of the most elementary aid.
"I remember when I was invited to meet Max Schmeling, along with Wladimir, at his home outside Hollenstadt in northern Germany," said Klitschko. "I had lost against Chris Byrd because of a torn shoulder muscle and Max said, `I know you have a bad feeling right now and everybody is kicking you when you are down. But I had the same situation in my life and I know your time will come.` His time came when he became the first man to beat Joe Louis; mine when I fought Lennox Lewis and no one could ever question my heart again.
"Right now there is no question that Wladimir is the strongest boxer in the heavyweight division. In my opinion, the second strongest is Samuel Peter and just after that is Ruslan Chagaev and Nikolai Valuev. I don`t really care about legacy, about what people will think of me as a fighter years from now but I do want to achieve this feat, for me and my brother to be heavyweight titleholders at the same time."
It would be a nice memory to share years from now when they are hooking and slicing their way around the golf course.
Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for the London Sunday Times and is the longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.