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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Doctor Kept CSKA in Top Form for 50 Years

MTBelakovsky believes that a love of sport and an understanding of sportsmen are essential to being a good sports doctor.
Oleg Belakovsky remembers watching the current sports minister, Vyacheslav Fetisov, skating around CSKA's rink as a small boy. He remembers playing hockey in the courtyard with Valentin Bobrov. And watching Lev Yashin at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.

These are fond memories, and they are of particular import this year, as CSKA, the Russian army's sporting organization -- and perhaps the most successful sports club in the world -- celebrates its 80th anniversary.

Tucked away in a small room in the CSKA complex on Leningradsky Prospekt is Belakovsky, who, as doctor to many of CSKA's greats, has lived the club's triumphs and sorrows for more than 50 years. He sits in his office in CSKA's medical building, surrounded by pictures of famous players he has treated over the last half-century.

"Not every good doctor can be good at sports medicine," said Belakovsky, who followed his father into the profession. "You need a love for sports and to understand and love sportsmen."

Belakovsky was born in 1921, two years before the Bolsheviks formed CSKA as a way to promote fitness in the army. The government sifted through an alphabet soup of acronyms, first calling the new organization OPPB, and then CDKA, before settling on CSKA.

Belakovsky remembers when CSKA was at its peak, during which time it produced more than 450 Olympic champions, 2,300 world and European champions and 10,000 Russian or Soviet champions. He had no doubts about wanting to be a doctor, but the war interrupted his medical training. He fought on the Leningrad front before resuming his studies.

"I had a lot of luck," he said. "I took part in World War II and survived."

After the war, Belakovsky joined the parachute regiment as a doctor, examining the training for and effects of parachute jumping on the body. It was a short move from there in the early 1950s to CSKA. He had something of a pedigree, having grown up in the same courtyard as Bobrov, the sporting legend who represented the Soviet Union in both hockey and soccer.

Throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s, Belakovsky served as doctor for the Soviet soccer team. It was a golden age for the team, during which it won the 1960 European Championship and came third in the World Cup in 1966.

As the club of the army, CSKA played a critical symbolic role during the Soviet era. In CSKA's early days, the club served mainly as a venue to help improve the fitness of the army, and later, as mass sport grew, of the population as a whole.

By the time the Soviet Union emerged from its international sporting isolation after World War II, the government used CSKA as a player in the athletic battle between the Soviets and the West, which substituted for the military clash that never came. To ensure victory, vast amount of funds and facilities were provided for the organization.

Fierce competition was not kept to the international arena. Within the Soviet Union itself, the army placed great importance on bettering other organizations, such as Dynamo, which was backed by the Interior Ministry. The army would even draft sportsmen into the army so they could be forced to join CSKA. Coaches and managers often threatened athletes with postings in inhospitable parts of the country if they did not perform well.

"The responsibility for sports results was very big," said Belakovsky, hinting slightly at the pressures that were placed on players, trainers and even doctors for successful results.

One of the most traumatic events for a generation of CSKA sportsmen was the 1952 breakup of the CSKA soccer team, then known as the "lieutenants side." Led by Boris Arkadiyev, one of the great tacticians of Russian soccer, the team won five Soviet championships after the war. But the team was disbanded on orders from Stalin after the Soviet national team (which included many CSKA players) lost to Yugoslavia, then the ideological enemy of Stalin's Russia, at the Olympic Games in Helsinki.

"They were stripped of the Masters of Sport, which meant a lot in those days," Belakovsky said.

Belakovsky himself was sacked a number of times on account of one or another team's failures. Despite this, he became the head doctor of CSKA in the 1970s, and the doctor for the Russian Olympic hockey team, which ruled international competition throughout the 1970s.

In recent years, CSKA has endured a cash crisis and the departure of many of its stars to the West. Today the club is enjoying something of a revival. The basketball team, which is owned by Interros, placed fourth in this season's Euroleague championship. CSKA's soccer team is currently top of the Russian Premier League.

In 1987, Belakovsky was forced to retire because of his age. Since then, he has been a consultant and remains the doctor for the veterans team.