Vitali Klitschko was born on 19th July 1971 in Belovodsk, Kyrgyzstan (then known as Soviet Central Asia). He was the son of Vladimir Rodionovich Klitschko, a Soviet airforce colonel, whose career regularly forced the family to move across country. His father was involved in the immediate post-Chernobyl clean-up operation which contributed to the health problems which eventually claimed his life in 2011.
The famliy eventually settled in Kiev when Vitali was a teenager. He was interested in kick-boxing before moving into boxing. He turned professional in the sport in 1996 and that was the same year he received his first University Degree. In 2000, he completed his doctoral thesis, producing a paper based on the theme ‘Talent and Sponsorship in Sport’. Whilst his education progressed steadily, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Vitali had also become WBO Heavyweight Champion the previous year, earning the nickname ‘Dr. Ironfist’ in the process. He lost for the first time in 2000, throwing in the towel whilst ahead on points against Chris Byrd, after suffering a shoulder injury. He couldn’t challenge Byrd to a rematch as, by the time he recovered from what transpired to be a torn rotator cup, his younger brother Wladimir had already beaten Byrd and taken the WBO Belt.
The brothers had promised their mother they would never fight each other, a pact they stuck to without fail. Vitali thus had to wait until a bout with South African Corrie Sanders in 2004 to claim the WBC title, suffering another controversial and long debated defeat to Lennox Lewis in the meantime.
Since that point, the Klitschko brothers have dominated boxing’s heavyweight division, taking on all comers and emerging undefeated. This period included Vitali’s temporary retirement in 2005 (during which he unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of Kiev twice, in 2006 and 2008). In spite of almost four years out of the ring, Vitali immediately regained a World-Title on his return to boxing on August 3rd 2008, defeating Samuel Peter, who could not continue after 8 rounds. He went on to win every fight he was involved in until he once more decided to take a break from boxing to focus on politics. Upon his initial retirement, Vitali was announced champion emeritus, which meant that if he returned to boxing, he could fight the WBC Heavyweight Champion without having any fights beforehand. On December 15th 2013 he announced that he was taking this option again, refusing to retire outright but instead choosing to focus on his political career for now.
Vitali had initially become involved in political activity during the ‘Orange Revolution’ in late 2004 and had supported a losing candidate during the preceding Ukrainian Presidential Election, which many believed had been marred by corruption. He had originally announced his intention to run for President of the Ukraine in 2015 but these elections have been moved forward to May 2014 in the aftermath of President Viktor Yanukovych’s impeachment.
Vitali believes the Ukraine should develop closer ties with Europe rather than expand its relationship with Russia. He espouses these beliefs in a calm and collected manner, however. Some have criticised his political demeanour as lacking in charisma but, the very fact that he has not completely alienated those Ukrainians who would prefer to be a part of Russia, is what makes him a viable Presidential Candidate.
In order to achieve this position, he will have to over-come not only the Russian influence, but also that of Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s first female Prime Minister and a co-leader of the Orange Revolution. Those siding with Russia will be accused of being Putin’s cronies, in spite of the large Russian speaking population in the south and east of the country. Tymoshenko, who made her name through her ownership of video stores and petrol companies, has been previously convicted of financial corruption and was only released from jail in February 2014 after a change in the law. Whilst the charges against her have been dropped and whilst Tymoshenko maintains that her arrest was the result of a corrupt government, her name is irrevocably associated with such matters in the minds of some.
Klitschko on the other hand, made his fortune through boxing. His rise to a position of prominence may have been slow and unspectacular, but his position has become stronger amidst the recent turmoil. Photographs of him bravely struggling to maintain order amidst the chaos of the ‘Maidan Revolution’ combined with the fact that he is not associated with corruption by the public, as are so many Ukrainian political figures, have helped him to gain momentum.
Events in The Crimea may have a leading role in deciding whether the May elections go ahead but if they do, Dr. Ironfist will be a major player. It is somewhat ironic that a desire to avoid a return to Russian rule may inspire some Ukrainians to place their faith in the son of a Soviet pilot but then irony is a luxury Ukrainians cannot afford right now.
Klitschko has shown time and time again that he is an able fighter.
Perhaps he will yet get the chance to show himself a leader too.