John Kuc Ex-Marine and most scary Power Lifter in the 70s. He is known for his superhuman strength and mental attitude. He has one of the greatest psyches for powerlifting. During the competition he hardly talked at all. He cites that working out is a serious business and too much socializing will destroy the proper state of mind you need to get stronger.
What’s behind John Kuc’s Eyes?
There is a lot of passion, willpower and love. He loved and breathed Power Lifting.
He always had a goal in his mind. To lift the weights and set world records. Especially when it comes time to deadlift. He always had tunnel vision, and used to fading out everything around him. A car could have hit the man and it would not have registered.
He was very quiet and went almost unnoticed at most competitions. But he seemed very humble. You had to almost pry info out of him and he hardly enjoyed talking about his accomplishments.
Oldtime- Powerlifter Jim Duggan wrote this: “I do remember warming up with him. He had two high school kids with him, and they did his loading for him. He never touched a weight. He wouldn’t speak to anyone. If you wanted to change the weight on the bar, you spoke to his flunkies, who would relay any messages to Kuc, while he sat on a bench, and stared blankly ahead. Odd behavior, but I guess greatness makes its own rules.”
Here is the story of the athlete that many insiders consider to be the best powerlifter of all time. 9-time World Champion Larry Pacifico called him the “Mystery Man” of Powerlifting.
John Kuc’s Story
John Kuc was born in 1946 in the US state of Pennsylvania. John, of Polish extraction, started training with weights at home at the age of 15 to increase size and strength for football, wrestling and track, which he participated in while in high school. He was 5’11″/180cm (still the same) and weighed in at 160lb/72kg. He trained for three years while in school between the sport seasons all on his own instructions. Even with this haphazard method he gained 35lb/15kg. After school he joined the Marine Corps and then he became interested in lifting weights.
John received some instructions from Sgts. Bill Floyd and Dave Byrd, who were Marine Physical Education Instructors. It was here that John learned about power lifting and decided to start training entirely for power.
“While I was in the Marines a few of the guys were into powerlifting and the competitive side of the sport appealed to me. I began doing it as a pasttime and before I was discharged from the marines I already had three meets under my belt.”
“We loaded 500lb on the bar and without any kind of warm up exercise I lifted it with ease. The deadlift might have been a gift, but at the same time I was having difficulty bench pressing 200lb.”
John Kuc had an incredible back strength. This picture was taken in 1971 when he used to bodybuilding. Photo courtesy by his good friend Bob Gaynor.
John Kuc’s first Power Lifting Meet
The contest was the Southland Championships held in Daytona Beach, Florida in January 1969. It was a close contest, but he won his first time, and it was the biggest thrill of his life. After Daytona he had the confidence and drive that set him in the direction of bigger contests and totals. There was soon to be only one goal in his Life. His goal was to become the best lifter in his chosen weight class.
In 1970 he was discharged from the Marine Corps. His return to civilian life almost destroyed his lifting plans. The only job he could find was back breaking construction work. He soon became disgusted and quit lifting. For two months he didn’t touch a weight. He began growing accustomed to his job, so he slowly started working out again. He didn’t powerlift, because after a day of construction and pouring concrete, nothing was left except a little strength for bodybuilding.
He enrolled in the local community college and did some of the best training of his life for the next two years. These were the years he experienced the biggest gains in power.
In November 1971 the 1st World Championships were held in York, Pennsylvania. About this time John met a Superheavyweight lifter from Scranton who had totaled 955kg, Big Jim Williams. Kuc drove down on weekends to train with the big Man at the York Gym. Jim had a big squat, big bench and low deadlift. They became steady training partners.
Jim Williams was in prison very often in the 60s. He made a lot of trouble and was therefore often in the local newspaper. But many oldtime powerlifters report that he is a humble and laid-back giant despite his criminal past. At the powerlifting meets he used to talk, laugh and have fun with with his competitors. On the other hand the totally opposite John Kuc. He completely ignored his competitors and is turned inside himself. Talked to nobody. He even grumbled to big Don Reinhoudt who offered a smile and a handshake. John was a quiet person. But there was still a fire burning inside him. John had a relentless motivation and willpower. That’s why Jim Williams and John Kuc fit well together and formed a perfect symbiosis.
In the early 1970s, Jim Williams and John Kuc would show up at the York Gym on the odd Saturday for a workout. The in-house Olympic lifters did not know who they were, just that the two some were “huge, strong dudes,” presumably powerlifters.
The Olympic lifters paid no attention to them, continuing to workout on the lifting platforms. That was until the Olympic lifters could not find any extra 45-pound plates. Wondering where all those 45s disappeared to, they started looking around the gym and suddenly noticed Willilams bench pressing a tremendous load–Bigler, who was among the Olympic lifters, said the quick math revealed that he was successfully shoving up either 705lb or 715lb. Needless to say, even the Olympic lifters were beyond impressed. And none of them saw fit to interrupt Kuc and Williams to ask that they not hog the 45s.
1971 First World Championships Results
The 24-year old John Kuc totaled 955kg/2105lb (SQ: 342,5kg/755lb – BP: 240kg/529lb – DL: 372,5kg/820lb) won the bronze medal. In the last attempt of the deadlift he tried the impossible, but the unimaginable load of 397.5kg/875lb moved only up to his knees.
Big Jim set an official American total record: 2075lb (BP: 650lb/294kg, SQ: 760lb/344kg, Deadlift: 665lb/301kg deadlift). His bench weighed 635lb/288kg on the scales for another American Record.
September, 1972 Men’s Senior National
In June of 1972 Hurricane Agnes caused a temporary halt to his training by covering his town of Kingston, Pennsylvania with twenty feet of water. The big showdown that August in Denver between John Cole, Williams and Kuc was never to be.
November, 1972 The 2nd World Powerlifting Championships
Above: John is working out at his home in preparation for the Championships in 1972. In the right panel, he displays his third place award which he garnered in 1971. He trained hard and bulked up extremely to 153kg. He used to eat a great deal of cottage cheese, eggs, meat and also take vitamins. His training consisted of lifting ‘heavy’ twice a week and light the other two days.
1972 Championships, Athletes from 6 nations met in Harrisburg and again the two friends Kuc and Williams provided some highlights. The “Big Black Bear” Jim Williams lifted 306 kg in bench press, achieved a total of 1010 kg and won his 2nd Vice World Championship title. John Kuc, now weighing 153 kg, was in top form and his 410kg (RECORD) squat, 272.5 kg in bench press and 382.5 kg in deadlift resulted in the unbeatable total performance of 1065 kg. He was world champion!!!
Kuc wanted to increase his bodyweight to 360pounds and squat with 1000lb pounds at the 1973 Senior Nationals. But that never happened because with the high bodyweight he did not feel very comfortable, a blood pressure of 190/120 and a severe pneumonia brought him back to facts. He had to reduce his weight.
Kuc: “My nutrition plan with over 5500 kcal and 400 g protein daily was not the healthiest.” John set at about 2000 kcal with about 160g protein and 6 months later he weighed 110kg again, but lost the hard-earned strength and was devastated. More than 1 year passed until his friend Bob Gaynor was able to get him to a new attempt in the 110kg class. The training was suddenly fun again. John kept the hard single and double attempts in the squat.
“In the squat I hurt my back again and again when I tried many repetitions. Therefore I always preferred heavy 1’s and 2’s “, he explained this step. But in bench press and deadlift he changed his old system, changed to mostly 3 heavy sets of 3-4 repetitions and finally the performances climbed up again.
John Kuc vs. Doug Young and Terry McCormick
1974 Men’s Senior Nationals John returned to the platform with a bodyweight of 242lb/110 kg. In an exciting duel he defeated Terry McCormick and bench-press legend Doug Young. Squat:320 kg and 215kg bench press were clearly weaker results than in his super heavyweight days, but in the deadlift he surprised everyone with 370kg.
1974 IPF Powerlifting Championships, he was back and the World Championships could come. A 100 kg lead over Bill Seno from Chicago and world records of 385 kg in the deadlift and 932.5 kg total gave Kuc the 2nd World Cup crown. Everyone waited now for further super performances, but John decided again for a break.
The pressure became too strong for him. He left college and took a job as a cook in a hospital in 1975. However, he kept his heavy bodybuilding training. Kuc fell into oblivion. In 1978 John’s phone rang. At the end of the line he heard the voice of Gus Rethwisch( powerlifting organizer). It was one of Gus’ biggest dreams to see the John Kuc on the plattform once again. Gus talked for hours with John and persuaded him to make a comeback. Kuc about Rethwisch: “Gus is totally fanatical. He doesn’t stop until he has reached his goal.”
1979, Hawaii International John Kuc vs. Terry McCormick
The great John Kuc entered the platform again after more than 4 years. In this competiton there were a lot of ‘powerlifting stars’. In the Super-Heavy-Weight Class: Doyle Kenady, Bill Kazmaier, Gus Rethwisch. In the 275lb class: Doug Young, Larry Kidney, Dave Shaw. And in the 242lb : John Kuc, Terry Mc Cormick. Was he be able to defeat his rival Terry McCormick in the 110kg/242lb class?
John Kuc’s opener in the squat felt hard but he made his third attempt with 755lb was very explosively. His bench surprised him when he missed the 227kg/501lb but he made 220kg/485lb. He opened his deadlift with 843lb. His second attempt with 854lb was also a good lift. He tried 900lb but the bar didn’t respond.
Jon Kuc won the 242lb class.
Larry Kidney (one of the competitors) said this about John’s mind setting: “John is someone you really have to handle with kid gloves, especially at a major competition. He gets himself set to lift, and you could hit him with a 2×4 and it wouldn’t phase him at all. If I had that type of ability, I would squat 1000lb..”
1980 Nov IPF World Championships, Texas
John’s preparation for this contest was the most painful of his career..the lifts went up, but it hurt like hell to train. He was able to get rid of soreness in his knees by taking 8x 600mg alfalfa tablets per day along with 8x 500mg Calcium Phophate tabs.
Results: 242lb/110kg Squat: 832lb/377,5 kg, Bench: 501lb/227,5kg, Deadlift: 870lb/395kg DL (WR) – 2204lb/1000kg (WR)
After this victory John decided again to withdraw from the competition. Minor injuries and the increasing use of drugs in sports were the main reasons.
Life After Powerlifting
Kuc wrote his book during this period: John Kuc speaks on Powerlifting” and founded with his friend Bob Gaynor the “Kuc’s Fitness- Shop”. So he stayed connected to the sport. The founding of the American Drug Free Powerlifting Association (ADFPA) was the catalyst for a renewed return to Kuc´s in the powerlifting arena.
John’s retirement was to follow in 1986 at the ADFPA Nationals. The meanwhile 40-year-old Kuc won 877,5kg (330-190-357.5) and landed his 4th victory in a row. But it was his last big performance. In spring 1988 his friend Bob Gaynor announced John’s resignation.
Today the 72-years old John Kuc collect old weapons and still trains 4 times a week. But it is rumored that he loads the barbell to 300 kg when deadlifting.
John Kuc’s Power Lifting Accomplishments by Thomas Klose
1969 Jan Florida Open Power Meet , Daytona Beach
Dead: 605lb/274kg, 1560lb tot, 1st
1971 Nov World Championships (AAU) York, Pennsylvania:
Dead: 821lb/372,5kg , 3rd place, 955 kg total
1972 Mar Superstar Invitational , Scranton
Dead: 848lb/385kg total: 1012,5 kg
1972 21. May Cincinatti
Dead: 949lb/385kg Total: 1042,5kg
1972 11. Nov World Championships (AAU) Harrisburg
Dead: 843lblb/382,5kg – tot 1065 kg ,1st
1974 US-Senior Nationals , Fort Worth/Texas
Dead: 815lb/370kg- tot 905kg 1st.
1974 Nov IPF World Championships
Dead: 385kg/848lb – tot 937,5 , 1st
1979 4. May , Hawaii:
Dead: 854lb/387,5kg (no belt)- 950 kg 1st.
1979 Senior Nationals, Bay St.Louis:
Dead: 810lb/367,5kg, 1st total: 950kg
1979 4.Nov. IPF World Championships:
Bench: 490lb/222,5 kg
Dead: 859kg/390kg DL (WR) (missed 903lb/410kg 3rd) – 965 WR 1st
1980 19. March Hawaii International Powerlifting Championships:
392,5kg/865lb DL (WR)- 977,5 kg (WR) tot 1st
1980 US Senior Nationals, Madison,Wisconsin:
Dead: 810lb/367,5kg, 1st total 960kg
1980 Nov IPF World Championships, Arlington, TX:
Dead: 870lb/395 kg DL (WR)- 1000 kg (WR) 1st
1980 Nov : stopped taking steroids ( ref.: John Kuc speaks on Powerlifting )
1983 31.Jul. ADFPA Senior Nationals , Allentown,Pa:
Dead: 804lb/365kg, 890 1st
1984 ADFPA Senior Nationals Wilkes Barre, Pa :
Dead: 755lb/342,5kg – total: 895 kg.
1985 11 May ADFPA Pennsylvania State Championships:
Deadlift: 855lb/388kg ( more than the exististing IPF WR)
1985 Jul ADFPA Senior Nationals :
missed 859/390kg deadlift twice, 900kg tot 1st . Wilkes-Barre, PA.
1986 ADFPA- Senior Nationals:
Dead: 788lb/357,5kg, total 877,5kg 1st
1988 Bob Gaynor announced the retirement of John Kuc
PL USA Magazin, Strenght & Health and Musclar Development
John Kuc: Speaks On Powerlifting
3 thoughts on “John Kuc: The Strong Silent Type”
“Most scariest” isn’t English.
Thanks will edit it
Trained with John and Bob Gaynor. Saw John DL 835 x 3 at 242. The bar we used was not a York Olympic bar with machined plates, it was a 7 foot long exercise bar that I am positive weighed heavy. Great strength athlete, along with Bob. Bob was pulling 700 at 198/220 back then, no supersuits or wraps, ACE bandages. John was a quiet, respectful, intelligent individual. People like to classify him as strange and withdrawn . He was just quiet and kept to himself. For the record…..1st man to squat 900 !