- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

KIEV The thing you notice immediately about Wladimir Klitschko is his size.
Weighing in at 248 pounds and standing 6-foot-6, he towers over everyone surrounding him after a television appearance. Then, as he sits down for an interview that begins in Ukrainian and ends in English, it doesn't take long to understand he is smart not only about where's he's going in his life, but in a thinking man's way.
"I think you have to [always] learn more," says Klitschko, who is known as Wladimir to the boxing world but goes by the Ukrainian Volodymyr or Russian Vladimir when in Ukraine. "I don't want to make something where I don't have fun, because I live only one time."
Klitschko is in Kiev for a two-day visit filled with media appearances and meetings. This is where he always comes after a fight, even though Hamburg, Germany, has been his residence since 1996 after he and his brother, Vitali, signed on with Germany's Universum Box Promotion Club when Wladimir won the gold medal in the super heavyweight division at the Atlanta Olympics.
Klitschko's latest bout was a sixth-round TKO of Ray Mercer less than two weeks ago in defense of his World Boxing Organization heavyweight title. That victory is likely to open even more doors for the brothers in the United States, a market where they have slowly been making inroads the last two years. They are soon expected to sign a deal with HBO, which broadcast the Klitschko-Mercer match, but Klitschko won't discuss the details.
Klitschko now wants a shot at Lennox Lewis, who after his victory over Mike Tyson said Klitschko isn't strong enough and a bout would be a waste of time. Lewis is considering challenging Chris Byrd before retiring.
"If Lewis stops, I will never get this chance," Klitschko says. "I want to take my chance. I will use my chance, and I am sure I will win this fight."
Klitschko and Lewis already met in the Hollywood remake of "Ocean's Eleven," in which the victor of that fictitious bout was unknown because the lights went out before it ended.
Whether or not they meet in the ring again this time for real Klitschko and Lewis could meet behind a chessboard. Chess great Garry Kasparov has suggested the two men play a match that would be officiated by him.
With Klitschko's arms spread out over the side of an aging sofa at 7:50 a.m., the power of his fighter's body is evident under his finely cut Boss-label tan suit. There are the broad chest, the bulging biceps and intense, yet inquisitive, brown eyes. If a Hollywood career is in Klitschko's future it is something he doesn't rule out, although his "small dream" is one day to become a director he certainly has the charisma and the looks. People, particularly women, look with admiration when he walks by; he is exceedingly polite.
Wladimir Klitschko may be only 26, but he is a man who seems comfortable in his own skin. And if there is a philosophy to his life, it is to enjoy what you've got.
"This world is a romantic world," he says. "Life is very hard and tough. If you lose the romantic feeling, I think you get depressed."
The Klitschko brothers are to the world of boxing what the Williams sisters are to tennis. Determined and focused, punch by punch they have won over Europe's boxing fans and now have their sights set on America.
Although they are less known than Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Tyson to American viewers, their boxing records have put them at the top of their profession. Wladimir's sterling record is 40-1 with 36 knockouts, while 30-year-old Vitali is almost impressive he's 31-1 with 30 knockouts. Vitali was scheduled to fight American Larry Donald on Saturday in Germany before he suffered an injury to a disc in his back, forcing the fight to be postponed.
Wladimir understands the lure of two brothers who look alike in the ring.
"All the time it's a double package," he says. "People need more time to tire from us because we're two different people. This is a power, to be together. You're much stronger. If you're by yourself only, you're very big. But you're like a Titanic you can go down."
The love and unity that exists between the Klitschko brothers may be the key to their success. Rarely does one fight without the other in his corner.
"I can say we have a brother's love for each other," Wladimir says.
Even though they have turned their attention to the U.S. boxing world, the Klitschko brothers are hoping to use their current success to bring good to those less fortunate. They participate in German president Johannes Rau's unity project, which is meant to bring together that country's many nationalities. They are also working with UNICEF in two programs dealing with education and sport against war. Both men hold doctorate degrees in sport science and philosophy.
In Ukraine, they sponsor several philanthropic projects, including the Sport 21st Century Fund, intended to support talented sportsmen and women, experienced coaches and sports veterans. They refurbished the gym where Wladimir trained as a youngster in Brovary, a city outside Kiev, and have helped fund part of a reconstruction project at one of the cathedrals in the capital that was destroyed during the Communist era.
"We understand how many doors we can open through sport," Wladimir says. "If you don't use it, I think this is a mistake."
As they travel the world, however, Klitschko says he understands they are also giving their country a much needed public relations boost. The international image of Ukraine, a country with a population of nearly 50 million, has been tarnished in the last two years by allegations of government corruption.
"The first thing the country needs is maybe a small promotion," he says. "It's a country that has a really big future and a very big future for Europe and America. I think it's very important to present this country to the world."
The greatest effect of the brothers' international success in Ukraine is that they have raised the level of boxing in their homeland, says Alina Shaternikova, the women's world champion in the World Boxing Federation's flyweight division.
"In Ukraine, there are many talented boxers and not any worse than in America," says Shaternikova, who has known the brothers for more than six years. "Unfortunately, they don't have the possibility to box in world championships. But our brothers Klitschko showed the whole world that Ukraine has many talented people."


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