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Frida Damberg and the Awesome History of Russian Women’s Wrestling

7 November 2013 One Comment

In the past year we have written about the growth of women’s wrestling in the US and within the Olympic Games. At the 2004 Games in Athens– the first year women wrestled at the Olympics — 20 countries sent women to compete. By the 2012 Games in London that number jumped to 42 countries. That number is expected to rise again in 2016 where women will have two more weight classes added to the competition, for a total of 24 possible medals across six weight classes.

Despite the recent growth and media attention around women’s wrestling, the sport has actually been around a very long time. Some cultures have women wrestlers dating back to 1000 B.C.. The the history of women’s wrestling in Russia isn;t quite that old, clocking in at just over 100 hundred years ago, but from this report it looks as though it was once very, very popular.


Wrestling competitions were organized not only in circuses but also in summer theaters, skating rinks and even on zoo gardens. One of the advertisements in Tbilisi said: “Opening of the international men’s wrestling championship”. The word “men’s” was not accidental there because women wrestlers were regular members of many circus troupes.

Probably the most famous (and probably the most mysterious) female circus wrestler was the Masha Matlos (born Maria Poddubnaya), the sister of the great wrestling champion Ivan Poddubny. Before 1910, she was a six-time women’s “world wrestling champion”. (Matlos is the modified married name for circus bills – from Matlash). Circus bills advertised her as inviting all comers into the circus ring to try their luck in wrestling against her after she had disposed of her fellow troupers.

The world champion Frida Damberg was especially popular among Tbilisi’s spectators – she had excellent French wrestling skills and was very graceful at the same time. The two her victories were especially noted between her numerous victories – spectacular pinning Reoter and Celt. Local media avidly described the match between Damberg and Girald. “Two the tallest and strongest ladies came out to the ring who used wrestling techniques with great skill. Furious bout lasted for 15 minutes and ended with the victory of the German who pressed the robust Spaniard to the mat. The audience got in ecstasy about that. The result was that Frida piled up all wrestlers on the floor.”


circus-wr-krest                  borchixi-training

Take a look at the article and let us know what you think. It looks like it can be a great source of materials for students who are writing history papers on the modern history of wrestling and the inclusion of women into the sport.


One Comment »

  • Al Bevilacqua said:

    Maybe the people who thought TITLE IX was needed to expand women’s sports. Unbelievable…keep the information..mg5z

    Al Bevilacqua

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