Old-Time Lithuanian-American Athletes: the “Lithuanian Lion”
From John Jakubauskas' "Amerikos Lietuviu Sporto Istorija," self-published 1966
Lithuania had a rich history of producing Stipruoliai (professional strongmen) long before Žydrūnas Savickas became internationally recognized as possibly the strongest man in the world. In the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century many robust Lithuanian-Americans chose performing feats of strength in circuses, often coupled with professional wrestling (Imtynės or Ristynėse), over jobs in factories and mines.
The most famous Lithuanian-American strongman/wrestler was Antanas Kandratas/Andy Kandrat, known as “The Lithuanian Lion.” Born 1882 in Lithuania’s Alytus district, Vilna guberniya, he showed unusual strength at an early age, able to lift twice as much weight as others his age. He began working alongside his father as an adult at the age of 12. He came to the US in 1901 at 18 to work in the coal mines near Scranton, PA. After a year or two he moved to Brooklyn, NY, and, at the Lithuanian Athletic Club (Lietuvių Gimnastikos Klubas), founded 1903, and focusing on wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, and baseball, he got acquainted with, and was no doubt inspired by, Brooklyn-born Warren Travis, who in 1906 was awarded the title of "World's Greatest Weightlifter" by a popular strength magazine. Travis regularly performed feats of strength at Luna Park in Coney Island (and died of a heart attack there in 1941, at the age of 65, during a performance).
In 1908 the Greek professional strongman known as Achilles came to New York City. Perhaps it was Warren Travis who advised Antanas to enter a weightlifting competition with the Greek at Palace Hall in Brooklyn. The Lithuanian Athletic Club bet $500 that the 200 lb. Kandrata would beat Achilles. Over 3,000 people attended the competition, including many Lithuanians. Kandrat won by lifting a total of 2,000 pounds more than Achilles, and got a diamond-studded belt for the win. News of his strength spread, and Antanas received many invitations to perform from theaters, traveling groups, and circuses.
His typical performance in 1908 and 1909: lift 20 men on a plank on his shoulders; lie down and have as much as 3,800 lbs. placed on his chest; lift four men by his teeth; rip two decks of cards together with his fingers; offer $ 25 to anyone who could lift half the weight he could with his pinkie. In 1909 he toured the U.S., performing feats of strength as part of the Lithuanian Theater Association group, which included singer Julė Palkauskaitė, vaudeville entertainer Jonas Palkauskas, violinist Vladas Alisauskas, and magician Vincas Alisauskas.
Antanas turned to wrestling in the beginning of 1910, along with fellow Lithuanian-Americans J. Lisauskas, F. Kazlauskas, and K. Sakatauskas. Later that year he visited Lithuania to see relatives and returned to the U.S. to continue wrestling and to perform as a strongman. He went back again in 1928, this time to an independent Lithuania. President Antanas Smetona awarded him a medal which recognized Kandratas' contribution to the Lithuanian nation. The economic situation in Lithuania worsened in the 1930s, as it did in many countries, and Antanas returned to wrestling in the U.S., competing against the most prominent wrestlers of the time. In 1932, at the age of 50, he was appointed an official wrestling referee in New York, and participated in matches in the New York City area until his death at 65 in 1946. The “Lithuanian Lion” was the first Lithuanian strongman to come to America and openly call himself Lithuanian.