Monday, April 23, 2007

Boris Yeltsin-R.I.P.

Friend to cyclists everywhere, Boris Yeltsin has died. Many a-Thursday morning (read: post-Wednesday Night Ride) I've woke up feeling like this Soviet Statesman. Some highlights of the former national Soviet Champion (as seen in Breaking Away), and why we love him:

He was expelled from elementary school for criticizing a teacher at a school assembly. Early in his career as a construction engineer, he was given written reprimands 17 times in one year — "a new record,'' he would later recall proudly.

In 1985, Gorbachev brought Yeltsin to Moscow, where he shook up the city's party hierarchy. The strapping, silver-haired Yeltsin cut a popular figure in the capital, making a point of riding city buses instead of a limousine, standing in long lines in grocery stores and loudly demanding why managers were stashing away food for favored customers instead of selling it to ordinary consumers.

His popularity grew. Yeltsin was a natural with crowds, shaking hands and bantering in a booming voice. For many Russians, he had the unpolished charm of a "muzhik'' — a tough peasant with common sense and a fondness for vodka.

Even then, Yeltsin's career was punctuated by bouts of bizarre behavior that the public chalked up to alcohol. Red-faced pranks, missed appointments, inarticulate and contradictory public statements continued into his presidency, blamed by aides on jet lag, medication or illness.

He would have made an excellent addition to Team Evil.

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