The real-life superhero who saved 20 people and ruined his career

Featured image

A champion is someone who certainly exceeds expectations–a person of tremendous motivation striving for victory. The term applies not only to sports but also to fields such as science, human rights, and politics. There are many champions in the history of civilization.

Then there’s Shavarsh Karapetyan.

Even though this lavish introduction sounds a tad exaggerated, bear with me, for when you learn about this man’s achievements, you will certainly agree that he deserves it.

After all, Karapetyan, an Armenian-born Soviet finswimmer, won the world championship 17 times.

He is also a 13-time European champion, and a seven-time champion of his homeland, the USSR. Apart from this, Karapetyan broke the World Record 11 times.

One might say that he is the embodiment of finswimming itself.

However, what makes Karapetyan more than a champion fin swimmer are not the medals on his wall, but his relentless sacrifice for others.

In 1976, he personally saved 20 people from drowning after a trolley bus flew off the road and into a frozen lake near Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

But in order to understand his act of courage, we first need to take a peek into his life and career.

Perhaps the crucial experience that led Karapetyan to turn to professional swimming was his narrow escape from death as a 15-year-old. He was beaten up by a group of hoodlums who tied him to a rock and threw him into a nearby lake.

By strength alone, he managed to tear the ropes off his hands, liberate himself from the stone that was dragging him to the bottom, and swim out victorious. After this incident, he took up swimming, but due to petty rivalry was denied the right to compete on his national team.

So he switched to finswimming and quickly rose to prominence, winning a number of state-level competitions. By the age of 18, he was already the champion of the Soviet Union and just two months later, he became the European champion by breaking the World Record.

Envy followed him wherever he went, and there was even an attempt on his life by a fellow competitor who sabotaged his oxygen tank during a championship in Kiev. Even with this handicap, which nearly cost him his life, Karapetyan won the race.

He had another brush with death in 1974, when a bus he was riding on almost fell off a cliff. In the midst of panic, the swimmer took the steering wheel and carefully rode the bus into reverse, until reaching safety. Thirty lives, including his own, were saved on that day, thanks to his initiative.

But what followed defined the rest of his life. Two years after this incident, Karapetyan was conducting his usual morning exercise of running beside Yerevan Lake when a trolleybus hurtled past him and fell right into the frozen reservoir.

Due to the sheer power of the impact, most of the 92 passengers aboard lost consciousness, while their transport-turned-death trap was sinking to the bottom of the freezing lake. Without hesitation, the professional diver knew what to do.

He jumped into the water, broke the glass window of the trolleybus with his bare feet, and started pulling the people out.

The bus settled on the lake bed, 33 feet underwater and 80 feet from the shore, and Karapetyan had to make 30 consecutive dives in order to pull out as many people as he could. In the end, 20 of the passengers were saved. He managed to pull out more, but for some, it was already too late.

Even though the incident was a complete disaster, if it weren’t for his heroism, it would have been much worse. As for Karapetyan, the price was high. After his 30th dive, he lost consciousness himself, as a result of a lack of oxygen.

Later, the consequences of such a superhuman effort took hold─the swimmer was diagnosed with pneumonia and blood contamination from the polluted industrial water.

After a 46-day coma, the hero of Yerevan Lake finally woke up. Still, his career was over due to the extreme nervous exhaustion which took hold.

Even though one would expect that instant recognition was the least he deserved, the story of his heroism remained largely unknown until 1982, when an article was published in the state-wide newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, to commemorate his extraordinary feat.

Until then, the fact that it was the champion himself who saved all those people was known only to the locals of Yerevan.

After the article titled The Underwater Battle of the Champion, Karapetyan received 75,000 letters of praise and thanks and became a household name in the USSR.

Modest by nature, he never saw it as heroism. Rather, he was frustrated by the fact that so many others died in the crash that day. When asked in an interview about the event, he replied:

“I knew that I could only save so many lives, I was afraid to make a mistake. It was so dark down there that I could barely see anything. On one of my dives, I accidentally grabbed a seat instead of a passenger… I could have saved a life instead. That seat still haunts me in my nightmares.”

Since then Shavarsh Karapetyan had been celebrated and awarded a number of times, including two medals bestowed upon him by his own government, a UNESCO “Fair Play” award, and the honor of having an asteroid named after him: 3027 Shavarsh.

In 2014 he carried the torch for the Winter Olympics in Moscow, where he currently resides as the owner of a shoe shop called The Second Breath.

Karapetyan leads a quiet life below the radar, but the memory of his heroism remains as vivid as ever, for people never forget a champion.

 Nikola Budanovic


Nikola Budanovic is a freelance journalist who has worked for various media outlets such as Vice, War History Online, The Vintage News, and Taste of Cinema. His areas of interest include history, particularly military history, literature and film.

“The sun began to be darkened”: The strange cloud over much of the world in 536 AD changed history dramatically

Featured image

In the summer of 536, a strange cloud appeared in the skies over much of Southern Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. Sometimes referred to as “a veil of dust,” something plunged the Mediterranean region and many other areas of the world into gloomy years of cold and darkness.

This foreboding change was recorded by the Byzantine historian Procopius. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year.” Procopius also wrote of disease and war resulting from the blocking of the sun’s light.

A Syrian scribe described the change as “…the sun began to be darkened by day and the moon by night, while ocean was tumultuous with spray.” Gaelic Irish records describe a “failure of bread” in the year 536.

For many years, historians and scientists have wondered what may have caused Procopius and others to record notable differences in weather. Modern research has provided some interesting theories.

Much of the rest of the world seems to have been impacted by the cloud as well, at least in the northern hemisphere. Studies of tree rings between 536 and 551 show less tree growth in China, Europe, and North America. Less solar radiation reaching the earth resulted in lower temperatures and abnormal weather patterns. The results for humans included lower food production output, famine, as well as increased social and political disruption.

There were specific events recorded that were likely related to the ominous cloud. A deadly pandemic swept through the Byzantine Empire in 541-542, that became known as the Justinian Plague. Estimates are that up to a third of the population perished during the outbreak. Procopius described some of the horrible symptoms as fever and swelling all over the body.

In 536 China, there was famine and drought with many deaths, as well as reports of “yellow dust that rained down like snow.” At the same time, Korea faced massive storms and flooding. Unusually heavy snowfalls were noted in Mesopotamia.

Scandinavia seems to have been particularly hard hit. Archaeological evidence indicates that almost 75 percent of villages in parts of Sweden were abandoned in these years. One theory is that this displacement of people was a catalyst for later raids by Vikings seeking more fertile land in other parts of Europe and beyond. A Norse poem of the time reads, “The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea. Down from heaven, stars are whirled.”

The severe weather may have impacted other historical trends. Among them is the migration of Mongolian tribes westward, the fall of the Persian Sassanid Empire, and the rise and rapid expansion of Islam.

Some historians mark these specific changes in weather patterns as contributing to the historic transition from antiquity to the beginning of the era of the Dark and Middle Ages. It certainly emphasizes the impact rapid climate change may have had on human populations.

What could have caused such a sudden and dramatic change in weather? Experts are divided, and we may never know the whole answer. One theory is that the climate around the world changed based on one giant volcanic eruption, possibly from Central America. This could have resulted in a layer of ash and dust covering the skies of much of the planet.

Another suggestion is that there were two large volcano blasts within a couple of years of each other, specifically in 536 and 540, causing darkness and cold around most of the world. Clouds of smoke and debris from massive volcanic fires could have spread rapidly.

Evidence of volcanic eruptions was backed up by material found in both the North and South Poles. In both Antarctica and Greenland, sulfate deposits have been discovered dating back to the mid-6th century.

A third theory contemplates the impact of a comet or meteorite crashing into the Earth. Or the possibility of a near miss from a comet passing by that could have left thick dust clouds of particles in the atmosphere. Experts generally think this explanation is less plausible than that of volcanic eruptions.

Whatever the cause, people living at the time noticed and recorded a rapid change in nature. Human populations around the earth were disrupted and to many it would have felt like the world were coming to an end.

 Mark Shiffer

The Pulitzer Prize is named after Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher who helped introduce “yellow journalism” to the world

Featured image

William C. Gaines, Harold E. Martin, Miriam Ottenberg, Deborah Nelson, and Buzz Bissinger. What do all of these names have in common? Well, every single one of them has won the Pulitzer Prize award for investigative journalistic achievement.

Since its launch in 1917, the Pulitzer Prize has come to be regarded as a prestigious mark of recognition in the fields of journalism and literary arts. There are today 21 categories up for grabs in the annual presentation, with the jury members reserving the right to withhold an award if they believe no submissions in that category reach the standard. To wear the badge of Pulitzer Prize Winner is an accolade that is highly coveted.

It is definitely an acknowledgment of serious journalism. But there is a curious part to its inception, and that is the name of the award itself.

The “Oscar” of journalism is named after a man who arguably laid the grounds for what would be known later as “yellow journalism,” a sensationalist press that is the predecessor of today’s tabloid news.

Joseph Pulitzer was born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He was involved in the newspaper business in 1868, when he started working for the Westliche Post. However, it took some 20 years for him to make a true mark in the field of journalism. By then, he had accumulated enough experience and wealth to own a newspaper; he purchased the New York World for a reported sum of $345,000.

With Pulitzer on top, the newspaper thrived and its circulation began breaking records. This was all due to Pulitzer’s knack for appealing to the masses. He knew what the common people wanted to read and he gave it to them. There were legitimate news stories, but also stories ranging from scandalous affairs to street crimes.  People gobbled it up; they couldn’t get enough. Every new day had a new story to tell.

Pulitzer was active in the Democratic Party and interested in social causes. He recruited the investigative reporter Nellie Bly, who is famous for both her undercover reporting and headline-chasing exploits. Business was going well for Pulitzer right up until 1895 when William R. Hearst bought the New York Journal and became involved in the same business. This kick-started a great rivalry between them with a single goal in mind: Who would outsell the other. The crime-and-scandal-fueled rivalry soon turned into an all-out circulation war, giving birth to yellow journalism as we know it today.

So, in retrospect, if Joseph Pulitzer can be considered the one who set the foundation, then Hearst can be viewed as the one who set the course for the tabloids of the future.

Although both newspapers had high circulations, for the critics they were nothing more than low-brow publications. They despised them, especially their methods of reporting and affinity for sensationalism. It was around this period when the term “yellow journalism” became widely known, which brings us to its inception.

The term was already in use among journalists and reporters of the era, but it was Erwin Wardman, the then-editor of the New York Press, who published it first. Among peers, especially serious journalists, the term was often used in a derogatory sense for the news that they made fun of.

Also introduced by Wardman is another expression that was popular at the time–“yellow kid journalism.” For this phrase, he specifically alluded to the main character in Richard Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley comic strip that was published in the two rival newspapers. The Yellow Kid ran first in Pulitzer’s paper. When Outcault was lured away with a bigger salary by Hearst, Pulitzer hired another cartoonist to continue drawing the cartoon for his New York World.

Who invented the tabloids can be debated forever. However, the fact remains that it was Pulitzer who left $250,000 in his will to Columbia University to establish that now most prestigious prize. If it was the other way around, we might be talking about the Hearst Prize.

Related story from us:“For sale: baby shoes, never worn” – Did or did not Hemingway write the shortest, saddest six-word story

The Pulitzer Prize remains one of the most important awards for writing. And Joseph Pulitzer made sure that it would be named after him. Whatever his history, the board gives the award based on the quality of the writing itself.

 Goran Blazeski