Otar Korkiya

Otar Korkiya

Soviet athlete, Honored Master of Sports, Honored Coach of the USSR, European champion, Olympic medalist
Date of Birth: 10.05.1923
Country: Georgia

Biography of Otar Korkia

Otar Korkia was a Soviet athlete, Honored Master of Sports, Honored Coach of the USSR, European champion, and Olympic medalist. He was born with natural athletic abilities, but he also worked hard to develop his strength. He excelled in track and field, and his national youth record in discus throwing stood for over ten years. He had incredibly strong thighs, neck, and shoulders, which made him unafraid of physical confrontations and always seeking to prove his superiority.

In basketball, there are not as many family dynasties as in other sports. However, the Korkia family is notable in our basketball history. Otar's younger brother, Zhenya, was a renowned coach, and his older son, Volodya, was an international master of sports who had a successful career as a coach. The Korkia surname stands out in our basketball world.

Otar Korkia was a legendary figure in our basketball history. He was the first Soviet center of true international level, the first and only male basketball player to be awarded the Order of Lenin, and the first to demonstrate the significant role of a center in basketball. His son Nodar was also a talented player who represented the Tbilisi "Dynamo" for many years. However, it was his nephew, Mikhail Korkia, who achieved the most notable victories, becoming an Olympic champion. Otar played a significant role in Mikhail's development, supporting him, being proud of his successes, and even boasting about them in his mature age.

Otar always shined on our courts, starting from his debut in the formidable year of 1943. He was discovered by the basketball world after the war. As the captain of the Soviet national team, he led them to three gold medals in the European Championships. At that time, the Czechoslovakian basketball players were considered the favorites, and Otar's team had to battle with them for the gold. Many years later, players like Ivan Mrazek and Irzi Schkjerzik admitted that they were simply afraid of Otar. In the 1947 and 1951 European Championships, he dominated his opponents to such an extent that they seemed defeated even before the start of the matches against our team. Otar overwhelmed his opponents not only with physical strength, although he always had an abundance of it. He overwhelmed them with his strong will, his fighting spirit, and his determination. It seemed that if someone challenged him, sparks would fly. He was always like that, as far as I can remember.

Opponents were not the only ones intimidated by Otar; even the referees, who were supposed to be strict and impartial, were visibly nervous when officiating matches involving him. His huge blue eyes were always burning. However, this did not affect foreign referees as much as it did our own, sometimes even leading to unfair treatment. Nevertheless, his reputation was so high that nothing could tarnish it. Foreign referees, although often biased, acknowledged Otar's skill. After the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, he received the highest praise from experts, even though he did not get to finish the momentous final match due to fouls that were allegedly made up by the referees. If he had stayed on the court, no one knows how the match would have ended. The score was 22:22 when Otar reached his foul limit, and the final score was 36:25... Until that moment, the Americans were scoring close to a hundred points against other teams, with only the Brazilians putting up a decent fight. And here, they scored just over thirty points against us. It is important to note the significant difference in height between the teams. Our tallest players, Otar and Ilmar Kullam, were both 190 centimeters, while the Americans had Kurland, Frayberger, and Lovellete, who were 213, 210, and 209 centimeters, respectively. Can you imagine the contrast? Furthermore, Otar left the court prematurely, and it is unclear how the match would have ended without him.

Otar was a smart player who knew his limitations. He understood that he had no chance against giants like those. Therefore, he would come close to the basket whenever he had the ball. Nothing could stop him. Opponents would hang on him, hit him, grab his shorts and jersey, and even hold his hands, but it was futile. He would jump with the defenders hanging on him and put the ball in the basket. He did the same in Helsinki. However, Otar also had a good mid-range shot, which he showcased in the Olympics. He was one of the first centers to take on the role of a passer. Before him and for a long time after him, the role of a center was limited to defending their own basket and attacking the opponent's. Otar, on the other hand, dictated the team's tactics. The team played through him, and he played for the team. Many centers today could learn from him in this regard and revisit his game. Otar was incredibly tenacious. It was impossible to snatch the ball away from him. He would not allow himself to lose or miss the ball, even after a sharp and powerful pass. However, if he did miss a pass, for example, from Ivan Lysov, he would not get angry, even though the ball hit him hard in the face. He would simply say, "It's okay, it's my fault," and never make such mistakes again. Otar and Lysov formed an amazing duo. The small virtuoso Lysov and the powerful athlete Korkia complemented each other perfectly. Perhaps for the first time, we witnessed a true fast break in their performance, where Otar would throw the ball far ahead to the running Lysov, who would finish the simple yet effective combination. In positional attacks, Lysov always looked for Otar and would pass to him most of the time, resulting in accurate and successful plays. Scoring under the basket was easy for Otar.

However, sometimes this self-assuredness worked against him. I remember a match in either 1948 or 1949 in Leningrad, where our team, representing the City Officers' Club, played against Tbilisi. Otar planned to do a hook shot, which he executed perfectly. But I, a small and fast player, managed to run up and steal the ball from Otar's hand. He waved his empty hand and looked around, surprised, causing laughter from the spectators. He was searching for the person who dared to embarrass him, Otar Korkia himself. Like in a modern cartoon, his thunderous voice called after me, "Wait, kid..." and he started running after me with his giant strides. His immense strength was truly impressive. Indeed, Otar's physical power remained unmatched. He appeared taller than his teammates and opponents, even though they were the same height. He was as tall as Kullam, slightly taller than Konev, Krus, Silins, and Sertsavi-chyus. Yet, he seemed to tower above them all. It was probably due to his massive, athletic figure and his playing style as a tank, sweeping everything in his path.

Otar was gifted by nature, and he also had an inventive mind. He constantly searched for something new, always coming up with ideas. Before the Tokyo Olympics, Otar worked with the youth national team. I asked him to study and test how height affects the preparation of basketball players. Otar brought back fascinating observations that we later used to prepare for the Olympics in Mexico. He even came up with training sessions in... water. He believed that weightlifting and using weights was unnecessary for basketball players and could be replaced with shooting practice while standing knee-deep in water. It was an intriguing idea, although its effectiveness still needed to be proven.

Otar constantly spoke about the problems faced by centers. After Helsinki (where he had learned valuable lessons and gained experience in battling American giants), he consistently emphasized the need for a continuous and purposeful search for tall boys. He supported the proposal of the All-Union Basketball Federation to introduce a height restriction in the top league teams. Only one out of twelve players could be taller than two meters, and teams without any tall players could have only ten players. This policy stimulated the search for giants. Otar could not be unaware that with the arrival of very tall players, he would eventually have to step aside. Nevertheless, he always insisted on recruiting young tall boys into basketball.

Otar demonstrated paternal care, or even tenderness, towards the younger generation. It didn't matter to him which team they played for. And who, if not Otar Korkia, could inspire and encourage them, boost their confidence, and make them believe in themselves? He dedicated a lot of time to the young players on and off the court.

It is no wonder that both his teammates and opponents always referred to him by his first name and patronymic, even though many played with him for a long time in the same team, whether club or national... It was a sign of respect for the immense talent of a true master, a great athlete, and a wonderful person with a beautiful soul...