Born in 1899 in the village of Bilky (Irshavskiy district, Zakarpatya), in a rural family which belonged to the middle-class. Unbelievable physical strength of the young man drew attention to him quickly. At 20 Kroton moved to Prague for earnings. In 1919 Ivan Firtsak got fired by a Prague factory and worked there for a while. Later Ivan worked as a loading hand on the railway station. There was a well-defined payment for each hand-carried kilogram of weight. The athlete fulfilled his daily stint within half a day.
He became famous and popular as an amateur sportsman in the 20th, when he began to win in fighting tournaments and competitions in Prague. The first sporting duel for the native of Zakarpatya was a fight with a travelling strong man Vilet, who made his living performing on street arenas. Vilet defeated in that battle. During the duel the coach Andrzhey Neyman caught sight of Ivan Firtsak and became strong man’s mentor for a long time. Firtsak called him „Mister Professor“. The youngster practiced with 25-kilogram weight kettlebell. He carried it not only in the yard at home but also kept it with him in the tram.
In 1922 at Czecho-Slovak weight-lifting championship Ivan Firtsak lifted 150 kg weight and was awarded the golden medal. He became the first loading hand in the history of Czecho-Slovak sport who won the championship of the Republic. Soon he became a champion of Czechoslovakia in hand-to-hand fighting. He was a repeated winner of Prague club weightlifters „Prague-Bubenech“. Ivan Firtsak won 70 contests in weight-lifting sports, he was also a winner of body show in Paris.
One of Ivan Firtsak’ competitors was Kolar Grdlichka, a champion of the country, with whom the scrap happened in „Slovan“ restaurant. Firtsak had to pay the fine off, because the Czech served in the police. After the official victory of the championship Ivan was also offered to become a law enforcement officer, but he refused.
During the journey to KarlovyVary the car, driven by Ivan Firtsak’ trainer, got into an accident. Andrzhey Neyman died, and Ivan spent six weeks in the hospital. The police arrested him, charging with murder. Later a Neyman’ cousin, advocate Gaykhel, bailed out Firtsak, having paid large caution money.
Having left amateur sport, Kroton-Firtsak joined the circus art. He became a performer of the well-known „Gertsfert-circus“ in Prague. Machok Makler, the chief producer, who had been working in this circus for 30 years, offered Ivan to become a star of the arena. Ivan Fircak travelled halfway around the world with „Gertsfert-circus“, captivating by his skill level many countries — Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Canada, USA and others. All together he performed in 64 countries of the world.
Firtsak, who was called Ivan Syla on the show bills, appeared on the scene before large audiences in Vienna, Berlin and Washington, where he tore iron chains, juggled heavy objects (weights, bullets, barbells); he lay on the broken glass, holding 500 kilograms of weight on himself; he pulled trucks with his teeth; he bent nails with his fingers, making various figures, and gave them to the audience. For his phenomenal strength, tricks and many unique records the international community named Ivan Firtsak after the ancient hero Kroton.
In the USA Ivan performed an advertising trick: he lay down on the ground and an automobile moved through his throat. The photo of the trick appeared in many American newspapers. Afterwards he included the trick into the program under the title „A man under the auto wheels“.
In 1927 the owners of business concern „Ford“, as a sign of respect, presented Firtsak an individual car.
Fight with John Jackson
After monthly tours of „Gertsfert-circus“ in London the Queen of Great Britain, who took a rest with the official family in Blackpool, invited the guests to perform the show at the Tower circus hall with 5000 seats. There Ivan pulled a lorry full of people with the chain. On the Queen’s request Ivan Firtsak (in his leather mittens) measured strength on the ring with a super-heavyweight John Jackson, a world champion in boxing by that time. The fight finished by Jackson’s defeat — Kroton broke his chest — the punch was so powerful, that his mitten cracked. After the duel Jackson couldn’t keep up and threw himself down from the window of a multistoried building.
In the result of the accident Ivan Firtsak was attacked by John Jackson’s supporters who seriously injured the head of the sportsman — he got the open skull fracture. So, the doctors had to implant the golden sheet into the damaged bone. The athlete spent two months with the bandaged head, and in the future he performed wigged. To compensate and confess Ivan Firtsak as a prominent fighter, the Queen of England presented him a unique belt, cuffs and helmet, decorated with diamonds and relief image of lions.
Ivan broke 10-year contract with the circus earlier of the agreed term and paid the owner a large compensation through the court — 100 thousands crowns. He came back to his native village at the end of 1930th. When the Hungarians after occupation of Zakarpattya in 1939 wanted to confiscate Firtsak’s car „Ford“, he broke it up with a sledge-hammer. He was punished for that, was taken into prison and beaten. After establishment of the soviet power NKVD confiscated all Kroton’s prizes, awards and even photos.
In suppression of Ivan Syla’s phenomenon in the soviet period the fortune of his son played a considerable role. After the war 18-year old Ivan Firtsak-junior, due to a trumped-up case, was accused in OUN affiliation and sentenced to 25 years of camps, he served almost eight of them in jail. He was great hope for his father, a glorified athlete. He always performed together with him, he was a champion of Ukrainian SSR in boxing in the first post-war years.
Ivan Firtsak was a founder of Zakarpattya circus school and power arts. Many of his students got champion titles in heavy athletics.
One of the reasons of Ivan Firtsak’ death was the implanted golden sheet which needed replacement. In the times of the Soviet Union there was not possibility to go abroad for the operation, and the wound under the sheet began to fester. The doctor who regularly arrived to the athlete from Irshava could do nothing. He died on November 10, 1970 in the village of Bilky. The funeral ceremony of the athlete was crowded — many sportsmen arrived to pay last respect to Kroton. Kroton was buried on the cemetery in the village of Telyatynets.
Well-known circus acts
- „Breasts instead of anvil“ — the block was crashed by the hammer on his breasts;
- „Mammoth’s teeth“ — Firtsak nailed the oak board to the table with his palm, using 20-centimetre nails; when a few people could not get them out, he put the handkerchief to the nail-head and got them out with his teeth;
- „Iron heart“ — he put 3-meter rail on his shoulder, four assistants hanged on it, trying to turn it. When they didn’t succeed, he turned a heart of it with his hands.
- In Vienna he pulled a platform with furniture with his teeth, and in Geneva he stopped two moving cars with his hands.
- Firtsak performed the act „Neck under rail“ for Czecho-Slovak president — ten men bent the rail on Ivan’s neck, when he lay on the table.
- During corrida in Spain Kroton won the fight with a bull barehanded, he took him on his shoulders and brought to the nearest restaurant.
- He could easily keep 30-liters cast-iron cans with milk in double arms.
- He could move a wooden house from its place.
- Kroton’s Grandfather — Ivan Vilkhovych — killed a bear with a wooden log, and therefore he was called Syla.
- In his teens Kroton felt pity for a cow, so putting himself to the plough, he turned up the field. When the heifer injured its leg, Ivan brought it home on his shoulders.
- He escaped from the prison having bitched prison bars up.
- He won the fight with the Japanese wrestler Tokedzo, who was 20 kg heavier.
In the village of Bilky, in the house where the sportsman lived there is Firtsak-Kroton museum, and the bronze bass-relief to Ivan Firtsak was set on building of the house of culture.
On July 26, 2009, on the occasion of 110 years since Ivan Firtsak’s birthday, the monument was opened in the center of the village of Bilky. The monument was made by the sculptor Mykola Gleba from the granitic block 7,5 tons weight. Vasyl Virastyuk posed for the monument.
In August, 2012 on the order of the State agency for cinematography Kyiv National film studio named after Oleksandr Dovzhenko started to shoot the film „Ivan Syla“ about Firtsak-Kroton on Viktor Andriyenko and Igor Pysmenny screen version. The director-producer of the film is Viktor Andriyenko. The leading role was preformed by the champion of Ukraine, well-known athlete Dmytro Khaladzhi. The budget of the film amounted to 16 million hryvnyas.
Ivan Firtsak in literature:
- Kopynets Anton. „Kroton“. — Uzhhorod: Publishing House Karpaty, 1971.
- Havrosh О., „Unbelievable adventures of Ivan Syla, the strongest man of the world“, L., Publishing House Staroho Leva, 2007.
- Vitaliy Ablitsov „Galaxy «Ukraine». Ukrainian Diaspora: prominent figures“ — К.: КIТ, 2007.
- Ivan’s childhood years are described in children’s book „Oleksandr Havrosh about Hryhir Pintya, Oleksandr Dukhnovych, Ivan Syla, Adalbert Erdeli, Augustina Voloshyna“ / Oleksandr Havrosh; book artist Iryna Shumova. — Kyiv.