Russia Is Restarting Stalin’s National Fitness Program

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

On March 24, Putin signed an executive order to bring back the Ready for Labor and Defense program, or GTO:

Back in the U.S.S.R., people of all ages were expected to participate in GTO. If you were 16 to 18 years old, you were enlisted in your high school’s “Strength and Courage” program, which included elements of military basic training. Not only did you run, swim, and do cross-country skiing, depending on the season, you also ran obstacle courses and practiced grenade-throwing minus grenades. Sometimes there was rifle practice, too.

Older people got off lightly but not completely. Men between the ages of 40 to 60 and women from 35 to 55 were expected to take part in the “Vigor and Health” program run by the GTO’s local branch. Driving the whole program was the quest for medals and glory amid huge pomp and ceremony. In its heyday, the GTO sponsored annual championships in towns and cities across the Soviet Union, with 37 million people taking part in 1975. The winners were feted on television and lionized in the state press.

Really, this is one of the least crazy things to come out of 20th-century totalitarianism.

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