Yakiv Punkin won the Featherweight (62 kg) Greco-Roman gold medal at the 1952 Olympic Games, the Soviet Union's first appearance in the Olympic Games.
Ukraine-born Punkin, who first took-up wrestling in 1938, joined the Soviet Army in 1941, was soon captured by the Germans, and spent the rest of WWII in a series of prisoner-of-war camps. When liberated in 1945 he weighed only 35 kg (77 lbs.)
Punkin returned to active duty with the Soviet Army where he won the 1947 Army Featherweight championship. Between 1949 and 1950, and 1954-55 he won four Soviet titles.