Below are my thoughts on the Heats and then the Final for this year’s World’s Strongest Man competition, so stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers.
This year the heats were dominated not by any one person but something far worse. Injuries. I think on some level I’ve become quite blasé about some of the impossible feats that the athletes perform. I see them lifting huge lumps of wood, stone and metal. I hear the numbers and comparisons (5 people, 2 fridges, six cows) and I’ve stopped actually thinking about the reality of that. The fifty or so men who compete are the strongest in the world. That’s out of 7 billion people. Just think about that. You can compare the skills of other athletes and debate their ranking, one footballer against another, but it’s all opinion and up for discussion. There’s no debate here. One is just stronger than another. It’s black and white.
What they do is superhuman. 99.9% of the population cannot do it. Even those guys and girls you sometimes see in the gym who are ripped – they can’t do it. They’re just not strong enough. Also during the heats there were a couple of segments this year where they spoke to one of the doctors. In it he said, their muscles can take it, because they’re very big guys who train to do this all year, but their tendons cannot, and they tear or just rip off the bone. Just writing that makes me feel slightly sick. This is not a sport that most people can do and reach the top.
Injured competitors this year included Graham Hicks, Benny Magnusson, Mateusz Baron and one of my favourites, Laurence Shahlaei. Big Loz looked to be in good health and he was all fired up but then he tore a bicep. Hopefully all of them will be back next year, fit and healthy.
There were a couple of heats where I wasn’t surprised by the winner. Big Z, Brian Shaw and Thor all dominated their heats. The timeless Mark Felix proved why he is still one of the best in the world as not only did he win his heat, but he performed a remarkable feat on the deadlift. He remains the best in the world at it and he can beat everyone from Big Z to Brian Shaw. He is just that good. Jerry Pritchett from the USA did exceptionally well as did JF Caron from Canada, earning themselves a spot in the final ten. The real surprises for me were Mikhail Shivlyakov and Matjas Belsak. The smiling Russian is fairly slight compared to some of them but he proved to be an incredibly tough competitor. Equally Belsak is a young man and already he is extremely strong, standing toe to toe with some of the veterans. They’re both worth watching in the future.
Mike Burke and Eddie Hall both did themselves proud to get through, although I was disappointed to hear Burke announce this is his final year competing. I can understand why but I always enjoy watching him compete so I’ll miss him next year.
Given the very close result last year, this year they made the Atlas Stones count for double points. It makes sense as last time it came down to half points and seconds. As it happens, this year it was not too different, both in terms of the final result and the difference between the top 3 men on the podium. Looking beyond the top 3 for a minute, I think Eddie Hall did himself proud coming in 4th, as he has focused himself 100% on WSM. He’s been able to give up his day job and just train. It’s really paid off as one of his worst events, the Atlas Stones, turned out to be one of the best for him this time. He’s stronger and more athletic, which is so critical as there are always loading or carrying events. So there’s always a balance between static strength and being fast and strong at the same time.
This year’s winner was Brian Shaw. I think it came down to him being hungrier than Big Z. Despite him being the heaviest competitor Shaw is also one of the most athletic. He really does have the whole package and while there are some areas Big Z will probably always dominate where he has world records, like the Log Press, Shaw is no slouch. He did incredibly well on the deadlift and the weights they were all lifting this year were very impressive.
Thor was on fire this year and in the end he was only half a point behind Big Z to get 3rd place again. None of the top 3 are slowing down and I’m really not sure what is going to change over the next few years unless one of them suddenly retires, which seems unlikely. They are all so close, the only upset I can see is if Thor somehow trains like a madman and becomes just so strong he knocks one of the other two into 3rd place.
I couldn’t call the result for 2015 and I’m not sure what is going to happen for the 2016 results. The competition is as fierce and exciting as I’ve ever seen it and after all this time I still love watching it and look forward to it every Christmas and New Year. Now all I have to do is try to avoid the results for 5-8 months of the year again so I can watch it at Christmas this year without any spoilers.