It’s that time of year again where for once, I talk about sport, specifically the World’s Strongest Man. So if you’re not interested, switch off now.
I’ll do a post on the final once I’ve watched it, but the heats this year were brilliant and worth discussing in some depth. There were a few surprises along the way and some new faces that really brought a smile to my face.
Brian Shaw was always going to be the favourite in this heat and the large American proved that he’s still got it. A slightly more jovial approach this year, playing to the crowd a bit, but at times he was also the consummate professional, doing just enough to get through and win the heat, to conserve his energy for the final which is wise, given the temperatures in Botswana. Tom Stoltman is an incredibly tough guy and proved it this year as well as the remarkable Slovenian, Belsak. A really good heat to kick things off and it was the Canadian, JF Caron, who proved his mettle in the new head to head event to decide second place. It’s a change to be sure, but it also gives others in the heat who might have slipped up on certain events, a slim chance to go through.
The second and younger, and very tall, Stoltman was competing, and aged only 22, this kid has a remarkable career ahead of him in Strongman if he continues. Thor was the favourite to go through and he proved that he was still hungry, as one of only two men to finish the punishing lift and drag first event. Another new face but a remarkable guy is Martins Licis, who is bursting with personality and strength. Licis came out on top for one event, the squat, and Thor seemed to be just taking his time, doing enough to get through, again conserving his energy. Being one of the heaviest men in the competition he did very well on the bus pull. There was some fun and games on the Axle press, as Thor went head to head with Licis, and both were almost egging each other one to do one more. Licis has an Olympic lifting technique with a split lift that seemed to work for him, as he came second. As expected it was Thor who went through, Savatinov didn’t make the cut and the other men battled it out in Last Man Standing. Apparently Licis used to spend time in his youth lifting heavy objects on his grandfather’s farm, so the stones are his bread and butter. He proved how tough he was as he just kept going and took second place.
The Brits performed incredibly well this year. Big Loz was back from injury and after a so-so start in the Load and Drag it was the newcomer, Rob Kearney who was in the lead. For such a compact guy he’s incredibly strong and he did really well in the log lift. This was always going to be a tough group with the mighty Russian Shivlyakov, the huge and powerful Georgian, Janashia. By the time we got to the deadlift it wasn’t looking good for Loz, but he’s been working on this, one of his weaker events. A couple of years ago he was doing well but then tore a muscle and had to drop out. This year he did really well and tied for 3rd place on the event, but it was the Georgian who proved just how tough he was doing a fantastic 8 reps. The top two men on the Elephant Carry, which is a huge stone not an actual elephant, were Janashia and Loz, who seemed to be digging in and proving his determination. After 5 events the Georgian went through and Loz was in the head to head Last Man Standing. But as 2nd in the leaderboard he had the most time to rest and was able to battle against the others to get into the final. A hard fought heat and well deserved to Loz.
Big Eddie Hall, the Beast, who in 2016 took 3rd place with an injury and this year seemed determined to do even better. He’s young, hungry and has broken world records being the only man in history to lift half a tonne. Just think about that for a second. There are lots of strong men, and women, working out in gyms around the world. This guy lifted half a tonne off the ground. With that kind of drive, if anyone could win, it’s him. In this heat he started out slow, on the Load and Drag, but as the events progressed he was mostly going head to head with Kieliszkowski the slim but ridiculously strong Polish champion. He equalled Eddie’s reps on the log lift, was only 4 second slower than Eddie on the Bus Pull and was only 1 rep behind Eddie on the Deadlift. If anyone was going to blast the Deadlift it was Eddie. But he showed his professionalism, as he went last and only did just enough to win the Deadlift, a smart move with Kieliszkowski nipping at his heels. But the points started to clock up and every event win pushed Eddie a bit further ahead, so he qualified on top. It was almost inevitable then by the time we got to Last Man Standing that Kieliszkowski, the freshest guy in the heat, was able to best the others in a hard fought battle to go through to the final.
A slimmed down Terry Hollands was in a tough group with the return of Big Z after injury and evergreen Nick Best, who as the second oldest in the competition seems to just keep going at a pace the other men sometimes lack. Terry started well and was only the second man to actually finish the Load and Drag, his weight, height and big feet helped him get enough traction to pull the mining cart across the paving stones. WSM has always been an international event, and every year it seems to add a new face but they are normally from familiar countries. Last year we had Janashia for the first time and in this heat we were introduced to Maheripourehir, our first Iranian strongman. Iran has a long history of strongmen, particularly Olympic gold medal weight lifters. Just watch the heavy weight class at the Olympics next time it comes around and you’ll see them. They have some of the best in history in that country but this is the first time we’ve seen one in strongman. For his debut I would say Maheripourehir did very well, holding his own against veterans. Nick Best was on fire in the squat, but surprisingly Big Z didn’t win the event and even though he is always slow away from the competition, he seemed to lack some of his normal pace or fire during the events. He really flubbed Fingal’s Fingers, and kept humping one of the fingers with his shoulder to try and turn it over, which is not allowed, while the ref screamed at him to stop. He just didn’t seem to be at his best. When it came to the Axle press he came out on top but didn’t smash it as I had expected. The most surprising was when it came to the Elephant Carry Nick Best won the event, by quite a way, which gave him enough points to win the heat! For the first time Big Z was in the Last Man Standing. Terry and Maheripourehir battled out for a while, but eventually the Iranian came out on top, but of course he was exhausted by then, enabling Big Z to beat him and qualify for the final. He seemed to be on cruise control, which given some of the competitors this year, could prove to be a mistake. I don’t think his age is a factor, just look at who beat him in this year and Mark Felix who is twice the age and more of some competitors like Tom Stoltman and still beats some of them. So perhaps injury is still holding Big Z back.
Final predictions and thoughts
The final is going to be one hell of a battle between Shaw, Thor, Eddie, Big Z, Janashia, Loz, Licis, Caron, Best and Kieliszkowski. Normally I would say Shaw, Thor and Big Z on the podium, but with Big Z apparently still not at his best, Licis proving to be a remarkable new guy and Janashia looking so strong, I can’t call it. There’s also Eddie, who has moved from a part time strongman approach, where he had a day job, to becoming a full time strongman who is investing a lot of time and money in technology to help him recover after training, and focusing so much on his goal, I just can’t call it. After several years where Big Z and Shaw were passing the title back and forth between them, I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting finals I’ve seen in years. And all on the 40th anniversary of when it all began.