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World’s Strongest Man 2017 – The Final

Spoilers ahead if you’ve not watched it yet.

So this year, the final rested very much on the broad shoulders of one very large man.

In the run up to this year’s celebratory 40th anniversary event I saw a number of surprises. And even having known for months about who would win (due to someone spoiling it online) the final was still a surprise in many ways.

Big Z is a legend. A four time champion. He’s been in the sport for a long time and was just not at his best this year due to recovering from a recent injury. He still showed some of his old magic, here and there, but he was not on form and not a serious contender from the first event.

With him out of the running I wasn’t sure who would end up on the podium. Martins Licis is a remarkable guy. Only his second year and he ended up in the final again. He reminds me, in some ways, of Brian Shaw’s old training partner, Mike Burke. He appeared on the scene a few years ago and was steadily improving. He’s as tall as Brian and seemed to be getting better and better. Licis has youth, energy and so much passion. Strongman is definitely a growing sport and in ten years time, when some of the legends might have to eventually retire, if he is still competing, and if he hasn’t won already, Licis will be on top. Him and the Polish giant, Kieliszkowski, are definitely the future.

Like Mark Felix, Nick Best from America shows that age is sometimes just a number. He won his heat and qualified for the final for the first time. A brave performance but at this level the power is incredible and he just didn’t have it in comparison to some of the others.

Thor has been on the podium since 2012. Every year he was pipped to the post by Big Z or Brian Shaw as they passed the title back and forth between them. Every year he fights hard and every year he’s just inched out. He seemed to be on form this year, despite a virus that left his face half paralysed. It had no impact on his strength which he proved when he and Eddie Hall were the two men left standing in the deadlift. But I always thought it was going to fall to Hall as he has the world record. Brian Shaw came in 3rd, seemed to hurt himself and wisely didn’t go up to the final weight.

There was a bit of controversy in the Viking Press, which having now thought about it, I think the end result was fair. As Eddie Hall had won the previous event, he was allowed to go last. Arguably he has some of the strongest shoulders in the competition and as such he asked what had Thor did, as he was in the lead, and so Hall did one one rep to win the event and then stopped with time to spare. It was only after his performance that the Icelandic coach came forward to contest Thor’s result, which if allowed would have put him on par with Hall. It seems a bit petty to me, as if they’d done it earlier, Hall would have just done two more reps as he still had plenty in the tank and hadn’t even started using his legs.

Moving away from that, some of the other athletes continued to impress me, including Janashia who definitely has a lot more to give as he’s still a young man. Big Loz did well in some of the events but it was Kieliszkowski who surprised me the most. He’s the lightest man in the final and yet he was the fastest in the plane pull. Amazing stuff.

In the end, the podium looked to be set. Thor, Shaw and Eddie Hall. It really came down to who would come out on top. I was ultimately delighted when Eddie Hall won becoming the first Brit to win the title in a long long time. He’d definitely earned it and last year he did very well with an injury and still made it to the podium.

The final surprise of the night came when after winning Eddie Hall said on camera that we would never again see him at the World’s Strongest Man. His goal was to win it, and he’d achieved it. He now wants to spend more time with his wife and children, being a husband and a father. He was very emotional and given all that he’d sacrificed to achieve his title I can’t blame him for getting a bit upset. A remarkable feat.

So, WSM 2018. Who will win? If Big Z is back on form, he stands a chance. If Shaw comes back hungry to win a 5th title he could win. If Licis continues to improve he could land on the podium. If Thor focuses and keeps pushing he could win. Terry Hollands has shredded the fat and looks lean and mean. The question is, does he now have the strength without his power belly and the cuddly factor? I guess we’ll see in some of the regional events that lead up to WSM. There are so many new faces coming up now, like Rob Kearney from America, that one of them could surprise everyone and land on the podium, upsetting the apple cart.

The sport has never been bigger and I’m delighted to see the crowds getting larger every year. I’ve been a fan my entire life and now I’m glad to see so many other people getting into the sport.

 

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World’s Strongest Man 2017 – The Heats

World's Strongest Man 2017 - The HeatsIt’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.

Heat 1
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.

Heat 2
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.

Heat 3
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.

Heat 4
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.

Heat 5
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.

 

 

 

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World’s Strongest Man 2014 – Heat 4

Big Z, Zydrunas Savickas, from Lithuania is one of the strongest men in the history of the competition. He holds more world records and has broken more, usually his own, for strength than anyone else. He’s won WSM three times, losing in 2013 to the athletic Brian Shaw from the United States. In this heat everyone, the other competitors and the commentators, were under no illusions that he would go through in one of the two top spots and earn his place in the final.

The real fight was for that second spot and a chance to be in the top ten. England has two men in the race, the man with arguably the strongest back in the world, Mark Felix, who is also the oldest man in the competition. However, I should point out he’s only 47, so he’s not that old, but if I look even half as good at his age, I’d be a happy man. The other Englishman in this heat is Laurence Shahlaei, who last year had to pull out due to injury which was a big disappointment. But he’s back, he’s much leaner having lost two stone, but he looked incredibly determined and had a lot to prove to himself. Well he did not disappoint. He’s been injury free for a while and he actually beat Big Z in a couple of events.

There were a couple of events that were favourites for Loz, including the Superyoke. In competitions over the last few years he’s won 9 out of 10 of the events, so going into he was confident. Nick Best, the second eldest in the whole competition at 45, put in a blistering time, but nearly passed out as he forgot to breathe. However, Loz smashed his time, and in direct competition against Big Z, left the champion far behind. Again in the deadlift, no one could manage all seven, the weight was just ridiculously heavy, and Loz had the benefit of going last. So he knew he had to lift six as fast as possible and he put in a brilliant performance which paid off. He was 0.02 of a second faster than Big Z giving Loz a second win.

Big Z remained consistently excellent though, and although some of the other competitors put in good performances, he was always just ahead on points and went on to win the heat. After a slow start Felix picked up the pace, bested some of the younger athletes and came in third, but it looks as if he just missed out on one of the wildcard positions to go through to the final. This year twelve are competing, the top two in five heats and then the two highest on points after that. Sadly this meant we wouldn’t see Felix for the rest of the competition but he remains an impressive figure.

Loz earned his second place, but he was careful in the last event, the Atlas Stones, and like Big Z he did just enough to get through and left some energy in the tank for the final. After winning one event Big Z said he was running at 80-90% and was saving his energy for the final. Tactics definitely plays a key part in the competition and now the others are learning not to push themselves too hard until it really matters.

With one more heat to go, which includes former WSM champion Brian Shaw, I think his spot is guaranteed and it will come down to who is going to take that second spot. The final is nearly here and I think it’s going to be a great year.

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Thoughts on World’s Strongest Man 2013

As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts I’m a big fan of strongman events, and in particular the World’s Strongest Man. It’s the only sport I’m actively interested in (although I do enjoy the Olympics and have a passing interesting in Wimbledon) and it’s a sport I’ve followed for about the last 30 years. Ever since I was knee high to Geoff Capes and he came to our town for an event. I wanted to grow up to be just as tall and him, and some wishes do come true, because I did.

For about 350 days of the year I have to endure endless talk in almost all areas of my life about Football (huge yawn), Cricket, Snooker, Formula 1 (dullest thing ever), Rugby (I do enjoy watching the occasional game) and countless other sports that don’t interest me. So, now it’s my turn to probably bore you as I talk about the 2013 final of the World’s Strongest Man.

Derek Poundstone

Derek Poundstone

This year the event was held in Sanya in China. It was filmed in August I think, but we don’t get it on TV until December. It’s been this way for years, so I don’t complain, and quite frankly I’m just glad it’s on TV these days and is easy to find. The competition is always held in an interesting and exotic location which brings its own challenges. Sanya is by the sea, but it’s incredibly hot and wet. I don’t think any of the competitors in the final come from that kind of climate. Even the west coast Americans were struggling as they’re used to a hot and sometimes arid heat, so every athlete was constantly struggling to stay hydrated. As if the competition and the heavy weights weren’t tough enough already.

Strongman events are becoming more popular every year. When I was a boy there weren’t many and they were difficult to find. Now there are several events in the UK throughout the year and in the run up to the final. The regional qualifier events, whereby the top 2 or 3 athletes qualify for WSM, are also being shown on TV, which is great too. So first there are the qualifiers, whereby it comes down to the top 50 strongmen in the world, and then 5 heats, where the top 2 from each going through to the final, knocking it down to 10 competitors.

Mark Felix

Mark Felix

A quick note on the athletes. Despite the growing popularity of the sport, the majority of athletes work full time in normal jobs and train for strongman events in their own time, weekends and evenings, away from their families. These men are dedicated far beyond most athletes (I’m looking at you football), who earn hideous amounts of money for, in my opinion, doing very little. I respect strongmen far more than them, who just keep going, despite injuries and they do it for the love of the sport. Some athletes are sponsored by companies and are able to dedicate themselves to their training, but they’re very much in the minority. Derek Poundstone (shown above) from America is a police officer in Connecticut, Lloyd Renals is a NHS physio therapist, Krzysztof Radzikowski from Poland is a high school PE teacher, Mark Felix is a plasterer. These are ordinary guys who can do something extraordinary. They are real world supermen who can pull trucks and planes.

Zydrunas Savickas

Zydrunas Savickas at Europe’s Strongest Man 2012 in Leeds

This year, the WSM final, was probably one of the most interesting and the winner came down to the last event and the last second. If you don’t want to know who won, then skip the rest. For three out of the last four years, Zydrunas Savickas, or Big Z as he’s known, has won the title of World’s Strongest Man. He’s a monster of a man from Lithuania who has broken a lot of world records and his power is utterly astonishing which has made him a legend in the sport. In 2011, Brian Shaw from the USA, a tall and athletic strongman managed to beat Big Z. He took back the title in 2012, but this year the top two spots were dominated by these big men. Shaw broke a world record in the deadlift event in order to beat Big Z in one event and yet he struggled with the overhead medley which Big Z won. They continued this back and forth until it all came down to the final event, the Atlas Stones, which epitomises strongmen competitions. Brian Shaw led on points overall, but it was down to who was the fastest and this year Shaw won. Looking back I think his overall performance was stronger than Big Z and perhaps Shaw was hungrier because he lost the title in 2012. Despite a problem with one arm, he seemed stronger and fitter than ever before. Of course this only increases the pressure on Big Z to push himself even harder next year to try and reclaim the title, or we might see Shaw win his third title, and equal Big Z in the number of WSM wins.

Mike Jenkins

Mike Jenkins

The other athletes were remarkable, in particular Mike Jenkins who seemed to be getting stronger and stronger, and Mike Burke, a relative newcomer, and a very affable and down to earth American who I like very much. Most people, when asked, do you think you can win, will say yes. Burke was incredibly modest and said no, not yet, maybe one day. His goal was to be in the top 5 spots and he achieved it. Hafthor Bjornsson was much leaner and 20kg lighter this year after coming third last year, and again this year his performance earned him the same spot. But he was only one point ahead of Jenkins. Unfortunately this year the event was touched with tragedy, as Mike Jenkins passed away in November. I knew this going in to watch the heats and final, so it was gut-wrenching to see him doing so well and end up as one of the top 5 strongmen in the world in 2013. I was also very disappointed to see Terry Holland suffer with some back problems in the final. Until then he’d been doing very well, beating Big Z in one event and coming only a second behind Shaw in another. He, Laurence Shahlaei , Mark Felix and newcomer Eddie Hall were England’s best hopes for 2013, but sadly only Terry made it to the final ten.

There are a lot of new names and faces coming into the sport, big young men who are incredibly strong and very driven. We’re now on the cusp of some of the older guys stepping down and yet I really relish seeing someone like the American Nick Best showing some of the younger guys how it’s done and beating them with strength, grit, and willpower. He and Derek Poundstone qualified for the WSM heats this year in their regional event.

I don’t like the football, but I can understand the passion. Recently someone heard me talking about strongman events and WSM for the first time, and she was amazed at my enthusiasm and the way I rattled off the names and achievements. But then again, after so many years of watching, and more recently attending events, I do know a thing or two. WSM was brilliant in 2013 and going forward things are only going to get tougher and more exciting. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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