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World’s Strongest Man 2014 – The Final

This year’s final was always going to be a battle and it turned out to be, right up to the last second in the last event. With three times World’s Strongest Man, Zydrunas Savickas, hoping to reclaim his title from last year’s winner, Brian Shaw, who also wanted to win his third WSM. Then there was Hafþór Björnsson who is an incredibly powerful and young competitor who came third last year. He performed very well in his heat and seemed faster and stronger than ever before, so he was always going to be nipping at the heels of the two champions. That’s not even counting the rest of the competitors who all beat other people to earn their place in the final.

The first event was a loading event, but not like we’d seen in the heats, as the athletes had to load three giant tyres onto a platform. The weight itself was probably not that much of a problem for them, but the tyre itself was cumbersome, and they were running on sand to make it even worse. England’s Laurence Shahlaei was making good time, but then his first tyre slipped and fell off the platform, which cost him important seconds to set it right. Others learned from his mistake and were careful to stack the tyres and position them on the platform. In the end it was Thor who came in first with Big Z and Brian Shaw right behind him.

The second event, the overhead medley, was never going to be a favourite for some men, and as expected some didn’t manage to lift both the dumbbell and the axle overhead. It was England’s Eddie Hall and Laurence Shahlaei going head to head who looked as if they would be the first two to complete the challenge, but surprisingly Hall stumbled on the second lift of the axle and Shahlaei took the lead. However, then the biggest men came onto the mat and going head to head, the two giant Americans, Brian Shaw and Mike Burke, completed the medley in record time, with barely any time between them. However it was then Thor and Big Z’s turn and they both beat the time set by the Americans, with Big Z just pipping the Icelandic by two seconds.

The keg toss. This is another standard of strongmen competitions, but they made it even harder this year by raising the bar even more. The weight is the same but with the higher bar it meant the fastest man had to give it a little extra each time to clear it. Brian Shaw said he practised at home with a higher wall and so far his time from the previous year was the fastest by three seconds. He blew the competition out of the water by clearing all eight barrels in 16.59 seconds, a new record. Surprisingly Big Z fluffed this one, and a couple of his barrels did not clear the bar on the first attempt, but it was more about his angle than lack of strength. That cost him precious seconds and he came in 4th. Shaw looked set to win until Thor’s attempt which was less than half a second faster. Shaw looked stunned and the Icelandic was ecstatic.

The truck pull. In the heats they’ve been pulling a twelve tonne truck. For the final they doubled the weight! Two identical trucks, linked together. Most athletes couldn’t manage to move it very far, and it was down to England’s Terry Hollands to show them how it was done, moving both trucks in a remarkable time of 43 seconds. In the end he was just beaten by Brian Shaw and Thor, earning Big Z a 4th place spot in this event.

Then came the squat, the massive axle bar with huge weights and they have to squat until the metal clangs. No shortcuts, no half measures, no strange apparatus, just pure muscle. This was a favourite event for Eddie Hall and he set the bar with a massive 14 reps which earned him second place in this event. Brian Shaw seemed to be struggling but still did 10 reps, Thor had to stop at 7, but this was also a favourite event for the big man, Big Z. He went to 15 reps and probably could have done more if required.

Coming into the final event, the Atlas Stones, the pack had started to separate. Big Z, Thor and Brian Shaw were enough points ahead of everyone else that those three were on the podium, the question was, in what order. Thor has the title of King of the Stones, as he remains almost unbeaten on them, so Shaw knew he had to move incredibly fast to hold onto his title. Big Z is so impossibly strong though and has done this so many times, as long as he didn’t make any mistakes he might regain his title.

The final result. Brian Shaw put in a great performance and a good time of 24 seconds, which Big Z beat by one second and Thor beat by four seconds. So even though Thor won this event the points meant that Big Z regained his title, making him a four time champion and the World’s Strongest Man for 2014. Thor came in second and Brian Shaw third on the podium.

Overall it was a blisteringly good final, the competition for those top three spots has never been closer or fought so hard. Next year is going to be even more interesting, as Thor is so close to winning, and is still so young he could come back even stronger. But equally Big Z will be trying to earn a 5th title, something that few men have ever achieved. The bump to third place for Shaw will no doubt motivate him to train even harder and come back stronger next year.

Looking beyond the top three from 2014, Mike Burke continues to impress and is fast becoming a favourite of mine, as he came in 4th this year, improving his position on last year by one spot. Eddie Hall was stronger and he earned his first spot in a WSM final, so that was a step up for him. His plan was to be in the top 5 in the next couple of years and it’s achievable. I believe this was Terry Hollands’s last WSM, but he retires on a respectable 5th place and the 9th time he has been in a final.

A great final, a great year for strongman and I am looking forward to the competitions and regional events in Europe and the UK.

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World’s Strongest Man 2014 – Heat 5

The final heat and last year’s World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw was always going to be the leader. It was no surprise then that he won the top spot, but he played a very careful game, doing just enough to win but he didn’t push himself too hard. In that Californian heat he knew it would sap his strength and with the final just around the corner, he needed to keep back as much energy as possible.

On Fingal’s Fingers he was watching Martin Wildauer, from Austria, to see how much he did and if he should attempt the final weight or not. Wildauer didn’t manage it so Shaw just left it alone. Equally by the time we got to the final event, the Atlas Stones, Shaw had enough of a lead that he didn’t even compete, and just watched from the sidelines, so he went through with a small points margin, but it was a very carefully calculated strategy that he hoped would help him in the final.

There was another Englishman in this heat, Graham Hicks, who did pretty well against some of the veterans of the sport like Shaw, even keeping up with the big man on the overhead log press for a while. Wildauer made a couple of really bad mistakes in some of the early events and it looked as if he was going to end up far down the rankings. However, when we got to the squat lift he did something remarkable. No athlete, in any heat in this year’s WSM, has managed to lift all seven. Most who made it to six just had a little attempt and then stopped. Others just did six reps as quickly as possible and walked away like Shaw, confident that no one could do it. Wildauer beat every other athlete in the entire competition as he lifted seven, held it there for a couple of seconds looking pleased and then lowered it. This served in in very good standing and helped bump him up the ranks in the heat. Ultimately he did enough and performed much better after that to earn himself a spot in the final.

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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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World’s Strongest Man 2014 – Heat 3

This heat was really interesting as although there were some familiar favourites, it was also quite a tough group with some new and unknown faces. England’s Eddie Hall had a lot to prove to himself after a couple of fumbles last year, however since then in UK events he has shown that he’s getting better and better. He’s bigger, stronger and he’s also seems to be faster on his feet, which is critical in WSM as many events involve some athleticism as well as static tests of strength.

Hall proved that he has some of the strongest shoulders in the business during the overhead log press. Others struggled to lift it over their heads, bracing with their legs, while he just rolled it up his chest in one smooth move and then up. Incredibly strong and a great performance that served him very well.

The American Jerry Pritchett started out very poorly, coming last in the first loading event, and to begin with it looked as if he was going to stay at the bottom of the ranks. However, over the next five events he showed that it was just a minor slip, as he excelled, beating the competition and in the end he won the heat, earning himself a spot in the WSM final. He gave it his all and a few times the commentators called him the dark horse of the heat. In this case it was a well-earned nickname, as he definitely fought hard to earn his place. I think he is definitely one to watch in the final as he started out slow but quickly build up speed.

This heat was definitely a battle throughout and with each event I went in having no inkling of who would come out on top. Nevertheless Eddie Hall and Pritchett were both consistent in their attack and they gradually started to pull ahead of the rest of the group. Both men did very well and it will be interesting to see if Hall’s increased strength and speed will earn him a spot in the top five. I think for a while the competition will continue to be dominated by Big Z, but people like Hall are young and incredibly hungry. Last year Shaw knocked the big Lithuanian off his top spot so the battle for the podium this year is going to be very hard. One or two of the old hands could be upset and find themselves having to work much harder than normal with people like Hall and others chasing at their heels.

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World’s Strongest Man 2014 – Heat 2

In this heat the competitors were dominated by one man, Hafthor Bjornsson. The huge Icelandic is still a young contender compared to some, and yet it seems as if he has been around for ages. He’s been on the podium twice in the last two years coming in third, and this year he said he is even stronger. He’s young, hungry and very determined so I predict he will be on the podium again this year.

In this heat he blew the competition out of the water in some events and was knocked into second place in others after some amazing performances by J F Caron, the French Canadian, and the deceptively strong Dave Ostlund, the American. Ostlund has been off our screen for a couple of years due to injury, but the absence has not left a big gap between him and the competition. He had impressive performances in a few of the events, which meant there was a real battle for second place and a spot in the final. In the end it went to Caron, but there are two wildcards now in the final, for those who came in third, so hopefully Ostlund will be there as he certainly deserves to be.

I love watching this competition every year, and I know they are lifting enormous weights, and yet some part of me forgets. In both heats I’ve been reminded of how dangerous the competition is. In heat 1 Frankie Scheun of South Africa had to withdraw due to injury, and in this heat the mighty American Robert Oberst, had to drop out due to tearing something in his leg. Superhuman is a word bandied about a lot, but these guys make fantasy a reality.

After Bjornsson put in a great performance in the Squat lift, JF Caron did it even faster, winning the event. Also in Fingal’s Fingers, the Icelandic was doing very well but he couldn’t relax as Ostlund was right there, only a few seconds behind him. The competition really is getting tougher every year which means the final is going to be even more explosive and hopefully unpredictable.

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World’s Strongest Man 2014 – Heat 1

Spoilers for this first heat. Don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning.

So it’s the one time of the year where I talk about sport. It’s time for the World’s Strongest Man 2014. This first heat was very interesting. Mike Burke is so new to the sport, and despite only appearing three times, he has now made it through to the final in two of those. Normally his age would be a factor, as he is approaching 40, but as he said himself in an interview in this heat, he doesn’t t have the ten years of damage to his body that the other guys have. He’s a huge man, standing 6’6″, which normally means he’s not going to be very good at some events, and yet he excelled at the log lift. He went head to head with Terry Hollands and he looked comfortable, despite the weird apparatus and the weight.

Terry showed everyone once again why he is the master at pulling huge trucks as he smashed the competition, and even threw away the rope towards the end. The heat in America is no doubt affecting them all, but given that it was filmed earlier in the year than normal ( think around March time instead of around August), and last year in China it was so hot the sweat was pouring off them, it might not sap the competitors too badly. I know the show always likes to go to exotic and amazing locations, but I sometimes wonder how the competitors would manage it in a very temperature climate, or even a cold one like Iceland.

I had two strong favourites in this heat, Burke and Hollands, and I’m glad to say both of them went through. The big American performed extremely well in some events and quite good in others, but he is a great all rounder and a solid athlete. He’s similar to Brian Shaw in that regards, who looks relatively slender compared to some of the competition and Burke seems cut from the same cloth. A very talented guy who was in the top 5 last year and his goal is to get on the podium this year. I know the winner was announced online months ago, but I’ve managed to avoid all spoilers for the final. So at this point I think Burke might actually do it and get third or maybe 4th place and go one better than last year.

hscHollands played it fairly carefully again in this heat. He pushed himself in some events, had a couple of annoying slips that he was obviously irritated about, but they didn’t stop his momentum. Once again the incredible Englishman proved why he has made it into his 9th World’s Strongest Man final. He is one of the best in the world. Win or lose, he is one of the ten strongest men in the world, which is an amazing legacy.

A good first heat, but no huge surprises. The other heats are where it’s going to get really interesting as I’m not sure who else from England will get into the final. There are a lot of young and determined strongmen coming into the sport. The competition is only going to get even harder in the next few heats.

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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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My Thirty Year Sporting Tradition

In general, I don’t like sport. For anyone that knows me, that statement doesn’t come as a surprise. Using the word sport in conversation (outside of the Olympics every 4 years) is a rare thing for me. I don’t follow any of what I would call the popular sports, football, rugby, cricket, golf, Formula One etc. I don’t support any teams and I don’t have a clue, nor care about player transfers, football managers being fired and hired, and so on. This excludes me from certain conversations, but that’s fine with me. I’m happy not to know and don’t want to. There are plenty of other things I’d rather spend my time, money and effort focusing on. So, what’s the sporting tradition then? And why today, the first day of the new year?

geoffWhen I about five or six years old, there was a local strongman event in my home town in the UK. I watched enormous men throw huge weights around, carry cars and pull trucks like they were toys. I’ve been a fan of strongman events ever since, and in particular the World’s Strongest Man event. Thirty of the strongest men in the world, whittled down to just ten, and then one. When I was very little I remember seeing Geoff Capes in person at such an event and he was a monster of a man, but also very nice with it.

Every Christmas, through the holidays and leading up to new year and final, WSM has been shown on TV. This year marks the 35th year of the World’s Strongest Man event. I watched it with my dad and brother when I was growing up, I watched it when I came home from university during the holidays, and I’ve continued to watch it every year now that I’m in my own home. There aren’t many traditions that I’ve followed that religiously but this is an important one to me.

logo2I avidly watch the heats, cheer and shout at the television, and probably do all of the other things fans of other sports do on a weekly basis sitting in the stands at a match or game. I can quote stats, tell you about past performances and I’ve followed certain athletes for many years. Despite all of that, I’m probably a fairly moderate fan, as I don’t study it to the degree of some sports fans who know everything about their team, players and its history right back to the day it was started. There are WSM fans like that out, and good for them and their passion I say, but I am certainly passionate about it and hope to see it get more widespread attention.

giantsLast year (well it’s only a few months ago now, but in the summer of 2012) I attended a live strongman event in Leeds. It was to find out who was Europe’s Strongest Man and it was a qualifying event for the big one. Ten of the strongest men in the world competed in front of a sell out crowd of five thousand and it was an amazing day. Afterwards I was also lucky to be able to meet some of my favourite athletes in person, shake their hand and have a quick chat. An amazing day, I’m booked up for next year in Leeds already, and there are other qualifying events all over the world ahead of World’s Strongest Man 2013 in Poland, Quebec, Finland, London, Melbourne, India and several other places. So if you’re looking for something new in 2013 check out Giants Live. I might see you there.

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