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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 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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