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Strongman FAQ v 1.3 by Tapio Ojanaho

The Strongman FAQ 1.3

by Tapio Ojanaho
Information last updated: June 20th, 1996.

Table of contents:
  1. What are Strongman competitions?
  2. What is the history of modern Strongman competitions?
  3. What is the strongman scene like in Finland and in other countries?
  4. Who does well in Strongman competitions?
  5. Who are the top contenders?
  6. Which countries turn out the best competitors?
  7. How to familiarize with the sport?
  8. Is there an organization behind these competitions?
  9. Credits

A typical strongman competition consists of six events. The first three events are used to qualify eight finalists for the last three events. There are about fifteen different events established so far. The promoter of a particular competition chooses from among these. Many of these events are adopted from traditional, centuries old contests like Scottish Highland Games and the Basque contests in Spain. Variations of regular powerlifts are used to test pure strength.
The composition of competitions must vary to prevent favoring certain (types of) competitors. For example, if you have two pressing events, you make it easier for Olympic lifters and powerlifters. Qualifying heats must be arranged if there are many competitors. Usually 10-15 men are invited to compete in a regular competition, as a larger number would make the competition unbearably long. In major contests like World's Strongest Man, qualifying heats and final heats are held on separate days. Some of the most common events are:

*Farmer's Walk -- Competitors carry heavy "suitcases" weighing about 110 kg (245 lbs) in each hand for a set distance, and compete for the fastest time. Otherwise, they compete for total distance.

*Car Walk -- Distance event. A car with roof and floor removed is carried with harnesses as far as possible. Usually the load is around 350-400 kg (775-880 lbs). A Finnish invention.

*Loading -- Timed event. Five heavy objects weighing 100-150 kg (220-335 lbs) are loaded onto a truck bed or onto some kind of platform. The course is about 15 m (50 ft) long and the objects range from treasure chests, to sacks of sand, to ship anchors.

*McGlashen Stones -- Timed event. Five heavy round stones weighing 110-150 kg (220-335 lbs) are put on top of high barrels. The course is about 5-10 m (16-33 ft) long. Scottish tradition.

*Truck Pulling -- Timed event. A heavy vehicle is pulled across a "finish-line" hand-over-hand style with a 30 m (100 ft) rope as fast as possible. Sometimes the vehicle is pulled with a harness.

*Log-Press / Stone-Press -- Strength event. Heaviest possible load is pressed overhead or lighter weight is done for repetitions.

*Hercules Hold -- Timed event. A competitor stands in a cable-cross-type machine with 130 kg (290 lb) weighted cable handles in each hand. Grip strength is tested for time.

*Stone Lift -- Strength event. Heaviest possible stone is lifted to shoulder height. From the Basque tradition.

*Log Throw / Caber toss -- Strength event. A five meter long log is thrown for distance or for height over a bar. The distance throw is from the Scottish tradition.

*Weight throw -- Strength event. A 15-20 kg (33-45 lb) weight, usually a large ingot, is thrown for height over a bar.

*Tug of War -- One on one tug of war in a single-elimination tournament. Competitors pair-off based on their current point standings.

*Pole Pushing -- One on one pole pushing in a Sumo-style ring in a single-elimination tournament. The pole has handles at either end.

*Crucifix -- Weights are held straight out at the sides for time.

*Car Rolling -- Rolling cars over different courses.

*Variations on individual powerlifts. For example, squatting a platform full of children on rails.

*Every year the best promoters invent new events that are exciting and hopefully pose less risk of injury to the athletes in this demanding sport. One of these was "bleacher wheelbarrow" filled with people in 1995's competitions. One funny event we have in Finland is "megaskiing".

The World's Strongest Man competition has been held annually since 1977. In 1995 it was held in the Bahamas; South Africa in 1994; France in 1993. It is by far the most important competition in the world. In the 1980's this competition produced various national championships as qualifiers to the upper-level. Nowadays every influential country has their own national contest to find the best athlete for the World's Strongest Man.

The BBC (British Broadcasting Company) has been a driving force in popularizing this sport. The BBC sells the show around the world. Trans World International produces this competition for BBC.

There are about ten international competitions staged in Finland every year. Among these are the European Hercules and the Finnish Open. In addition, there are several local competitions. Almost fifty athletes are entered in the Finnish Nationals to be held on the 13th of April -- an impressive number of competitors! I wonder how they will organize the qualification heats so it runs smoothly. The winner of this competition is invited to compete in the World's Strongest.

The sports arenas in Finland are especially crowded for the three previously mentioned competitions. Also, the local competitions fascinate the public more than powerlifting or bodybuilding contests. Presumably the sport is popular in other countries, but I don't have details about them (does anyone? - please give feedback).

Obviously strength is an important qualification for competitors. Not surprisingly, powerlifters do well, but competitors must have all-around strength and athletic abilities. Tremendous explosive power and superb endurance are required to cope with the pushing and pulling of different objects required of competitors throughout the competition. Competitions of this type demand such a wide repertoire of capacities that specialized training is required to excel. Heavyweight bodybuilders have sometimes done well, owing to their usually better aerobic capacities as compared to powerlifters.

In the 1980's America's Bill Kazmaier and Iceland's Jon-Pall Sigmarsson dominated the sport with Sigmarsson winning the world title for four times (most recently in 1990) and Kazmaier three times. In 1989 it was UK'sJamie Reeves. In the 90's Iceland's Magnus Ver Magnusson has won the title three times (1991, 1994 and 1995), Holland's Ted van der Parre won in 1992 and UK's Gary Taylor won in 1993. All of these men have a strong background in powerlifting, and they are all large men, averaging about 192 cm (6'4") and 135 kg (300 lbs).

Bill Kazmaier retired in the 80's and Jon-Pall died in 1992. His aorta was torn while deadlifting in the gym -- an injury attributable to a family related heart debility. Magnus Ver Magnusson has said that Jon-Pall was aware of this weakness, as his sister suffered from same thing. The other champions mentioned are still active.

Some of the other contenders:

Manfred Hoeberl -- Austrian with lots of coverage in bb-magazines (eg. profile in the April '96 issue of MMI) and runner-up in world's strongest 1994. He has recovered well from a serious car accident.

Joe Onosai -- Samoa's gift to American football's Dallas Cowboys and also a former powerlifter.

Forbes Cowan -- Three time Scotland's Strongest Man.

Gerrit Badenhorst -- A South African with three world titles in powerlifting and also a runner-up in World's Strongest Man in 1995. Considered one of the top-five strongest of all time by Powerlifting USA's Brian Batcheldor.

Riku Kiri -- Four time Finnish national champion, twice placed third in the World's Strongest. Considered one of the top-five strongest of all time by Powerlifting USA's Brian Batcheldor.

Marko Varalahti -- 6'9" Finn with one Finnish national title and a third place showing in the World's Strongest in 1995.

One rising star is German Heinz Ollesch -- 195cm and 160 kg (6'5" and 360 lbs).

An American star is missed badly, as Bill Kazmaier's shoes are still waiting to be filled.

The sport's strongest nations currently are Iceland, UK, South Africa and Finland. Magnus Ver Magnusson while competing in the Finnish Open Championships on 10th of March 1995, stated that he had never seen so many high-caliber contenders as in Finland.

If you want to familiarize yourself with the sport, you can purchase VHS-copies of these competitions. Brian Batcheldor wrote a complete report of World's 1994 in the February '95 issue of Powerlifting USA. Also, I think David Webster has written some books of history's strongest men. Look for the small ads in the muscle magazines.

The rights to the World's Strongest Man competition are owned by Trans World International (TWI). David Webster of Scotland was head coordinator of the competition since 1977. As he wanted to retire, Douglas Edmunds of Scotland, a former contender, took over the position. David Webster is still very involved in organizing this competition -- he is the secretary of the International Federation of Strength Athletes (IFSA). These two men are responsible of inviting the competitors and choosing the events.

In 1995, these two and representatives of the competitors formed a governing body called the IFSA. The IFSA is organizing it's first European Championships to be held in Helsinki Finland on 18 May 1996. The IFSA is working with BBC and TWI to organize the World's Strongest Man competition later in 1996.

I cannot supply the address of IFSA because I haven't got it. If it's really important, I can give the phone number of Mr. Edmunds (President of IFSA).

The information in section 8 was supplied by Mr. Ilkka Kinnunen, head of the Scandinavian IFSA.

Thanks to Michael Leary for help with the particulars of the English idiom.

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Page last modified: March 1st, 1998
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