World's Strongest Man
The World's Strongest Man official logo
|Established||1977; 43 years ago|
|Most recent tournament|
|2019 World's Strongest Man|
The World's Strongest Man is an international strongman competition held every year. Organized by American event management company IMG, a subsidiary of Endeavor, it is broadcast in the US during summers and in the UK around the end of December each year. Competitors qualify based on placing in the top three at the four to eight Giants Live events each year.
The event has a number of rival and parallel competitions with which it is sometimes confused, including the Strongman Super Series, the now defunct IFSA Strongman World Championships (run from 2005 to 2007 after the International Federation of Strength Athletes parted company with WSM in 2004) and Strongman Champions League.
There are now several documentaries available that chart the history of WSM. The first major one is Worlds Strongest Man - Thirty Years Of Pain from 2008, celebrating the 30th anniversary. In 2017, a series of videos were released in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the contest.
The concept behind "The World's Strongest Men", as it was originally named, was developed in 1977 for CBS by Langstar Inc. David Webster, a Scot who later received an OBE for his services to sport, was the head coordinator of the competition from its inception. Dr. Douglas Edmunds, seven-time Scottish shot and discus champion and twice world caber champion, worked with Webster and when Webster retired Edmunds took over. These two men were responsible for inviting the competitors and choosing the events. In the meantime, in 1982, CBS sold the rights to the BBC, who in turn sold the rights to TWI. In 1987, the WSM was not held for the only time since its inception. In that year the first and only non-team Pure Strength competition was held but it was not part of the WSM franchise.
For the first several contests, well-known American color commentators and analysts were used on the network broadcast. These included Brent Musburger, Tom Brookshier, and acknowledged strength authority, journalist and author Dr. Terry Todd. Todd was a former powerlifting world record holder himself and went on to establish the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports in 1990. He also was asked to establish The Arnold Strongman Classic in 2001 by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This competition has the largest purse of any Strongman contest, with a $72,000+ top prize in 2017.
During this early period, the contest ranks consisted mostly of American football players, powerlifters, and bodybuilders and held in American locations until it was moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1983. Two-time winner Bruce Wilhelm (USA) retired and was succeeded by the massive Don Reinhoudt in 1979, 162 kg (357 lb) heavyweight powerlifter of the USA. Reinhoudt still holds several unequipped world records in powerlifting to this day.
In 1979, newcomer and legendary powerlifter Bill Kazmaier (USA) made his appearance, coming in 3rd after leading much of the competition. He dominated the sport to such an extent from 1980 to 1982 (winning by a record 28 points in 1980), he reportedly was excluded from the competition for five years, after becoming the first man to win three consecutive WSM titles He set prodigious marks with a 478.5 kg (1055 lb) silver dollar coin deadlift, 439.5 kg (969 lb) squat(smith machine), and a then-record 165.6 kg (365 lb) log lift with a rough, unbalanced log. His legendary status eventually earned him a place in the WSM Hall of Fame.
After Kazmaier left, his nearest rival, former Olympian Geoff Capes from the UK, traded wins with the charismatic Icelandic powerlifter Jón Páll Sigmarsson. Sigmarsson raised the popularity and awareness of the event to new levels. He died 3 years after winning his 4th and final WSM in 1990.
In 1995, Edmunds and Webster, along with representatives from the competitors including Jamie Reeves, Ilkka Kinnunen and Marcel Mostert formed a governing body called the International Federation of Strength Athletes ("IFSA"). The IFSA began organizing bespoke events, such as the IFSA European Championships and also took the lead in working with the BBC and with TWI to organize the World's Strongest Man competition. For almost a decade the IFSA and WSM were inextricably mixed, but this changed in 2004. The InvestGroup Ventures' sports rights management arm, InvestGroup Sports Management, invested heavily into IFSA and this led to the creation of IFSA Strongman. The strategy was to acquire most of the international assets and properties relating to the strongman sport. In essence this was a new organisation with some, such as Magnus Samuelsson, describing it as "a new company ... with the same name as our old federation". The attempt at dominance was not well received by TWI and disagreement ensued leading to a split in the sport. Previously, in 2001, the IFSA in its former guise had entered an agreement with World Class Events (WCE), headed by Ulf Bengtsson, to run the Super Series. This Super Series was designed to award the World Championship title, but also acted as a qualifying vehicle for the WSM. When strongman split in 2004, the Super Series sided with TWI forming a rival federation to the IFSA. With the WSM being a TWI owned event, IFSA Holdings announced its own World Championships for 2005, to be held in Quebec, and thus from that point had no involvement in the WSM contest.
The split with IFSA, which banned its registered athletes from competing at WSM, meant that not all the recognized best strength athletes in the world were eligible to compete. However, the reputation of WSM as the premier event maintained its lure for broadcasting purposes. In recent years, the competition has been broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2, TSN, Televisa Deportes and Five, and currently CBS Sports Network in the USA. The longevity of the contest in strength athletics and its high levels of TV exposure over the years has led to it being described as "the granddaddy of all strongman contests".
In recent years, to curb injuries, the contest events have included a certain amount of athleticism rather than being about raw strength. This has led some critics to say that contests such as the Arnold Strongman Classic or Fortissimus are the true strongest man competitions. However, it is routinely described as "the Worlds" by top strongman competitors and despite the critics, it is the leading brand name in the field. No other strongman contest commands close to the WSM's levels of TV exposure. The World's Strongest Man claims a viewership of 220 million.
In the early 1990s, Magnús Ver Magnússon (Iceland) won the title four times and became the second and only man along with the legendary Bill Kazmaier to win three consecutive titles. The late 1990s saw Scandinavian countries taking control of the title, and this lasted until 2002. The relatively small 125 kg (275 lb) but dynamic Jouko Ahola from Finland won two titles in three years during this period. He later became a referee in WSM/strongman events and an actor.
The early to late 2000s were dominated by five-time Polish winner Mariusz Pudzianowski, earning the nickname: "The Dominator". Looking muscular and defined, he temporarily redefined what a strongman was in the world's eyes. At about 142 kg (313 lb) at max weight, he routinely beat men much bigger than he was. He combined speed and massive strength in one package. Indeed, he was so dominant, that three of his five championship victories were won with an event to spare. His final win was in 2008 as bigger and taller men came into the sport.
The 2006 competition ended in dramatic fashion: in the final, Mariusz Pudzianowski started well by coming tied-1st in the Deadlift and winning the Power-Stairs easily; but by then winning the last 5 events in a row, Phil Pfister edged out the Pole in the final event, the Atlas stones. Pfister became the first American to win the competition since 1982, and the first American ever to win the competition outside the United States.
In 2008, Derek Poundstone had a large lead over Mariusz Pudzianowski after 3 events but Pudzianowski tied the deadlift event for first place and then won the crucial plane-pull to narrow the gap. Pudzianowski and Poundstone then battled for the title of World's Strongest Man in the last event, the Atlas Stones. Pudzianowski blistered through the event and was able to keep pace with the heavier Poundstone. On the final stone, Pudzianowski was able to capitalize on Poundstone's drop and clinched his fifth title.
In 2009, the long-running IFSA/WSM split had ended resulting in finally having all of the top strongmen from around the world all in the same contest. 2-time IFSA World Champion Žydrūnas Savickas claimed his first WSM title, with defending champion Mariusz coming in second in his final ever WSM contest. Another up and comer Brian Shaw placed third.
Žydrūnas repeated his victory again in 2010, winning by countback against Brian Shaw in the closest finish in WSM history. Top IFSA competitor and fan favorite Mikhail Koklyaev finished third in his WSM debut. Žydrūnas set a world record in the giant wooden log lift with a lift of 212.5 kg (467.5 lbs.).
Going into the 2012 WSM contest, Brian Shaw suffered from nerve damage in his hands and slipped down to fourth place. This opened the door for Žydrūnas to capture his third WSM title, with fellow Lithuanian Vytautas Lalas coming in second and the Icelandic giant Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson placed third. Žydrūnas set a world record in the log lift with a lift of 220 kg (484 lbs.).
In the 2017 WSM, two 4-time winners: (Brian Shaw and Žydrūnas Savickas) competed head-to-head for the first time, but Eddie Hall won his first title over runner-up Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson by 1 point, and was the first win for the UK since Welshman Gary Taylor in 1993. Hall also set a new Strongman world record with a regular bar at 472.5 kg (1041.7 lbs) for a deadlift performed with just straps. The contest was, however, not without controversy. Björnsson claimed that he had completed one more rep in the Viking press than the judge awarded him. In 2020, former World's Strongest Man producer, Andrew B. Quinn, claimed the judges were in fact lenient on Björnsson. He cited multiple examples of Björnsson not following the rules of the viking press, which state that athletes must wait for the "down" signal with each rep, and not "double dip".
The 2018 contest was held in Manila, Philippines for the first time in its history.  Eddie Hall, winner of the 2017 World's Strongest Man, did not defend his title. The tournament was won by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson of Iceland, the first Icelander since Magnús Ver Magnússon in 1996 to win the title. Mateusz Kieliszkowski of Poland finished second and four-time winner Brian Shaw of the United States third. Žydrūnas Savickas, also a four-time winner, finished tenth after withdrawing in event four due to an injury.
The 2019 contest was held in Bradenton, Florida. The contest was won by Martins Licis of America who defeated defending champion and celebrity Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson of Iceland. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson suffered an injury in the first event but was able to complete the competition and finish 3rd on the podium. A new format which included only 25 instead of 30 competitors was used and the entire competition only ran for 4 days instead of the usual 5+. The final was reduced to 5 events and took only one day. The new format was designed to streamline the editing for a quicker television turnaround. It was held in Bradenton, Florida USA.
For a complete timeline, see the official WSM site:
Competition format and commonly contested events
Initially, eight men representing various sports and strength disciplines were invited to compete against each other in unique events designed to test each individual to the fullest extent. The earliest events were relatively crude, but new ideas were introduced over the years. Some events had a basis in both powerlifting and Highland Games heavy events, and others were created based on mythological feats of strength. There are a number of events that make up each competition.
- Loading Race – Several heavy objects, each weighing 220–360 pounds (100–163 kg), are loaded onto a truck bed or a similar platform over a course of about 50 feet (15 m).
- Atlas Stones – Five heavy round stones increasing in weight in the range of 220–350 pounds (100–159 kg) are lifted and set on platforms. When the stones were first introduced to the competition, it was an individual event and the platforms were all of equal height. The modern Atlas Stones event takes place on a 16–33-foot (5–10 m) long course and the competitors participate two at a time. There are three current variations to the Atlas Stones event. In one, the stones are placed directly in front of the platforms and the competitors must simply lift and place them, generally the lightest stone being placed on the highest platform. In another, the stones are placed in a diagonal line, with the first stone being in front of the first platform, and each subsequent stone is set farther back from the course, with the heaviest stone being farthest away (or vice versa). The third variation sees the five platforms in a straight vertical line with the stones in front of each, and the competitors must place the stones and then move a short distance to the next one. In recent competitions, this is typically the final event. In the 2015 competition the heaviest stone was 209 kilos (461 lbs).
- Vehicle Pull – Vehicles such as transport trucks, trams, boxcars, buses, or planes are pulled across a 100-foot (30 m) course as fast as possible. One variation sees the competitors pull the object with a rope toward them. Another has them attached to a rope which is attached to a vehicle, while they use another rope to pull themselves down the course. A third involves no ropes, with the competitors pulling the vehicle while connected to a harness. The 2007 competition featured pulling a fire truck (possibly a nod to 2006 champion Phil Pfister, a professional firefighter), and the 2008 qualifying rounds featured a coal truck (a reference to the coal mining industry in West Virginia, where the competition was held).
- Overhead Press – The heaviest possible load is pressed overhead, or a lighter weight is used for repetitions.
- Fingal Fingers – A series of hinged poles ("fingers") are lifted starting from a horizontal resting position and flipped over to the other side. The poles get progressively heavier and longer. The event is scored by time and by how many of the poles a competitor was able to flip over. The event takes its name from Fingal, a mythological Gaelic hunter-warrior.
- Power Stairs – A series of three Duck Walk implements ranging from 400–600 pounds (181–272 kg) are lifted, step by step, to the top of a flight of stairs.
- Squat – Squatting large weights, such as 900 pounds (410 kg) of bricks, a car, or people on a platform. Recently, an apparatus has been used that drops weighted kegs into a cage, one at a time after each successful lift (the event, in this case, is scored by weight instead of repetitions). The athlete will continue until completion, failure or time expires.
- Dead Lift – Lifting weights or vehicles up to about 1,100 pounds (500 kg) straight off the ground until knees lock in a standing position. Lift is for either maximum weight, maximum repetitions with a fixed weight, or for time whilst holding a single repetition. In recent years, a similar keg-loaded apparatus to that described above for the squat has been used.
- Keg Toss – Competitors must throw kegs, of increasing weight, over a 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m) high bar. A variation using kettlebells was added to the 2015 competition, while in 2017 gold bricks were used.
- Weight Throw – a 50-pound (23 kg) weight is thrown overhead with the goal being to clear a barrier above the competitor. The goal is to throw the weight the highest.
- Car Carry – Competitors stand inside a stripped-down automobile, which is missing some of its roof and all of its bottom and interior, and carry it across a 25-meter (82 ft) course. Players are scored by how fast they carried the car across the finish line or how far they were able to get the car before the time-limit expired.
- Hercules Hold – The athlete stands between two hinged pillars, gripping handles that prevent the pillars from falling to the side. The pillars are held for the longest possible time.
- Carry and Drag – An anchor and a chain are carried to the end of a set distance, where they must be attached to each other and then dragged back the same distance.
- Farmer's Walk – Competitors carry heavy objects (usually anvils) weighing from 275 to 375 lbs (125 to 170 kg) in each hand for a set distance, and compete for the fastest time. A variation involves use of a heavy frame with parallel handles or heavy objects attached to handles, and another involves much heavier weights (referred to as the Giant Farmer's Walk). This event is usually done on the same course as the Carry and Drag is and conducted as a race, but one competition in Sanya, China saw the competitors compete individually carrying the weights up a small set of stairs. A competition in Victoria Falls, Zambia 2001 saw the competitors race two at a time along a course requiring several turns.
- Super Yoke – Apparatus composed of a crossbar and two uprights. The uprights each have a heavy weight attached to them, such as a refrigerator or diesel engine, and the competitors must carry the yoke on their shoulders for a short distance.
- Husafell Stone – A flat, somewhat triangular rock weighing around 400 lb (182 kg) is carried high on the chest for a set distance or for overall distance within a time limit. During some years which the competition took place in Africa, this event was known as the Africa Stone and the stone was in the shape of the continent as it appears on a map. The 2017 competition called this event the Elephant Carry, and the stone was shaped like the head and face of an African elephant.
- Duck Walk– An object with a handle is carried, suspended between the legs, over a set course.
- Log Throw / Caber toss – A five-meter-long (16 1⁄2 foot) log is thrown for distance or for height over a bar. When thrown for distance, the event is conducted similarly to the normal caber toss but with distance replacing technique. The length of the throw is determined by measuring the distance between where the competitor's toes were when he tossed and the tip of the log, based on where it first landed.
- Tug of War – One on one tug of war in a single-elimination tournament. In the first few competitions, this determined the champion and served as the final event.
- 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 each side for as long a time as possible. A common variation entails weights being held out in front, using either one or both hands.
- Giant Dumbbell Press — Single-handed dumbbells are hoisted from the ground onto the competitor's shoulder, from where, with one hand, he must raise it vertically over his head and lockout his arm. With four weights between 100 and 115 kilograms (220 and 254 lb), scoring is based on time and number of successful lifts.
- Basque Circle/Stone Circle/Conan's Wheel – A competitor takes hold of the handle of a metal basket by placing the handle on his forearms. Inside the basket, usually, is at least 600 pounds (270 kg) of heavy stones (The 2015 WSM replaced the stones with pineapples and at least one earlier competition used a car). Holding the basket in the crook of his elbow, the competitor carries the basket in a clockwise manner over a platform with a 25-meter (82 ft) circumference. The event is contested for distance.
- Norse Hammers – Added to the competition for the first time in 2015, the Norse Hammers is similar to the Fingal Fingers event. Three hammers, shaped like those of Norse god Thor, must be flipped over. Unlike the Fingal Fingers, the competitors must lift the hammer from the side before pushing it up. There are three hammers, weighing 350, 365, and 380 pounds, respectively. In order to complete the event, all three hammers must be flipped within the time limit.
- Circus Barbell – Similar to the Overhead Press, this event gets its name from the apparatus used which resembles the classically shaped barbell used by circus strongmen. The barbell, which weighs 150 kilograms (330 lb), consists of two heavy spheres with a thick, flexible bar that makes it difficult for the competitors to lift. The event is conducted for reps within a time limit and the movement to complete the lift resembles a clean and press lift.
Beginning in 2017, the qualifying format was changed. After five events, the leader clinches a spot in the final. To determine who will join him, one last event is conducted.
In 2017, a new event called Last Man Standing was added. An Atlas Stone is placed at the center of an octagon and, one at a time, the competitors must lift the stone and drop it over a fifty-five inch metal bar. They each have twenty seconds to do this, and once one cannot complete the drop he is eliminated and the next highest scoring competitor entering the event takes his turn. The competition continues in stepladder fashion, beginning with the two lowest scoring competitors, until only one remains; that competitor is declared the winner of the event and secures the second place in the final for the qualifying group.
The 2018 competition used the Atlas Stones to determine the second finalist. The three lowest scorers were eliminated from the competition, and the second- and third-place finishers squared off with the first one to complete the Atlas Stones (or the furthest along) advancing to the final.
2019 saw the return of Last Man Standing, but instead of featuring the remaining four competitors only the second and third place competitors square off to determine the second finalist.
- Licis was born in Latvia and is a Latvian citizen, but represents the United States in this competition.
- In 1987 the WSM was not held for the only time since its inception. In that year the first and only non-team Pure Strength competition was held. Although it was not part of the WSM franchise, some commentators regard it as a replacement for WSM in that year.
Multiple time champions
|Mariusz Pudzianowski||Poland||5||2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008|
|Jón Páll Sigmarsson||Iceland||4||1984, 1986, 1988, 1990|
|Magnús Ver Magnússon||Iceland||4||1991, 1994, 1995, 1996|
|Žydrūnas Savickas||Lithuania||4||2009, 2010, 2012, 2014|
|Brian Shaw||United States||4||2011, 2013, 2015, 2016|
|Bill Kazmaier||United States||3||1980, 1981, 1982|
|Bruce Wilhelm||United States||2||1977, 1978|
|Geoff Capes||United Kingdom||2||1983, 1985|
|Jouko Ahola||Finland||2||1997, 1999|
Most top three places
|8||Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson|
|7|| Jón Páll Sigmarsson|
|6|| Magnús Ver Magnússon |
|5|| Bill Kazmaier|
Championships by country
Bulgaria, Estonia, the Faroe Islands, Fiji, France, Germany, Grenada, Georgia, Hungary, Iran, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Serbia, Samoa, Slovenia as of 2019 have all placed in the Top 10 but have not yet won a medal.
Most times qualified for WSM: Žydrūnas Savickas – 14 times
Most WSM finals: Žydrūnas Savickas – 12 times
Most consecutive WSM finals: Brian Shaw – 11 times (2009-2019)
Hall of Fame
The WSM Hall of Fame was created in 2008 to recognize the greatest competitors in the history of the contest. As of 2020, there are 8 members of the WSM Hall of Fame, Geoff Capes Mariusz Pudzianowski, Svend Karlsen, Jón Páll Sigmarsson, Bill Kazmaier, Magnús Ver Magnússon, Magnus Samuelsson and Žydrūnas Savickas.
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