Magnus Ver Magnusson – 4 WSM Titles
The second man to win four WSM titles after his compatriot Jon-Pall Sigmarsson, Magnus Ver Magnusson had one of the hardest acts to follow when he debuted in 1991. Jon-Pall is rightly regarded as one of the legends of WSM, and a lesser man would more than likely have crumbled under the weight of expectancy. MVM was an exception though, and his mental strength coupled with his tremendous physical attributes saw him excel on the WSM stage. What ensued was Ver Magnusson bridging the gap between the Sigmarsson years which ended in WSM in 1990 and the beginning of his own legacy in Tenerife twelve months later.
Possessing great foot speed and conditioning, Magnus also had the ability to remain in contact, if not at the top, during static events like the Deadlift, Squat and Log. When his consistency was factored in, he was the complete strongman package who made few mistakes and was calculating in everything that he did. It was this consistency which saw him become only the second man in history (after Bill Kazmaier) to win three consecutive WSM contests. Outside of WSM, Ver Magnusson was twice a winner and four times the runner-up in Europe’s Strongest Man, a victor in numerous other contests and eight times the Icelandic national champion. What is remarkable about this is that he first competed in Iceland’s Strongest Man in 1985 (where he placed third) and nineteen years later he took his eighth and final title. Most recently, keen-eyed WSM fans will have spotted him in attendance in 2011, accompanying his young countryman Hafþór Björnsson on his WSM debut, and proudly sporting a ‘Team Iceland’ shirt.
In 1991 in the Canary Islands, the Icelander was not even scheduled as one of the original participants, finding himself on the reserve list. With a background as a double European powerlifting champion (in 1989 and 1991) in the 125kg class and with static power that belied his comparatively ‘light’ WSM bodyweight of 130kgs his strength credentials were not in doubt however. After his second European gold medal, which he said he won ‘by miles’ from the other competitors, Magnus wanted a new challenge. Powerlifting’s loss was to be WSM’s gain. The withdrawal of Sigmarsson from 1991 WSM opened up a spot, and Ver Magnusson moved from reserve into the eight-man contest. Showing no outward signs of apprehension Magnus Ver made the best start possible, winning his first ever event, the Loading Race. This was a discipline in which he always provided strong showings throughout his duration in WSM. The man from Iceland followed it up with a victory in the next event (Overhead Barrel Lift) and established a lead which he didn’t relinquish. Another win in the Deadlift followed, and the debutant dispelled any questions about whether he had deserved his place in the contest. His margin of victory was 7.5 points, with another accomplished powerlifter, Denmark’s Henning Thorsen, as the runner-up.
With his home country as the host twelve months later, Ver Magnusson faced, amongst others, a returning Jamie Reeves, the South African newcomer Gerrit Badenhorst, Thorsen, Gary Taylor and giant Dutchman Ted Van Der Parre. Despite winning three events, Magnus will be forever haunted by his mistake in the final discipline, the Husafell Stone. In attempting to adjust his grip midway down the course the Stone slipped from his grasp to the ground. Van Der Parre, as the last man to go simply had to beat the modest distance set by the Icelander, which he duly did. Holland took its only WSM crown to-date, and years later Magnus described it as ‘the luckiest day of Ted’s life.’ A share of second place overall was no consolation at all to the Icelander.
Orange in 1993 saw Ver Magnusson denied his second victory by a rampant Gary Taylor. The Welshman took four of the eight events and although Magnus performed consistently, he trailed Taylor throughout and was unable to overcome him. That being said, he was able to pip the Finn Riku Kiri to second place by half a point. Moving ahead a year and with Sun City on hosting duties, it was here where Ver Magnusson began to cement his status as a legend of WSM. With the introduction of qualifying heats prior to the final, this elongated format suited Magnus and he wasted no time in asserting his supremacy. Topping his qualifying group, his confidence was high as he went into the eight event final. With challenges likely to come from Austrian Manfred Hoeberl, Kiri and Badenhorst, MVM knew that he would have to up his performance from 1993 and also eliminate any mistakes such as those which had cost him the title in Iceland a couple of years earlier.
In a final in which injuries and fatigue hampered a number of competitors, with the altitude sapping the energy of the athletes, Magnus Ver and Hoeberl engaged in a struggle for victory. Both won individual disciplines along the way, with the overall lead always held by either Hoeberl or Ver Magnusson. With one event remaining, they were tied at the top. This turned out to be the tightest of all Magnus’ victories, with a final event decider (Atlas Stones) against Hoeberl sealing his second overall win by a solitary point. As Magnus and the Austrian duelled in the Sun City Amphitheatre, Hoeberl gave a quick glance to his rival just as they were both moving onto the final stone. In contrast, MVM paid no heed to his opponent and concentrated on the task in hand. The result being that Ver Magnusson won the event by 0.86 seconds over Manfred, and consequently he took his second WSM crown. A mixture of relief and euphoria was evident in the immediate aftermath, having been pushed to the wire by Hoeberl. In spite of his obvious delight at winning, Magnus sought out Hoeberl afterwards and was quick to point out that in a final so close, either man would have been a worthy champion. The punishing nature of the contest as a whole did prompt Ver Magnusson to say that he wouldn’t return in 1995, but that threat thankfully came to nothing as he ‘got the hunger back again.’ Years later he stated that his 1994 victory was his favourite of his four triumphs, but that it took him a month to recover afterwards.
The Bahamas was the venue in 1995, and qualification to the final was relatively straightforward for the defending champion. With Hoeberl now retired due to an horrific car accident, the main contender after the Icelander was Badenhorst. The South African had picked up an injury during the Bavarian Deadlift in the heats, and so it will never be known if he could have pushed Magnus harder if he hadn’t done so. However, what is certain is that Ver Magnusson was a picture of consistency, winning one event, tying for first in another and never finishing outside of the top three in any other discipline. Winning the squat with a lift of 437.5kgs was probably the stand out moment, with his years of powerlifting experience carrying over to great effect. His performances throughout the contest prompted Badenhorst to be fulsome in his praise. Immediately after the Squat, the South African stated that ‘[they] always said that Magnus is just a speed athlete, good in loading and running, but he has proved us wrong. He is the best all-round strength athlete in the world and I never saw a man of his bodyweight squat a weight like that before.” This was high praise indeed from the South African who was well placed to comment upon the performance and had the knowledge to recognise a fantastic display of static strength.
Ver Magnusson went into Mauritius in 1996 as the clear favourite, with his aim of joining Jon-Pall on four victories a distinct possibility. The pressure that accompanied this was now part and parcel to the increasingly experienced Icelander, who had been racking up victories across Europe in assorted events for a number of years now. The qualifiers proved eventful though, with Magnus engaged in a tussle for qualification with an increasingly agitated ‘Megaman’ Nathan Jones and Finnish debutant Jorma Ojanaho. Although Ver Magnusson ultimately came through, it was far from the relaxed passage to the final that he had hoped for and it was not until the last event of the qualifiers was completed that he secured his final berth.
The final showed Magnus again at his consistent best. He won two events, and took two second places, two thirds and two fourth places. He was never out of the top three in the overall points total, and took control of the contest at the half-way mark where he won the Cask Circle and then the Farmer’s Walk, before placing second in the Deadlift. This was the last of Magnus’ WSM victories, although he did appear again in 1997, but on that occasion he did not make it past the qualifying stage. As disappointing an exit as this was for Ver Magnusson, his showings in previous editions of WSM are what remain to the fore when recalling his career. Four WSM wins showed him to be right at the very top of the WSM pecking order.
Described by Bill Kazmaier as ‘flawless’, MVM personified the consistency, technical ability, all-round strength and determination necessary in order to be considered a legend of WSM. From his debut in 1991 through to his final victory in Mauritius five years later, Ver Magnusson coolly dispatched rivals such as Kiri, Badenhorst and Hoeberl, and compiled an enviable WSM record of four wins and two second places. The only blip being his failure to qualify for the final in 1997. Dr. Douglas Edmunds referred to Ver Magnusson as ‘a quiet assassin’ and this is most glaring when he is compared to the flamboyant showman whom he succeeded. MVM did not have an outwardly demonstrative personality, nor could he be accused of being an overt showman. He did not snarl or intimidate like Kazmaier or engage with the crowd like Sigmarsson, for example, but his focus was unquestionable as was his tenacity. This lack of flamboyance was more than compensated for by his wide variety of physical attributes, and a mental toughness that was at the heart of his numerous successes. Ver Magnusson knew exactly what his strengths were and he made certain that he took full advantage of them each time that he performed. Despite not sharing the same character traits as Jon-Pall, Magnus Ver fully deserves to be bracketed alongside his countryman. That is, both stand as legendary WSM figures, who in spite of their differing demeanours put Iceland firmly at the heart of the strength world.