Mariusz Pudzianowski – 5 WSM Titles
As the winner of five World’s Strongest Man titles Mariusz Pudzianowski stands alone as the only person to have achieved this feat, eclipsing the four wins apiece for the Icelanders Magnus Ver Magnusson and Jon-Pall Sigmarsson. His ranking in the pantheon of strength legends may be fiercely debated by WSM fans, but in statistical terms, his five WSM triumphs are thus far unmatched. In phenomenal shape, Pudzianowski set himself apart from many other ‘muscle men’ by having the strength, speed and endurance that accompanied the muscularity. When Pudzianowski made the switch from boxing to strongman, his career was watched over by his father, Wojciech. Pudzianowski senior was a talented Weightlifter and was an omnipresent figure, travelling the globe with his son and overseeing his career development. It was Mariusz’s victory in 2002 which marked the change from the Scandinavian dominance of the 1990′s and ushered in the emergence of Eastern Europe as a major player at WSM.
Bursting onto the WSM scene in Sun City in 2000, Mariusz won his qualifying group, making the final at the first attempt. Looking nothing like a WSM debutant, Pudzianowski appeared very much at home battling against seasoned WSM competitors. ‘The Dominator’ performed creditably against the likes of Janne Virtanen, Svend Karlsen and Magnus Samuelsson who were at the height of their powers, taking victory in the Deadlift Hold along the way. A fourth place finish was his reward, and Pudzianowski’s WSM timeline was well and truly under way. Absent in 2001, the Pole returned with a vengeance in 2002. Pudzianoswki shrugged off the stifling heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur to take his first WSM crown, eight points clear of Zydrunas Savickas. The potential he showed two years earlier had now taken shape, and his performances in securing the WSM crown were an indication of what could be expected over the remainder of the decade. He won three events in the final, and demonstrated that any in event where there was moving with weight involved, he would be almost unbeatable when he was on top form. Possibly the most impressive of all was an imperious performance in the Asia Stone where he obliterated the world record and covered 127.4 metres. To all observers it was clear that he could have continued, but he chose to stop as he was already fifteen metres clear of the man in second place in the event.
Another victory followed in 2003, and this one was a supremely dominant performance from the very first event in the final. Four event wins out of seven (Carry and Drag, Log Lift, Train Pull and Deadlift), and two second places made him untouchable in Zambia. In fact, his lowest placing in an event was third in the Farmer’s Walk. His margin of victory was an astonishing 20 points, with Savickas once again trailing behind in second spot. It is worth recalling that the competitors that he had distanced in this manner were of the highest calibre, but still they could not make inroads against Mariusz in Victoria Falls. Amongst them, Savickas, Vasyl Virastyuk, Samuelsson, Karlsen and Hugo Girard were all comfortably bested by Pudzianowski. With his event wins spread across moving and static events, 2003 showed Mariusz had developed into a well-rounded strongman whose weaknesses were few and far between. Following the final, a host of contemporaries were wholesome in their praise. Fellow Pole Jarek Dymek described him as ‘being from another planet’; whilst Karlsen said that he had never seen a performance like it.
Two years later in Chengdu and with a host of new faces gunning for the WSM title, ‘The Dominator’ nickname never seemed more apt as Pudzianowski once again dismantled his opposition in the final. That notwithstanding, it was an uncharacteristically slow start in the final which saw him trailing the leader Don Pope by seven points after two events. One of which, Fingal’s Fingers, was to be something of a bogey event for him for a couple years. He was also six points back from the late Jesse Marunde at this stage, and was actually only a single point from the bottom of the table. However, with his speed and strength seeming to increase year on year coupled to unrivalled stamina, the first visit of WSM to China was ultimately a memorable one for Mariusz. Following his initial disappointments in the early disciplines, Pudzianowski made no more mistakes, winning each of the remaining five events, dashing the hopes of the Marunde.
In 2006, and by his own admission, Pudzianowski underestimated his opponents, particularly Phil Pfister. Thus, there was not to be a fourth victory for him in Sanya, as he was bested by a Pfister in outstanding form. He lays the blame for this defeat squarely at his own feet, believing that he was as well trained and prepared as ever, but disregarding his fellow competitors had been his downfall. Fingal’s Fingers again proved to be a stumbling block and there was the realisation that this weakness needed to be eradicated if he wanted to add a fourth title in 2007. Mariusz duly went away and turned one of his poorest events into a strength, and when he was three months away from WSM 2007, his training schedule spanned five hours a day.
Anaheim in 2007 duly saw Pudzianowski claim title number four, and put him a step closer to achieving his stated goal of five WSM wins. Aside from the victory, Mariusz’s showing in the Fingal’s Fingers was his personal highlight. Although he placed behind countryman Sebastian Wenta (who broke the world record) his time of 31.15 seconds was an astonishing 22 seconds faster than he managed in 2006. Whilst Mariusz was never reserved when celebrating, his joy at conquering the event was plain to see, screaming in delight as he was given his time. When this performance was added to his first places in the Loading Race and Car Walk, and his other second place finishes in the Safe Lift, Car Deadlift and Truck Pull, it was another demonstration of his famous ‘Polish Power’. The accolades from his peers continued, with Samuelsson opining that Pudzianowski is ‘really fast, extremely strong and probably the most efficient strongman there has ever been’. Terry Hollands, a man who competed against Mariusz on many occasions stated in 2007 that ‘every event is a good event for Pudzianowski, there are no weaknesses, no chinks in the armour.’
2008 was the year in which he secured his record breaking fifth WSM title. An injury sustained during the Fingal’s Fingers in the qualifying round hindered him, and Derek Poundstone, on his WSM debut very nearly spoiled the party for Mariusz. Pudzianowski had trailed Poundstone since the end of the second event, but clawed his way back to take the historic victory on the fifth Atlas Stone. It was not the rampaging display seen in previous years, but it was a determined one and coming out ahead of the red-hot Poundstone gave Mariusz tremendous satisfaction. Malta in 2009 was the last time Pudzianowski competed at WSM. He came up against the returning Savickas, and the battle that WSM fans had been waiting for since 2004 was resumed. Going into the final event separated by two points, the Lithuanian’s superiority on the Stones saw him take his first WSM title. There were no excuses from Mariusz, with the acknowledgement that the superior competitor had triumphed.
Between 2002 and 2009 Mariusz Pudzianowski was quite simply the man to beat at WSM. He became the yardstick for success and even in the years when he was not the defending champion, the majority of competitors knew that if they were to beat him, they would almost certainly take the big prize. Even people who were only vaguely familiar with strongman seemed to have an awareness of ‘the Polish guy from World’s Strongest Man’ which in itself is a major accomplishment. In the years when he didn’t emerge on top, he was never far away, with one fourth place and two second places also on his résumé, losing out in final event deciders against both Phil Pfister in 2006 and Zydrunas Savickas in 2009. The combination of self-confidence and ability that underpins all great champions was possessed in abundance by Pudzianowski. His contest history illustrates this, and as simplistic as it sounds, he loved to win. This applied whether it was at World, European, national or even regional levels. Crucially, however, he maintained that hunger for a sustained period of time and this kept him at the top of the sport. Whilst some of his victories may have looked comparatively straightforward, his training routines which underpinned them were legendary in their duration and frequency. There is little doubt that this suffering paved the way for his multitude of successes. Pudzianowski himself said that ‘If you want to be the best you have to sacrifice yourself and concentrate on just one thing.’ Five WSM victories are a testament to the fact that he practised what he preached.