Husaffel / Africa / Asia Stone
The World’s Strongest Man contest has a long history of incorporating events which test not only the pure strength of the competitors, but also their endurance and speed as well. There are a number of events which see the athletes lifting and moving with heavy objects ranging from the Car Walk and Super-Yoke through to Farmers Walk and Loading, and assorted others. However, events such as the Husafell Stone offer a vastly different challenge. As with many disciplines, the basis of the event sounds extremely straightforward in that competitors will pick up the object in question (either from the ground or from on a plinth) and travel as far with it as possible without dropping it. The course is generally 25 or 50 metres in length, with competitors turning at that point and returning towards the start. When the Stone is grounded, a measurement is taken, and the furthest distance wins.
In theory it sounds uncomplicated, but when a little more detail is added, the difficulty is evident. The original Husafell Stone is one of the most cumbersome pieces of equipment seen at WSM, with the original weighing in at over 410lbs (though another was subsequently used after 1992, weighing around 180kgs). Its dimensions mean that if you are unable to lock your hands around it, you are already at a disadvantage in terms of your movement. .Added to this, the consensus is that it needs to be carried up fairly high on the chest which can mean that the carrier is often unable to actually see where he is going, not to mention having the air literally squeezed out of them due to its sheer weight pressing down onto the torso. If it is carried lower, breathing is easier but movement is more difficult, as is retaining a grip. Attempts to try and return it to a higher position once it has slipped are almost always doomed to failure.
Iceland in 1992 saw the Husafell Stone used as the last event of the contest, and would provide one of the most dramatic finishes ever seen at WSM. It was contested on a gravel path and was not an ‘out and back’ course as would be seen in later years, meaning that there was no turn for competitors to make. The Stone also had to be lifted from the floor to begin with, rather than a plinth, adding another element to the discipline. Prior to the event, Dutchman Ted Van Der Parre and Icelander Magnus Ver Magnusson were tied on 56 points apiece, with Ver Magnusson to be the penultimate athelete to attempt the course, with the Dutchman to follow him. Canadian Gregg Ernst would actually win the event, covering around 60 metres, but the real drama was yet to unfold. Ver Magnusson, struggling to see over the top of the Husafell Stone paused midway along the course to try and collect his bearings, but would not be able to regain any momentum and dropped it far short of what he considered to be a competitive distance. Van Der Parre never looked comfortable, carrying the Stone very low to the ground, but as the last man he knew that he only had to pass the Icelander’s mark to take the title, which he duly did. Ver Magnusson, years later, would describe it as “the luckiest day of Ted Van Der Parre’s life.”
The Husafell Stone was used once in the heats in 1994, where it was lifted from a plinth, as opposed to from the ground, with the Namibian Anton Boucher victorious with approximately 41 metres covered. In his home country, the South African Wayne Price, in attempting to lift the Stone too high on his chest was unable to get any air into his lungs, and was only able to move a few steps before he dropped it. This served as a telling reminder of the very fine line between success and failure in this event.
In the Nevadan desert, the 1997 final saw the Husafell Stone lifted from a plinth to begin with, and contested on a 50 metre course. 1998 WSM Magnus Samuelsson ignored the dust storm that was blowing and emerged victorious with a distance of 90 metres, ahead of former WSM winners Svend Karlsen and Jouko Ahola. The Dane Flemming Rasmussen had a one word answer when quizzed afterwards about the most difficult element of the event, replying simply, ‘breathing’.
One year later in Morocco on another fifty metre course, the plinth had gone, and now the Stone had to be lifted from the floor to begin the event. 2006 winner Phil Pfister held the lead in the final with 70.30 meters for a good while, with fellow American Mark Philippi next on 69.51 metres. It was not to be for the Americans though, as Magnus Samuelsson repeated his Husafell Stone win from 1997. The Swede covered 79.71 metres for a comprehensive triumph, one of four event wins in 1998 (Car Flip, Power Stairs and Medley being the others) on his way to securing the WSM crown.
1999 would be the last outing for the Husafell Stone, and it was used in just one heat. Lifting it from the floor, double-WSM winner Jouko Ahola would easily take top spot. Against the backdrop of Valletta Harbour, the Finn covered 66.1 metres before winning his second title a few days later.
The Africa Stone replaced the Husafell Stone in the 2000 contest. As the name suggests, this metal object was in the shape of the continent after which it was named, and tipped the scales at slightly over 175kgs. In the rarefied atmosphere of Sun City, the competitors found that though the Africa Stone may have been slightly narrower in parts, thus allowing a better grip, the battle would still be a gruelling one. Lifting the Stone from a plinth, the course was thirty-eight metres in length across ‘The Bridge of Time’.
For the heats in 2000, Magnus Samuelsson did not even attempt to lock his hands around the Africa Stone, resting it instead on his huge forearms before covering 76m and nonchalantly placing the Stone back atop its plinth. Not to be outdone, eventual 2000 WSM winner Janne Virtanen would do exactly the same as the Swede in terms of distance, even pausing to show the crowd the Stone before he returned it to its starting point .There is little doubt that both could have gone much further but chose to conserve energy knowing that they had done enough to win their respective heats. Virtanen in particular was moving at a tremendous speed as he covered the course. In his heat, the German Martin Muhr managed an impressive 86.5 metres. The pick of the heats, however, was the final one, with WSM legend Mariusz Pudzianowski in his first appearance at the contest, covering a staggering 110 metres. In second place with a very creditable 94m was 2006 WSM Phil Pfister.
Zambia in 2001 saw a slight change to the format. It was the Africa Stone which was used once again, but on this occasion the competitors were in pairs, though maximum distance remained the objective and not just travelling further than your opponent. In the heats it was Martin Muhr who impressed once again, covering the course four times and registering 96 metres. Muhr was a man renowned for his speed and conditioning and he fully demonstrated it here. In his heat, Janne Virtanen played it tactically and secured second place, but when asked afterwards how far he could have gone if he had needed to, he boldly stated ‘125 metres’.
In the WSM final twelve months after Zambia, the Africa Stone was replaced by the ‘Asia Stone’, which was a metal shield, and also weighed in at 175kgs. The course was 50 metres long and in the high Malaysian humidity, the Asia Stone, as with the Africa Stone, would be taken from a plinth for as far as was humanly possible. For four men, that meant travelling over 100 metres. 107.75m and 107.5m respectively were, almost unbelievably, only good enough for third and fourth places for Raimonds Bergmanis and Gregor Edmunds. The Finn Juha-Matti Rasanen went almost five metres further and posted 112.35m. However, as in Sun City two years previously, Mariusz Pudzianowski was untouchable in recording 127.4 metres, and could have gone further if he had thought it necessary.
Ten years after it was first seen in World’s Strongest Man, the Africa Stone would return in the 2010 heats. This time, there would be no plinth to begin with, and the Stone would be lying flat on the ground at the start of the 25 metre course. The significance of having to pick up the 175kg implement from flat on the ground cannot be overstated, adding a whole new dimension to the event. WSM debutant Nick Best would take the win, with 79.4 metres. Although the distances were down somewhat on previous years, this should serve as an excellent illustration of just how taxing it was to have to perform an initial lift with the Africa Stone before travelling down the course.
Since it was first seen in WSM back in 1992, this type of carrying event has pushed competitors to the absolute limit. Without that vital combination of endurance, technique, foot speed and strength, the chances of success in this discipline are limited. Whether it is the Husafell, Africa or Asia Stone, the man who emerges victorious will have put all of those pieces together and overcome one of the toughest strength and cardiovascular challenges there is at WSM.
July 4, 2011 | by WSM