Part of what makes World’s Strongest Man incredible is watching super-human athletes continually push the human body past the limits we thought it had. 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of World’s Strongest Man and when the competition first started no-one could have predicted the incredible feats of strength shown over the years.
But its enduring appeal is about more than that. If WSM was simply a lab experiment showing incremental gains it wouldn’t have millions of fans.
No, it’s the personalities and unrepeatable moments that make WSM so special. Luckily, over the last 40 years, there’s been no shortage of those. Here’s some of the best:
1977 – Hulk smash
When Lou Ferrigno entered the inaugural WSM he was already well known as a professional bodybuilder.
He quickly proved his physique wasn’t just for aesthetics when he won the bar bend. He was cast as The Incredible Hulk later that year. Coincidence?
1978 – Runaway tram
Strongman pioneer Don Reinhoudt may have come second in WSM 1978 but he unwittingly created year’s most enduring image. During the tram pull (yep, it was tram back then), Reinhoudt created such momentum that the tram kept rolling after the event ended. Luckily for him, and the sport of strongman, he narrowly avoided being completely wiped out.
1981 – Strongest legs in the world
Bill ‘Kaz’ Kazmaier stepped into the squat event at WSM 1981 with a chip on his shoulder. He was frustrated that powerlifter Dave Waddington was known for having the world’s strongest legs. After squatting an incredible 959 lbs Kazmaier calmly steps off the stage, points to his legs and proclaims, “These legs are the strongest legs,
1982 – Sumo showdown
Bill Kazmaier beat both Dave Waddington and American football player John Gamble in the Sumo event to take the 1982 WSM crown. Before the bouts Kazmaier smacks himself square in the face with enough force to knock most men out. Something about that slap let everyone know he wasn’t going to be beaten that day.
1982 – I gotta have it!
Canada’s Tom Magee was incredible to watch on the squats, but it was always worth tuning in a few moments before he started… Magee had one of the most, uh, interesting pre lift rituals ever seen at WSM. He would bang his head against a wall, groan like a wounded animal and shout “I gotta have it!” The looks on the audience’s faces say it all.
1984 – A rivalry is born
When Jón Páll Sigmarsson beat reigning champion Geoff Capes in the arm wrestle event he triumphantly lifts both arms in the air and roars, “the king has lost his crown!”, emphasising every word. It led to many feeling that the game had passed Capes by and that he was too old to be a force any more. Naturally, Capes felt otherwise.
1985 – Long live the King
Capes got his chance to respond to Jón Páll Sigmarsson and the critics who wrote him off on route to this second WSM title a year later. Competing against Sigmarsson in the final event – the loading race – he does enough to secure victory and triumphantly shouts, “the King is not dead!”
1985 – Roar of triumph
“Grizzly” Rick Brown became a fan favourite during his time competing at WSM. In the lead-up to the Giant Bell Hold in the 1985 competition he had been disappointed in his performance. Brown had powerful arms and knew he could make a statement in the event. He did more than that, and comfortably won. His reaction, and fearsome flexing, after the win was a sight to behold.
1988 – Pride comes before a fall
Part of what made Bill Kazmaier such an iconic strongman was how much of a showman he was. He didn’t just win, he told everyone how good he was while doing it. During 1988’s Drag Race he was comfortably ahead of Jón Páll Sigmarsson, but instead focusing on a comfortable victory he pointed and laughed an exaggerated “Ha! Ha! Ha!” at the Icelandic giant. As he laughs he loses his footing and tumbles backwards giving Sigmarsson a chance to catch up. The fact that Kazmaier still won after falling over is a testament to his strength and power.
1994 – Sun City victory
The Atlas Stones race is one of the most frequently exciting events in World’s Strongest Man. But throughout all the years, perhaps the most thrilling instance of this iconic event was the 1994 final between Magnús Ver Magnússon and Manfred Hoeberl in Sun City, South Africa. This back and forth race goes at a seemingly impossible speed, with Hoeberl taking an early lead. Magnússon somehow finds an extra gear and overtakes, snatching the win and his second World’s Strongest Man title.
1995 – Arm break heartbreak
At first glance the arm wrestling event between Magnus Samuelsson and Nathan Jones looks like a cruel joke at the expense of Samuelsson. Jones dwarfs him and it’s hard to imagine how this could be a fair competition. However, when the event starts Samuelsson’s arm doesn’t move and it’s Jones who’s straining and shouting. Something has to give and, shockingly, it’s Jones’ arm, which breaks under the pressure. Samuelsson is classy in victory and profusely apologises, showing the sportsmanship that help propel him through his illustrious career.
2006 – Underdog story
To say Phil Pfister was an outside bet in the 2006 World’s Strongest Man would be an understatement. He hadn’t competed in World’s Strongest Man since an 18th place finish in 2003 and, after losing the first couple of events in the 2006 tournament, most people had written him off. But Pfister had other ideas. He stormed back, winning five events in a row, including setting a world record on the notoriously tough Fingal’s Fingers. It all culminated in an incredibly tight Atlas Stones final, where Pfister dethroned reigning champion, Mariusz Pudzianowski.
2008 – History is made
It seemed like American Derek Poundstone would stand in the way of Mariusz Pudzianowski winning an historic 5th title. In the final Atlas Stones event Poundstone was leading has he lifted the 5th stone but a disastrous miscalculation meant he didn’t quite get it up onto the platform. The fumble was all that Pudzianowski needed. He took the victory and made history.
2014 – The god of thunder
Hafþór “Thor” Björnsson and Brian Shaw’s competitive rivalry is one of the most fun WSM stories in recent years. And nowhere is it more apparent than during the Keg Toss event. Back in 2014 Shaw set an astonishing World Record time of 16.95 seconds, blowing the previous best out of the water. Afterwards, the usually reserved American declared the event “easy” and said he felt the time wasn’t beatable. Unfortunately for him the record only stood for a few short minutes. Björnsson was next up and shocked the world when he posts a time of 16.35 seconds. Incredible.