The Worlds Strongest Man Classics – Franco Columbu’s tragic fridge race

TAGS: WSM Archive and tagged . | | by Rob Pratt

The year is 1977, the first World Strongest Man competition is in full swing. One of the most gruelling events was just getting underway: The Fridge Carry.

For those not in the know, the event back then involved carrying the substantial weight of a refrigerator on your back for 40 yards while racing an opponent. It’s definitely not something you want to try at home (nor should you attempt to!).

Taking on this event was 24-year-old Italian, Franco Columbu. Weighing in at just 182lbs, at a short but stocky 5’5 (a reported 0.5 shorter than the next athlete) Columbu was up against 35-year-old Bob Young from the USA. However, no one could have guessed what happened next.

It was a mere 3.3 seconds into the race that something went horribly wrong. The popular Columbu stumbled and fell to the ground, fridge included. With doctors rushing and surrounding him, it took a while to realise just what had happened.

Those of a squeamish disposition may want avoid the clip and just read below.
You have been warned.

The weight of the fridge was thought to have broken Columbu’s leg, but in fact it was Columbu that stated (quite calmly), “I know it’s not broken… I am a chiropractor myself and I saw it was dislocated. The biggest problem is that is uncomfortable, but it’s not too much pain.” As a qualified chiropractor he was correct and this unfortunately took him out of the competition. He mentioned quite matter-of-factly that it was his technique that led to the accident “I was going too fast you see, I wanted to win because I was behind on points… I began to run and that was the wrong thing, you can only walk fast”. Incredible.

Remarkably he came in a respectable 5th place in the 1977 World’s Strongest Man with the 22.25 points he had accumulated from previous rounds helping him through. Winner Bruce Wilhelm of the USA took the first World’s Strongest Man trophy with 63.25 points; Columbu’s opponent on that day Bob Young came in second with 43.25 points.

Columbu took three years to recover from his injury, but went on to compete in Mr Olympia and won the Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 as well as appearing in such films as Conan The Barbarian and The Terminator. Columbu even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for his superior lung-power, blowing up a hot water bottle until it burst in just 55 seconds. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day.

The Super Yoke Fridge Carry was reintroduced to the competition in 2004, now a cross bar is used to stabilise the fridges, with weights ranging between 415kg – 900lbs plus. The Fridge Carry is one of the great Strongman events. Though, as Columbu showed us, it’s not an event to be taken lightly.


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