I came into the 2017 World’s Strongest Man contest on a high following the my wins at the Arnold Classic Strongman World Finals in Columbus, OH and the Arnold Classic Strongman in Australia. I was feeling very confident in my abilities but unfortunately as often happens with WSM I didn’t get the information about the events we would be competing in until very late in my prep which made the specific preparation very difficult. More specifically after I found out what the events would be I didn’t get exact rules of those events until about 10 days out from me leaving for Botswana. To give you an example one event in particular I guessed wrong on was the deadlift, I found out we had deadlift and I immediately guessed it would be for reps since we had a max deadlift in the 2016 final and they have never had a deadlift for max in consecutive years since I have been competing in WSM, I was wrong and I got the news of max deadlift being in the final about 10 days before I left which left me no time to get my body fully ready for a huge deadlift as I had been prepping for reps. I went in the day I found out and worked up to 970 lbs which I was happy about but it felt like quite a shock to my body. Often times this is what happens with strongman and I do try to train to be good at every variation of every event but to get ready for a huge deadlift it is always best to prep specifically to that if at all possible. This would prove to be a big turning point in the contest but lets talk about the qualifiers first.
When I got the qualifier information I knew that my path to try to win my 5th WSM title would not be an easy one. I was grouped up with JF Caron and Matjaz Belsak, both of whom had made the final with me in 2016 and were having great contest results leading up to WSM. Outside of that I also had Mark Felix who has been a finalist before as well as a couple up and comers in Colm Wolfe and Tom Stoltman. So on paper my group was not going to be easy to finish top 2 in to make it through to the final. As we went through the qualifier events I never got to take it easy as I have in the past and this year they had changed the last event in the qualifiers to Last Man Standing Atlas Stone over the bar. I knew when this was announced and even more when the weight was picked at a 160kg/352lbs that I wanted no part of doing this event as it was going to be terrible. Luckily the top finisher in every group got an automatic spot in the the final and got to sit out the Last Man Standing event so that was my goal. I was able to battle all the guys in my group and it was a good fight. Both Mark Felix and Tom Stoltman had to pull out due to getting injuries so we were down to 4 athletes by the 4th event of the qualifiers. Outside of not wanting to see anyone get hurt it makes it harder to split points when you only have 4 competitors instead of 6 but I was able to overcome that and even though I still had to work going into the 5th event I was able to finish after that and get my automatic spot in the final so I was really happy. I felt really bad for the three guys in my group who had to do the last man standing event and I think Belsak ended up doing 23-24 reps over the bar with the 160kg/352lb stone before just shaking JF Caron’s hand and even though he could have done more he knew that JF was more fresh and could have gone on longer. The weight was by far too light and it made for an event that wasn’t as fun to compete in or watch. If the stone was much heavier it would have been a lot better and more suspenseful which is what the organizers were wanting.
The final was set and for the most part all the big name athletes had made it through. The favorites on paper were myself, Hafthor Bjornsson, and Eddie Hall as we were the three podium finishers from 2016. The events chosen were Tire Flip and Backwards Drag, Squat for Reps, Viking Press, Airplane Pull, Max Deadlift, and Atlas Stones. Most if not all the athletes were really shocked at the finals events when they were announced due to how static they were. I personally don’t think there should have been a Squat and Deadlift in the final together with only 6 events being done…but I have said for years that they both should be done and that the final should be 8-10 events to make the final a better test. Unfortunately I don’t make the rules so the events were what they were. One of the events I was looking forward to the most was the tire flip and drag as we had not seen a tire flip at WSM since 2010 and I had never had flip and drag in WSM…it was suppose to be more of a classic strongman event. Unfortunately the backwards drag equipment was deemed not worthy of the final and that part of the event was removed. Most competitors thought the tire flip would then be for more flips or for a longer distance but we were all told the day before the contest it would only be for 6 flips. So it turned into a sprint and several of the guys finished in less than 30 seconds and I was able to win this event which was a great start to my finals.
From there I was also looking forward to the squat event because over the years so many people have doubted my squat abilities. I trained hard for the squat and this year they had made a change and added pads to the top of the safeties/depth bars on either side that you have to touch at the bottom of your squat. I thought it was very smart to add the pads because so many guys have got injured by hitting the metal globes on the metal supports and it throws them off balance causing injuries. I had a very specific game plan for this event and decided I would wear a squat suit but not wear knee wraps and only knee sleeves, I was the only competitor that made this choice and it proved to be the correct one for me. I knew that I could handle the weight at 725 lbs/330kg for a lot of reps and the knee wraps would cut off my circulation and cut my ability to work longer and do more reps. I had been set to what I felt was a very low depth but I worked through it basically pausing every rep at the bottom because I couldn’t feel the globes touching the pads. I got into a nice rhythm of reps and the weight was feeling easy. I felt like I was going to be able to go for more reps and the whistle blew and they told me to stop…there was a 60 second time limit! Why there would ever need to be a time limit for squats doesn’t make sense to me…you should just squat until you cant any longer to find out who the best is but this was my mistake for not catching that in the rules. The extra reps on squat would have been huge for me as I ended in a 4 way tie for second place but I couldn’t dwell on that I had to move forward to Viking Press next.
The rules for Viking Press had been changed the day before the finals started as well and we were going to be allowed to set the Viking press down and pick it back up as long as we were inside the time limit. Normally Viking press is just done for as many reps as you can do and when you put it down you are finished…it shouldn’t really have a time limit much like squat for reps in my opinion but again we all have to play by the rules that are set in place by the head referee. I felt good about the Viking press and had trained it hard. I wish I could have worked on my timing and strategy more with setting it down and I rested a bit too long and should have gone quicker but I was pleased with my result for the most part getting 13 reps and landing in 3rd place on the event. That was the end of day one and I was in second place only a half point behind Eddie Hall heading into what I thought would be my stronger day of competition.
I woke up feeling a bit sore but with a lot of fight still in me. All of the competitors had to get to the airport so we could start the plane pull as soon as the sun was up. I think I set my alarm for 4 am or something so I could eat and do all my normal pre contest prep things in the morning. I had timed it all out as I am sure all the other guys did and the plane showed up around 2 hours late. I was prepared for this and got an extra meal in while we were waiting but we all certainly didn’t feel great about having to wait that long in the tent before the plane pull. Truck/plane pull has always been somewhat of a banker event for me and since 2011 I have either won the event or taken 2nd place so needless to say I was confident in my pulling abilities. I knew if I won the plane pull the contest was basically over with Deadlift and Atlas Stones left…. even with missing out on the extra points on the Squat. I started my pull and immediately something didn’t feel right…I just could not seem to get the plane up to speed and I pushed harder but I just never felt like I got it moving fast at all. I finished the event and ended up in 5th place which was my worst finish and really made me question what happened…to this day I really don’t have a good answer. Well after that result the contest wasn’t over at all it was actually now a very close race and I needed to try to win both the Deadlift and the Atlas Stones.
I went out all guns blazing on the deadlift but as I mentioned at the beginning of this write up not getting to prep specifically for a max deadlift hurt me here. I knew there were going to be some big pulls and again this year I was the only competitor that chose to not wear a deadlift suit. Maybe I should have reconsidered and got one for this event but in the past I have been fine without one. We got up to some big weights and as I got into my 460kg/1016lb pull about halfway through my hamstring popped. I kept grinding and was able to gut the lift out because it was so important. I immediately dropped to my knee because I knew it was bad and I stayed there for a min. I never like to show weakness at all and I to be honest I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk but I stood up with some help and walked off under my own power. I knew that was my last attempt at the deadlift and Eddie Hall was able to pull a very impressive 470kg/1035lb Deadlift to win the event, I tied for second with Hafthor Bjornsson who really impressed me with his lift at 460kg/1016lb. I was now in a spot where I didn’t know what to do. I called over one of the therapists to help me and tell me how bad my leg was…it was killing me. I asked him if he could just put the hottest cream he had on it and wrap it up as tight as possible so I could attempt to do the Atlas Stones and he did.
I had a very hard time getting on my gear for the Atlas Stones and I was very lucky to have my good friend and a guy who trained with me for years, Andy Shaddeau, there in Botswana to help me. He got everything ready and even tied my shoes for me because I couldn’t reach down to do it myself. I started moving around and was trying to get down like I was going to have to in order to pick a stone up and it wasn’t going well. I had checked the points and I had locked up 3rd place and could have thrown in the towel but that’s not how I operate when I still had a chance to win if I could win the Atlas Stones and have the right things happen. I just decided to go out and give it everything I had. I approached the first stone cautiously and went down to pick it up…it started moving and hurt but I was able to do it. Then I went on to the second, it also moved and I loaded it. I did the same with the 3rd and 4th as well. I was just waiting for my body to say no and for me to fail to load a stone but I started to get more confident I could finish the series after the 3rd. I loaded the 5th and final stone and was in so much pain I almost didn’t care what my time was and started to head off to the medical tent. I took a few steps and then my leg just said “no” and I dropped to the ground. I have never done that and I don’t plan on every doing it again because I hate showing weakness and even though I was hurt and in a ton of pain I wanted to walk off with my head up and not go down. I knew I still had a small chance to win because Eddie Hall was having a hard time getting the 5th stone loaded, but in fact he had loaded the 4th stone fast enough to secure the win. He ended up getting the 5th stone loaded but it didn’t have an impact on the result at that point. I walked away frustrated and in a lot of pain for sure with a 3rd place finish.
In looking back at the contest the two biggest places I dropped points were in the squat because of running out of time and then on the plane pull which like I said has been a banker event for me in the past. If either of these would have ended better I could have very easily won my 5th title even without some of my best events being in the final. No excuses and regardless of the events, rule changes, or me not getting information sooner I still gave everything I had and laid it on the line to try to win. Working through the hamstring injury and battling through everything made me stronger and I will come back even more hungry in 2018 to get my 5th World’s Strongest Man title.