Scots v. Sandows

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Though the fitness industry of the early 1900s pales in comparison to the present, there is little denying that the twin evils of advertising and marketing were as important back then as they are today.

This was especially the case for Eugen Sandow, whom many credited with having the world’s most perfectly developed body. This claim, as can be guessed, often invoked the ire of Sandow’s fellow physical culturists who felt that although genetically endowed, Sandow was far from the world’s best athlete.

The animosity between Sandow and others in his field often prompted weightlifting competitions between Sandow and others, the most notable being the contest between Sandow and a fellow showman by the name of Samson. On this occasion, Sandow not only matched his competitors feats of strength, but bettered them.

This contest took place in the early 1890s and from then on, Sandow was regularly described as one of the world’s strongest men. It is surprising to note then the relative calm that surrounded newspaper reports in 1898 regarding Sandow’s defeat in a weightlifting competition.

The competition, which has seemingly evaded the historian’s eye up to this point, saw the Prussian showman attempt to set a record in the One Hand Lift. Despite achieving a rather impressive lift, Sandow was on this occasion, denied.

According to the Amateur Weightlifting Club in London, a body overseeing such records, Sandow’s 180 lb. lift was ineligible for the record as it had been matched by two of the club’s members.

In fact, one such member went even further and lifted 200 lb. in one hand thereby surpassing Sandow’s record by a whopping 20 lb. The man in question was Launceston Elliot, who just two years earlier had secured a gold medal in the 1896 Olympics. Hailing from Scotland, Elliot had actually be trained by Sandow in his early teen years making his achievements over Sandow’s records even more interesting.

Despite the fact that the pupil had far surpassed the teacher, newspapers of the day remained relatively neutral about the event. Elliot continued his weightlifting and showman career well into the 1920s but could never come close to Sandow’s marketability despite his superior strength.

A timely reminder that the media and advertising often influence who rises to the top in the fitness game!

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