From Waffles to Weightlifting: Eleiko Barbell

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In many ways the gold standard of the Iron game, few lifters will go through their careers without using an Eleiko barbell at some point in time. An iconic range in the weightlifting community, the history of this Swedish company is often forgotten. Indeed, so commonplace have Eleiko products become, be they barbells or plates, that we often take their very existence for granted. Having previously examined the history of the barbell, it seems only fitting to examine one of the most iconic barbells around.

When one digs a little deeper however, a bizarre story of waffles, weightlifting and innovation begins to emerge.

Early Beginnings

What was Eleiko’s first product?

That’s easy right? Barbells surely. That’s obvious!

Not that obvious in fact. Founded in Halmstad, Sweden at the end of the 1920s, Eleiko’s early origins were very much removed from the gym floor. If anything, they were much more suited to the kitchen.

Quite remarkably, this weightlifting Goliath began by selling waffle irons and toasters on a very regional scale within Sweden. Nothing glamorous, just well made products, produced using top quality iron. A commendable product but nothing to write home about and certainly nothing of any real interest to veterans of the iron game. Unless waffles are your Achilles Heel that is. For anyone wondering, Eleiko itself stands for ‘Electrical Installation Limited Company’, a name which reveals its humble, waffle beginnings.

Despite the somewhat banal nature of this venture, waffle irons and toasters proved to be a lucrative business. Over the following three decades, the company continued to grow, employing more workers and expanding its production process. Importantly for us, the company was continually on the look out for new ideas and opportunities. An open approach to business that undoubtedly explains their conversion to weightlifting goods.

From Waffles to Weightlifting

In 1950s Sweden, the weightlifting community was facing a seemingly never-ending problem. Weightlifters were getting stronger and stronger while bars seemed to be getting weaker and weaker. As athletes began to push past the records of yore, the equipment was failing to match. Bars quite literally snapping was becoming an all too regular feature of competition weightlifting.

Just imagine the shock of having a barbell snap mid-lift. Apart from the ego trip it’d cause, you’d be in for some surprise! Thankfully such things have largely become a thing of the past. For most of us anyway…

 

In any case, this was a rather serious problem as one can imagine. Luckily people set about finding a resolution. One being an amateur Swedish weightlifter by the name of Mr. Hellström. When he was not on the platform, Hellström was supervising the production of Eleiko iron waffles. So concerned had Hellström become that he devised the idea of producing a new, stronger form of weightlifting bar. In an environment where a premium brand of iron, straight from Northern Sweden none the less, made up the majority of products, Hellström was in the right place.

In 1957, Hellström approached one of his higher ups, a managing director named Mrs Johansson to secure permission for a prototype Elekio Barbell. Hellström and a small cohort went to work, and very soon the first batch of Elekio Barbells had been produced. Much to the delight of Mrs Johansson pictured below

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From Prototype to Platform

Owing to a lack of available information, it’s not exactly clear when the first batch of barbells and dumbbells were finally finished. What we do know however is that the first time the barbells were used in competition was 1963. Six years after the initial idea was floated. Interestingly, the company itself dates its ‘new’ creation to 1963.

Moving in to an entirely different market, the company spent several years perfecting and testing the rigidity of the bars. While much of this was an entirely new experience for the engineers and designers, some efforts were made to return the product to familiar territory. Allegedly, and I like to believe its true, the knurling of the Eleiko bar is taken directly from the patterns found on the waffle iron.

Fun facts aside, once the bar was deemed fit for public use, the company set about introducing it to the weightlifting community. In 1963, the bar debuted at the World Championships held in Stockholm. A global event, which saw 134 lifters from 32 different nations compete for gold. A global event, which would eventually see the USSR sweep the competitions with 7 medals. A victory no doubt resented by their Cold War nemesis the United States, who managed a paltry 2 medals.

Politics aside, the Eleiko bar had caught the interest of the weightlifting community. Throughout the entire competition the bar had held its form. No unwanted snaps, bends or disfigurations. In a sport used to shoddy equipment, the Bar was a revelation. That’s at least the impression one gets from the newspaper reports:

When the Eleiko bar was introduced at the World Championships in Stockholm 1963 the world of weightlifting was stunned – a bar that could last an entire competition without bending or cracking!

No one had never seen anything like it.

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Marian Zielinski from Poland,  setting the first world record with an Eleiko Bar in 1963.

Further Expansion

Soon after the competition, the company was inundated with orders from around the globe. People were seemingly fascinated with the product. In a relatively small market, Eleiko quickly emerged as one of the top producers alongside Hoffman’s York Barbell and of course, the Schnell barbell used during the 1972 Olympics. So quickly did Eleiko rise within the weightlifting community that they were the first company to be certified by the International Weightlifting Federation.

In the 1980s, Ekeiko became the official supplier to the International Powerlifting Federation and in 2012, Eleiko was the sole supplier for the 2012 Olympics held in London.

Some More Fun Facts

  • The strength rating of the bars is 215 000 PSI.
  • All bars are individually tested in accordance with the Eleiko quality policy and provided with a serial number.
  •  The discs come fully colored as per the Olympic color scale.
  • The Eleiko Sports Training Bars have eight precision bearings which guarantee superior sleeve rotation and durability.
  • The Eleiko Olympic WL bars have ten precision bearings in order to optimize performance for professional weightlifting with extreme requirements
  • The Eleiko Olympic WL Discs are tested for 5000 drops, the Eleiko Sport Training Discs for 3000.
  •  Disc hole tolerance: Eleiko Olympic WL Discs: 50,5±0,05 mm vs.disc hole tolerance: Eleiko Sport
  • Training Discs: 50,4-51,0 mm to enable easier loading.
  • Eleiko products are delivered from Sweden to 160 countries.

 

References and Further Reading

Aips.com article on Elieko and London 2012. Available Here.

Barbell Shrugged – Eleiko Podcast. Available Here.

Dresdin Archibald, Weightlifting Equipment Through the Ages. Available Here.

Eleiko Website – History – Available Here.

Eleiko Pamphlet. Available Here.

 

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