You can’t talk about great strongmen without mentioning Jon Pall Sigmarsson. He was a complete strength athlete. From competing in strongman, Highland Games, Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and even Bodybuilding, Jon Pall embodied his Icelandic Viking heritage in all that he did. It was the combination of his physical ability and larger-than-life personality that have left a legacy in the world of strength.
Born on a farm in Solvangur, Iceland on April 28, 1960, Jon Pall would spend most of his youth hunting seals, gathering eggs, and helping to prepare them. Like many athletes, Jon Pall lived a very physical lifestyle. Daily chores including carrying two pales (about 24 kg) full of water on a wooden, square frame back to his farm (giving him practice on the Farmer’s carry even when he was older). However, he wasn’t without great brains either. The family worked from dawn until dusk but after dinner, Jon Pall would spend his free-time reading books of all kinds. In particular, he enjoyed reading about strong, robust people, especially Tarzan.
This idea of physicality was ingrained in him from a very young age and it led him to consider becoming a carpenter as a career. Even as a teenager, he prided himself in his hard work ethic as well as on getting the job done quickly. The latter of which would become a key trait in his strongman career, even at the towering six foot 3 height and 294 lbs frame that he would eventually rise to.
However, his interests would change as he became exposed to the gym, spending his leisure time there. Jon Pall would begin exploring the strength sport of Olympic weightlifting but due to issues with straightening one arm he would move on to powerlifting.
It was in powerlifting that he would make a name for himself as a great showman as well as great lifter. Jon Pall was normally a quiet person but on the powerlifting platform, his bashfulness and love of the sport would shine. There would be such a contrast from the polite person giving interviews and the rambunctious competitor shouting “I am from Iceland!” or “How about that!” during competition.
Strength training would consume Jon Pall, becoming a top priority. In fact, he never drank, even when his fellow Icelandic teammates did so. Ragnheiour Sverrisdottir, the mother of Jon Pall’s son, was so impressed by Jon Pall’s discipline against alcohol that even she gave up drinking. She recounts that the only time he would drink was some red wine on Christmas, to which he was so ashamed of that he would try and hide the bottle from his father.
Moreover, on one account while on a date, Sigmarsson would devour an entire tray of eggs out of the fridge. His friend’s would joke with him about how much he stuffed his blender with. In fact, even his food was larger than life including shakes filled with tuna, eggs, banana, and milk. In one interview, he claimed to have gone up to 20,000 calories while also stating that if he were to take less than 6,000 calories that he would lose body mass. However, he was not unfamiliar with dieting down.
“I’m a little bit crazy, when I’m competing. I have to do it crazy.” – Jon Pall Sigmarsson.
While he competed in strength sports, Jon Pall Sigmarsson would also compete in bodybuilding shows in Iceland. In fact, it was due to him that the sport rose in popularity.
As a young, 24 years old competitor at World Strongest Man, Sigmarsson would claim his first title as World’s Strongest Man. He would beat Britain’s Geoff Capes (the world favorite) in an arm wrestling competition, shouting “The king, has lost, his crown!”
Sigmarsson was not the kind of person to be consumed by his losses. He kept his antics inside the sport and when he was off, it was as if he shed off that persona to take on a calmer, more receiving one. In that way he was incredible in managing his emotions and energy. Yes, he was known to stomp on the ground and roar when losing loses (a show of disappointment in himself)an event but he wouldn’t despair over his. He’d take them in stride.
In one powerlifting battle with Canadian, Tom Magee, in the deadlift, Magee challenged Sigmarsson on the deadlift. The Canadian was able to hoist 1180 lbs on the deadlift. Unfortunately Jon Pall could not answer. Yet, rather than basking in despair, the ice giant ended up blowing kisses to the crowd around him.
Amazingly, Magee would go on to show real admiration for Jon Pall and the two sides of his personality. Magee described how awestruck he was of Jon Pall’s personality as a true Viking in competition but also the gentleman that he was as a person.
Bystanders would be able to see how Jon Pall would push all of his emotions into his effort at an event or lift. It was this show of good character that would win Jon Pall Sigmarsson “Personality of the Competition”.
Jon Pall gained even more fame through his epic rivalry with the Wisconsin powerhouse, Bill Kazmaier. It was Jon Pall’s athleticism versus Kazmaier’s brute strength that would clash in an iconic era of strongman in 1987. Of note was their clash in the 1987 Pure Strength Competition in Scotland.
Both were in serious shape. While doing front holds, Sigmarsson’s coach screamed Kazmaier’s name (an event that Jon Pall was weak in compared to Kazmaier) as if it would help eliminate Jon Pall’s lactic acid. Kazmaier caught up to Jon Pall in the sack race. The weight-over-the-bar even was disastrous for Kazmaier putting Sigmarsson in the lead. However, it was the ultimate victory in the 5 Atlas stone gauntlet that Jon Pall would seal the deal with his athleticism. He would lift all 5 stones in under 30 seconds.
The sport would take its toll on both of them, as Jon Pall became injured in 1989. However, he would make a comeback in 1990 for a fourth title at World’s Strongest Man. He won by a half point in the 200m dash with a 220 lbs backpack , overcoming American O.D. Wilson.
His death and legacy
Eventually, Jon Pall would take a break from competing and focus on building his own gym and to focus more time with his son, Sigmar. Unfortunately, while training the deadlift in his gym in Iceland, Jon Pall suffered a traumatic heart rupture. On January 16, 1993, Jon Pall would pass away from his heart attack, at the young age of 32. To this day, almost 15 years after his death, Jon Pall Sigmarsson’s name is echoed in strongman circles. He was such an athlete, showman, and overall person that his loss is felt to this day. From bringing bodybuilding to Iceland to empowering people of his home country, Sigmarsson remains an icon in the world of strength.
“What is there to life if you cannot do deadlift?” – Jon Pall Sigmarsson
Jon Pall Sigmarsson documentary “LARGER THAN LIFE”