Sports Illustrated, ‘Titans of Testosterone’, 1999 World’s Strongest Man Article.

Titans Of Testosterone The (mostly) juiced-up athletes competing for the title of World’s Strongest Man tote stones, toss kegs and tow trucks for puny paychecks and the glory of exposure on late-night cable TV

By Jack McCallum

You see them at all hours of the day and night, lifting cars,
pulling buses, lugging around absurdly large rocks. They are big
men with big arms, big chests, big shoulders, big legs and
sometimes big bellies; sweaty, scary men trussed in bandages and
harnesses and belts; gargantuan mummies come eye-poppingly to
life. They compete in something called World’s Strongest Man
(hereafter WSM), and their esoteric exercitations are replayed
with numbing frequency on ESPN and ESPN2. But it’s
difficult–particularly at 4:30 in the morning–to wrap your
mind around this whole strongman thing. You have questions.

Who dreams up these events? Why do the men compete in them?
What’s a Husafell Stone? Is this strongman thing for real, or is
it some sort of ringless pro wrestling? Are these titans of
testosterone paid well, or are they ordinary working stiffs who
might one day show up at your door with your new sofa from
Sears? Are they related to Lou Ferrigno and those other
incredible hulks who lugged around refrigerators on CBS Sports
Spectacular 20 years ago under the hawkeyed gaze of Brent
Musburger? Are WSM fans stuck in a time warp, or are the same
competitions indeed being broadcast over and over? How would
Mark McGwire do in WSM? Most intriguingly, is every strongman
named Magnus?

You’ll get your answers, but first, for all you bleary-eyed WSM
aficionados, a new show will soon be available for your
repetitive viewing pleasure. The 1999 WSM, the sport’s de facto
world championship, was contested last month on the
Mediterranean island of Malta. From that competition Trans World
International (TWI), a division of all-powerful IMG, will slice
and dice 11 shows that will appear next year on ESPN and ESPN2,
mostly the latter. Departing from magazine policy, we will not
divulge the results from Malta, lest we spoil the intrigue, but
we can tell you that a Magnus was in contention. After a few
months and a few dozen reruns, the ’99 WSM will no doubt begin
to resemble the endlessly replayed ’98 WSM from Tangier, Morocco
(whose winner was a Magnus, by the way). ESPN2 will also
continue to broadcast a batch of the old CBS strongman shows,
including the ’78 competition, which featured Musburger doing
his best Mike Wallace impersonation. “Tell me,” he asked
shot-putter Brian Oldfield, one of the competitors, “do you
believe in sex before the refrigerator race?”

WSM broadcasts on the Deuce do quite well, averaging about 0.5,
better than the channel’s overall 0.4 rating for college
basketball and not far from the 0.6 it got for non-U.S. games in
the soccer Women’s World Cup this summer. ESPN would gladly
consider increasing WSM coverage, particularly if there were
more new competitions, but TWI, which owns the rights to WSM,
has no plans to expand the schedule.

“There’s not one viewer in a million who can name two of the
world’s strongest men,” says Barry Frank, an IMG senior vice
president and the inventor of WSM. That ignores the fact that if
a viewer knows the name Magnus, he automatically knows at least
two of the world’s strongest men, but, well, Frank should know
whereof he speaks. He is the Fred Silverman of sports TV, having
also dreamed up Superstars, Battle of the Network Stars and
American Gladiators, a resume that should send him straight to a
hell in which My Mother the Car is rerun 24 hours a day. Still,
Frank’s programs, once termed trashsports by this publication,
have raked in a lot of loot for CBS and ABC (Frank was a
high-ranking executive at both) as well as IMG.

Frank’s frank talk makes the strongmen feel like picking up,
say, a caboose and dropping it on his head, but there is nothing
they can do about it. Executives of the International Federation
of Strength Athletes (IFSA), the main organizing body of the
sport, are subject to Frank’s whims.

To escape what he calls the “tyranny” of TWI and IMG, Manfred
Hoeberl, a former strongman competitor, has organized a splinter
group of behemoths who compete primarily on a European circuit
under the banner of Fullstrength Challenge. Hoeberl, an Austrian
who finished second (to a Magnus, by the way) in the 1994 WSM
and who is probably the only sports exec whose biceps once
measured more than 25 inches, has already lured away one top
name (a Magnus, by the way) from WSM. But Frank professes not to
devote even a moment of thought to Hoeberl’s group, and he says
he believes ESPN viewers will blissfully tune in to WSM no
matter which Samsons are spilling the sweat. “There are plenty
of strongmen out there,” Frank says.

Actually, there aren’t. Between 40 and 50 strongmen compete
regularly on the two circuits, each of which includes maybe a
dozen international events per year. Even the grittiest of these
guys enters no more than seven contests, because of injuries and
other wear and tear on the body, and only about 10 of them can
be considered world-class grunters and groaners. Do you know
many muscleheads who can tie a harness around their waists and
pull three 7 1/2-ton Ryder trucks along a 30-meter course? Do
you know many who can lug 440-pound weights up a steep set of
stairs? The most misleading aspect of WSM broadcasts is that
they show mostly the successful lifts, carries, pulls and heaves
of the world’s best strongmen, giving the impression that the
events are completed with relative ease.

Though strongman competitions have a sideshow-pro wrestling
ambience–bikini-clad women are invariably involved–there is no
faking and no predetermined winner. The athletes, many of whom
are heroes in home countries far from these shores, are deadly
serious about their sport. Competing takes a frightful toll on
their bodies, and part of the appeal for the viewing audience is
the possibility of witnessing a gruesome injury. Biceps tear
like tissue paper, disks disintegrate, knees collapse.

Gary Mitchell, who has entered strongman competitions for eight
years but has never made it near the top of the sport, has had
10 knee operations (including two reconstructions), biceps tears
in both arms, two herniated disks removed, a shoulder operation,
and hamstring and quadriceps tears too numerous to mention. Mark
Philippi, the director of strength and conditioning at UNLV,
ruptured his left patella tendon at the ’98 WSM and still has
the cable and pin that doctors removed from his knee a few
months ago. That injury–along with a torn left biceps–occurred
as he lost his balance trying to push over a 1,720-pound car on
the beach. Car accident, you see, does not have the same
connotation for these guys that it has for you and me.

Philippi’s rehab went well, and he competed in Malta. Another
top American, Phil Pfister, a 28-year-old fireman from
Charleston, W.Va., did not compete, because he couldn’t get time
off from his job. A third relatively well-known U.S. strongman,
Harold (Chief Iron Bear) Collins, a Native American from North
Carolina, was not in Malta, but at 42 he wouldn’t have won
anyway. Collins is considered by his colleagues to be an
extremely strong man but one who just won’t dig deep enough to
win–won’t eat asphalt, which is WSM-ese for getting low enough
to the ground to pull a bus, van or other multi-ton vehicle.

An American has not won the title of world’s strongest man since
’82, and there are several theories as to why. During the first
WSM, at Universal Studios in Los Angeles in ’77, Franco Columbu
of Southern California, who at one time held the bodybuilding
titles of Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia, dislocated his knee
during the refrigerator race and sued TWI and CBS, among other
defendants, claiming that he fell because the apparatus that
held the refrigerator to his back had not been properly tested.
Columbu, who was subsequently used as a poster boy for tort
reform, was awarded just over $1 million by a jury in 1982. The
first six WSMs were held in the U.S., but after losing the suit,
Frank moved the event to various exotic locales where liability
suits are rare, and U.S. competitors have not thrived.

Predictably, there are those who believe that life in these
United States is too easy and that athletes reared in more
hostile environments, such as Scandinavia, tend to be tougher.
America’s largest men do not, as a rule, gravitate to WSM. They
gravitate to the weight room at Nebraska, whence they will one
day emerge to sign NFL contracts befitting their shirt sizes. Nor
is there much of a strongman tradition in the U.S. Bekilted
Scotsmen can recite chapter and verse about the muscular tests of
the Highland Games, on which WSM is loosely modeled, but the
historical models for Americans are nail benders,
cannonball-in-the-gut clowns and other circus performers. There
is, however, one recent exception.

Bill Kazmaier, three times (’80 to ’82) the winner of WSM, is
the color commentator on WSM broadcasts, a hulking legend who
still looms over the event. Kaz, 45, looks as if his body parts
were forged in different machine shops and then carried to a
place of assembly, where a huge granite head was set on a pair
of comically muscular shoulders, onto which were grafted a pair
of stevedore’s arms, the process continuing down to two loglike
legs.

“I had never seen such density of muscle,” Scottish strength
historian David Webster wrote of Kaz in his book Sons of Samson.
“He seemed to have muscles in places that other people didn’t
have places.”

“A few years ago he showed up for a broadcast,” says Jamie
Reeves, a British strongman who competed against Kazmaier many
times and won WSM in ’89, “and 10 guys took the first plane out
because they thought he was in the field.” After watching a
replay of his commentary in Morocco last year, however, Kazmaier
declared himself “a total slouch” and got back in shape. He talks
coyly of a comeback.

Many people consider Kazmaier, who sells fitness equipment in
Auburn, Ala., the strongest man who ever lived. One of those
people is Kazmaier himself. His world-record powerlifting total
of 2,425 pounds stood for 18 years, until suburban Chicago lifter
Eddie Coan broke it by 38 pounds in December 1998. Kaz seems most
proud of his accomplishments with dumbbells, particularly the
one-handed press he made nine years ago with a replica of the
Thomas Inch dumbbell, named for a celebrated British strongman.
Only four men, says Kaz, had raised the thick-handled, 173-pound
dumbbell to a deadlift position–standing up straight while
holding the weight–before he did it on Oct. 13, 1990. He then
became the first man to raise it over his head.

Strongmen have passed many a night telling tales of Kaz. Reeves
marvels at the memory of Kaz’s hoisting a 220-pound sack of sand
and whipping through a 200-meter course in 42 seconds. Others
talk about the loading competition at the ’81 WSM during which
Kaz grabbed full beer kegs weighing 168 pounds as if they were
empty soup cans and tossed them into a truck instead of lifting
and cradling them and waddling with them to the truck, as the
other strongmen had done. “I made myself believe they weighed
nothing,” Kaz explains.

At the six WSMs in which Kaz competed (besides his three wins,
he finished second in ’88 and fourth in ’89), he was a fuming,
fussing menace to officials and fellow competitors. “If you want
to rob a bank,” says Kaz, “you start three fires somewhere else
in town. Diversionary tactics. Create animosity around the event
and anxiety in the competitors. I thrived on that.” Kaz would
hang out with the boys when the day was done, but there was a
part of him that he kept hidden. Even his closest friends on the
circuit didn’t know until they were told recently that Kaz’s
cousin Dick Kazmaier won the 1951 Heisman Trophy as a Princeton
halfback. Nor did Kaz ever talk much about his father, William,
the source of his motivation.

“My father always told me I’d be nothing but horses—,” says
Kazmaier, who is from Burlington, Wis. “He used to wake me up at
two in the morning to shovel snow, then make me shovel it again
before I went to school. It’s not natural to live a strongman’s
existence. It takes unusual motivation, a strange ear to hear
that strongman tune. I had it.”

Oh, did he ever have it. “Kaz was an evil, diabolical bastard,”
says Reeves in admiration. “The freakin’ prince of darkness.”

Mitchell puts it another way: “I have Kaz on speed dial, and it’s
like a rock-and-roller being able to call up Elvis.”

Kazmaier’s chief antagonist during his competitive days was Jon
Pall Sigmarsson, an Icelander who is to most European strongmen
what Kaz is to most U.S. strongmen. Sigmarsson, who surpassed
Kaz’s WSM title total (he won in ’84, ’86, ’88 and ’90), played
the role of happy-go-lucky jester to Kaz’s dark prince. Webster
says that perhaps the most memorable feat of strength he ever
saw involved Sigmarsson and a heavy, heart-shaped Husafell Stone
(its weight is not consistent but can reach 400 pounds), which,
according to a Norse saga, an Icelandic shepherd-warlord-priest
used to cover the pit in which he kept his flock. During an
exhibition in Sydney, no man succeeded in hoisting the Husafell
until Sigmarsson picked it up with great difficulty. He appeared
to struggle in his first few steps, but then, reports Webster,
“he started to dance and prance and waltz around and bow to
everyone in the audience, as if he were carrying a feather.
Never saw anything like it.” On Jan. 16, 1993, while engaged in
a deadlift workout, Sigmarsson collapsed and died of a heart
attack. He was 32.

Kazmaier and Sigmarsson form two sides of a triangle of WSM
legends. The third side is a Magnus. Which brings us to the
answers to your Magnus questions–and a few others.

Why is this a Magnus-icent sport?

Magnus Ver Magnusson, an Icelander whose hero was Sigmarsson,
tied the latter’s record by winning WSM four times–in ’91, ’94,
’95 and ’96. His name, loaded as it is with double-Magnus
ammunition, may be the most familiar one to WSM fans. As a
competitor he is a cross between Sigmarsson and Kazmaier: more
businesslike than the former, more fan-friendly than the latter.
He is big, but at 6’3″ and only 290 pounds, not outlandishly so,
and among his contemporaries his athleticism was unparalleled.
At 36, however, Ver Magnusson’s best days are behind him. His
knees are hurting. He underwent angioplasty to unblock an artery
in 1998 and hasn’t looked good since returning to competition.
Further, he was not at WSM in Malta because he defected to
Hoeberl’s group, whose members are banned from IFSA events. “I
would never say I am the best ever,” says Ver Magnusson. “I
think myself, Jon Pall Sigmarsson and Bill Kazmaier are together
on top.”

Ver Magnusson is not to be confused with Magnus Samuelsson, a
fourth-generation Swedish farmer who won the ’98 WSM in Morocco.
Like Ver Magnusson, Samuelsson is an intelligent, quick-witted
man whose friendly nature masks a deadly competitiveness. But he
is 6’6 1/2″ and weighs 317 pounds, many of them packed into
23-inch biceps. He got his competitive start in arm wrestling, an
event that was contested in the ’95 WSM, Samuelsson’s first. In
the final he defeated 6’10” Nathan (Megaman) Jones, breaking
Megaman’s arm in the process. The Latin root of magnificent is
magnus, meaning “great,” but neither Magnus Ver Magnusson nor
Magnus Samuelsson has any idea whether his parents were thinking
of grand size when they named him.

“I don’t know any other Magnuses except Magnus Ver and myself,”
says Samuelsson. “But I guess it can be confusing.”

Are all strongmen on juice?

Most of them are. One competitor estimates that only about 1% of
strongmen have never used anabolic steroids. (Kazmaier thinks
it’s closer to 50%.) Bruce Wilhelm, a silver medalist in
weightlifting at the ’76 Olympics and the winner of the first two
WSM competitions, says, “If you tested for drugs, you wouldn’t
have a contest.”

WSM was born in an era when anabolic steroids were an accepted
part of training. You worked yourself to death in the gym: four,
five, six hours a day of intense training. You injected juice or
took it in capsules to add strength and to enable you to train
through injuries and fatigue. You sucked down enormous quantities
of carbs and calories. You got as big and as strong as you could,
anyway you could. That was the culture, and to an extent, it’s
still the culture. But public opinion has turned against steroid
use. “The average American might be smoking weed and doing coke
and drunk on his ass,” says Wilhelm, “but he wants his athletes
clean.”

Reeves, now an IFSA official, and Hoeberl talk about instituting
steroid tests in the next couple of years, but no one is
convinced that will happen. There is still a feeling that
seemingly superhuman feats such as pulling 22 tons of truck can’t
be performed without chemical assistance.

“I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this,” says Kazmaier,
“but when there’s something you can use to get to the top of your
sport and you don’t use it, well, there’s something wrong.” And
that something is steroids? “Yes. When I speak to kids I tell
them, ‘I hope you don’t use steroids, but I’d be lying if I told
you I didn’t.'”

Among world-class strongmen, few admit to using steroids, but
they are too honest to say they don’t. Most confirm it off the
record, with a smile. Samuelsson says he doesn’t use them, though
some of his rivals don’t believe him. Philippi says he doesn’t,
and everyone believes him. “Mark is the purist,” says Kazmaier.

Knowing that steroids are so accepted among strongmen, Philippi,
feeling he will come across like a complaining moralist, is even
reluctant to talk about not taking them. “How could I load up,
then ask my guys [at UNLV] not to?” is about all he will say. At
the same time, some believe that Philippi, lacking the extra
edge that users get, will never win WSM. Bull Stewart, a
world-class powerlifter who recently began entering strongman
events, says that the competition will be inherently unfair
until there is drug testing and until competitors are divided
into weight classes. But WSM has never been about fairness or
about giving everyone a chance. It’s about being bigger and
stronger than everybody else.

“A guy who weighs 110 kilos [about 242 pounds] should not win
World’s Strongest Man even if he’s a great athlete,” says
Hoeberl, who admitted to and later denied having used anabolic
steroids during his competitive days. “This sport is for big
guys.”

Are they truly the world’s strongest men?

Strength, like speed, is an elusive term. “How do you determine
the world’s fastest man?” asks Reeves. “Is it the 100-meter
champion? Or is it Michael Johnson? Or is it the versatile
middle-distance runner? Hard to say, just as it is with
strength. But we think we have the best test, the decathlon of
strength.”

A rotating series of events, 40 to 50 with many variations, have
made up WSM contests over the years. (There are between seven
and 10 events in each competition.) More and more, aerobic
capacity–as opposed to mere strength–is being tested. The
farmer’s walk, for example, is a staple of WSM. Competitors lift
a torpedo-shaped weight, usually between 250 and 300 pounds, in
each hand and carry the weights by their handles along a course
of 75 to 100 meters. It takes strength to pick up the weights,
an ironclad grip to hold on to them and significant aerobic
capacity to walk the distance with them. “No one in history
could equal, in a battery of tests, what today’s strongmen do,”
says Webster.

But does that make them the strongest men in the world? Wilhelm
says the test of ultimate strength should be elemental and
simple. “Pick up a barbell, two hands, and clean it to the
chest,” he says. “He who lifts the most is strongest. End of
story.”

Kazmaier sort of agrees (though it kills him to say so because
he and Wilhelm, who would finish in a dead heat in an ego
contest, think little of each other). “We need to do more events
with the feet firmly planted,” says Kaz. “That’s the best test
of actual strength.”

At any rate, WSM is a made-for-TV competition, and viewers,
Frank decided long ago, want more than big men lifting big
barbells. “When you’re watching Olympic lifting, the bar always
looks the same even though you’re adding weight,” says Mitchell.
“But people can relate to a guy lifting an immense wheelbarrow
or a car or a bus.” So the first WSM featured, among other
events, a tug-of-war; a wheelbarrow race up a 40-yard slope,
with 750 pounds in the wheelbarrow; the infamous 40-yard
refrigerator race, which, to critics, highlighted the
ridiculousness of the whole competition; and–get ready to
wince–the girl lift, which is exactly what it sounds like.

So the die was cast early for these strongmen. They set up camp
on the fringe of sports, walked that tightrope between sideshow
and bona fide competition.

Who are the best strongmen now?

Two men stand alone in today’s strongman picture: Samuelsson and
Finland’s Jouko Ahola (YU-ko ah-HO-la), both 29. Samuelsson and
Ahola, winners of the ’98 and ’97 WSMs, respectively, are at the
height of their competitive careers and dominate WSM in much the
same way that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dominated the NBA in
the ’80s, allowing for the obvious distinction that the sports
world actually knew who the basketball players were. Just as
there were with Bird and Magic, there are “Magnus guys” and
“Jouko guys.” The people on the inside of the sport–the
officials and competitors–are respectful to both but generally
root for one or the other.

Samuelsson, the big, easygoing Swede, is considered the favorite
of IFSA and TWI, which love to promote the handsome, blue-eyed
Nordic type as the strongman ideal. He looks massive by nature,
not laboratory manipulation. His delightful wife, Kristin, is
similarly striking: blonde, blue-eyed and–get this–an erstwhile
blacksmith who has twice won Sweden’s Strongest Woman title. She
shed a few pounds recently and now competes in equestrian events,
her interests calling to mind the answers in those questionnaires
filled out by Playboy playmates. (Turn-ons: cantering at dawn,
free weights, red-hot anvils. Turnoffs: flaccid guys who don’t
give 100%.)

Whenever Samuelsson competes, there is Kristin, shouting
“Snabbare!” (Faster!) as he loads 300-pound lava rocks onto
waist-high barrels, or “Ser bra ut!” (Looking good!) as he does
the Hercules hold, his arms outstretched and his hands clamped
on to handles in an attempt to keep two Mercedes-Benzes from
rolling down ramps for as long as possible.

Some competitors believe that the events in last year’s WSM were
tailored to give Samuelsson an advantage over the 6’1″, 275-pound
Ahola. Samuelsson’s size is an advantage in any kind of pulling
event–in which significant bulk is needed just to get the object
moving–so a car pull, these critics say, was included in ’98. “I
do not listen to all that,” says Samuelsson. “I am not trying to
brag, but I can dominate all events.”

Ahola, who looks more like a wrecking ball of a fullback than an
oversized lineman, isn’t Hoeberl’s type of strongman. He’s just
not big enough. But the Finn, a top junior ice hockey goalie
until he began powerlifting at 15, is the favorite of most
competitors themselves: a blue-collar, tough-minded,
you’ve-got-to-kill-him-to-beat-him type of guy. How much (if
any) of his body was chemically constructed is hard to say, but
its musculature is a wonder.

“You could lose four fingers in Jouko’s spinal erectors,” says
Kazmaier, referring to the bands of muscle that rise from the top
of the buttocks into the lower back. “I think Magnus is an
excellent guy and a credit to the sport. But I have no doubt that
Jouko is stronger.”

Philippi remembers watching wide-eyed, in his first strongman
competition, as Ahola puked his guts out for 10 minutes after a
truck pull, then went out and won the next event. A carpenter by
trade, Ahola was one of the first competitors to “event train,”
that is, to work out with the implements of competition rather
than with weights in a gym. Tapping friends in various businesses
around his hometown of Hameenlinna and using his carpentry
skills, Ahola accumulated an assortment of gigantic tires, heavy
stones, sinister-looking yokes and other torture devices employed
in his sport. Going into Malta, where he was the favorite, the
Forceful Finn–some would say the Pharmacologically Fabricated
Finn–needed three more WSM titles to match Ver Magnusson and
Sigmarsson. Considering his youth and willpower, many think Ahola
will succeed.

It is fascinating to watch Ahola and Samuelsson watch each other
compete, and to watch others watch them. At a June event in
Hawaii, Samuelsson and Ahola described their respective methods
of picking up the monstrous 800-pound tire used in the tire
flip. One by one, other competitors drifted over to hear what
the two men were saying, and it struck an observer that the
experience was, in the strongman world, analogous to hanging
around the batting cage as McGwire and Barry Bonds discussed how
they handle Tom Glavine’s changeup.

Samuelsson and Ahola are for the most part friendly to each
other, but they are sensitive to every slight, to every
possibility that the other is getting a break in competition.
“This promoter,” says Samuelsson, tapping the program of the
Hawaii competition, “he favors Jouko over me.” Ahola was
featured first in the program and had exactly one more line of
credits than Samuelsson.

The roles they play in WSM–Samuelsson, the anointed one; Ahola,
the man of the people–extend to the financial arena. Samuelsson
has an agent, a Web site (www.giantswede.com), a slick
promotional pamphlet (“To those who have not actually met Magnus
Samuelsson in person, we can assure you that it is an awesome
experience….”) and a video (in which we learn that a typical
Magnus lunch includes 22 meatballs–whether they’re Swedish is
not specified–and nine potatoes). Samuelsson says that with
prize money, a few endorsements, and appearance fees at dozens
of exhibitions, he earned about $100,000 in 1998 and expects to
be in that neighborhood in ’99. Ahola, on the other hand, has no
representation and none of the trappings of No. 1 except for a
preternatural confidence and a gunslinger’s swagger. He says
that last year his income was about $50,000.

Those two and Ver Magnusson, who says he will make six figures
this year despite a drop in his competitive earnings, are
probably the only men making a solid income just from being
professional strongmen. Ahola points out with a wry smile that
one of Samuelsson’s endorsements is with Valtra, a trucking
company. “That is motivation,” says Ahola, “because it is a
Finnish company, and they didn’t ask me.”

What is the future of strongman competition?

Among the athletes, there is widespread agreement with an
opinion that only Kazmaier will express on the record. “IMG and
TWI could do more for the sport,” he says. “I think they do very
little to make a lot.”

Frank says the less-is-more approach is sound. “A big circuit
would kill World’s Strongest Man,” he says. “The injury factor
is too high. Athletes need time to recover and can’t compete on
a regular basis. It’s also hard to come up with new, interesting
events. Any strongman who thinks of doing this on a
professional, sole-income basis is misguided.”

Some strongmen believe that a standardization of events would
help, if only so that clear records could be kept and dutifully
noted on broadcasts. But that probably won’t happen. At every
strongman competition, at least some events are tailored to the
local audience. So at the ’98 WSM a passel of pretty Moroccan
women were part of the weight lifted and hauled by competitors
in the super-yoke race. Nobody knew whether these women were 100
pounds lighter or 100 pounds heavier than the Playboy bunnies or
Los Angeles Rams cheerleaders who were used at past WSMs.

The unpredictability of a strongman competition is what gives it
some of its delicious carnival charm. In Hawaii the handles on
some of the weights carried up steps in the back-bending power
stairs event fell off just before that climactic competition was
to begin, with Ahola leading Samuelsson by only one point. There
ensued a discussion of which event could be repeated in place of
the power stairs, and predictably, no consensus could be
reached, because each of the two leaders wanted to do something
in which he excelled. So Ahola was declared the winner, leaving
Samuelsson with fire in his eyes and Kristin with tears in hers.

At one of Hoeberl’s recent competitions in Austria, the
fire-engine pull was delayed for several minutes until the local
fire chief could be talked into relinquishing the driver’s seat.
Hey, this ain’t Paul Tagliabue’s league.

The competitors grouse about the compromises they have to make at
WSM because of television. “There you are, working yourself into
a froth to pick up a car, and you’re told, ‘We can’t film now
because the roller coaster we want in the background isn’t
running yet,'” says Kazmaier. But that will never change. As far
as the world knows, WSM has, like Truman Burbank, no existence
other than the one revealed on the tube. The likelihood is that
strongman competitions, led by WSM, will appear in their current
chopped-up form for at least the next four years, the length of
TWI’s contract with ESPN.

Keep in mind, though, that early in the next century there will
be an urgent need for another Magnus in WSM. If that’s your name,
and you’re a big fellow who likes to eat meatballs, potatoes and
asphalt, there’s probably a place for you

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