Wednesday, September 21, 2011

World's Strongest Man 2011 - Qualifiers - Day 4

Day 4 of World's Strongest Man qualifiers was a joy to watch. Some groups had Block Press, some had DB press, everyone had stones.

The day began with the circus dumbbell press. Four dumbells of ascending weight were used (220 - 250lbs. - I think). The good dumbbell pressers made it through 3 dumbbells, the bad dumbell pressers were lucky to get one. The surprise of the day was seeing Nick Best out early and warming up with a light barbell and then the lightest dumbbell in warmups. Everyone thought he was through when he was helped off the platform after the car deadlift a day earlier. Despite a great effort he was unable to press any of the dumbbells.

Thor made it quickly through three dumbbells and cleaned the last, but was unable to get the press.

The Block press is one of the purest tests of pressing power. Of course, Z and Derek get all 4 blocks (240ish - 330lbs) in showman-like fashion. And I've been a lifelong fan of Derek Boyer, so, for me the highlight of the day came when Derek grabbed the mircrophone and said: "I'm the old guy here, and I'm gonna be honest, this is a real crap event for me. So, if I get that first block up, I want you guys to cheer like I just won this thing!" Derek then proceeds to flip the switch and wrestle with the first block for what seemed like a minute, then pressed, rested it on his head and then finished the press. When he got it up the crowd went nuts and he jumped around and yelled. It was great to see.

Somehow I imagined the stones arriving in a golden chariot pulled by Clydesdale unicorns and then unloaded by Zeus himself... Not so much.

So let me just summarize by saying that the stones were awesome to watch. To watch these giants do their stone runs live and in person was surreal. I will say this, the stage was constructed over grass and the fifth stone kept getting dropped, so by the time the event was over it was creating a little sink hole in front of the platform. Nothing was really ever done about it, not sure if, at that point, there could have been, but still. It was one of the things that reminded me that the point was to finish shooting for that day, not let the best strongman in the world have a safe stable place to load a 400lb. stone. That was a little discouraging. Fortunately, I don't think it really hindered anyone, but I guess it's the point of the matter.

Day 4 observations:

  • I followed all the athletes to the cafeteria, I watched them stand in a lunch line and act normal and just hang around regular folks. I watched Zydrunas make a salad.
  • All you hardcore diets folks, let me tell you this, the greatest strongmen in the world don't eat brown rice, sweet potatoes and boiled chicken all the time. The eat anything that looks like meat, cereal, cookies (lots of cookies), they raid the ice-cream freezer, and pretty much stuff their bellies with whatever they want. So take that amateur nutrition experts.
  • Terry Hollands isn't scared to get in his underwear in front of folks.
  • I felt like I stood next to guys that looked like this most of the day... I can just hear him saying "I can totally do this, bro"

... guys, if you own any article of clothing that resembles even a similar style to the one pictured above, please burn it. You're only embarrassing yourself...

Here is a link to my pictures from Day 3 and 4 of qualifiers

Monday, September 19, 2011

World's Strongest Man 2011 - Qualifiers - Day 3

Where do I start?... World's Strongest Man being held just outside of Charlotte, NC this year could not have worked out more perfectly for me. My sister and her family live in Charlotte so I'm free-loading for a week during the contest. Due to work obligations I missed the first two days of qualifiers, but I arrived late Friday night in Charlotte and got up early Saturday Morning to make the trip to Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Day 3 qualifying events were the firetruck pull, car deadlift hold and car deadlift for reps. Rockingham Speedway is, for the record, out in the middle of nowhere, and as a rural Alabama native, I felt right at home taking the endless two lane road through the country that added up to about an hour and a half trip.

I crested over a country hill and there the monstrous speedway structure was, sure enough, in the middle of nowhere. I was directed through the tunnel and into the infield parking lot. I walk to pit row and suddenly I was in Strongman Heaven. The drive had taken longer than usual, and fortunately for me, things were running about an hour behind (in other words, right on time).

Walking around the other side of the barrier wall I tried to position myself for the best possible photo opportunity. I quickly started seeing familiar faces from the amateur strongman scene, the gang was all there to watch what may be a once in a lifetime event.

And then you started seeing them, the athletes. A moment I can only describe as surreal. Maybe I'm too much of a fanboy, but honestly, I don't care. I've been watching WSM since Jouko won in '97, and here I was at the big dance. They were all there walking around like it was another day at the office...Terry Hollands, Poundstone, Felix, Zydrunas, Boyer, Petrusson, Louis-Phillipe Jean, Brian Shaw. I haven't seen Shaw and Poundstone since the 2007 America's Strongest Man. It's amazing how 4 years of training has changed both of them, they are monstrous. And I don't guess I'll ever forget seeing Zydrunas Savickas in person for the first time, I guess I can only liken it to being a passionate golfer and then watching Tiger Woods walk ten feet in front of you and take his turn at the tee. World's Strongest Man is the Masters of strongman.

Firetruck Pull

Pit row, where the events would be held, is on an ever so slight uphill grade. So there would be no momentum in the pull. In fact, Dave Ostland who was serving as an alternate and event tester did a test pull early on and only pulled it about 15 feet. As a result they shortened the course a bit and backed it to a slightly more level surface. The Rockingham firetruck was shined up like a new penny and ready for it's appearance.

The most memorable performances of the day include, of course, watching Zydrunas Savickas do the truck pull, his focus and preparation before the event were unmatched.

Then I watched Brian Shaw pull it like he was tethered to a Mini Cooper, and even faster with Thor. Several of the athletes failed to finish the already shortened course, but Thor and Shaw had the best times. Mike Jenkins seemed to have a very good pull as well, a handful of us were standing next to his mom and right before the event she yells "Don't Die!" - classic, that's what moms are for.

Car Deadlift Hold

Next the groups were split up, and the first group did the car deadlift hold for time. I noticed the side handles of the deadlift were set pretty wide. Derek Poundstone even kind of laughed and commented on how wide they were when he picked it up in warmups. No doubt it had to create a greater degree of difficulty in the initial deadlift as well as the hold, I would think it would have to create a greater strain across the shoulders and back.

Car Deadlift for Reps

I got to watch most of the athletes do this event. Mark Felix was definitely the highlight. Felix is a natural and strong deadlifter and could make up some ground on getting to the finals with this event.

Mark Felix and Nick Best were paired together, and after the 4th rep or so Nick could get no more, and gingerly started making his way off the platform. It looked like he done for the competition and, frankly, everyone expected him to withdraw from the competition, but he miraculously bounces back for Day 4. Mark went on to win his group with 11 reps.

Shaw did just enough to stay ahead of Thor and keep his #1 spot safe for the group. He watched Thor the whole time and made sure he stayed just a rep or two ahead.

Observations from day 3

  • World's Strongest Man is very much a TV show. The television production takes precedence over everything, even the athletes. The crowd is only involved as far as making it look good for TV. Whether or not the audience sees anything, or two bit hacks like me get good pictures is of little concern. In a way I understand this, the production crew has a job to produce a television show that is aesthetically appealing for the likes of the great and powerful ESPN, and I get that. Part of the reason I haven't bothered (sneaking) taking any video is because it is so well produced for television, why bother. You'll be able to see it in HD in December and photos last forever.
  • Things move slow in WSM world. Events take a long time to set up and athletes have lots of downtime between events. I imagine it would make it difficult to time warmups and then on top of that you may spend 15 minutes on deck while the touch up painters make everything look shiny for TV. Has to be frustating, but I suppose they've come to expect it.
  • Most of the athletes seem approachable and friendly. Brian Shaw and Hafþór Björnsson are larger than life. Both over 6'8" and both over 400lbs. They make everyone look like Hobbits. At one point the two of them had their picture made with a little old lady that had to be in her 80's, she was probably about 4'10", it was quite a sight.
  • There is an unofficial spreadsheet online that the guys from Spider Tack are doing, they've got a couple of folks there watching and recording events.
  • To view my Photo Album from Day 3 and 4 of the qualifiers Click Here.