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2004 Arnold Strongman

As February ended and March began, Columbus, Ohio, was once again the gathering place of 10 of the strongest and most courageous men in the world of strength.

As February ended and March began, Columbus, Ohio, was once again the gathering place of 10 of the strongest and most courageous men in the world of strength. They came to compete in what has become the premier strength competition. Television's 'World's Strongest Man' contest is much older, of course, and better known, but the Arnold Strongest Man contest has the largest prize package, with the winner getting a new Hummer and a hefty cash prize. What's more, those who really understand strength know that the Arnold features events that test basic, brute strength, whereas TV's 'World's Strongest Man' contest has many events that rely on endurance and quickness'meaning that a weaker man can beat a stronger man. In the Arnold such an outcome would be highly unlikely. In 2003, for example, Mariusz Pudzianowski beat Zydrunas Savickas in the WSM but at the Arnold several months later Zydrunas beat Mariusz in all four events. To put it plainly, Savickas was stronger than Pudzianowski at the time.

But Mariusz Pudzianowski is a warrior, and he returned this year hungry for revenge. Once again he dominated the WSM contest, and it would have been easy for him to avoid another possible defeat at the Arnold by not accepting an invitation to take part, but he trained hard, put on about 20 pounds and came back'to use the bullfighting term'buscando guerra, or looking for war. War he got; big Zydrunas had added at least 30 pounds to his 6'3', 335-pound frame.

All the other athletes also did their best to come in at their heaviest and strongest. When we prepare for the Arnold, we do our utmost to get the strongest men in the worlds of weightlifting, powerlifting and strongman contests to take part. So far only the strongmen have come up to the mark. The first year we thought that was because the mark they had to come up to was 400-pound Mark Henry, the legendary professional wrestler who ruled the Arnold in 2002. Though Mark was wrestling in 2003 and injured in 2004, the weightlifters and powerlifters still stayed away'even with a brand-new Hummer and an increasing purse as an incentive. We wish men like Shane Hannan, Brian Cyders and Gary Frank would take part, but all we can do is ask. Maybe one day. In fact, we've been assured that if he remains injury-free, two-time Olympic weightlifting champion Andrei Chemerkin will take part in the Arnold next year. Even so, we had an exciting '04 contest.

For almost 30 years Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer have tried to make their Arnold Fitness Weekend larger and more interesting than the year before, and they want all of us who handle individual aspects of the weekend to make improvements too. So Bill Kazmaier, David Webster, Steve Slater, my wife, Jan, and I set out to increase our list of competitors from eight to 10 and to add a new event to the four we used last year. We also made arrangements for televising the Strongest Man in many countries, including, of course, the U.S. and Canada. We did that by working with World Class Productions, a TV production company that's covered many contests sanctioned by the International Federation of Strength Athletes.

We decided that in 2004 the Arnold Strongest Man would be the final event in the IFSA Super Series, made up of contests held all over the world'many of which have been covered in IRON MAN'in which competitors accumulate points toward the overall title of IFSA champion. So five of the 10 athletes we invited were the top five Super Series point scorers'Mariusz Pudzianowski of Poland, Zydrunas Savickas of Lithuania, Raimonds Bergmanis of Latvia, Hugo Girard of Canada and Svend Karlsen of Norway. Girard had a severe injury and was unable to take part, and the next man on the IFSA list, Anders Johansson of Sweden, stepped in. Our other five competitors were Mark Philippi of Nevada, Brian Schoonveld of Pennsylvania, Steve Kirit of Pennsylvania, Istvan Arvai of Hungary and Vasyl Virastyuk of Ukraine.

One of the things we tried to do again this year was to assemble an outstanding group of judges. When so much is riding on the outcome, it's critical that people with experience and integrity make the calls. Our head referee, as always, was Scotland's David Webster, our man for all seasons. He was joined by Dr. John Fair, university professor and a competitive lifter and judge in both weightlifting and powerlifting; Dr. Larry Maile, president of USA Powerlifting; Jamie Reeves, IFSA official and former winner of the 'World's Strongest Man' contest; Mark Henry, national champion in both weightlifting and powerlifting and winner of the '02 Arnold Strongest Man contest; Eddie Coan, winner of multiple national and world championships and record holder in powerlifting; Francis Brebner, Highland Games competitor and promoter and caber-toss world champion; Odd Haugen, strongman competitor and promoter; and Brad Gillingham, twice world powerlifting champion and a competitor in both previous Arnold Strongest Man contests.

Apollon's Wheels

Apollon's wheels are a replica of a famous stage barbell first introduced by Louis 'Apollon' Uni in the 1890s. Apollon, of French birth, was a freak of strength by age 16, being 6'3' and 245 pounds at a time when the average European adult male was about 5'5' and 145 pounds. Even though the notoriously lazy Apollon rarely lifted anything near his limit, many people think he was able to lift over his head the awkward set of railway wheels with a nonrevolving, 1.92-inch-diameter bar weighing 366 pounds. The Olympic lifting champion Charles Rigulot of France had to train for months in 1930 with Apollon's wheels before he could clean them. America's greatest lifter, John Davis, lifted them over his head in 1949 the first time he saw them, even though he had to use a reverse grip to clean them to his shoulders. Norbert Schemansky cleaned them in 1954 and then jerked them overhead three times. In 2002, to honor those great lifters and to give our modern athletes a historic challenge, we asked Tom Lincir of Ivanko Barbell Company to create a set of wheels that would match Apollon's wheels inch for inch and pound for pound. ALL In 2002 only Mark Henry lifted the wheels with any ease, and he made three power cleans followed by three laughable push-presses. In 2003 the men realized that they had to practice and get stronger, and four of the eight competitors made at least two full lifts with the wheels. Savickas won in 2003 by doing four reps, using a Continental style to get the bar to his chest in two or three motions and then pressing them over his head with a very slight knee kick. In 2004 the bar was raised even higher, as the men came in well prepared. They drew lots to determine who would lift first in the wheels, and Hungary's 5'7', 275-pound Arvai, the World Powerlifting Champion in the 275-pound class, was first out, but he'd torn a callus on his right palm a week earlier and couldn't hold the bar tightly enough to get it to his shoulders.

The second lifter was Latvia's veteran weightlifter/strongman Bergmanis, who had trouble with his squat clean technique and got credit for only three cleans and two jerks. That was a surprise to us as well as to Bergmanis. Then out came the 365-pound Savickas, who put on a show that brought the house down. Using a technique in which he lodges the bar on his hefty belly, then sort of rolls it up to his shoulders before pressing it overhead, he did four reps yet still had 30 seconds or so to go of the two minutes allotted. He brought the wheels again to his belly, then his shoulders, but although he tried twice to press the bar, his balance was faulty, and he failed. He walked back toward the chalk stand as the announcers were congratulating him for scoring four good lifts. But he wasn't finished. He still had a few seconds, so he rushed out, heaved the wheels to his chest and, with one second to go, locked them at arm's length. The fans yelled their lungs out to see a new record.

The first U.S. lifter to appear was Kirit, but he had real problems with the awkward bar and failed to successfully bring it to his shoulders. Next up was Schoonveld, looking massive at 350 pounds. We expected Brian to do well in this event, even though he was a late invitee, and he didn't disappoint, taking the bar to his chest in two movements and then push-pressing it overhead. Schoonie was followed by the hypermuscular Pudzianowski, who showed what hard training and heart can do by bringing the bar first to his upper abdomen, then tossing it to his shoulders and finally push-pressing it to arm's length'four reps. That matched Zydrunas' record from 2003 and served notice that 'Pudgy' intended to improve on his fourth-place finish of last year.

Karlsen, the Viking, approached the wheels full of determination and confidence. He told me before the event that his training had never gone so well and that he had high hopes for the Arnold'where he'd won second place the first two years. When I saw him clean the first rep'using a reverse grip but simply powering the wheels all the way to the top of his shoulders in one motion and tossing them easily to arm's length, I thought that he could do more than five reps. It's harder to pull the bar all the way to the shoulders in one movement because it requires terrific pulling strength, which is why we give more credit to a 'clean' than to a lift that has two or more movements. That means if Svend had made five cleans and five overhead lifts, he would have won over Zydrunas' five reps because Zydrunas didn't clean the bar to his shoulders. As Svend pulled the wheels on his second rep, disaster struck, and he tore the hamstring in his right leg. Even so, in an inspiring display of toughness and controlled strength, Svend placed the wheels across his thighs, then boosted them to his abdomen, jumped them up to his shoulders and push-jerked them overhead. Then he did it again, and again, for a total of four reps, which put him ahead of Mariusz. The Pole hadn't cleaned any of his reps, and Svend had cleaned his first one.

Philippi was the next lifter, and using a variety of techniques, the wily veteran managed to register two cleans and two overhead lifts. The next man to try was Sweden's huge-armed Johansson, a novice strongman and one of the world's greatest superheavyweight powerlifters. Johansson injured his triceps as he attempted to jerk the wheels overhead, and he got credit only for two lifts to the shoulders. That he continued and finished the competition at all is a testament to his fortitude, and word is that the surgery to repair the tear was a success.

The last man to challenge the wheels was the Ukrainian, Virastyuk. A world-class shot-putter and newcomer to strongman competitions, Virastyuk is a very able athlete. He brought the wheels to his chest three times and made two good jerks to serve notice that he'd be a factor in the contest. The Hummer Deadlift

One of our sponsors is Hummer, and we wanted to include the colossal vehicle in the competition. Last year we designed a longer-than-normal bar that could accommodate the 100-pound-plus tires that are standard Hummer equipment. We wanted the bar to be a bit thicker to prevent the extra length between the collars from bending the bar so much that with three tires on each end it would look like a rainbow. The men stood on a low platform so that the height of the bar loaded with tires would be about 1 1/2 inches higher off the ground than a standard bar would be when loaded with 45-pound plates. We were pleased with the deadlift results in '03, especially the prodigious 975-pound jack-up done by Brad Gillingham.

This year the performances were a bit better overall, but no one quite reached Brad's lofty number. We used a standard round system, giving each man three attempts. The men follow a rising bar on each of the three rounds, and the first man up was Steve Kirit, with 632. The numbers for the others' first attempts were 720, Virastyuk; 736, Schoonveld; 753, Karlsen; 770, Pudzianowski; 786, Bergmanis; 820, Arvai; and 835, Savickas, Philippi, and Johansson. On the second attempts, Kirit made 720, Virastyuk and Schoonveld 770, Pudzianowski 802, Bergmanis 820, Karlsen 849 while babying his bad hamstring, Savickas 881 (a weight Johansson missed), and both Philippi and Arvai 898.

The third and final attempts were more carefully chosen. Kirit tried and failed with 720. Virastyuk made 786 with power to spare; Schoonveld surprisingly failed to lift 802; 'Pudgy' squeezed out 835; Bergmanis mastered 849; Johansson failed again with 881; Svend couldn't pull 915 on one leg; Savickas made the same weight with perhaps 50 pounds to spare; Philippi smoked 931; and Arvai, the world-record holder in the deadlift in the 275-pound class, failed to pull 981 for a new record. It was a great win for Mark Philippi, the popular strength coach from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Following the event, Mark was asked about the win. 'I've got a new baby,' he said, 'and I need to buy some diapers. That's motivation.'

Medicine Ball Toss

As a way to test overall body power, the upward toss of a heavy medicine ball has much to recommend it. It requires the athlete to uncoil the big levers involving the knees, hips and back in a sudden upward thrust and is a good measure of the body's ability to move a weight quickly. The same muscles are used in a standing vertical jump, on which NFL scouts place so much emphasis. If they find a man weighing more than 300 pounds with a vertical jump higher than 30 inches, they know they have a man with truly unusual power who can win football games.

We expected that the men would improve from last year, and we started with the target board (a four-by-six-inch piece of plywood suspended by wires set at 14 feet, a height that Schoonveld, Arvai and Johansson all failed to reach. The board was then moved up to 15 feet, and the other seven men all made that height. At 15 feet, six inches, however, Kirit and Philippi dropped out. Next, the bar was moved to 16 feet, a height reached last year only by Svend Karlsen, whose injury kept him from matching his '03 throw. Nor could Bergmanis touch the 16-foot- high target. Meanwhile, Virastyuk, Pudzianowski and Savickas were successful at 16 feet. At 16 feet, six inches, Pudzianowski finally missed, but the great shot-putter Virastyuk nailed it on his first try. Savickas needed two attempts, but he hit the board at 16 feet, six inches too. Finally, at 17 feet, the explosive Virastyuk couldn't touch the board, but the gigantic Lithuanian showed that he is powerful as well as strong by rocking the board on his first attempt. That gave him two wins out of the first three events and a second in the third for what looked like an overwhelming lead. But a surprise was in store.

The Hammer of Strength

A new sponsor in '04'Hammer Strength'gave us the idea of fabricating a huge hammer and having the men lift it in some way. We decided to do a variation on the Fingal's fingers event developed by David Webster and Jamie Reeves. Our version, the hammer of strength, called for the men to lift this enormous 17-foot hammer by getting under the shaft, attached at the bottom to a swivel, and then pushing upward until the hammer was standing fully upright. We told Nick Osborne, a Columbus gym owner, strongman competitor and promoter of strongman competitions, that we wanted him to design the hammer of strength to 'catch' at different heights as it was lifted upward so that the men could reset themselves by moving closer to the bottom of the handle as the head of the hammer went higher and higher.

Our hammer was so heavy that we didn't think most, or perhaps any, of the men could push it up hand over hand as they would upend a caber in a Highland Games competition. We were correct in that assumption. Even with no extra weight added to the head of the hammer, it was a beast to stand up straight. Two days before the show two elite strongman competitors tested it. Only one managed to push it all the way up, and it took him more than a minute. Our rough calculations were that at the point of poorest leverage the athletes had to exert at least a thousand pounds of upward force to move the hammer. We expected the heat of battle and the greater strength of the competitors to result in better contest performance, but we were unsure how much weight it would take to keep our strongest men from raising the hammer. As it happened, we didn't find out. Expo organizers had scheduled too many events, and we weren't given the amount of time we'd been told we'd have on the big stage. We'd wanted to increase the weight over several attempts until at least half of the men failed to fully upend the hammer, but after all the men but one (Arvai) raised the unloaded hammer, we decided to add about 50 pounds (too little, as it turned out) and time the men on that one event, ranking them in order of their speed'even though a truly strong man can place low in an event that depends so heavily on speed. That's exactly what happened.

The order of placement was as follows:

9) Johansson, 30.15 seconds
8) Kirit, 27.5
7) Savickas, 20.19
6) Schoonveld, 20.04
5) Philippi, 19.26
4) Pudzianowski, 17.74
3) Virastyuk, 16.96
2) Bergmanis, 16.27
1) Karlsen, 13.63.

The finishing order put Savickas'with his shocking seventh-place finish'in danger of losing a contest that he thought he'd locked up. It also vaulted Bergmanis back into the fray, and it vastly improved Svend's chances. Knowing that he had to have a great time with the hammer, the powerfully built Norwegian came through with a clutch performance.

So at the end of four events'with only one event to go'the men were ranked like this:

1) Savickas, 33
2) Karlsen, 32.5
3) Pudzianowski and
Bergmanis, 27.5 (tie)
4) Philippi, 25
5) Virastyuk, 24
6) Schoonveld, 16
7) Arvai, 12.5
8) Johansson, 11.5
9) Kirit, 10.5

The Timber Carry, a.k.a. the Farmer's Walk

The final event was held in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium as part of the big evening show, during which the winner of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic men's bodybuilding contest is crowned. Most of the capacity crowd waited after the bodybuilding show was over to see if our 10 giants could match the dramatic finish to this event in '03. The 'timbers' that the men carry have been cobbled together with bolts and straps into one solid piece so that they form a sort of rough rectangular frame into which the men step. There are two long bars set a comfortable distance apart and tightly into the 10-foot-by-10 inch timbers. The bars are lightly knurled and are slightly larger in diameter than an Olympic or power bar. They don't rotate, which is important, as the men aren't allowed to wear straps. Their task is to lift the timbers up and then walk or trot as far and fast as they can up a 40-foot ramp set at approximately the same angle as a wheelchair ramp is set. They have 30 seconds to carry the timbers as far as possible, and they can set them down and pick them up as many times as they like. The timbers weigh 865 pounds.

The men were called out in reverse order, with those having the lowest points going first and so on, until the leader, Savickas, took his attempt. Thus it was that the 2003 winner of the 'America's Strongest Man' contest, Kirit, came out first. He managed a very respectable 17 feet, eight inches before a callus on his left hand tore away and forced him to lose his grip.

Johansson was out next, with his heavily taped triceps, but the triceps is very little affected by this event, and he was able to register the wonderful distance of 34 feet, 10 inches. Arvai followed, but as he also had torn a callus before the contest he was able to manage only nine feet. Schoonveld was the next to try, and I expected the two-time winner of the America's Strongest Man title to take the load all the way to the top; he told me he'd carried 915 pounds a good distance in practice just before the event. But at 20 feet, eight inches the timbers fell. 'It's the first time my hands have ever failed me,' a dejected Schoonie said later. Virastyuk was also expected to be a threat, as he'd run away from the usual winner of the farmer's walk in the World's Strongest Man contest, Pudzianowski. Virastyuk appeared to try to move too quickly, however, and lost his balance. He dropped the timbers after 17 feet, one inch. Philippi needed a good score in this event to get into big-time diaper money, and he came through with a solid 31 feet, one inch to move into second place. That was enough to keep him ahead of Bergmanis, who carried the huge load 22 feet, 10 inches before his grip gave way. Pudzianowski was tied with Bergmanis at that point, and he needed to beat Bergmanis to move ahead. Alas, he failed, registering a disappointing 12 feet, two inches. A slight shoulder injury in the hammer event hampered him with the timbers.

Now there were only two men left, and whoever won the timber carry would win the Hummer, the money and the honor of beating such a formidable group of strongmen. Up to that point in the event no one had managed to carry the load of timbers all the way to the top of the ramp, but most of the strongmen thought Svend would be the first to do so, just as he'd done so dramatically in '03. It was not to be. His hamstring came into the picture enough to limit his ability, and when the 30 seconds had passed, he still had about 10 feet to go. The Viking's 29 feet, seven inches might still be enough to beat Savickas; however, as in '03, the bearlike colossus from Lithuania grabbed the timbers, lifted and began to move with them in one motion. In an unbelievable 8.62 seconds he made it all the way to the top of the ramp. At the breathtaking display of raw power, the crowd leapt to its feet with a sustained standing ovation, and Savickas raised his tree-trunk arms in celebration.

Event Issues

In addition to the Hummer and the cash and a year's supply of Met-Rx food products, Savickas took with him a trophy that he'll almost certainly still have with him when the cash has been spent, the food products eaten and the Hummer traded in for a newer model. That trophy is a replica of a famous bronze statue of one of history's greatest professional strongmen'the French-Canadian Louis Cyr, whom publisher Richard K. Fox dubbed 'The Strongest Man in the World' in the late 1880s. Fox offered the huge sum of $5,000 to anyone who could match even one of Cyr's specialty lifts and later had a diamond-studded belt made symbolizing the strongman's status.

Cyr was born in October 1863 in a small village outside Montreal, often called the Cradle of Strongmen. Cyr looked the part, with just over 300 pounds spread over his 5'9', thick-boned frame. Massive in every way, Cyr had forearms and calves that were particularly gigantic. Not until the era of anabolic steroids did anyone have what Cyr had'forearms that, when held out straight, measured more than twice the size of his eight-inch wrists. Heavy and thickset as he was, though, Cyr was nimble and could jump forward and backward over a broomstick held downward in both hands. He had the size, the athleticism and the raw strength that define our best modern strongmen.

Joe Weider owns the original bronze of Cyr, and he generously permitted it to be copied. The replica was presented to Savickas as a symbol of the title Louis Cyr earned more than 100 years ago.

We were fortunate to finish with a spine-tingling finale, and we're already at work planning the 2005 event. In 2004 our event was bigger than ever, and so was the overall Arnold Fitness Weekend. In fact, for the first time, 100,000 people came through the turnstiles at the expo over the three-day course of the show. Approximately 11,000 athletes took part, and the trade show had more than 650 booths'as many as the center can hold. The weekend was also graced by the presence of its founder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the governor of California. Anyone who loves fitness, strength and a really good time should make plans right now to come to Columbus in 2005. To paraphrase the man himself, 'We'll be back.' IM

Final Placings and Winnings

1) Zydrunas Savickas, 43 points'Hummer, $16,000
2) Svend Karlsen, 39.5 points'$15,000
3) Raimonds Bergmanis, 33.5 points'$11,000
4) Mark Philippi, 33 points'$6,000
5) Mariusz Pudzianowski, 29.5 points'$5,000
6) Vasyl Virastyuk, 27 points'$4,000
7) Brian Schoonveld, 21 points'$3,000
8) Anders Johansson, 20.5 points'$2,000
9) Steve Kirit, 14.5 points'$1,500
10) Istvan Arvai, 13.5 points'$1,000

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