From the start of 2007 Mariusz Pudzianowski let it be known he wasn’t going to be beaten again. He was determined to win every contest he entered. Mariusz was going to prove he was the strongest man in the world bar none. His plan: Give it his all and win every event in each qualifying contest. The plan hit a few rough spots. He lost the Venice Beach Super Series to Dave Ostlund and was pressed for the win in Norway, but he was confident the overall title would be his. Meanwhile, reigning champion Phil Pfister was going to do his best to derail Mariusz’ plan, as were the eight other equally determined finalists.
St. Regis Monarch Beach at Dana Point, California, was the scenic location of the first day in the Met-Rx 30th edition of the World’s Strongest Man Championships Finals. With only two days of rest, following the grueling four days of qualifying events, the top 10 qualifiers were about to embark on a battle for supremacy.
The first event, barrel loading, required each contestant to carry four water-filled 245-pound barrels of various sizes over 10 meters and place them on a platform. There was a 75-second time limit, with the fastest time winning. That event played havoc with most of the 10 finalists. Twenty-six-year-old Dave Ostlund of the USA appeared to power through this event (44.1 seconds) but was not as fast as the newly blonded Mariusz, who blew by with a 37.22 time. The worst scenario occurred when Tarmo Mitt tore his biceps during the event and was forced to withdraw from the rest of the competition. That brought the field down to nine finalists.
The overhead safe lift was next, and it was apparent that the previous days of qualifying competition had taken a toll on some of the contestants. The safe was 254 pounds of equipment that had a tendency to swing back and forth as it was lifted overhead. Mark Felix and Don Pope were able to get only half the reps in the finals that they’d achieved in the qualifiers, seven instead of 12 and 13, respectively. Pfister’s reps dropped from 16 in the qualifier to 12 in the event. Kevin Nee and Sebastian Wenta dropped down by only two from their previous attempts. Nee went from 12 to 10 reps, and Wenta won with 17. He’d previously set the standard at 19 reps in the qualifier. Mariusz came in second with a respectable 15 repetitions.
The Anaheim Hilton was the site of the next day’s events. Whereas the week before the athletes had been competing in 80 to 90 degree heat, the California weather had changed drastically. The clouds had come in, and the weather had the look and smell of rain on its way.
Don Pope was the first to compete on the second day of the finals in the Fingal fingers. Because there was an odd number of finalists, he went by himself; no one was competing in the lane next to him. He was first and on his own, always a daunting task in itself, but he set the pace of the competition for the day. As he finished with the last finger, he yelled out a challenge to all the other competitors to step up and, “Get it on.” The gauntlet had been thrown down, and the competition was under way.
Sebastian Wenta took the challenge and stepped up—he set a world record in the fingers event, the first person to finish in less than 31 seconds (30.92). Ostlund and Wenta raced against each other in their heat. It was neck and neck for the first few fingers. Wenta kept his extreme forward angle throughout the event, which enabled him to pull ahead of Ostlund. Phil Pfister, the defending champion, went against Terry Hollands in the event—Pfister’s favorite—and finished in 31.78. Pfister powered through without pause, but it wasn’t enough to match Mariusz Pudzianowski, who breezed through the fingers with a time of 31.15 in his heat against Magnus Samuelsson. IM
During the time it took to dismantle the Fingal fingers and set up the car deadlift, the weather had gotten worse. It started to drizzle and dampen the equipment. It hadn’t rained enough to warrant a postponement of the event, although that was being discussed more seriously. Kevin Nee was first up. The vehicle being used for the lift was a PT Cruiser with 45-pound weights added in its truck hatch. Kevin played to the crowd and got them to cheer him to seven repetitions.
The event was tougher on the taller athletes. Their height worked against them because of the low leverage angle of the bar attached to the back end of the Cruiser. Many of the taller competitors chose to lift with just socks or bare feet, which made the footing precarious. The platform was slippery because of the weather. Magnus was the next contestant, and he appeared to be struggling and garnered four repetitions. Dave Ostlund also managed to get four reps. As the first few competitors completed their attempts, the weather was getting darker and damper. Many of the athletes felt it was too wet to continue the event. It was not until big Terry Hollands of England got set to start his attempt that the event was halted due to rain. Terry had gotten his grip, set his feet and pulled, only to end up on his rump. His feet slipped right out from under him as he lifted. The equipment was covered with towels and put on hold until the rain stopped.
Two hours later the California weather did another about-face. The equipment was dried off and cameras reset, and Terry restarted his attempt, which netted him eight repetitions. Mark Felix shone on the event with 11 repetitions. Known for his deadlifting ability, Mark lived up to his reputation by making it look easy. An interesting side note: I noticed Mark did not warm up as the other athletes had. While some contenders did several light, quick repetitions with a barbell, Mark simply deadlifted the relatively light barbell and held it in the upright stance, eyes closed, concentrating and meditating for several moments, then lowered it and repeated the sequence. The only other competitor to come close to Felix’s repetitions was Mariusz, who would have tied with 11 reps if he hadn’t dropped the bar on his last repetition. The standing rule is that the repetition must be fully controlled all the way up and all the way down. Pudzianowski was not happy about it but didn’t push the issue.
Pulling 20 tons over 25 meters in 75 seconds or less was the next event, the fire engine pull. By this time the weather had cleared, and the sun had returned. The ground was dry, but the fire engine was too much for some of the athletes. Dave Ostlund was first up but was only able to pull it 22.74 meters. Don Pope did a little better at 22.85 meters. Kevin Nee had a hard time starting and ran out of gas at the 15.1 meter mark. Big Phil Pfister was the first to cross the finish line hauling the colossal engine. Phil had a slow start and pulled hard to get the truck moving. As he pulled and pumped with his legs, he built speed until he became a raging rhino down the course to finish at 53.93 seconds.
Wenta had two attempts at this event. The first one was disqualified due to a technical error that occurred when he first attempted the pull. Jouko Ahola was pulling the anchor rope out of the way for Sebastian as he started a deep, hard pull on the engine. The engine started rolling rather quickly from a dead stop and continued down the course at a fast clip. Jouko was having a hard time keeping the anchor rope from being run over by the front tires of the engine because Sebastian was moving so fast. It was a world record in the making. Finally, just before Sebastian reached the end of the course, the fire engine horn was blown (the signal that something was wrong), and it was discovered that the engine had slipped into first gear without the driver noticing it. Much to Sebastian’s dismay, he had to redo his attempt after all others had finished theirs.
The giant Swede, Magnus Samuelsson, went next. Magnus excels at that event, and he didn’t disappoint. Once he got the huge engine rolling, his speed kept building to the finish. He was like a freight train, strong and steady, pulling across the line at 48.01 seconds. Where Magnus was a freight train, Mariusz was a quick Metro passenger train that completed the course in 41.53 seconds. The silver bullet, though, was none other than the big Brit, Terry Hollands, who completed the course in a breathtaking 41.41 seconds.
Sebastian Wenta did take his second attempt at the engine pull with Mariusz next to him all the way down the course, encouraging him on. Sebastian finished the 25-meter course at 51.93, a tie with Pfister’s time.
The California sun beat down as the beach beauties in their bikinis gathered to watch the herculean efforts of the finalists on the final day of the championships, held at Huntington Beach. California was living up to its reputation for fun in the sun, with no clouds to be found. A portion of the spacious parking lot was transformed into a battle site for these titans of power. The car walk, 880 pounds of hollow Citroën body shell fitted with custom shoulder straps, was a course of 25 meters to be completed in 75 seconds or less.
Kevin Nee volunteered to go first over Don Pope, who was nursing an injury. Kevin had a rough start at getting the car to balance, but once he did, he quick footed it down the course for a time of 24.09. Pope stepped up next, but his injury, sustained during the previous day’s events, kept him from mustering more than a disappointing 34.09. Mark Felix managed a strong and steady pace at 22.18. Towering Dave Ostlund and Phil Pfister appeared to be in control as they stood up with the car draped across their shoulders, well balanced, and walked quickly down the course. Dave’s time was 28.84; Phil’s was 23.75. Big Terry Hollands stood up with the car, its front end dipping slightly forward, and ran down the 25-meter course for a time of 19.50. Sebastian Wenta followed suit with a quick shuffle step for a time of 20.01.
It would be the incredible Mariusz Pudzianowski who made the car walk appear as if it were just a short jaunt in the park as he came in with an unbelievable time of 14.62 seconds. With the win Mariusz clenched the overall title and his fourth World’s Strongest Man championship. The contest now was to determine the second and third places.
The final event was the crowd favorite, Atlas stones. Five rounded granite stones weighing 220 pounds, 243 pounds, 265 pounds, 309 pounds and 353 pounds had to be loaded on to their respective podiums in the quickest time. The athletes would race two at a time to earn their final placings. Don Pope had to withdraw because of his injury. That left the field at eight, with second and third place in hot contention. The first two up were Kevin Nee and Mark Felix. Mark seemed a bit tired and could muster a time of only 24.85 to Kevin’s 22.10. The second pairing had the two commentators, Bill Kazmaier and Sven Karlsen, making a little side bet. Bill was rooting for the American Dave Ostlund, while Sven was pulling for the Viking Swede Magnus Samuelsson. They were going head to head until Magnus slipped and lost his grip on the last stone, giving Dave the opportunity to power through with a 19.88 time. Magnus had to settle for 23.83.
The third pairing contained Mariusz Pudzianowski (the defending champion) and Phil Pfister (the ’06 World’s Strongest Man). Although Mariusz didn’t have to go full bore on this event—he already had enough points to guarantee first place overall—he’s not known for performing any event at half speed. Mariusz likes to win and win it all. The stones have been a problem event for him in the past. He tends to get too quick for his own good and drops or misses a stone at some point. This time was no different. Phil took pleasure in beating Mariusz with a time of 20.83 to 31.09. Mariusz overthrew the fourth stone, and it rolled off the podium, which required him to relift it and place it back on the podium.
The race for second place was in the fourth and final pairing of Terry Hollands and Sebastian Wenta. They were head to head until the last stone. Wenta placed his 353-pound stone on the podium first with a time of 18.75 and clinched second overall, with Hollands a second later at 19.58 earning the bronze.
As the sun set on the sandy beach in Southern California, the Polish contingent, of which there were many, cheered as their fellow countrymen garnered the gold (Mariusz Pudzianowski) and the silver (Sebastian Wenta) in the Met-Rx ’07 World’s Strongest Man Finals. For the first time since 1993, an Englishman, Terry Hollands, stood on the winner’s podium with the bronze. A long week of herculean events that saw massive tons of weights moved at back-breaking speeds had come to an end. The coming season promises to be another year of upsets and records as Mariusz plans for his assault on a fifth title, and the world’s contenders work to derail his plans.
Author’s note: I would like to thank everyone involved at TMI productions, especially Lisa and dear sweet Fran, for their cooperation and patience in allowing me behind the scenes access to the contest. There was a lot of hard work involved in making this competition a success, and their efforts paid off handsomely. IM