Rongo Keene, aka The Warrior, is an Australian professional strongman who is one of the most colourful characters on the international scene. Formerly from New Zealand, he is a proud Mãori and performed a memorable haka at the 2018 World’s Strongest Man contest.
Working full time in the gold mines of Western Australian, Rongo has made his way in the sport the hard way, living and training in a small town called Kalgoolie, where he has his own business. He is especially well known for his overhead strength, holding Australian records in the Log Press and Circus Dumbbell.
Before he realised his prodigious strength ability it was singing where he first made an impact, appearing as a finalist on New Zealand’s Idol. He is married to Angelina and has three sons, Zion, Shaq and Kaea, who he describes as his “world.”
Rongo moved to Australia at age 18 having played plenty of rugby in his younger years, as well as competing at a high level in martial arts. Going straight into employment he initially worked as a scaffolder’s labourer in the gold mines, spending all day lifting tubes above his head, an activity he feels laid the foundations of his impressive shoulder strength.
By coincidence, Carl Waitoa, the 2005 World’s Strongest Man competitor, came to his town and Rongo remembers pestering him until he agreed to train him. This was in 2014, and that same year he entered and won his first contest – Western Australia’s Strongest Man. From that point on he was hooked. After winning Singapore’s Strongest Man in 2016 , he triumphed at Australia’s Strongest Man title, defeating Tyson Morrissy after just two years of training, working a physically demanding job.
Having begun working with Warrick Brant, in 2017 he earned his pro card after competing at the Arnold Australia Amateurs where he broke his coach’s Australian Log record with a 190kg (419lb) press. His subsequent performance at the Arnold Pro event qualified him for the 2018 World’s Strongest Man where he finished 6th in his heat.
At the 2019 SBD World Log Lift Championships in Panevėžys, Lithuania, Rongo lifted 207.5kg (457lb) for a new Australian record, beating a host of men finishing on 200kg (441lb), including Lithuania’s Vidas Blekaitis.
2022 has seen Rongo return to competition with more regularity, achieving some excellent results, including podium finishes at the Strongman Champions League, the Pahlavon Mahmud Strongman Grand Prix and a win at the Magnús Ver Magnūsson Strongman Classic.
In 2022 Rongo won the Magnús Ver Magnūsson Strongman Classic, in Iceland, defeating a strong field that included 2021 World’s Strongest Man podium finisher, Maxime Boudreault (CAN) and two-time WSM finalist, Eythór Ingólfsson Melsted (ISL). This was Rongo’s first major contest victory since his 2016 Australia’s Strongest Man win.
Keene was able to complete a 6-point victory over Boudreault, taking wins in Rock Press and Stone to Shoulder, as well as a second-place finish in the Farmer’s Walk, an equal second place in the Deadlift and a third in the Log Medley.
Rongo is confirmed to appear at his first Giants Live contest this year, something that has been an ambition of his for a few years now, having told his children this was something he would achieve. On July 8th he will feature at the Royal Albert Hall in London in The Strongman Classic.
Keene speaks regularly about his journey in strongman being one he shares with his family and 2023 promises to be a big year for The Warrior, who enjoyed arguably his most successful international season last year. Invites to compete may well become more frequent and a return to World’s Strongest Man could well be on the cards in the future.
Rongo and his Instagram alter-ego Ringo are a must-see, and his account can be found as @the_warrior_rongokeene. His 70k followers are treated to many comedic moments as well as clips of his competitive performances.
There are several videos featuring Rongo on YouTube, including news pieces, interviews, and competition footage. His performance at Giants Live’s Strongman Classic 2023 will be aired on UK television’s Channel 5 over the Christmas period.