• 16 February, 2024
  • 8 mins

Arnold Strongman Classic 2024 Preview – Hooper vs Stoltman Rivalry to Continue as Bjornsson and Licis Return

Mitchell Hooper and Tom Stoltman will once again be going head-to-head as they prepare to face-off at the Arnold Strongman Classic. Their rivalry is quickly becoming one of Strongman’s best – think Sigmarsson vs Kazmaier, or Shaw vs Savickas – and after battling it out on the Giants Live tour last season, their showdown in Columbus, Ohio, will be their first match-up of 2024.

Hooper’s defeat of Tom at last year’s World’s kick-started a thrilling series of showdowns that has kept strength fans mesmerised. It’s Hooper that has taken most of the plaudits, besting the Albatross at last year’s Arnold’s, the Shaw Classic and the Rogue International. However, it was Stoltman who came out on top at Giants Live’s Strongman Classic and the World Tour Finals, which he won.

Tom, a two-time World’s Strongest Man, has yet to perform at his best in Columbus; he was 6th last year, which is his best result to date. If not for the Moose, he may well have won a third world title and confirmed himself as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He claimed his third Britain’s Strongest Man title last month and seems to be performing with renewed determination since relinquishing his World crown.

After bursting onto the Strongman scene at the 2022 World’s Strongest Man contest, Hooper has finished on the podium in all 13 of his shows since. He has joined a select group who have won the Arnold’s and World’s in the same year and will be looking to repeat that feat this season. His rise from virtual novice to domination of the sport has been nothing short of astonishing.

The Arnold Classic is the first major international of the year and it’s a contest that’s not short of talking points! Aside from the Moose vs Albatross clash, 2022 champion, Martins Licis, returns to the fray after an extended break from competition, and if that wasn’t enough, 2018 WSM and three-time Arnold champion, Hafthór Björnsson, will be making his highly anticipated return to the sport.


The stacked line-up has five World’s Strongest Man winners in attendance, and a remarkable 24 Giants Live titles between them. Nine of these are Björnsson’s, including five Europe’s Strongest Man victories. After stepping away from the sport at the peak of his powers, Thor will be making his return at the highest possible level. The 6-foot, 9-inch Icelander is, in fact, the lineal Arnold champion.

Evan Singleton will be making his debut at the Arnold’s and coming off a superb 2023 season, big things will be expected of him. He has enjoyed great success on the Giants Live circuit, with his most recent victory coming at the Strongman Classic where he defeated both Hooper and Tom Stoltman.

2020 World’s Strongest Man, Oleksii Novikov, will also be returning to Columbus. The Ukrainian was the 2022 runner up and will be hoping to be back to his best after surgery last year. Another man returning from injury – a broken foot – is Canada’s Maxime Boudreault who finished 3rd at the 2021 WSM. His last competitive appearance came at the Rogue Invitational last October, where he was 6th.

America’s Bobby Thompson will be looking to improve on the consecutive 3rd place finishes he made in 2022 and 2023. The American Nightmare, as he is known, likes nothing better than a super-heavy contest and will be looking to perform strongly in the Deadlift and Axle Press. Fellow American Tom Evans made his Arnold debut last year, placing 5th, having won the amateur contest in 2022.

Another man to have won the Arnold Amateur Strongman World Championships is Poland’s Oskar Ziólkowski. He took top honours in the 2023 contest, also winning the 2023 Official Strongman European Championship, as well as the Strongman Champions League World Finals. He was 6th at Giants’ Strongman Open in Cardiff and was the 2021 Poland’s Strongest Man winner.

The second Pole in the line-up, and a man whose performance is always eagerly watched, is Mateusz Keiliszkowski. He won the Arnold Amateur in 2015, aged just 21, and has twice finished runner-up at the pro contest. Regarded as one of the strongest men to have never won World’s Strongest Man, he admits to feeling the pressure. After so many injuries, he has confessed that the mind is the hardest thing to heal.

Return of Martins and Thor

The comebacks of two of the sports greatest champions has caused much speculation ahead of this contest. Licis was the 2019 World’s Strongest Man but has competed only three times since his 2021 Rogue Invitational victory. After nearly a year and a half since his last contest, it will be fascinating to see how he fares. Björnsson’s Strongman break has spanned over three and a half years and many of the established champions he’ll face in Columbus have either not faced him before or were very much on the way up when last they met.

Speaking recently in an interview with Laurence Shahlaei, Björnsson was optimistic about his chances. Pointing out that experience is key, he predicted that himself, Licis and Hooper would probably make the podium. “I know I’ll perform well and come in good shape. Is that going to be enough? I don’t really care. At the end of the day, I don’t need to prove anything, I’m just happy to be back.”

One man who has certainly gained Hafthór’s attention is Mitchell Hooper, an athlete he has never faced. “Who comes in and just starts dominating? What a career he has had already! If I come back and allow him just to destroy me in all those shows this year, then people will always talk about when Mitch Hooper beat Thor. I’ve got to come back, I‘ve got to at least give it my best.”

Thor’s bodyweight is sitting at 186kg (410lb) and climbing. “Weight moves weight,” as he says, and whilst his deadlift is progressing fast – he recently posted a 1,000lb Elephant Bar training lift – overhead pressing is proving his biggest weakness, due mainly to the pec injury he sustained last year.


Victory in the contest’s opening event, the Elephant Bar Deadlift, looks likely for Björnsson – he holds the record with 474kg. “My focus is just to win, not break the record. It will be good to make a good start, and then go last in the next event.” He thinks 440-450kg will be enough to win. Bobby Thompson won with 445kg last year, but this time its raw.

Mateusz Kieliszkowski will be eagerly watched in Event 2, The Timber Carry. The Pole holds the record with a blistering 7.00s with the 400kg frame which must be carried 11m with no straps! It’s not the only record held by a man who is also on the comeback trail after years of injury problems.

Dat 2 will kick-off with the Dinnie Stone Carry, which, like the Timber Carry, is a huge test of grip strength. Both could be excellent events for Hooper who has excelled at the Nicols Stone Carry at Giants Live events. Evan Singleton could also shine here; he has proven grip strength and has shown fantastic pace in frame carries. Not that anyone will be getting much speed up with the Dinnies; with a combined weight of 332.5kg (733lb) they are immensely awkward to walk with.

The penultimate event will be Apollon’s Wheels. Back in 2002 at the inaugural contest, Mark Henry achieved 3 reps with the 166kg axle. This year the athletes will be attempting a massive 182.5kg and a winner will be tricky to pick. Bobby Thompson is perhaps the stand-out overhead lifter of the group, but as always with axles, getting the bar successfully to the shoulders might be the toughest test.

The 22nd edition of the Arnold Strongman Classic will finish with the Stone Medley, in which the strongmen will need to first lift a stone to platform and then press another overhead, before attempting to rep the Odd Haugen 186kg (410lb) Tombstone to shoulder. Already fatigued, it would be surprising if anyone could match or better Kieliszkowski’s astounding 5-reps from 2019.

The competition gets underway on Friday 1st March and continues through to Saturday 2nd March, as part of the Arnold Sports Festival. The 2024 champion will walk away with $80,000 as part of a $182,000 prize pot.