Britain’s Strongest Man 2023 – Preview
Battle of Britain Most Open in Years!
Battle of Britain Most Open in Years!
Predicting the outcome of a strongman contest is never a sure thing. There’s a myriad of pitfalls and potential slip-ups waiting to knock the athletes off their stride, but this year’s Britain’s Strongest Man, being the 40th running of the competition, is as wide open a contest as you could ever wish to see.
The action gets underway next Saturday night at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena, on the 28th of January, and one thing’s for certain: with the current British Champion and two-time World’s Strongest Man Tom Stroltman not in the line-up, the title will most definitely be changing hands.
Two former champions will be vying to add another British crown to their CV’s, whilst a host of less established contenders will be sensing an opportunity to make their mark. But what makes anticipating the result of this year’s competition so fraught with difficulty, and so potentially exciting, is the absence of a clear-cut favourite. Furthermore, of the field of 12 athletes, 6 will be making their Britain’s Strongest Man debut.
Of the two former champions, Adam Bishop, the 2020 victor, will be making his first full competitive outing since tearing the medial head of his triceps in a freak training accident. Joining him on the recently recovered list would have been Luke Richardson, who has been rehabilitating the ruptured biceps tendon he sustained at the 2021 World’s Strongest Man contest. However, with yet another stroke of cruel misfortune, Richardson has had to withdraw due to a torn lat muscle.
2007 winner, Terry Hollands, who has been bodybuilding since his retirement in 2021, was due to return to competition in Sheffield, but like Richardson and Pa O’Dwyer, who also had to pull out due to injury, has been forced to drop out. Such withdrawals are part and parcel of a sport where athletes must push their bodies to the limit of its capabilities on a daily basis. Hopefully it will not be long before the fans will get to see all three in action again.
The 2019 winner, Graham Hicks, has not competed in a full contest since August, when he took part in the Giants Live Open and World Deadlift Championships, exhibiting ominously good form. Completing an impressively comfortable 1,000lb (453.6kg) deadlift, indicating there was more in the tank, the Morecombe man chose discretion over valour, opting to not overstrain the groin injury that has dogged him for two years. Even so, he performed very solidly in the rest of the contest and eventually finished 4th overall, just a couple of points adrift from Oleksii Novikov.
Finishing just outside the medals last year was England’s Shane Flowers who came from well down the field to finish 4th, after winning the Sandbag Toss and taking second in the Castle Stones. It’s difficult to believe this was only his third strongman competition, but the former junior powerlifting champion was able to qualify for World’s Strongest Man last year. Injuring his foot in the heats, he was forced to withdraw, but the career of Flower Power, as he is known, looks set to blossom.
Another man who is very much on the up is Sheffield’s own Paul Smith. Having twice finished 5th (in 2018 and 2022), Smith is the current UK’s Strongest Man, and will be looking to challenge for the podium this year. There are few tougher competitors than Smith, who recently married his fiancé, Shannon Clifford. Shannon won the 2021 World’s Strongest Woman in the lightweight division, making the happy couple the strongest husband and wife in Britain!
Welsh hopes will be resting on Gavin Bilton who, amazingly, will be making his debut at Britain’s Strongest Man. The Welsh Bull was the 2020 UK’s Strongest Man but has yet to make an appearance in Sheffield and will be hoping to become the first Welshman to take the title since Gary Taylor in 1991. Bilton seems to have put his health issues behind him and appears revitalised and highly motivated; he will have his sights set firmly on the podium’s top step.
A man who has had no lack of experience on the Britain’s Strongest Man platform is England’s Mark Felix who will be making his 13th appearance. Along with Terry Hollands, Mark has accumulated the most podium finishes, with six, the last of which was in 2016, when he lost out to Eddie Hall. Mark’s last competition was the World’s Strongest Nation event in Liverpool, where he anchored the British team to victory in the Power Stairs.
Hoping to keep the title north of the border will be Scotland’s Andy Black who stepped in only recently to replace the injured O’Dwyer. The Bulldozer is one of a trio of Scots hoping to add their name to the list of past champions of which only two have been Scottish – Forbes Cowan and Tom Stoltman.
Fellow Caledonian Louis Jack made his Giants Live debut at the World Tour Finals on his home patch in Glasgow. The current Scotland’s Strongest Man had his best event in the Nicol Stones, and like Black, is a highly competent Atlas Stone lifter and will no doubt be somewhat frustrated with the present trend of omitting the usual contest finale in favour of the Power Stairs.
The Malawian Monster, Zake Muluzi, completes the Scottish contingent and will be making his debut at Britain’s Strongest Man as well as on the Giants Live stage. He is a 2019 World’s Strongest Man competitor and pushed Louis Jack all the way in last year’s Scotland’s Strongest Man contest.
Representing Ireland will be Cilléin Groom – the man who has finished runner-up to O’Dwyer at Ireland’s Strongest Man for the past two years. Called up to replace Hollands with almost no time to prepare, Cilléin is a former rugby player who placed 4th at UK’s Strongest Man last year and may take his chance to cause a few surprises in this contest
England’s Strongest Man, Ryan Bennett, who is also a debutante at Britain’s, has competed more frequently internationally, having appeared at the Strongman Champions League and Arnold UK’s last season. Bennett has been coached by Laurence Shahlaei since 2019, so will be getting the very best of advice from a man who has twice taken the British title.
Completing the line-up is Weymouth’s Kane Francis, who finished in third place at England’s Strongest Man which was his first ever strongman contest. Keen to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by Luke Richardson’s withdrawal, Francis could be a dark horse in this show, having made the podium on three occasions last season on the Strongman Champions League circuit, including a bronze medal at the World Finals in Alanya, Turkey.
Event 1: Deadlift Ladder
Weights: 300kg, 320kg, 340kg, 360kg, 380kg
Time limit: 60 sec
The ladder format is now a regular one for the opening event at Britain’s, with logs and dumbbells having been previously lifted. This will be the first time the deadlift ladder set-up of increasing weights will have been used in Sheffield, though it featured at Europe’s Strongest Man last season. With many of the athletes owning maximum deadlifts well in excess of 400kg (880lb), the weights may not seem too heavy, but fatigue will play a huge role in this event, with the athletes facing the greatest loads just as they begin to run out of steam.
Whether or not to use lifting straps will be an interesting tactical element here and will depend largely on each athlete’s grip strength. This event was contested in the heat stages of World’s Strongest Man, and it was intriguing to see how some athletes declined to waste valuable seconds fixing their straps and used a traditional mixed grip instead.
There is no shortage of deadlifting talent in this line-up; Bishop and Hicks are both members of the 1,000lb club, whilst the rest of the field is stacked with men who have pulled well beyond 400kg. The weight increments in Sheffield will be similar to those used in the heats of World’s Strongest Man, where Adam Bishop was the best performing Brit.
Weight: 450kg (992lb)
Time limit: 60 seconds
Not since the 2021 World Tour Finals has this event been staged at a Giants Live contest and it was Mark Felix who was the best placed of the British athletes competing in Sheffield. Felix also outperformed all the Brits in the heats of last year’s World’s Strongest Man, so he could well pick up good points in this discipline.
The form book suggests that Laurence Shahlaei’s British record of 11.05 seconds, which he set in Leeds back in 2016 on his way to winning Europe’s Strongest Man, may well be safe, but records are of secondary importance and the main contenders will be focusing on producing a solid run, free from major errors.
Balancing the car favourably during the initial pick-up is of crucial importance, so experience can be a key factor. Competitors such as Felix, Hicks and Bishop will have done this event many times, but with 1,000lb on their shoulders, experience may not count for everything.
Weight: 150kg (331lb)
Time limit: 60 seconds
When it comes to overhead pressing power Graham Hicks will take some beating as event 3 shifts the onus onto the athletes’ upper body strength. But as with many overhead disciplines, a coordinated and explosive leg drive can be hugely beneficial, allowing more athletic competitors to post very respectable rep counts.
Of all the overhead disciplines the Viking Press will probably be least damaging to Mark Felix, who has struggled in Log, Axle, and Dumbbell variations over recent years. When last used at a Giants Live contest at the 2021 World Open, Adam Bishop’s 11 reps was good enough for equal 2nd with Oleksii Novikov, just a single rep behind event winner Evan Singleton. Gavin Bilton also enjoyed his best result of the night, managing an impressive 10 reps. Both men should therefore perform well in Sheffield, though this will be a stern test of how well Bish’s injured triceps has healed.
Implements: Anchor: 120kg (265lb), 2 x barrels: 120kg, tyre: 120kg
Time limit: 60 seconds
This classic strongman discipline is frequently incorporated into contests to test the athletes’ strength endurance. Often an event of high drama and excitement, as the athletes race head-to-head, there is plenty of scope for mishaps. Not always built for stamina, the competitors, as they begin to fatigue, become increasingly prone to slip-ups, and misloaded implements can all too easily derail their overall chances.
This year the sack has been replaced with a second 120kg (265lb) barrel, which will not considerably alter the event, although each implement has its own degree of awkwardness and can be easily mishandled. The speed at which the athletes pick the implements off the floor is just as crucial as their pace up and down the course.
Traditionally a strong event for Adam Bishop, of the men competing who were at the 2021 Britain’s Strongest Man, which was the last time this event was performed at BSM, it was Shane Flowers who topped the list.
Implements: 200kg (441lb), 210kg (463lb), 225kg (496lb), 240kg (529lb), 250kg (551lb)
Steps: 3 per implement (15 in total)
Time limit: 60 seconds
Britain’s Strongest Man 2023 will be decided, for the first time, by the Power Stairs. This will be the second time Giants Live have switched out their usual contest finale of the Atlas Stones in favour of this event, with the 2022 World Tour Finals also being concluded with the stairs.
At the 2022 Europe’s Strongest Man contest Shane Flowers once again demonstrated his superb power and athleticism, besting all his fellow Brits and taking third behind Latvia’s Aivars Šmaukstelis and Ukrainian Pavlo Kordiyaka.
One school of thought is that shorter athletes such as Hicks and Smith will need to lift the weights proportionately higher and so could be at a disadvantage. The likes of Bilton and Black, standing at 2.00m should therefore have a mechanical edge. However, at this stage of the contest there will be plenty of tired limbs and cramping muscles, so the best conditioned competitors may well come to the fore and pick up some valuable points.