Europe’s Strongest Man 2023 – PREVIEW
The Giants return to Leeds in 2023 for what is set to be a thrilling showdown of strength!
The Giants return to Leeds in 2023 for what is set to be a thrilling showdown of strength!
Just as Wembley is the home of football, and Lord’s of cricket, the West Yorkshire city of Leeds, and the First Direct Arena in particular, has become the spiritual home of strongman in Europe. Since 2011 Europe’s Strongest Man has resided there, moving from Headlingley Stadium in 2016 to the brand-new indoor facility in the city’s Arena Quarter.
The 44th edition of Europe’s Strongest Man gets underway at the First Direct Arena at 5.00pm on Saturday 1st April. With the majority of the continent’s best athletes in attendance, this latest instalment of the European Championship looks certain to provide yet more of the thrilling action it has become renowned for.
And what makes this year’s contest all the more fascinating is its proximity to World’s Strongest Man, which kicks off on April 19th in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, just over two weeks after Europe’s. As yet, the full complement of 30 athletes has not been confirmed, partly because three spots must be left open to whoever makes the podium in Leeds. With that in mind, there’s all to play for!
Last year’s winner, Oleksii Novikov, will be there to defend the title he won from Luke Stoltman, reversing their positions from 2021, when the Scot prevailed. With events mirroring those on the roster for World’s Strongest Man, particularly in the heats, Europe’s could be the perfect tune-up for the Ukrainian as he attempts what would be an astonishing double.
Novikov is the kind of athlete that can be relied upon to turn up to Leeds in peak condition and with anything but victory totally inconceivable to his mind. The Ukrainian leaves nothing to chance; even during a contest he makes sure to test the onstage kit immediately prior to his heat, not content with the warm-up equipment provided backstage. It’s a habit that has stood him in good stead, helping him to win three Giants Live shows since his debut at the World Tour Finals in 2023. Amazingly, Novikov has never failed to podium in all eight GL contests he has been part of.
Last year’s third place finisher, Konstantine Janashia will be returning to Leeds to take his fifth shot at the European title. The Georgian is a veteran at Europe’s Strongest Man and has reached the podium three times, with his best finish the second place he took behind Hafthór Björnsson in 2018. His best events in last year’s competition came in the Deadlift Ladder, which he won, and Atlas Stones, where he placed third. This year he will have to contend with a Log Ladder, but with a 202.5kg (446lb) best, which is one of the highest in the field, he should still place highly.
Coming off the back of a dominant display in Sheffield back in January, two-time Britain’s Strongest Man, Adam Bishop, will be hoping to make his mark. The former professional rugby player was forced to sit out last year’s contest as he recovered from a triceps rupture following a training accident. Looking to be back close to his best at Britain’s the extent to which his arm has healed will be put to the test in the opening Log Ladder event.
Finishing just behind Adam in Sheffield was The Welsh Bull, Gavin Bilton, who having lost some substantial poundage looked more mobile than ever and produced his best performance at Giants Live. Like Bishop, he too is confirmed to compete at World’s and would get a huge boost in confidence with a good showing in Leeds.
Graham Hicks made the podium at Europe’s in 2021 partly due to a getting things off to a good start with an equal 1st in the Log Lift. With this year’s proceedings getting underway with the Log Ladder, Hicksy is certain to be featuring high on the leader board and he’ll be hopeful that he can maintain that momentum as the events unfold.
In his last Giants Live appearance, Latvia’s Aivars Šmaukstelis finished 2nd at the World Tour Finals in Glasgow, last October. The 2020 World’s Strongest Man finalist has only once competed at Europe’s Strongest Man, placing 6th last year. Coming off the back of victories in his last two competitive outings – 1st at the Strongman Champions League Final and at the World Strongman Championships – Aivars should be feeling quietly confident.
Estonia’s Rauno Heinla will also be flying out to Myrtle Beach after competing at Europe’s, as will Iceland’s Eythór Ingólfsson Melsted, the two-time WSM finalist. Heinla, the Master’s Deadlift world record holder, at 476kg (1,049lb), recently posted a video of him deadlifting 360kg (794lb) for 10 reps – a performance that could make him a hot favourite for 1st place in Event 3: Deadlift for Reps.
Ireland’s Pa O’Dwyer has had his share of injury woes, having to pull out of World’s last year. His best finish at ESM came in 2021 where he was 5th. The 2021 Britain’s Strongest Man runner-up will be hoping to book his ticket on the plane to South Carolina with a big performance in Leeds. Pavlo Kordiyaka has the luxury of already being confirmed for WSM but having been just 1.5 points adrift of Janashia at last year’s show, the 6-foot 5-inch Ukrainian will be setting his sights on the podium.
Making his Europe’s Strongest Man debut, Paul Smith has developed into one of Britain’s best and most improved strongmen over the last few years. He came close to his first podium finish at Giants Live in January, placing 4th at Britain’s Strongest Man. He has a growing reputation as a dogged and technically proficient athlete, so don’t be surprised to see him in the mix.
The final Brit in the line-up will be Shane Flowers, who was able to place a highly respectable 5th in 2022 – very impressive for a man in just his third ever strongman contest. Shane’s most recent performances have been marred by injury and illness, so it will be good to see him back to his best next Saturday.
Making the journey from the Southern hemisphere for his Giants Live debut will be Jean-Stephen Coraboeuf, the 2019 Australia’s Strongest Man winner. With his French Heritage, he will be competing under the Tricolour, as he did at World’s Strongest Man in 2022, where he only narrowly missed out on a place in the final. Jean-Stephen is one of the more slightly built strongman at the elite level, which is absurd for a man who is nearly 6-foot and 20-stones. Like Mitchell Hooper, he was a scratch golfer as a younger man and came into strongman through powerlifting.
Completing the line-up is Dennis Kohlruss, the 2022 & 2021 Germany’s Strongest Man, who at 6 foot 4 and 175kg will be one of the largest men in the field. This will be his Europe’s Strongest Man debut, although he has appeared at Giants Live previously and featured at the 2015 Scandinavian Open. He competed at the 2018 World’s Strongest Man and is the German record holder in Log, with a 200kg (441lb) lift, so could perform well in the opening event.
Event 1: The SBD Log Ladder
The opening event will favour the best overhead pressers in the field, such as Graham Hicks and Oleksii Novikiv, but the ladder is a challenging variation of the classic lift where the heaviest implements are lifted under the most fatigue.
When last held at a Giants Live event, Scotland’s Luke Stoltman completed a similar run in 53.57 seconds, beating the late Aaron Page. A slightly heavier set-up was used at the 2020 World’s Strongest Man which was won by Tom Stoltman. The best finisher on that occasion present in tonight’s field was Oleksii Novikov who managed 4 logs in 32.68 seconds.
Event 2: The Clearscore Load & Push
Although similar events to this have been held at Giants Live, this is a new set-up and it’s tricky to predict who will excel and who might struggle. Loading race specialists will be hoping to pick-up good points here, but as ever, a misload or a mishandled implement could cost the competitors dearly.
A somewhat similar event was contested at the Scandinavian Open in Norrköping, Sweden, where the competitors had to load sacks into a giant wheelie bin, then push it down the course. 5-time Europe’s Strongest Man winner Hafthór Björnsson came out on top on that occasion, whilst Britain’s Adam Bishop came away with a sore head after colliding with his bin!
Event 3: The Mirafit Deadlift for Reps
It’s almost impossible to win any strongman title without some considerable pulling power and this classic powerlifting discipline has long been regarded as one of the greatest tests of total body strength. Adam Bishop will be hard to beat in this event and has established himself as one of the world’s best exponents of Deadlift for Reps. Rauno Heinla and Oleksii Novikov could be the men to push and even eclipse Bishop’s rep count.
This type of event is most often performed on an axle bar, which is much thicker and stiffer. At the 2017 Britain’s Strongest Man contest, Eddie “The Beast” Hall performed 9 repetitions on a 350kg standard barbell to take the event win from Mark Felix.
Event 4: The BoohooMAN Conan’s Wheel
This gruelling event is as much about endurance as it is about strength and it will certainly examine the staying power of these huge men, who are not always built for stamina. Success in this discipline can hinge on the speed at which the athletes move around the circle before their arm and shoulders fatigue, and the bar slips from their grasp.
Giants Live’s Darren Sadler showed his grit when winning this event at the Doncaster Dome in 2016, at Britain’s Strongest Man, with an 835-degree effort which remains the record. It was most recently contested at the 2020 Britain’s where Ireland’s Pa O’Dwyer defeated second-placed Adam Bishop’s 775° with a 792° run.
Event 5: The Castle Stones
“There’s only one way to finish a strongman show,” is Colin Bryce’s often-used phrase, but with several recent Giants Live contests ending with the Power Stairs, this field’s stone lifting specialists will be pleased to see the familiar sight of the five granite orbs awaiting them.
Contests can so easily be won or lost on the Atlas Stones and one of the most memorable head-to-heads came at the 2017 Europe’s Strongest Man when The Mountain, Hafthór Björnsson defeated Eddie Hall to take the title and the event win. Using the heavier set of stones (120kg – 200kg) he completed the course in a staggering 17.54 seconds, which remains the world record. Tom Stoltman hold the record for this set at 16.01 seconds, set at the 2020 Britain’s Strongest Man.
As the competitors put the finishing touches to their preparations, there’s still time to get tickets for what promises to be stunning contest. Tickets are available via the Giants Live website: www.giants-live.com