As the 2023 strongman season gathers pace, the 46th edition of the sport’s greatest prize is just a month away and there’s speculation a-plenty as to who will be holding the winner’s trophy aloft in Myrtle Beach on April 23rd.
The Arnold Strongman Classic is now in the books and The Moose, having won, is many fans’ favourite for World’s. The Albatross, being the two-time defending champion, may have something to say about it, though. And what of the Colorado Colossus and his Drive for Five? With The Dragon taking a rest season, surely this could be his year?
This all may seem rather baffling, but everything will become clear once the 30 men invited to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, get underway at the Borroughs & Chapin Pavilion Place on April 19th. Over five days of competition, the planet’s most powerful men will do battle with stones, logs, dumbbells, and each other, to determine who will be the SBD World’s Strongest Man Tour 2023.
This article will consider each of this year’s main contenders and try to shed a little light on their winning potential.
The Albatross vs The Moose – A Two Horse Race?
As the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last performance, and if that’s true, Canada’s Mitchell Hooper could be WSM 2023’s hottest contender, having taken the Arnold Classic title just two weeks ago. Adding to his win at the Giants Live World Tour Finals back in November, Hooper has enjoyed a phenomenal debut season.
With Hooper, there are no obvious chinks in the armour. As a 475kg (1,047lb) deadlifter, his strength is beyond question, but his consistency is arguably his best trait: at the Arnold’s he never dropped out of the top three in any of the five events. Looking at what the competitors will be up against in the final, Max Dumbbell and Fingal’s Fingers are perhaps the only disciplines that could pose a problem.
If Hooper is to round off a stellar opening season with victory in Myrtle Beach, he will have to dethrone Tom Stoltman who claimed back-to-back wins in 2021 and 2022. Stoltman’s performance in Sacramento last year was a masterclass in the art of having no weaknesses – The Albatross took one third, four seconds and an event win on his way to a comprehensive 10.5 point winning margin. But that was last year, and after taking a 9-month break from competition, Stoltman looked lacklustre by his standards in Columbus, mustering only 6th.
With six weeks to train for World’s, Tom is certain to improve on his Arnold Classic form, but does he have enough time? To count Stoltman out would be foolish; he has some strong events in both the heats and finals – not least the Atlas Stones, which if the finish is closely contested, could well get him out of a tight spot. If he were to retain his title, he would become only the third man to win three titles in a row – Magnús Ver Magnússon and Bill Kazmaier being the other two.
Shaw’s Drive for Five
This year’s title race looks to be far from a two-horse race and one man who could well top the podium – he’s had plenty of experience doing just that – is the four-time champ, Brian Shaw. If he were to do so, after a seven-year gap since his last win (2016), he would double the current longest intermission between victories, held by Magnússon (1991-1994). It would be yet another record for the Denver man who has the joint highest number of podium finishes with Žydrūnas Savickas at 10!
He would also become the oldest ever winner, at 41, and with a set of events that suit him, Shaw’s threat in this year’s competition is considerable. Kettlebell Toss, Fingal’s Fingers, Giant Dumbbell, Truck Pull and Atlas Stones are all events he has excelled at, and no one can match him for experience and attention to detail in preparation.
A fifth title would match the achievement of Mariusz Pudzianowski, the only man to have won five. Regardless of the outcome, Shaw has let it be known that it is his intention to retire from World’s Strongest Man and his appearance this year will be his final one.
Novikov: Last Year’s Nearly Man
After taking third in the Giant’s Medley in last year’s final, Ukraine’s Oleksii Novikov took a stranglehold on the contest thanks to three consecutive event wins in the Deadlift, Flintstone Barbell and Bus Pull. The Power Stairs proved his undoing, but it was nonetheless a superb performance from a man who had suffered the ignominy of failing to qualify for the final the year before, despite being the defending champion.
Novikov is renowned for his fierce competitiveness and racked-up wins at Europe’s Strongest Man, The Strongman Classic, and the Rogue Invitational last year. He can be absolutely relied upon to arrive in South Carolina in top form and ready to bring a level of intensity that few can match. Deadlift and Vehicle Pull were both events he won in last year’s final and are on the event schedule once again along with Dumbbell Max, an event that Oleksii holds an unofficial world record in, having lifted 153kg (338lb) in training.
The Return of Kieliszkowski
Novikov took the World’s Strongest Man title back in 2020, in Bradenton, Florida and is a man who knows what it takes to capture the sports’ biggest title. From just across the Ukrainian border, is a Polish athlete who has twice come extremely close to clinching the title, placing second in 2018 and 2019. After a four-year absence from World’s, Mateusz Kieliszkowski will be making his long-awaited comeback, and if his performance at the Arnold’s is anything to go by, he means serios business!
Before his prolonged absence due to multiple injuries, including a trauma to his triceps back in 2020, the “Polish Terminator” was expected to win a world title at any moment, such was the standard of his performances. In 2019 his six-contest winning streak saw him take wins at Giants Live Wembley, The World Tour Finals, the Arnold Europe event and WUS Dubai. Competing only sparingly since, Mateusz has expressed his intention to take his time returning to full fitness, allowing his body to fully heal.
Kieliszkowski’s 2nd place at this month’s Arnold Classic was a major milestone in his comeback. Finishing in second place, four points adrift from Hooper, the Pole won three of the five events. He notched-up wins in the Wheel of Pain, Steintossen and Timber Carry, with the Max Deadlift leaking him the most points – an event that has been his Achilles Heel throughout his career. However, if he can reach the final, with no maximum deadlift on the cards, it’s hard to imagine him being anywhere other than in the mix.
Aside from Tom Stoltman, Great Britain will once again be represented by a super-talented squad, many of whom have made finals in recent years. Luke Stoltman will be looking to improve on his 7th place finish from last year but will have much to prove following his disappointing placing at the Arnold’s.
Adam Bishop was a highly convincing winner at Britain’s Strongest Man back in January and having put his injury woes behind him will be looking to qualify for his 4th final, and better the 6th place he achieved in 2020. Like many of the Brits, “Bish” first needs to navigate Europe’s Strongest Man, which is just a fortnight out from World’s. A strong performance there, with no injuries, could set him up nicely for Myrtle Beach.
Behind him at Britain’s were Gavin Bilton and Graham Hicks, both of whom looked to be in excellent shape. Hicksy’s best placing at World’s was 10th in 2020. Bilton, making his fourth appearance at WSM, will be gunning for his first final. He placed 4th in his heat last year but looked more at home at World’s than in previous years. The Welsh Bull has shed some serious poundage and looks fitter than ever.
Joining Brian Shaw in WSM retirement will be “The Miracle Man,” Mark Felix, who announced earlier this year, that he will continue to compete in strongman, but will not be returning to World’s. By the time his heat gets underway he will be 57-years and 2 days old – the oldest man to ever compete at World’s Strongest Man. It will be his 18th appearance, which is also a record. Mark’s best finish was 4th back in 2006, but he performed well last year, achieving the best time of any athlete in the Wrecking Ball hold.
Paul Smith will be the final British representative, excepting any late additions. His 4th place at Britain’s included an event win and some superb performances. He’ll be happy to see that Power Stairs is not on the event schedule after it scuppered his podium chances in Sheffield.
In addition to Shaw, American athletes have so far received five invites. The Texan, Trey Mitchell has finished 6th and 4th in the last two finals and was 4th at the recent Arnold Classic. A superb deadlifter and overhead presser, Mitchell was 2nd at the Rogue Invitational and won the Shaw Classic last year, proving he has the potential to beat the toughest of line-ups.
The American Nightmare, Bobby Thompson will be searching for redemption after he lost out in a bizarre Stone-Off last year, unable to lift a single rep. His third place at the Arnold Classic indicates his preparations have gone well and he could well improve on the 9th place he achieved in 2021.
Another man seeking absolution will be Evan Singleton whose previous three appearances have not seen him progress from the group stages. Injury and illness have thwarted his last two World’s and it’s clear that the T-Rex has much more to offer – he has won three Giants Live contests. Perhaps the former wrestler is better suited to one-day, evening shows?
Completing the USA line-up are Kevin Faires and Spenser Remick. Faires, who will be making his 5th appearance, placed 7th in the 2020 final, but has suffered the agony of losing stone-offs the last two years. Remick, the 2022 Official Strongman Games winner will be making his debut at WSM. He’s an excellent all-rounder with no obvious weak points and could well upset some of the more established men in the heats.
The Canadian trio, who incredibly, all made the final last year, will be back in attendance in South Carolina. Joining Hooper will be the 2021, 3rd place finisher, Maxime Boudreault. Boudreault was 5th last year, in Sacramento, and seems to save his best performances of the year for World’s – not a bad trick. He was 7th at the Rogue invitational and 5th at the Shaw Classic last year, but as yet, has not competed in 2023.
His teammate, Gabriel Rhéaume, surprised many by qualifying for the final last year. The 2021 Canada’s Strongest Man trailed Tom Stoltman and Kevin Faires but dispatched the American in the Stone-Off. He’s competed only sparingly since Sacramento, finishing behind Boudreault at Canada’s Strongest Man, and made his only other showing at the Shaw Classic where he was a lowly 13th.
The European Threat
Another rookie at WSM will be Pavlo Nakonechnyy (or “Wide Pavlo”, as opposed to “Tall Pavlo” Kordiyaka). Having won the World Open in Cardiff last year, the muscular Ukrainian has been competing more regularly on the world scene and producing some excellent performances, including 5th at the Rogue Invitational and 6th at the Arnold’s. His Ukrainian teammate, Pavlo Kordiyaka, lost out on a spot in the finals last year after a thrilling stone-off with Maxime Boudreault in which he managed 10 repetitions before failing the 11th.
Eythór Ingólfsson Melsted has twice made the finals, finishing 10th in 2021 and 9th in 2021. Like Boudreault, World’s Strongest Man seems to bring the best out of the Icelander, so don’t be surprised to see him back in the final.
The Georgian Bull, Konstantine Janashia, is a veteran at WSM and had his best finish of 4th in 2016. He last made the final in 2021, where he was 6th, and other than his 3rd place at Europe’s Strongest Man last year, has struggled to reproduce his best form in big international contests.
Estonia’s Rauno Heinla is the final European athlete and is coming off the back of a tremendous 2022 in which he finished 2nd at the Master’s World’s Strongest Man (behind Savickas) and set a new Master’s World Record in the deadlift with a 476kg (1,049lb) World Deadlift Championships winning lift. Amazingly, Rauno last attended WSM in 2011, in Wingate North Carolina!
The singing strongman Eddie Williams will be representing Australia and is coming off the back of two Giants Live appearances last year, the best of which was his 6th place at The Strongman Classic. His only previous performance at WSM was in 2019, where he was 5th in his heat.
Also making the journey from the Southern hemisphere will be Jean-Stephen Coraboeuf, the 2019 Australia’s Strongest Man winner. With his French Heritage, Coraboeuf will be competing under the Tricolour, as he did last year, in a performance which very nearly landed him a place in the final. With five reps in the Stone-Off, he was unable to get past Melsted, but proved to all who watched him what an accomplished athlete he is, despite his smaller stature.
The final two competitors already confirmed are New Zealand’s Matthew Ragg and the South African Jaco Schoonwinkel. Both men’s invites came courtesy of their podium finishes at the Official Strongman Games in Daytona Beach last year. Neither have attended World’s before.