Opinion: Why the 2017 World’s Strongest Man Controversies Are Overblown

Let me preface this with a spoiler alert: if you are one of the few people waiting until Christmas to find out who wins the 2017 World’s Strongest Man, stop reading now (and probably stay off the internet altogether).

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

If you are still with us, then it will likely come as absolutely no surprise that Britain’s Eddie Hall has prevailed in Botswana and is the new Worlds Strongest Man. Sadly, this isn’t even technically official yet, as WSM seems intent on pretending that the competition hasn’t happened. More frustratingly, this doesn’t just extend to who won, but to the results of the entire contest with all athletes bound by a non-disclosure contract. So with that in mind, please appreciate that all results and details shared here are completely unofficial (though accurate to my knowledge).

Disclaimers out of the way, what should have been the Brit’s crowning glory has been marred with controversy. Rumors of leaked events, dodgy refereeing, and athlete sabotage were flying all over the web. These rumors range from the plausible all the the way to the downright conspiratorial-ly crazy.

The most timid of the accusations is that Eddie Hall was given an easier group in Qualifiers. Whether it was intentional or not, it’s difficult to deny that Eddie’s group was likely easier than the others, especially before injuries and drop outs started to take their toll on the line up. The reality is, though, that it just doesn’t really matter. Put him in any of the other groups, and he still makes the final every time and everything else being equal still comes out on top.

Another rumor that floated around is the suggestion that Eddie alone knew the events months before the show, in contrast to the rest of the athletes who were given only a few weeks to prepare. I just find that too hard to believe, especially seeing as I have doubts that any of the events were set in stone more than a few weeks out. What’s more, the final events weren’t exactly novel either, and I’d imagine that Eddie and all the other athletes would have been squatting, deadlifting, pressing, pulling, and hitting stones in prep for the competition regardless. The only outlier is the tire flip and drag, which happened to be changed in Botswana to just a tire flip — and it was Hall’s worst event.

Then there is the suggestion that all the events were tailored to suit Eddie; the events certainly suited the statically strong athlete. But then it’s strongman, and Hall is a phenomenal athlete, and you’d struggle to put together a strongman competition that wouldn’t see him doing well. Change any of the equipment or rep schemes of the finals, and I can’t see the overall result being any different. You could spend hours creating endless hypothetical event combinations that would have suited the likes of Shaw and Thor, but in reality Hall is today a well rounded athlete who came in strong and capitalized on the events he was given. It’s also worth highlighting that stones were worth double points, an event that Hafthor and Shaw are both phenomenal at.

Where things get a tad disconnected from reality is when we hear rumors that the officials themselves altered the rules and events mid competition to improve Hall’s chances. The height of the stone was lowered, the run in was removed, the drag was discarded in the tire flip and drag event, and athletes were allowed to drop the viking press and continue. On the surface this may look suspect with all the changes arguably giving Eddie an edge, but as anyone who has been on the strongman scene long enough will tell you, events change. Equipment either breaks or isn’t made to the exact specification you asked for. This happens at every level of the sport, and WSM is not exempt either. In fact, WSM has it worse than most competitions: not only is held in a country that doesn’t have a plethora of spare strongman gear on hand, but it is also constantly being tweaked to make a more watchable TV show.

Then there’s Thor’s disallowed rep on the Viking Press. The rules clearly state that no double dipping is allowed on the Viking Press, which in layman’s terms means push and strict press only — no jerks. Thor adhered to this through the first fourteen of his reps, and in my opinion on his final rep, too, though the referee wasn’t so agreeable. This left Thor with 14 reps and nine points to Eddie Hall’s 15 reps and ten points. That point would have come in handy, as Thor finished only one point behind Eddie overall. Was this match fixing at the highest level, a good call that the camera angles we have don’t see, or just an innocent mistake from the referee? The most likely of these is the second, as Thor asked for the tape to be reviewed at the time — which it was, and the judgement stood.

The final rumor doing the rounds and creating some amusing memes is that the brakes were applied to Brian Shaw’s plane pull. I seem to remember similar stories circulating about Robert Oberst on the bus pull in 2013, but again I struggle to see the likelihood of this being a planned event. If it were true and proved to be so, it would completely shatter any trust in the sport. All that just to make it a bit easier for Eddie? I sincerely doubt it.

I’m not blind to the fact that Eddie Hall is friends with the promoters of WSM, but I refuse to believe that his connections were leveraged to give him an unfair advantage. The Beast put the work in and came away victorious, just as he said he would. If the other competitors disagree with the result, then they will be happy to hear that Hall is leaving on top and retiring from WSM, so they will have it all to themselves next year. But what do you think? 

Featured image: @thorbjornsson on Instagram