As seems to always be the case with World’s Strongest Man, the only exciting news in the build up to the main event of year and the cornerstone of many athletes and fan’s calendars comes from something we aren’t meant to see. This time, it’s a roughly cropped screenshot posted on Hafthor Bjornsson’s Instagram account.
The Group listings — screenshot presented on Hafthor Bjornsson‘s Instagram account — do present us with a small joy; leaked information is always more exciting than a press release (although it does also require a disclaimer that this is ‘unofficial information’ and is subject to change as the competition approaches). Journalistic precautions out of the way, let’s get into the groups, along with my predictions on who will make it through from that stage to the Finals. (Only the top two from each group move on.)
Group one is stacked with phenomenal athletes, including the one and only title favorite and reigning strongest man in the world, Brian Shaw. And while anything could happen out there in Botswana, it would take a braver man than I to bet against Shaw winning his group. Leaving the remaining five athletes to battle it out for the remaining spot, though it’s Mark Felix, JF Caron, and Matjaz Belsak who will likely be the contenders. Personally I’m split upon who will go through, Matjaz has been looking very promising lately and I’d expect him to do well on those events, but you can never discount Caron. Sadly, for Felix I fear he won’t be able to recover from the overhead events.
Christo Bland’s Prediction on Advancement – Shaw & Belsak
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Just as Shaw’s place in the finals is rather safe, so is Hafthor’s, regardless of the immense talent in the group I can’t see the Icelander struggling. Especially considering the events, he’s shown to the best in Europe at Truck Pull, best in the world at keg tossing, phenomenal at pressing and his squatting has come on leaps and bounds.
The second spot on the final is more of a mystery with talented athletes both young and old battling for that prized place. Last year Martin Licis looked phenomenal, finishing sixth overall in his debut WSM, however he failed to impress at the Arnold’s recently. Jimmy Paquet is a straight up freak, built like a bodybuilder and stronger than hell, at only 23 he turned a lot of heads at Giants Live Sweden not long ago, plus the events suit him well. Hoping to snatch a spot on the finals from these young upstarts is ex circus performer Dimitar Savatinov, and while it is hard to discount the American/Bulgarian, I struggle to see him out performing Licis and Paquet on anything but the overhead press.
Christo Bland’s Prediction – Bjornsson & Paquet
I’d love to know how Laurence Shahlaei will be feeling after seeing his group and events; on the one hand, he should (freak accidents aside) make it through to the final as the winner of Group Three. However, I can’t imagine him relishing the events themselves. Of course he’s not a man of many weaknesses and will get to work showing what he can do, most likely prevailing comfortably as a result. That second spot will be a toss up between Georgia’s Konstantine Janashia and Russia’s Mikhail Shivlyakov, I can only imagine that the national rivalry will make for a great contest between these two behemoths but I can’t see Janashia not making the final.
Christo Bland’s Prediction – Shahlaei & Janashia
Group four is the perfect example of one of WSM’s greatest issues; unlike most other World Championships, it is first and foremost a TV show. As such, it’s number one goal is to create an entertaining show that will be watched by as many people as possible and lure in future sponsors. What this means is that the athletes are not all picked through qualification, though some are, many are selected for their entertainment value or future prospects.
Nor are the groups or events selected at random, they are instead selected to create the best strength show on earth. The end result is Group Four, a group biased towards getting one man through to the finals without too much risk of competition or injury. That man is ‘The Beast’ Eddie Hall, and someone who I happen to think needs no helping hand. I expect Hall to put on a masterclass in the group stages, as he did at Britain’s Strongest Man, winning everything he wants to and placing in the top two on the riskier events. His main contender will be Poland’s Mateusz Kieliszkowski, who again should make light work of most of the events, though he has struggled on the log and deadlift before.
Christo Bland’s Prediction – Hall & Kieliszkowski
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In contrast to Group Four, Group Five is overflowing with potential finals athletes. Including the legendary Zydrunas “Big Z” Savickas, British veteran Terry Hollands, Strongman Champions League Winner Dainis Zageris, static monster Jerry Pritchett, and the World’s Strongest Master Nick Best.
It pains me to say it, but I don’t think Big Z will get past the group stages this year, plagued with injuries as he has been for a long time, I just don’t know if he will be coming in strong enough to compete in such a tough group. Though he hasn’t performed fantastically at WSM in the past, I expect Dainis to really shine this year, the amount of moving events are to his incredibly athletic advantage and he was just so consistent at SCL. The other spot will really come down to who performs the best on the day(s), both Jerry and Terry are exceptional athletes. Jerry is most definitely stronger but Terry is a more complete strongman, whatever happens it will be a thrilling group to watch.
Bland’s Prediction – Hollands & Zageris
Featured image: @thorbjornsson on Instagram