Shortly after Hafthor Bjornsson leaked their qualification groups, the World’s Strongest Man shared the official heats for 2017. The final events are now public, and the top strength athletes are preparing their bodies to perform in Botswana, starting May 20th.
Although surprises are common at the World’s Strongest Man – consider the relatively unknown Mateusz Kieliszkowski’s dominance in the Frame Carry last year – this article presumes the usual suspects will maintain their places in front, with reigning champ Brain Shaw in pole position. I intend no disrespect to this year’s capable underdog challengers by excluding them in this article.
So, who of the major players will win the 2017 World’s Strongest Man? Let us consider it event-by-event.
It all kicks off with the Flip & Drag, a cardio intensive medley, beginning with the tire flip and finishing with the sled drag.
[Below, Derek Poundstone performing the Flip & Drag at the 2009 America’s Strongest Man]
The Flip & Drag will be the bane of Eddie Hall. Fortunately, for those athletes challenged most by cardio and endurance, this event is going down first, when they are at their most capable.
Despite that fact, it is unlikely Hall or Zydrunas Savickas will start the Grand Final on top.
Zydrunas Savickas, who normally crushes such agility tests, cited back problems in 2015 as the cause for a third-place performance in the Super Yoke. He was out all last year, and I predict he’ll be holding back to avoid re-injury.
Historically, this type of event is the bread & butter of great Icelandic strongmen like Jon Pall Sigmarsson and Magnus Ver Magnusson. And while one can expect Hafthor Bjornsson to make Iceland proud, I do not think he will out-pace Brian Shaw so early in the competition.
Do not expect anyone on last year’s podium to win the Flip & Drag outright. Still, Brian Shaw should lead Thor, who will be ahead of a distant Hall.
Shaw, Thor, Hall
Next comes the Squat Lift.
[Laurence Shahlaei Squats for time at the 2008 World’s Strongest Man]
Only having returned to “normal weights” a few weeks ago, it is seriously unlikely Zydrunas Savickas performs a career best this May. Typically, his squat is miraculous.
Besides foreseeing a less than perfect performance from Big Z, it is hard to predict what will happen in this event without more information. The “Squat Lift” at the World’s Strongest Man appears in several different variations. I don’t know if this is a set weight for reps, a max weight single rep, or the more classic WSM style “Squat Lift” where some kind of novelty weights (barrels or kegs) are loaded onto the bar after each rep, in a timed event.
For the sake of argument only:
Shaw, Hall, Thor
The final event of Day 1 is the Viking Press.
[Eddie Hall performing the Viking Press at the 2016 Britain’s Strongest Man]
One might suspect that a Viking would have an advantage in the Viking Press, and despite his disadvantageously long arms, Hafthor Bjornsson is indeed a master presser for reps. Last year, he did one more rep than Eddie Hall on the Circus Barbell, but was a moment too slow for it to count, so they ended with an 8-rep tie. I expect his endurance to give him the edge, here, once again.
There is, however, one major roadblock for Thor: the best presser of all time is in his midst. In 2015, Big Z threw up a 451lbs tree log as if it was a Lincoln Log. He is great at repping out with lesser weights, as well.
I have Savickas winning this event, despite problems elsewhere throughout the competition. But his win may be trivial for the final result. Shaw, Hall, and Thor will be duking it out for second, in what I expect to be a closely contested event which may result in a tie.
Big Z and Thor leading, Shaw and Hall behind.
The first event of Day 2 and fourth event overall is the Vehicle Pull.
[Zydrunas Savickas Pulls an Airplane at 2009 World’s Strongest Man]
Here, Hafthor Bjornsson will look to make up any lost ground. In 2016, he outperformed the entire field, though no one finished the circuit.
I expect the WSM producers to use a similarly humungous airplane this year, hoping someone travels the full distance of the course. For that reason, I suspect similar standings. First for Thor, next for Shaw, and third for Hall, who might get joked at for being found affixed to an oxygen tank after the event, but is nevertheless quite excellent at the Vehicle Pull.
Thor, Shaw, Hall
The Deadlift comes next, and unlike the Squat Lift, I can almost guarantee we will see strongmen going for a one rep max.
[Eddie Hall lifts 445kg in the 2017 WSM]
The popularity of the 1RM Deadlift is surging on social media, and Eddie Hall and Brian Shaw fans alike would be disappointed (if not outraged) should it not appear in the World’s Strongest Man. They will take first and second, respectively, or tie (as they did in 2016). Unlike Brian Shaw, Hafthor Bjornsson has not yet been able to overcome his mechanical vulnerabilities at this elite level.
Hall, Shaw, Thor.
Finally, the Atlas Stones.
[Hafthor Bjornsson wins the Atlas Stones at the 2017 Europe’s Strongest Man]
As he once exclaimed, Hafthor Bjornsson is “the King of the Stones.” But his victory over Shaw in the event last year could not close a two-point gap which held him to second-place overall. This year, it could mean all the difference.
Brian Shaw, of course, will perform next best at the Stones.
Thor, Shaw, Hall
If Eddie Hall is capable of winning a World’s Strongest Man title, 2017 is his year to do it. All but one of the events seem to fit his idea of the “proper strongman.” Nevertheless, I cannot responsibly predict his victory.
This year, I expect Brian Shaw and Hafthor Bjornsson to be more competitive than ever before. Each man is capable of winning three events outright for big points.
Shaw’s well-roundedness has helped him become one of the greatest strongmen of all time. He is capable of tying Eddie Hall in the deadlift depending on the weight increments, and any small mistakes by Thor in the Vehicle Pull or Atlas Stones will surely mean victory for Shaw there.
I have incredible confidence in Hafthor Bjornsson this year, but betting against Brian Shaw is foolish. I do not see him taking third (of this trio) in any events, and know he’s capable of taking first in any of them.
By a small margin, Brian Shaw will be proclaimed the 2017 World’s Strongest Man, beating Zydrunas Savickas in their shared quest to tie Mariusz Pudzianowski’s all-time record of five titles.
Perhaps Big Z will make it a three-way tie in 2018.
Featured image: The World’s Strongest Man on YouTube
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.