The COVID-19 pandemic brought live entertainment to a screeching halt. Even the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, will exclude spectators. On June 15, 2021, the 2021 World’s Strongest Man competition, hosted in Sacramento, CA, banned live spectators but then rescinded that statement and let anyone who could make it attend.
The next major in-person event for strongman will be The 2021 Strongman Classic, set for July 24. The roster features the top stars in strongman, including two WSM winners, a series of classic events, and will be hosted at Royal Albert Hall — a historic location with serious significance in the world of strength sports. Here’s what you need to know.
About the Strongman Classic
There are several different avenues that one can take to reach the pinnacle of strongman — aka the World’s Strongest Man competition. Usually, the winner of the Strongman Champions League is invited, along with a few wildcard entries from other promotions or simply at the whims of the administration. Serving as the official qualifying system for the World’s Strongest Man (WSM), Giants Live is a company that hosts major international competitions held at various locations such as North America and England, where any podium finisher at the show is automatically qualified for the next year’s World’s Strongest Man contest. (1) Because they are owned by the same company that runs WSM — Endeavor — Giants Live is the only officially recognized circuit that qualifies athletes for WSM.
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The Strongman Classic is opening Giants Live’s WSM 2022 qualifying tour. Featuring a lineup of Giants Live mainstays (2), as well as a few newer faces, this historic show will be put on at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. Not only can these strongmen give glory to themselves, but this show will also serve as a sort of physical culture filial piety, honoring the pioneers who came before them. The hall served as the setting for one of the earliest strength competitions, exactly 120 years ago (though the venue is 150 years old as of 2021). Now, Giants Live is honoring the memory of that early competition with their own show of strength, demonstrating how far physical culture has come in the past century.
2021 Strongman Classic Roster
- Oleksii Novikov, Ukraine
- Mateusz Kieliszkowski, Poland
- JF Caron, Canada
- Mark Felix, England
- Gavin Bilton, Wales*
- PA O’Dwyer, Ireland*
- Laurence Shahlaei, England
- Adam Bishop, England
- Cheick “Iron Biby” Sanou, Burkina Faso
- Tom Stoltman, Scotland
- Luke Stoltman, Scotland
- Aivars Smaukstelis, Latvia
- Evan Singleton, USA
*Bilton and O’Dwyer were late additions to the roster, replacing Terry Hollands and Luke Richardson. Hollands and Richardson both dropped out of the 2021 WSM due to injury, and Hollands announced his retirement from WSM.
2021 Strongman Classic Events
Editor’s Note: Laurence Shahlaei revealed these events. The information below is subject to change from Giants Live. BarBend will update this article if anything changes.
- Max Axle Press
- Hercules Hold
- Giant Axle Deadlift
- Frame Carry
- Castle Stones
About the Competitors
There will be many veterans and a few new faces who are scheduled to compete there this summer. The first athlete who was announced was the African-Canadian strongman Cheick “Iron Biby” Sanou. Biby’s biggest strength by far is his pressing. He’s pressed 260-kilograms, which he is probably hoping to do in the opening event. (3)
Established men such as JF Caron and Mark Felix return for their 16th year on the strongman circuit. The two athletes will be incredibly competitive on the second event, the Hercules Hold, with Felix dominating that record. However, there is a great deal of talk regarding the grip strength of JF Caron and the much-improved grip strength of 2021 World’s Strongest Man, Tom Stoltman.
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One of the major talking points going into the show is the return of Laurence Shahlaei, Europe’s Strongest Man in 2016. Big Loz has been a Giants Live mainstay for the past 12 years, and he currently holds the record for most podium finishes in Giants Live shows. Despite having led a storied career, he has been absent from the strongman scene for nearly two years, sidelined due to injury. He is certainly one to look out for on the third event, the Frame Carry, as he is a former record holder in that event.
2020 World’s Strongest Man, Oleksii Novikov, and two-time runner-up Mateusz Kieliszkowski will have their long-awaited showdown (Mateusz was unable to attend the 2020 WSM Contest due to injury). Other established European competitors such as Aivars Smaukstelis and Britain’s Strongest Man 2020 Adam Bishop, are looking to make good performances before their national and international title competitions.
Among the newer athletes to the Giants Live circuit are the two-time UK’s Strongest Man, Gavin Bilton, the four-time Ireland’s Strongest Man (2016-2019) and 2018 UK’s Strongest Man, PA O’Dwyer, and the current North American Champion, Evan Singleton.
Of course, what is a world-class lineup without an equally world-class venue in which to present their talents?
The Royal Albert Hall
Since its completion in 1867, London’s Royal Albert Hall has been a staple of European entertainment, with various showings — sports teams, musicians, and even dance recitals — taking place on the legendary stage. (4) Amidst the landscape of fine arts and theatrical performances, there is also a history of physical culture.
On Sept. 14, 1901, the famous circus strongman Eugen Sandow held his “Great Competition,” a precursor to what we now know as bodybuilding. It was a show where the athletes would present their physiques to esteemed judges such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a sculptor named Sir Charles Lawes. Competitors were judged based upon their “general development, equality or balance of development, the condition, and tone of the tissues, general health, and condition of the skin.” (5)
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Since Sandow’s show, strength sports have exploded into various disciplines such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman. Things have changed. The sports have become regulated with world championships in nearly every discipline featuring athletes from around the globe. Hosting the Strongman Classic at a historic and esteemed venue such as Royal Albert Hall is a nod to sports’ roots and is an indication of its current rise in popularity.
With the level of talent that has been invited to partake in this competition, there is no doubt that it will be a spectacle to behold. The top strongmen in the world — both current and past champions — will all come together to put on the spectacle that they and the audience have been waiting eighteen long months for.
With the weight of the lineup and the magnitude of the venue, the Strongman Classic truly promises to be one for the ages.
- Giants Live (Accessed 2021, April 15) About. Retrieved from https://giants-live.com/about
- Nethercoat, J. (2021, April 11). Lineup Reveal: The Strongman Classic. Retrieved from https://giants-live.com/news/strongmanclassic-lineup
- [Shahlaei, L. (2021, April 12). The Strongman Classic 2021: Events List. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vv2HoL7Uwp0
- Royal Albert Hall (2018, February 06). Explore Our History: 1900s. Retrieved from https://www.royalalberthall.com/about-the-hall/our-history/explore-our-history/time-machine/1900s/
- Heffernan, C. (2018, May 16). [Editorial]. BarBend. Retrieved from https://barbend.com/first-bodybuilding-show-eugen-sandow/
Featured Image: World’s Strongest Man