The groups for the 2022 World’s Strongman Man (WSM) Qualifying Groups have been announced, and speculation about which strongmen will earn their way to the Final is underway. The six strongmen in each of the five groups will clash in five events over three days — May 24-26, 2022. The winner of each group will advance to the Final, and the second and third-place finishers will go head-to-head in a Stone-Off.
The five events of the group stage are the Loading Race and Deadlift Ladder on day one, the Car Walk and the Log Lift on day two, and the Wrecking Ball Hold and Stone-Off on day three. Below are predictions of how each group will fare and who will likely make it to the 2022 WSM Final.
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Editor’s 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.
Group Stage Predictions
Below is a breakdown for each group in the Qualifying stage with their predicted rank and who wins the Stone-Off. Bolded athletes in each group are those predicted to advance to the Final.
Group 1 has a glaring front-runner — reigning WSM champion Tom Stoltman. Not only is Stoltman poised to win the group, but the insurance policy of a Stone-Off almost guarantees him a spot.
In 2021, Stoltman got to the Final via a Stone-Off against Mark Felix and won that battle pretty handily. The Atlas Stones are the bread and butter for Stoltman, so if he is going to rank high in the group, it would be potentially advantageous for the other strongmen to let him take first; that way, they don’t face him in the Stone-Off.
Stoltman is a beast in the medley events — winning the Loading Medley in Group 2 in 2021 — and has significantly improved his deadlift since 2020. Bank on him getting the opportunity to defend his title in the Final.
As for the rest of the group, on paper, Šmaukstelis and Faires are the two men likeliest to clash in the Stone-Off. They are WSM veterans and Faires barely missed the 2021 WSM Final after losing a close Stone-Off against Luke Stoltman. Notably, he lifted the same number of Stones as Luke, but as he ranked third in their group, the initiative* was on him to lift first successfully.
*The athlete ranked third in each group is tasked to lift first in the Stone-Off. The first athlete to fail to stone lift first is eliminated, giving a significant advantage to whoever is ranked second in the group.
O’Dwyer was slated to return to the WSM stage. He ranked fourth in his Group in 2020. However, on May 23, the night before the contest starts, the Irish strongman dropped out for reasons unknown. Andy Black of the UK is taking his place. This is Black’s first WSM. According to Strongman Archives, Black’s best showing was a third-place finish at the 2021 UK’s Strongest Man.
Rhéaume is the 2021 Canada’s Strongest Man (CSM) champion and making his WSM debut in 2022. He would need to post the performance of his career to earn his way to the Final via the Stone-Off, but youth is on his side — he’s 25 years old. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Angulo is making his WSM debut at age 44, making him the second oldest man in the field behind Mark Felix. It would be the underdog story of the Qualifying stage if Angulo could best the rest of the pack to join Stoltman in the Final.
Group 2 indicates how stacked this year’s WSM contest is. At 56 years of age, Felix is still competing at the elite level. Although he hasn’t made a WSM Final since 2015, he is often a lock to win any grip-based event, which the Wrecking Ball Hold is. If he is anywhere in the mix for third place entering the third day of competition, he will undoubtedly shake up the standings with a strong finish in that event and potentially contest for a spot in the Stone-Off. Unfortunately, his competition in this group is a who’s who of heavy hitters.
Four-time WSM champion Brian Shaw has his eye on tying five-time WSM champion Mariusz Pudzianowski for most WSM titles. Shaw forewent competing in any other strongman contest thus far in 2022, focusing solely on this contest. He is no stranger to competing under pressure and holds the record for most consecutive WSM Finals appearances at 13. As the tallest (six-foot, eight inches) and heaviest (hovering around 400 pounds) athlete in Group 2, events like the Car Walk position him as a front-runner to win this group and reach his 14th straight WSM Final. Even at 40 years of age, Shaw is the pick to win Group 2.
While it’s tough to bet against Shaw, it isn’t a lock that he ranks first. Thompson won what was arguably the most challenging group in 2021, and assuming he’s been training his agility in the gym for the Loading Race and Deadlift Ladder, the Log Lift is his forte to rack up some points. Expect at the very least for Thompson to square up in the Stone-Off; the events lean him to being a solid contender for second place overall in the group.
Janashia is a threat in any contest if he’s healthy. He and Adam Bishop got to more-or-less coast to the Final in 2021 as their group was plagued with injuries that left them as the only two healthy athletes. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Janashia is blisteringly fast in any medley event and could certainly challenge for a spot in the Stone-Off.
Peña might be the hungriest to prove himself. After withdrawing from his group at the 2020 WSM contest and then being present in Sacramento in 2021 as an alternate, the “Texas Titan” is likely chomping at the bit to make his WSM Final debut. He is a monster in the deadlift, so the Deadlift Ladder will be his event to make a big move. He’s been training with Shaw in the lead-up to this contest, so we’ll see if he picked up any tricks to land himself a spot in front of an Atlas Stone by the end of day three.
Finally, Hooper is a wildcard. The 26-year-old Canadian is making his WSM debut and will likely use this year to gain some much-needed experience competing against the best of the best. Of course, any of these athletes can shine on their best day, and Hooper is no exception. While it might be a hefty gamble to place money on Hooper advancing from this stacked group, Cinderella stories have happened at the WSM before.
This is the group of death. 2020 WSM champion Oleksii Novikov cannot catch a break when it comes to Group pairings at strongman’s biggest contest. He was in Group 5 in 2021, which was the most competitive. He missed out on the spot in the Final after losing a tiebreaker in the Pickaxe Hold to Kevin Faires, who lost his Stone-Off to Luke Stoltman. As previously mentioned, Thompson won that group.
Despite fighting to defend his home country of Ukraine against the Russian invasion, Novikov has still posted incredible results in recent contests, including a win at the 2022 Europe’s Strongest Man (ESM) contest and a second-place finish at the 2022 Arnold Strongman Classic. The combination of very speed-focused events — Loading Race, Deadlift Ladder, Car Walk — makes Novikov the winner pick for this group. His results are just too consistent to ignore, and the event lineup is too favorable for him not to be the top pick.
That battle for second and third will be nothing short of insane. Mitchell just missed the podium at the 2021 WSM via a fourth-place finish. He is one of the best deadlifters in the entire competition. The same could be said for Bishop, who has been a WSM Final mainstay since 2019. Kearney has performed exceptionally well since recovering from his triceps injury and will likely perform well in the heart-rate-based events as he routinely trains CrossFit as part of his training regimen.
While this is the most challenging group to predict, Mitchell is too consistent to bet against currently, and Kearney has been overperforming in recent contests. While it’s hard to guess Bishop not reaching the Stone-Off, the prediction is Mitchell ranks second in the group and bests Kearney in the Stone-Off thanks to Kearney having the initiative.
Before moving to Group 4, a quick nod to Törrö making his WSM debut. Similar to Hooper, this year is likely to be a learning experience for competing on the sport’s grandest stage against the sport’s best. Törrö is very strong and is not in Sacramento by mistake, so it would be a joy to be wrong about his low placement in this group, but he’s got a tough draw on paper.
Szymanski was named Mateusz Kieliszkowski‘s replacement in this contest — his fourth WSM appearance. Szymanski made his lone WSM Final in 2016, finishing eighth overall. The 39-year-old is one of the older athletes in the field and has not been active for the past several years. Given his later entry to the contest and likely having to shake off some rust, he is a big underdog in such a difficult group.
Betting against 2019 WSM champion Martins Licis who returned to the top of the sport by winning the 2021 Rogue Invitational and the 2022 Arnold Strongman Classic, would be a fool’s errand. Licis is likely the biggest threat to dethrone Tom Stoltman as WSM champion, given Licis’ recent performances, and there is no reason to think that streak won’t continue in Sacramento. Licis is the winner pick for this group.
Likewise, Boudreault returns to the WSM competition after his third-place overall finish last year, his 2021 Magnus ver Magnusson Strongman Classic victory, and a WSM prep alongside Brian Shaw. To think Boudreault will fail to make the Stone-Off feels crazy, and once there, he will be a force to be reckoned with. The prediction stands as Boudreault ranks second in the group and defeats Kordiyaka in the Stone-Off.
Kordiyaka is the other Ukrainian in the WSM contest next to Novikov. The 26-year-old only has so much experience competing on the world stage but posted a solid fourth-place finish at the 2022 ESM contest. Given the combination of his group and the Qualifying events, Kordiyaka is positioned exceptionally well to rank towards the top. Having to contend against Licis and Boudreault is unfortunate and, ultimately, what will likely keep him from making his WSM Final debut.
The 28-year-old Flowers will have a chance to prove himself on the grandest stage, which bodes well for him in future WSM contests. To reach the WSM Final in his WSM debut in this group would be miraculous. Flowers could likely make a run for the Stone-Off in a softer group. He could be the man who challenges Boudreault at the end of day three if Kordiyaka doesn’t show out.
Bilton and Ambešković will likely have similar stories after the Qualifying stage — unfavorable events alongside a tough group. Drawing the group with Licis and Boudreault is already a difficult set of obstacles. Combine that with the events leaning more on agility and less on max strength, and you have conditions not conducive for either athlete to shine. If the events were different, both men might rank much higher in these predictions.
- Luke Stoltman
- Evan Singleton
- Eythor Melsted
- Kelvin De Ruiter
- Kim Ujarak Lorentzen
- Jean-Stephen Coraboeuf
The final group seems dividable by experience. Luke Stoltman is the most seasoned strongman of the group, and given his best event in the Log Lift is present on day two; he is the front-runner pick. He was in contention for the podium at the 2021 WSM heading into the final event, even though his seventh-place overall finish may seem misleading. His recent runner-up finish at the 2022 ESM contest shows he’s still at the top of his game. The combination of his group, the Qualifying events, and training alongside the reigning WSM champion lends to Luke Stoltman having an excellent first three days of competition.
Singleton has been an absolute house on the Giants Live circuit over the past year. He ranked third in the 2021 Giants Live World Tour Finals and won the 2021 Giants Live World Open and the 2022 Arnold Strongman Classic UK. However, all those contests were one-day competitions, where Singleton excels. His biggest hurdle will be remaining consistent over a multiple-day contest. Since he has not proven consistency with that just yet, Stoltman is the winner pick for the group. However, Singleton will undoubtedly bring the heat to Sacramento. He feels like a lock to make the Stone-Off, and his size gives him the edge to advance to the Final.
Melsted will make his third appearance on the WSM stage in 2022 after finishing 10th overall in 2021. While it wouldn’t be shocking to see him return to the Final as he is a solid all-around strongman, Stoltman and Singleton seem too in the zone to be ousted this go-around.
De Ruiter has a height advantage, standing six-foot, eight inches tall, but doesn’t have much experience against strongman’s best. While the events seem right up his wheelhouse, competing against the best on the biggest stage doesn’t come easy, so he’s ranked just out of the Stone-Off. Again, if De Ruiter brings his best and leaves all nerves at the door, he could square up against Singleton in the Stone-Off — that would be a battle worth seeing.
Urajak Lorentzen and Coraboeuf’s ranking at the bottom of the group is primarily due to inexperience at high-level contests. They are both talented strongmen who could have excellent showings. In this event, in 100-plus degree heat, it feels like 2022 will be valuable to gain experience and build towards a breakout performance in 2023 if they can return to the WSM stage (the 2023 WSM contest is expected to return to Sacramento, CA).
2022 World’s Strongest Man Final Predictions
- Tom Stoltman
- Kevin Faires
- Oleksii Novikov
- Brian Shaw
- Bobby Thompson
- Luke Stoltman
- Evan Singleton
- Martins Licis
- Maxime Boudreault
- Trey Mitchell
There will be a second prediction piece for the Final following the Qualifying stage to dig deep into who is likeliest to reach the top of the podium and hoist the 2022 WSM trophy overhead.
Featured image: @theworldsstrongestman on Instagram