There were countless standout moments from the 2022 strongman season. From veteran performers continuing their quest toward icon status to newcomers staking their claim among the best of the best, this was a loaded year.
While we can’t cover them all, five moments are particularly notable from 2022’s top strongmen and strongwomen. A breakdown of each is below, including Oleksii Novikov‘s emotional Arnold Strongman Classic moment, Gabi Dixson‘s Hercules Hold heard ’round the world, and more.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Increases Oleksii Novikov’s ASC Prize to Help Support Ukraine
In late February of 2022, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, the home country of standout strongman Oleksii Novikov. Despite his homeland being under siege, Novikov still managed to compete at the Arnold Strongman Classic (ASC) from March 2-4, where he posted an impressive second-place finish that was just 3.5 points behind winner Martins Licis.
Before the show, Novikov said any prize money he won would go toward providing body armor for civilians back in Ukraine. The original amount for the runner-up was $25,000 — but during his post-event speech, ASC organizer Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he was increasing Novikov’s prize to $80,000, which was equal to what Licis earned.
“This is courage. This is selflessness. Thank you for inspiring all of us, Oleksii Novikov,” Schwarzenegger later wrote on Instagram.
It was one of the rare times that the real world impacted the sport of strongman, and it led to an unforgettable moment at one of the year’s biggest events.
Tom Stoltman’s Second Consecutive World’s Strongest Man Title
Tom Stoltman had a quiet end to his 2022 season, which saw him withdraw from the Shaw Classic due to travel issues and decline his invite to the 2022 Rogue Invitational to recover from a challenging year of competition. But he more than made up for it earlier in the year by scoring his second consecutive World’s Strongest Man (WSM) victory in May.
Stoltman can now count himself as the 10th human in history to win more than one WSM title, joining Bruce Wilhelm (1977-1978), Bill Kazmaier (1980-82), Geoff Capes (1983, 1985), Jouko Ahola (1997, 1999), Žydrūnas Savickas (2009-10, 2012, 2014), Brian Shaw (2011, 2013, 2015-16), Magnus ver Magnusson (1991, 1994-96), Jón Páll Sigmarsson (1984, 1986, 1988, 1990), and Mariusz Pudzianowski (2002-03, 2005, 2007-08).
Furthermore, Stoltman’s performance at the 2022 WSM was so remarkably consistent that it is difficult to fathom how anyone on the planet could beat him at any contest where he’s healthy and hungry to win. Stoltman’s 2022 WSM qualifying stage win looked like child’s play, and his 2022 WSM Final saw him rank four runner-up finishes, one third-place finish, and an Atlas Stones victory against Novikov to recapture the crown.
Stoltman also plans to reshape the record books by becoming the third strongman to deadlift over 500 kilograms — the other two being Eddie Hall and Hafthor Björnsson. Stoltman’s programming through 2023 is designed so he can attempt a 505-kilogram world record deadlift in 2024.
Throwing the word dynasty around needs to have sufficient support to avoid sounding hyperbolic, but at just 28 years old, Tom Stoltman is on pace to challenge the pantheon of WSM champions for the most titles ever.
Gabi Dixson’s God-Like-Grip Hercules Hold
It isn’t a secret that the sport of strongwoman doesn’t yet have the same reach as strongman — but that could change soon, given the roster depth at any given elite strongwoman contest.
At the 2022 World’s Strongest Nation (WSN) contest, strongwomen and strongmen from the UK and U.S. competed as part of a team for the country they represented. And the women took the opportunity to show the world that their strength could rival — and exceed — their male counterparts. And no one displayed this more than Gabi Dixson.
During the Hercules Hold event, the strongmen and strongwomen used the same apparatus — two gargantuan columns that had to be held by the athletes for the longest time possible before the structures toppled over. The world record holder in the event, Mark Felix, clocked the longest time at 1:28.35, but 20 seconds behind him was Gabi Dixson’s time of 1:08.61. Dixson bested everyone, strongman and strongwoman alike, except for Felix.
It spurred the conversation throughout the strongman community about getting more opportunities for strongwomen at high-level competitions to further prove their strength. The sport has some catching up to do on behalf of strongwoman athletes, and Dixson’s performance at the 2022 WSN was the fuel that fire needed.
Mark Felix’s Miracle Car Walk
Mark “Miracle Man” Felix continued to live up to his nickname in 2022. At 56 years old, Felix contended in his 17th WSM contest. While he did not advance past the Group Stage, he showed why he continues to be a legitimate force among the elite tier of strongmen in the world.
Felix stole the show in the Car Walk event, which challenged athletes to yoke walk a 430-kilogram (950-pound) red Volkswagen Bug down a 20-meter course as fast as possible. He blitzed the course in a staggering 13.96 seconds.
Had Felix not drawn the straw of being grouped with the then mostly unknown phenom Mitchell Hooper, he would have easily won this event. Hooper managed the second-fastest time among the 30-athlete field at 11.64 seconds.
Felix has only made the WSM Final in two of his 17 appearances, but his car walk from 2022 will forever seal his victory roar atop the Volkswagon in WSM highlight reels for the rest of time.
The Return of the Legends
Though plenty of up-and-comers had an impact in strongman this year, two legends of the sport also made comebacks of varying degrees in 2022. First, Hafthor Björnsson, the 2018 WSM, returned at the Rogue Invitational to break his own weight-over-bar world record.
Björnsson set the initial record at the 2019 Arnold Strongman Classic, where he tossed a 25.4-kilogram (56-pound) weight 20 feet and two inches over the bar. He bested that mark by one inch at the Rogue on October 30. Though it was just one event, Björnsson left the door open for a bigger return at some point.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s really tempting to come back [to strongman], especially to compete in a show like this [the Rogue Invitational strongman competition],” Björnsson said in an interview after the event. “You never know. I haven’t made my decision today, but I can tell you this — I might come back.”
Then on November 26, the 2017 WSM winner Eddie Hall returned to competitive strongman after five years away from the sport. He served as the captain of the UK team at the World’s Strongest Nation competition, where his squad took on the U.S., led by Martins Licis.
Hall’s return fell short of being triumphant — he tore his teres minor during the Viking Press showdown against Licis — but his team still came out on top in the end.
Successful or not, the return of these two fan favorites is more than enough to make for memorable moments.
Featured image: @gabigrl_prostrongwoman on Instagram