In 2016, only two points separated Hafthor Julius Bjornsson from the World’s Strongest Man title, then won by Brian Shaw. And in 2014, “Thor” was only half a point away from tying Zydrunas Savickas’ winning performance.
Savickas and Shaw have together won the previous eight World’s Strongest Man championships, and, for the most recent five contests, Hafthor Bjornsson has been vying to play spoiler. Bjornsson has had five consecutive Top-3 finishes in the renowned tournament, taking second place twice and third three times. Though he has never bested Zydrunas Savickas in a WSM Grand Final, he once held Brian Shaw to third place.
Zydrunas Savickas has been out of competition for an entire season. He did not participate in the most recent WSM, Arnold Strongman Classic, or Europe’s Strongest Man. It is unlikely to see Savickas return on the very top of the field. In fact, it remains uncertain whether “Big Z” will even compete this year in Botswana, and the aging, 41-year-old strongman’s departure seems to have left fans with an undefeatable Brian Shaw.
Don’t be so sure.
Hafthor Bjornsson won more events at the 2016 World’s Strongest Man than any other athlete, including Brian Shaw. He had the most impressive Plane Pull – and this plane was ridiculously massive. He tied Eddie Hall with an incredibly Circus Barbell press: 350lbs for eight reps. And he won the Atlas Stones, an event he looks to make his yearly guarantee. His discipline on the stones is a sight to behold.
It is clear Bjornsson’s strengths are world class. He demonstrated his continuing dominance of the vehicle pull as the only athlete to complete the event at the 2017 Europe’s Strongest Man. His weaknesses (which only appear to be weaknesses when compared to the strongest men in world history), however, have held him just outside the range of victory.
Thor’s max deadlift last year was considerably outside the range of Eddie Hall and Brian Shaw, a full 25kg behind their shared 445kg WSM record. He also finished fifth in the Frame Carry, with two WSM rookies taking the top two spots. If he can maintain his superiority in the three events he does best, and improve his standing one position in each of these, his toughest challenges, he will be the World’s Strongest Man for the first time in his career.
It is unlikely we will see the same six events from 2016 return this year. This could help or hurt Bjornsson, depending on the changes. Squats, for example, could set Thor way behind, especially if Zydrunas Savickas turns up. Even a weakened Savickas is a master at squatting for reps. In another, more favorable case, the producers may opt for max reps on a lighter load instead of max weight on the deadlift. Bjornsson was two reps behind Eddie Hall at ESM 2017 (and we can speculate Brian Shaw would perform comparably to Hall).
Fortunately for Bjornsson, the tasks of pulling some kind of vehicle and powering up the Atlas Stones are always in the show. There is usually a kettlebell/keg toss, as well, and he is close to perfecting himself in that event.
Bjornsson’s strategy may be the wisest tactical approach for dethroning Brian Shaw. He’s perfected himself at the staple events, which guarantees him a cushion of points that protect him from small errors or losses in other tasks.
All angles considered, I believe Hafthor Bjornsson has multiple pathways to victory at the 2017 World’s Strongest Man. I think he is best equipped to win it this year than in any year past. Bell’s Palsy be damned.
Featured image: @thorbjornsson on Instagram