Laurence Shahlaei Talks World’s Strongest Man (And Which Strongman Records Are Legit)

Big Loz talks with BarBend.

Laurence Shahlaei has held numerous titles in his career. Among his most famous is the 2016 Europe’s Strongest Man. Now the strongman has lent his voice as a member of the media. Specifically, he’s been one of the voices of the Feats of Strength series promoted by World’s Ultimate Strongman. His experience and credibility has educated new fans of the sport and maintain a connection to those that have been involved for much longer.

Loz recently sat down with BarBend to talk about the series, his own opinions about the sport, and the 2020 World’s Strongest Man.

BarBend: Loz, I appreciate you taking time to talk to me today. I want to begin by asking you about your recent role with World’s Ultimate Strongman and the “Feats of Strength” series. Your credibility as an athlete certainly plays a positive role in the commentary, but I wonder how you feel about it from your perspective. How has your transition from athlete to member of the media been for you?

Shahlaei: Once I was prepared to take that step back from trying to be “pro level athlete”, I was happy, I’ve had my time, I’ve won some major titles, I’m happy to take that step back. So I found it to be quite easy. I’ve always been a fan of strongman. Before I got involved, I was a big fan. I watched it back in the day, every single Christmas on TV. I enjoy the whole sport. I’ve been involved in coaching for quite some time now.

I’ve wanted to stay involved no matter what. I’ve always enjoyed the analysis part of strongman, I think from my coaching days. Looking at performances, breaking them down, I would look at performances and see what I could do or what they could do better. What are they doing right? So it hasn’t been too hard. I did a little commentary with Colin Bryce. So he’s taken me under his wing a little bit. I had always thought when I was done with my own career, I wanted to make that transition.

Out of all the episodes so far, my guess is that your favorites are the ones involving your athlete, Andrea Thompson. Would that be accurate?

Of course. It’s nice to see when your athlete is doing so well. I’ve enjoyed a number of them to be honest. I love watching the Stoltmans. Those guys are really cool. Obviously Thor’s episode, where he was going for the world record on the deadlift, that was taking place during a depressing time all around, and it was just something for everyone to look forward to. But you know, I’ve enjoyed a number of the episodes. Just seeing some action has been good. It’s been some sort of normality. You know you have some strongman to look forward to.

Since you have coached one of the athletes in this series, have you found the training for them has been much different than if athletes were training for full competitions?

Same intensity, same effort, it’s actually a little easier, I think, training for these records because it’s just one event. So you can sacrifice in some areas so you can be really good. For instance, the guys training for the deadlift for max. They can back off heavily on squatting or strongman events because they’ll take a toll on the body. And I think that is why you have to give someone like Zydrunas [Savickas] so much credit. When he was breaking his record, he was doing it in full competitions. So when you’re training for one specific event, you can take the intensity away from certain areas of your training.

Let’s talk about those records for a moment. I’m sure you’ve heard the criticism about these records and why they shouldn’t be given full credit because they’re not in competition. Athletes like Brian Shaw and Eddie Hall have both made that case. Do you think these records should be counted differently or with an asterisk since they’re not in competition?

Not particularly because we’ve seen that plenty of times in the past. For the last few years, we’ve had the world log lifting championships, we’ve had world deadlifting championships, we’ve had the world axle championships, you know? There have been individual events where they’ve trained for one event. So I don’t think it’s a new concept. The last five years or so we’ve had events like this going on. When the World’s Strongest Man started, there were 10 events. In the 90s, it was 8 events, and it’s crept down a little since then.

One thing I will say. Some of the top level athletes, who make the bigger money, I think they forget that not everyone is making loads and loads of money from strongman. And this has been an opportunity for those second tier guys to still train and get paid. It’s easy for the guys at the top to say we should wait until next year. But this has been a way for those other guys to train and take care of their families.

That leads me to my next question which is about those athletes. What are you hearing from them about this series?

The athletes taking part have all been very receptive because like I said, there hasn’t been anything else. Competition after competition has been cancelled this year. Obviously we started with Thor because everyone knows who he is already. He’s going to attract people to the show. Then you look at the likes of Andrea Thompson, who doesn’t have that big following. Donna Moore is another one. Even guys like Novikov, Rauno Heinla, JF Caron, they have all been involved. Makarov, people have only started hearing of him in the last year or so. These guys are being exposed to a big audience and they’re responding well.

Has there been any criticism outside of the record credibility?

One criticism towards WUS is the turnaround time to train for these events. In some cases it’s only been a few weeks of training before they make their attempts. Sometimes you have to take the opportunities when they’re there. They’ve gotten a large audience, and they’ve gotten some new fans. Some of the guys have performed well, but others underperformed.

Let’s time travel a bit. If Loz the athlete could compete in one of these events, which one do you think it would be?

I’ve broken a few records in my time. I’ve broken a few grip records, I’ve gotten countless records in the farmer’s walk, frame carry, yoke races, car walk, so I’ve broken a lot of records in those type of events. Pre-tearing my lat, I thought I was on track for the deadlift. That’s the one I really wanted to chase. It’s such a cool lift. Just being able to lift the weight from the floor, to a standing position, it’s pretty damn cool.

I was never a great presser, but for a very brief time I held the world record in the axle. I believe I pressed 205 kg. Then a few minutes later, Zydrunas did something like 215 and put me in my place. I still train, and am working on some slight niggles, but I think I could compete again, but it would just be for fun now. But I think in my prime, the deadlift is just a cool one to go after.

We’ve mentioned Savickas a few times. Talk about him as a judge, especially recently since Luke Stoltman has been going after his record. Does he add credibility to this since he is so revered and makes it a point to follow everything to the point?

Well you know if Zydrunas gives you the down signal on the log, then you’ve earned it, and it’s the same on all lifts. But that one in particular, time and time again you see him in that corner with his hand up, and sometimes he makes me laugh because of how serious he is. He takes it very seriously. I think when it comes to the log, you know it means a lot to him. No matter what he says, having that log record is important to him. He’s held it for so long, it means so much to him, and he’s tried to break it a number of times himself.

Sometimes in contests, we’ve seen guys get dodgy lifts for very different things, and you can’t blame the athlete. You have to blame the referee for saying “down”. Whereas Zydrunas, he will make you lock out, he’ll make you hold it steady, and you’re going to have to finish that lift off to get that down signal. He don’t let you get away with anything either. Having him as the referee gives the lifts some validation. He makes sure the weight is what it’s supposed to be, and wants everything verified. I’ve seen some of these comments about the lifts being home gym records.

These lifts have to be on certain days, certain requirements met, the referee makes sure everything is as it should be. There’s also that slight time delay, so you have to hold those records a fraction longer to get that down signal. You can’t complain about how these are done.

They’re done to a higher standard than some of these lifts in some of the one day shows or some competitions.

I can’t let you go without asking about the World’s Strongest Man which is coming up. Do you think it should be taking place and any predictions on who will win it?

Definitely it should happen. I think in spite of the pandemic, it should keep going. As far as favorites, the two obvious choices are [Mateusz] Kieliszkowski and [Brian] Shaw. That’s what everyone would say are the favorites. The thing is we haven’t seen anyone compete. Last time Brian competed, he wasn’t in great shape. That being said, he’s had a year to focus on his training. The fact that he’s been able to stay home a lot more, focusing more on recovery, then that should help him going into the final as long as WSM doesn’t change the events. They’ve done that before. As it stands, the events are good for Brian as long as he’s in good form. He’ll be hard to beat.

Kieliszkowski coming back from various injuries, that guy is dynamite. I think he could have his arm fall off, and he would still compete. He’s been so dominant for a number of years now. He hasn’t quite won the World’s and not quite won the Arnold, but he’s been there or thereabouts. He’s won everything else there is to win too. I’ve never seen a man so good at so many events, but have one such glaring weakness at the top level.

He’s so, so good, and dominated so many events, not top 3, but won them. The deadlift has let him down so many times in major shows. I think it will come down to those two, but if Brian is in the top form he’s capable of being in, then the fifth title is there for him. There is one dark horse I will add in there.

One guy that never gets talked about, but looking at the events, he is right there in the mix, is JF Caron. JF is an incredible strongman, he’s been in the top 5 at World’s for the last four years, he’s very good at all of the events, and I spoke to him recently and he’s in good shape. I’m not going to sit here and say he’ll win, but he has an outside chance.

Thanks for the time, Loz. Where can people find you to keep up with you and what you’re up to?

Follow me on my YouTube channel, Big Loz Official. That’s where I share a lot about my training, opinions, and news. I would appreciate everyone subscribing there and follow along. Thanks for talking to me.

Featured Image: Instagram/biglozwsm