Zydrunas Savickas has been racing against Brian Shaw to tie Mariusz Pudzianowski’s all-time record of five WSM championships, but he may be too rusty to defeat Shaw in the 2017 World’s Strongest Man.
If Zydrunas Savickas was not sidelined by an injury last year, the world may not consider Brian Shaw its strongest man. Prior to 2016, Brian Shaw had never won two titles in a row. In every attempt to chain together a repeat victory, he was thwarted by his most capable rival, “Big Z.”
The last time anyone saw Zydrunas Savickas compete in a world championship, he was a bloated 375lbs. Since then, Big Z’s slimmed down.
When we spoke in November 2016, Savickas told me he was down to 155kg (~342lbs). To give some perspective, that is a full 100lbs less than Brian Shaw’s competition weight.
On paper, it sounds absurd that the strongest man in the world could weigh 100lbs less than his chief rival. And since Savickas has not participated in either the latest Arnold Strongman Classic or WSM in the past year, viewers cannot be certain whether his weight-cut has resulted in an unintended loss in muscle mass.
Size, however, is not the chief concern for Big Z’s biggest fans. They are more worried about his age and nagging injuries.
Incredibly, Zydrunas Savickas is still competing at 41-years-old. His first podium finish at the World’s Strongest Man was fifteen years ago, in 2002. It was his first of 10: his own all-time record.
Circumstances make it hard to predict a record-extending performance for Savickas. His engines typically increase in horsepower each year, but his body parts have a lot of miles on them now. So, though his muscles refuse to weaken, his ligaments and tendons may have grown increasingly weary of performing at the elite level.
In fact, it remains questionable whether he can currently compete at the topmost level at all. It was merely two weeks ago that Zydrunas Savickas announced he was back to squatting “normal weights” in training.
While Savickas was tending wounds, younger rivals grew in strength.
Last year, Hafthor Bjornsson finished only two points behind Brian Shaw, and Eddie Hall seems to perennially be better than or equal to Shaw in the deadlift. Rookie strongmen, like Poland’s Mateusz Kieliszkowski, are proving they are forces to be reckoned with, as well. Whatever monopoly Savickas and Shaw once shared seems to be dissipating.
BarBend’s own Christo Bland predicts Savickas will be held back in the qualifying round, but I am a bit more partial to the Lithuanian powerhouse.
Big Z is the most consistent strongman of all time. I have faith in his judgment and do not believe he would compete if it posed a major risk to his future in the sport. But though his confirmed attendance in the 2017 World’s Strongest Man suggests he is confident in his body, it is not a foolproof indicator that he is ready to compete as hard as is necessary to win.
Savickas may only have signed on to compete at this year’s WSM to shake off rust for a better showing next year. Maybe he is not interested in the grueling challenge of the Grand Final, but only wants to keep his skills sharp for future appearances. He may pull out at the very first sign of discomfort, losing the battle but maintaining his long-term war effort.
Truthfully, it is unlikely Big Z will earn a first-place finish in 2017. If luck is on his side, he might see the Grand Final, but even then, he might bow out of a few tough reps he otherwise would have pushed through with full confidence.
If Zydrunas Savickas plans to compete well into his mid-40s, he should treat this year as a reintroduction rather than a comeback. By playing it smart and taking it easy, he increases his likelihood of winning next year.
Big Z could prove us BarBend writers wrong and defeat Brian Shaw. But that would be a feat so remarkable given the circumstances, it would demonstrate beyond any doubt that Zydrunas Savickas is the greatest strongman to ever live.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image: @savickas_bigz on Instagram