Twelve men converged on a sold out Stadium Arena, Norrkoping, Sweden to compete for not only a victory but one of the three coveted spots at World's Strongest Man
With so many big names in the line up this was never going to be an easy feat for any of them, especially considering that six of the twelve competitors having competed at WSM before. Including Europe's Strongest Man and WSM runner up Hafthor Bjornsson, 10 times WSM Competitor Mark Felix and hometown favourite Johannes Arsjo who has been to five WSMs.
The first event event was a 150 kg per hand farmers walk over 40m and while american Derek Devaughan set an early president, local favourite Johannes Arsjo stole the show taking an easy victory. Finishing the course an incredible 3 seconds faster than second place.
Event Two was a formidable overhead medley featuring; a 110kg block press, 140 standard barbell, 162 kg axle and finally a 175kg log. Predictably this event got the better of a lot of the athletes with only three getting past the axle, of those three only two finished the course. Thor put in an incredibly quick time and was the first to finish the course but he was beaten by less than a second by current leader Johannes Arjso.
Event three saw the athletes go head to head on the car deadlift, repping out a Volkswagen pick up for as many reps as possible in 60 seconds. Deadlift expert Mark Felix set a benchmark of six reps early on and looked like he might take his first event win until the final pairing of Arjso and Thor stepped up. Thor took his first win beating out Johannes six reps with a final rep at the buzzer.
Next was a new twist on a classic loading medley, with athletes having to load up a skip/wheelbarrow hybrid, which they then moved down the course. Again Mark Felix looked like he might take the win early on flying through the course in record time. Once again however as the final pair stepped up everything changed, Johannes made a mistake with the loading of the first implement and couldn't catch up to the mighty Thor after that having to settle for sixth place.
The penultimate event is always guaranteed to entertain the crowd and the keg toss certainly didn't disappoint the Swedish crowd. There was an added incentive with anyone who got all seven kegs over the 4.7m pole got to attempt a world record. Arjso was the first to get all seven kegs over, despite struggling with his third keg early on. Johnny Hansson showed great promise on his Giants debut completing the course in a blistering 21 seconds, before Thor took the win with an even faster time of 20 seconds. While all three athletes attempted the world record height of 7.05m with a 15kg keg only Thor was able to do it successfully, adding another world record to his already impressive resume.
Stones are the always a fitting end to a strongman competition, the athletes had to load five increasingly heavy stones onto descending platforms. Starting with a 160kg stone and finishing with a 200kg monster. Adam Bishop looked very strong early on and was the first to load all five stones but his lead didn't last long with the likes of ?King of the Stones' Hafthor Bjornsson stepping up who completed all five in a winning time of 33.96 seconds.
Once all was said and done the three men stood atop the podium were Hafthor Bjornsson, Johannes Arjso and Mark Felix, with Johnny Hansson just missing out on qualification to WSM.
A giant emerges through the darkness, his face hidden by a shroud of dry ice floating around the stadium floor, his massive frame covered with the blue and yellow fabric of the icelandic flag. This crowd doesn't need to see his face or even the trademark tattoos that cover his skin to know who he is, everyone here knows exactly who the darkness is hiding.
Just calling Hathor Bjornsson a strongman is selling the rennosance man short, a former basketballer with so many accolades to his name that mentioning only one seems sinful. He is a strongman and an exceptional one at that, but he also has a starring role in the hugely popular show Game of Thrones. When he's not in Croatia filming or training in the bowells of Iceland's infamous Jakobol Gym he's out promoting his clothing lines or his new Vodka. Working the fitness expo circuit tirelessly.
Where his strongman peers shy from the limelight, he embraces it. He has become a Sandow for the instagram generation. Following in the footsteps of the great Victorian strongman performer, Thor seemingly shys away from no man. Fighting with one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world, locking arms with the best armwrestler in the world, entering historic Highland Games and I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Our story begins four years ago; with a younger, far less forbading, softer Thor being introduced to the gathering North Carolinain crowds, ahead of the 2011 World's Strongest Man Competition. A huge step up for the young Icelander who at this point was yet to step foot on a proffesional podium outside of his homecountry. The odds were not looking good for our hero when he was dropped into arguably one of the toughest heats, going head to head against last years runner up Brian Shaw, 7 times WSM competitor Mark Felix, American Powerlifting Champion Nick Best and the Canadian Jean-Francois Caron who was in terrific form. No one must have told Thor that he was the underdog howver, he didn't look out of place for a second, qualifying for the final and putting on a stellar debut performance to finish sixth in the world.
The man we saw in 2013 was certainly a phenomenal athlete but he was far from wooing thousands of adorning fans, all that changed in 2013. The man who returned to our screens that year was an entirely diffferent animal. A chiseled features had replaced the babyish face and a strict diet and training regimen meant that any remants of fat were now gone. Bjornsson was back leaner, bigger and stronger than ever. In a sport where carrying extra fat can be a huge advantage, Thor broke the mold. No other athlete that day was competing with abs at over 390lbs. Delighting the crowds and tv audiences alike with his showmanship, roaring with the ferocity of a mountain lion before each event and effortlessy tearing his shirt from his body in victory. It takes more than the heart of the crowd though to suceed at Worlds Strongest Man, strength, athletiscm and endurance are all required to be stood on the podium at the end of the gruelling multi day event.
A top three spot in a sport as obscure and niche as strongman certainly isn't the secret behind Thor's popularity, nor is his gargantuan size. Both may help but as three times World's Strongest Man and force of nature Brian Shaw knows all too well, the coat tails of strength are only so long. Shaw has all the physical attributes, at 6ft 8 inches and 415lbs he dwarves not only normal people but normal strongmen too. Shaw however is far from normal, with a trophy cabinet littered with three world titles, two Arnold Strongman classics wins and two Strongman Super Series titles he is quite possibly the strongest man to of ever walked the planet. Yet he remains a complete unknown to to those iniated into the world of strength.