At the Bilbao Strongman Contest running August 22-25 heroic Basques flex monster muscles in a cultural context. For some, the epic event staged at the Arenal open space is the peak of the city’s Semana Grande (Big Week) festival. How big and strong are you? Meet some of the strongest men who ever lived.
Geoff Capes - Born 1949
Few men embody strength and virility like bearded Briton Geoff Capes. Capes always looked like he could pick up a mammoth with his little finger and tear Big Ben out of the ground with his bare hands. Still, Capes is no cave man. The professional Highland Games competitor has a dazzling resume. As an athlete he competed for both England and Great Britain in field athletics. His speciality: the shot put. In the event, he was twice Commonwealth champion, twice European champion, and three time Olympian. What’s more, Capes twice won the title of World’s Strongest Man, was World Muscle Power champion twice, and held many other titles including Europe’s Strongest Man and Britain’s Strongest Man. At the Highland Games, he was six times world champion and held world records in many events. At his height, Capes stood 6 feet 5.5 inches (196.9 cm) and weighed 23 stone (150 kg). Now, bizarrely he breeds budgerigars. Needless to say, the Incredible Hulk is good at that, too. The gentle giant often graces the pages of Cage & Aviary Birds.
Magnus Ver Magnusson - Born 1963
Icelander Magnus Ver Magnusson underlines that strongmen need not be meatheads. In his blog, Ver Magnusson shows his sensitive, philosophical side, stating, “I love motivational quotes and passages. In fact, you might say that I have inordinate preoccupation with collecting inspirational quotes, passages and stories. I doubt seriously if a day has gone by in the last four decades that I didn’t attempt to read a new inspiring narrative or passage or a motivational quotation.” Whenever he is down or struggling to do his best, he turns to his collection of affirmations for insight and inspiration. That said, naturally, Ver Magnusson is built like a tank and has an epic record. Magnus won the title of World’s Strongest Man four times (1991, 1994, 1995, and 1996). He has also won the Iceland’s strongest man contest repeatedly and the West Coast Viking of Iceland nine times. He is widely seen as one of the top strongmen ever. The single father who judges powerlifting contests owns a Reykjavik gym called Jakabol (giant’s nest).
Jon Pall Sigmarsson – Born 1960
Another Icelander, Jon Pall Sigmarsson, won the World’s Strongest Man contest four times. In addition, Sigmarsson was Europe’s Strongest Man twice and a five-time winner of the World Muscle Power Championships. His exploits in powerlifting also include Icelandic records in the bench press and the squat. His most dazzling performances came in the deadlift event, in which he set the European record repeatedly and many world records in Strongman Competition deadlift variations, including the rectangular-handled wheel and one-handed deadlift. Sigmarsson really was rather strong. So strong, in fact, that he could even outcompete English giant Geoff Capes and anyone else who dared and cared to take him on. In 1987, in a contest called Pure Strength, held on the grounds of Huntly Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, he squared off with professional wrestler Bill Kazmaier and Capes to be crowned the Strongest Man of All Time. Sigmarsson proved his point, winning eight out of 10 events. In 1993, however, Sigmarsson died of a heart attack while deadlifting in his gym in Iceland. The apparent cause: a torn aorta linked to a weakened heart known to exist in his family.
Bill Kazmaier – Born 1953
During the 70s and 80s, Wisconsin pro wrestler Bill Kazmaier set countless powerlifting and Strongman world records, and won two International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) world championships and three World’s Strongest Man titles. An athletic all-rounder, Kazmaier played American football at the University of Wisconsin from 1973 to 1974, before quitting school to do powerlifting full-time. Under American Strength Legends, the strength website Samson-Power shows him carrying a massive boulder on his shoulder like a rock-slinging fairytale giant. “He has superhuman strength and even superhuman eyesight: 20/13 in one eye and 20/11 in the other,” the website says. “Before he launched his career as a Strongman, he worked as an oil rig rough neck, lumberjack and a bouncer in some really rough bars. He is remembered for his powers of concentration and perseverance over adversity,” the website adds. He is perhaps the single most studied human in history. While Kazmaier worked as the strength and conditioning coach at Alabama’s University of Auburn, the college’s National Strength Research Center analyzed every angle of his might. Now, he runs the S.W.A.T. gym in Opelika, Alabama and commentates on ESPN for the yearly World’s Strongest Man contest.
Mariusz Pudzianowski - Born 1977
Polish Strongman turned mixed martial artist, Mariusz Pudzianowski, won five World’s Strongest Man titles. That is even more than Magnus Ver Magnusson or Jon Pall Sigmarsson, who both won four times. In the World’s Strongest Man 2007 contest, Pudzianowski said that his goal was to become the only athlete to win the title five times. He succeeded in the 2008 World’s Strongest Man at the last gasp, pipping young Connecticut athlete Derek Poundstone. Pudzianowski triumphed despite a nasty calf injury, which he picked up in the Polish Strongman Championship Cup of 2008 and worsened during World’s Strongest Man qualifying rounds, denting his chances of just making the final. Pudzianowski also nailed two World’s Strongest Man runner-up titles, switching to mixed martial arts in 2009. Perhaps after such almighty success, he needed a new challenge. Now, he runs a bodyguard school and plays rugby. He has said that his breakfast consists of 10 eggs and up to three pounds of bacon. Between meals, he eats plenty of candy.