We all tout our favorite athletes for being some of the most impressive physical specimens in the world. The superstars of the three biggest professional sports in North America (football, baseball, and basketball) show off their incredible agility, speed, and strength on a daily basis in often awe-inspiring ways. Every four years Olympians compete in feats that test their relative strength and speed in competitions that have withstood the test of time. But perhaps the most incredible demonstration of raw strength and power can be seen in the yearly event to crown the world’s strongest man.
Since 1977, men from around the globe have convened to compete in a series of events that put the accomplishments of some of our most revered athletes to shame. These men pull trucks down the road, carry cars, lift boulders, throw kegs and barrels, all totaling thousands of pounds in weight. What makes this more exciting to watch than the standard weight-lifting competition is that the events combine incredible feats of strength with common objects. Rather than simply lifting a bar, the competitors carry, for example, a refrigerator (actually, two at the same time), or hoist logs overhead.
While they aren’t necessarily showered with endorsement deals and rarely make the ESPN top plays segments, they are still some of the most impressive “athletes” the world has ever seen. After all, how many football players do you see picking up and carrying multiple members of the opposing team? The most recent competition took place in Malaysia last April, where American Brian Shaw bested a field of 30 men to claim the title. But is he the greatest strong man of all-time? Here is our ranking of the 15 greatest to ever compete for the title of World’s Strongest Man.
British strongman Terry Hollands has never won the World’s Strongest Man (WSM) competition, but there is something to be said about maintaining a level of consistency for an impressive duration. Hollands is the only competitor to reach the finals of the WSM competition nine consecutive years. After breaking the record for consecutive finals, Hollands announced his retirement from strongman competitions in 2014.
With the nickname “Thor” one would expect this man to be larger and stronger than most, but his 6-foot-9 height and 400-pound frame exceed expectations. Perhaps known best globally for his role in the popular television series “Game of Thrones” (as Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane), Bjornsson is also a very accomplished competitive strongman. A five-time competitor at the WSM event, he has finished in the top three in 2011, 2012, and 2015. Most impressively, he recently broke a 1000-year record by carrying a 30-foot, 1400-pound log on his shoulders for five steps.
Famous for his catchphrase “Viking Power,” this Norwegian strongman broke over 30 Norwegian power lifting records and was an eight-time World’s Strongest Man competitor. He took home the title in 2001 and had top three finishes in 1999 and 2000. Karlsen would have been an eight time consecutive finalist had he not torn his hamstring doing warm-up squats in 1998.
The American Wilhelm makes the list because of his overall importance to the competitive field of strongmen events. He was crowned the champion of the inaugural World’s Strongest Man competition in 1977 then returned to successfully defend his title the following year. While the feats of strength have increased dramatically over the 35 years since he competed he remains one of only nine multiple winners of the World’s Strongest Man title.
This Ukrainian strongman claimed the title of World’s Strongest in 2004. He followed that up by winning the International Federation of Strength Athletes (IFSA) world title, becoming the first athlete to win both titles. Virastyuk held his own with the best in the world from 2003 to 2008 - names that you will find higher up on this list - and would find himself higher up as well had he competed in more than two World’s Strongest Man events.
Known for his incredible arm strength, this Swedish-born strongman won the WSM competition in 1998. He was a former arm wrestling champion (as was his mother) and he married a future Sweden’s Strongest Woman champion to form, perhaps, the world’s strongest family. Most notably, Samuelsson holds the record for most WSM appearances, with 13, and a share of the record for most WSM finals, with 10. More first place finishes would certainly have vaulted him toward the top of this list.
As the successor to one of the top strongmen on this list, Reeves held down the title of England’s strongest man for nearly a decade in the late 1980s and most of the 1990s. He won the World’s Strongest Man competition in 1989 and made the podium in all three of his trips to the WSM. Jamie Reeves was also famed for breaking a (at the time) 274-year record by harness lifting a set of beer barrels weighing over 1,800 pounds. He retired in the late 1990s and became a judge for future strongman competitions.
This Finnish strongman joins the elite club of two-time winners of the World’s Strongest Man. His back-to-back wins put him in an even smaller category of champions. While not one of the larger winners in the history of the event, Ahola made up for his 6-foot-1 275 pound frame with speed and pure determination. Since retiring from strongman competitions, Ahola has pursued an acting career with roles in film and television, most recently the History Channel show “Vikings.”
Arguably the greatest British strongman in the history of the competition, Capes captured two titles in the mid 1980s becoming, at the time, only the third man with multiple wins, and finished his career with six podium finishes at the World’s Strongest Man event. Only three others have more podium finishes in the history of the competition. Still, he remains slightly lower on this list because he competed at a time considered by many to be a lull in the competition.
This Icelandic strongman had an electrifying presence that got crowds revved up with his chanting and shouting before his lift attempts. Sigmarsson had the distinction of being the first person to win four World’s Strongest Man titles. He defeated WSM legend Bill Kazmaier in his return to the games in 1988 and may have been the greatest of all-time had his career, and life, not been cut short by a tragic heart attack at the age of 32.
This Icelandic competitor joined fellow countryman Jon Pall Sigmarsson as the second four-time champion from the small Scandinavian nation. He ranks higher on this list due to the impressive nature of his victories and the elevated level of competition during his era. In his first six trips to the competition, Magnusson never finished below 2nd place, ranking him as truly one of the greatest in the history of strongman competition. He retired in 1997 after failing to reach the final, by one point, in his seventh trip to the WSM competition.
American Brian Shaw is the current reigning World’s Strongest Man, having won his third overall title at the 2015 event in Malaysia. This third victory ties Shaw with the next man on this list for most wins by an American since the competition began in 1977. At 6’8” and over 400 pounds, Shaw is a looming presence, and with his third title at the age of 33, he may be entering his prime and ready to defend his title. This colossal man credits his success to a dedicated training regimen and a ridiculous EIGHT meals a day.
Born in 1953, this American strongman won three consecutive WSM titles in 1980, 1981, and 1982. Rumor has it he was barred from competing in 1983 because the event coordinators felt he was too good to make the competition interesting. He returned five years later but failed to recapture his title-winning ways. We may never know how many titles he would have won had he been invited to compete in the mid-80s, but “Kaz” was still inducted as one of only four men in the “World’s Strongest Man Hall of Fame.”
Mariusz Pudzianowski is the only five-time champion in the history of the World’s Strongest Man competition. That alone solidifies his right to sit near the top of this list. But his larger statistics are, perhaps, even more impressive. Pudzianowski won an amazing 42 of 59 various strongman events/competitions over his career and was a near-unanimous selection for the WSM hall of fame. At only 6’1” and 285 pounds, this Polish strongman is one of the smaller champions, but his size certainly didn’t impact his pure strength. He currently competes in the world of MMA with a fair level of success.
“Big Z’ as he is know to fans is truly a modern legend in the making. This Lithuanian born competitor has competed 10 times for the World’s Strongest Man including the last seven consecutive years. He is a four-time champion, most recently in 2014, and a 14-time champion of the Lithuanian strongest man competition. Big Z has never finished outside of the top 3 at the WSM competition, which is no surprise given his incredibly lifting personal bests. He boasts a bench press over 600 pounds and a deadlift of nearly 900 pounds! He is still in his prime and could easily take his fifth title in 2016.