The qualifying events are over. Now, 30 of THE best strongmen on the planet are going to face off in 5 Heats, leaving only the top 10 to face off in the finals to determine the strongest man in the world! In this first heat, we have:
Tom Stoltman – Scotland – World’s Strongest Man 2021
Aivars Smaukstelis – Latvia – 8th place at WSM 2020
Kevin Faires – USA – 7th place at WSM 2020
Manuel Angulo – Chile – First ever Chilean to compete at WSM
Gabriel Rheaume – Canada – Canada’s Strongest Man 2021
Andy Black – Scotland – 2x Scotland’s Strongest Man
A great selection of veterans and newbies! We have the reigning, defending, World’s Strongest Man in Tom Stoltman as he begins his campaign to hopefully retain the title, then 2 former finalists from 2020 in Smaukstelis and Faires. Angulo and Rheaume are totally new to me, and honestly I’m not expecting either to really put the top 3 under threat. Andy Black on the other hand is someone getting better and better and could surprise a few people.
Event 1 – Loading Race
75 seconds to load a 125kg cannonball, then a 125kg anvil, then a 120kg sack, a 120kg keg and then another 120kg sack IN ORDER. Tom Stoltman is one of the very best ever at this event, so I expect a first place finish from him. First up is Andy Black against Gabriel Rheaume. Black is a HUGE man which will help to lift some of these objects, but Rheaume seems to be in better shape which will help with the running aspect of the event. Rheaume was leading the way going into the final sack, but the ease in which Black was able to manhandle the sack means he takes the win in their head to head. 50.81 seconds is now the time everyone has to beat. Manuel Angulo, a 44 year old from Chile, against Kevin Faires. Faires is very fast as the lightest strongman, but he has proven to be very powerful when he needs to be. He’s a full object ahead of his elder, in fact he finishes all 5 before Angulo has loaded the third object. He runs out of time with 4 objects. Faires managed all 5 in a time of 43.36 seconds. Finally, its the WSM Tom Stoltman against Aivars Smaukstelis. Aivars is good at this type of event, but I expect him to look like an amateur against Tom. Nothing is a problem for Tom, who does indeed take the win overall, while Smaukstelis is JUST outside of Faires time and finishes in 3rd. A great start for the reigning champion!
Event 2 – Deadlift Ladder
5 weights from 300kg to 380kg to be lifted in order as quickly as possible in 75 seconds. This is always a brutal event and few men manage all 5. Tom is constantly getting better at deadlift so I would expect him to do well here again, but Smaukstelis could be a potential winner as well. Rheaume and Angulo went first; 3 lifts for Angulo and 4 for Rheaume in 39.40 seconds. We join the action as Andy Black faces off against Smaukstelis. Both men are seemingly very slow, as Smaukstelis only gets the 4th rep way behind the Canadian. Andy Black eventually catches up with 4 reps as well but in a slower time. The heat on the ground really didn’t help Aivars either as his feet were seemingly burning through his socks! Faires and Stoltman are last, and I’d expect Tom to do 4 in a fast time. Faires is keeping pace with him, but Tom does indeed lift the 4th in the fasted time and even shows off by doing the 5th lift! Another event win for the champion!
Event 3 – Car Walk
Walk with a 430kg car down a 20m course in the quickest time. What could be easier? Angulo finished it in 1 minute flat, with Black doing it in almost half the time. Smaukstelis and Faires are up now, and while Faires seemed to be way in front for most of the course, Smaukstelis almost catches him in the end. 19.91 for Aivars, and 19.32 for Faires! Tom against Gabriel to finish up the event, and as usual you would expect Tom to do well. Both men beat the previous times, but Tom blows away everyone with a time of 14.65 seconds!!!
3 events down, 3 more to go. However, whoever is in first place after 5 events is automatically through to the final, which the 2nd and 3rd place athletes must face off in the stones. At this point it seems Tom is finally going to win his group for the first time and automatically qualify without needing a 6th event. These are the points as we are half way into the heat:
Tom is of course leading the way with 3 event wins. Faires doing well in second, while perhaps a bit of a surprise is Smaukstelis down in 4th behind the new Canadian. He has some work to do if he wants to reach the final again.
Event 4 – Log Lift
75 seconds to get as many reps as possible on the 145kg log! 4 years ago this would have been a poor event for Tom, but these days he’s great at, well, everything. I still remember being shocked at the 2020 WSM Final when he finished 1st in a log lift ladder event, lifting all 5 in the fastest time, beating out his brother who is known as one of the best log lifters on the planet, and a number of other great pressers. Since then I’ve learned to never underestimate him on pressing events! Angulo and Black faced off against each other again, with neither man being able to get a single rep. Now for Aivars and Faires, who should get a few reps out at least. 2 each so far, with Faires looking more comfortable on the third rep and beyond. Smaukstelis cannot seem to get more than 4, while Faires continues on and gets 7 reps! He does lock out with an 8th rep, but after the time runs out. This might be an event Tom doesn’t win, and honestly it would be better for him to save some energy and just do enough to get 2nd place maybe. So, can Tom and Rheaume do any better? 5 easy reps for Tom, and while that is enough for 2nd place so far depending on what the Canadian does, he keep son going getting to 7 with plenty of time for another to take the win, and yes, he does. Rheaume is on 5 reps with 10 seconds left, manages a 6th rep just in time. That will be great for him as he’s again ahead of Aivars, putting him in perfect position to get into the stone off.
Event 5 – Wrecking Ball Hold
A 228g Wrecking Ball attached to a chain must be held off the ground for as long as possible. Outside of a couple of athletes, these grip events are often hard to predict, and more often than not, the strongmen further down the table have a habit of putting everyone else to shame. Will that happen here again? Can Tom take his 5th event win? Time to watch and see! Angulo held out of 1 minute 11.66 seconds, but was beaten out by Andy Black who lasted 1 minute 26.92 seconds. Bad look for Aivars, who only lasted 57.44 seconds. I think that confirms he is out of the stone off now unless the next 3 men all do worse. We join in on the action with Rheaume, who might be smart to only beat Aivars’ time and not bother going any further to save energy for the stone off. But he might want to try and finish in 2nd overall to have the advantage of going first in the stone off. He seems to be wanting to last as long as possible, but he falls just before the time of Andy Black. 1 minute 24.10 seconds. Now for Faires who has an amazing grip and is currently in 2nd place overall. He will remain in 2nd overall as he goes well past Andy Black before simply deciding to drop it. 1 minute 35.18 seconds! Tom is out last, and he finished in last place after lifting it and dropping it seconds later. His place in the final is already solidified!
Tom wins the group and qualifies for the WSM, getting to do 1 less event, or in his case, 2 less events as he barely even bothered with the wrecking ball hold. That will be great for him as he can save some energy going into the final. Faires and Rheaume will now face off against each other in a stone off to determine who joins Tom!
Event 6 – Stone Off
We have the castle stones, ranging from 150kg to 200kg, but instead of placing them on a platform, the athletes have to pass them over a bar to each other. Once they both pass a stone over to each other once, they move onto the next stone. This continues until either 1 guy fails to put it over the bar in the allotted time, or they get to all 5 stones and continue passing the heaviest stone until one man is unable to do it. Faires missed out on the final last year in this very event, losing to Tom’s brother Luke. They both make it to the final 200kg stone, and both make it over the bar with relative ease. Now to go back and forth until one man can’t do it. A slip from Gabriel almost costs him the final, but he manages to get it over. Faires also slips, and like last year, he is beaten. Great attempt.
So, Tom Stoltman and Gabriel Rheaume are the first 2 finalists for the 2022 WSM Final! Stoltman looks to be even better than last year, which is bad news for everyone else hoping to take the title from him. Gabriel has made the final on his first try, and seems to be the next great Canadian strongman, following on from JF Caron (3rd at WSM 2020) and Maxime Boudreault (3rd place at WSM 2021).