America's Strongest Man 2018
Strongman Corporation's production of 2018's America's Strongest Man took place last week at the Legion Sports Festival in Long Beach, California. This year, there were 3 women's pro divisions represented, along with the under-231lb MW (LW?) Men's Pro division and the big boys, the Heavyweight Pros.
The contest took place on the densely packed expo floor (packed with vendors, not spectators). We had the good fortune of being right next to the AxBall stand, ran by a misguided entrepreneur who thought he had an in on the 'next big thing'. Imagine someone came up with an idea to put a tennis ball in a tube sock and swing it around in a figure 8. Now imagine this capitalist genius hired 2 fitness models to swing said tennis ball to the sound of Black Eyed Peas radio for 8 hours straight in an attempt to cash in on his million dollar idea.
The sound of Fergalicious interrupting Scott Brengel's announcement of the contest weights is one of my most vivid memory of America's Strongest Man.
I will say that one theme of ASM that brought a tear to my eye was that it was impossibly heavy. Like the 'most of you HW pros aren't going to finish this' heavy. ASM winners have historically gone on to compete at the Arnold Classic and World's Strongest Man and such weights are par for the course at that level. There's also an indescribable electricity that comes with watching 9 of the biggest men in the country fail an implement one after another, only to have the 10th come out and handle it like it's their job. Certainly more inspiring than watching a dozen people shuffle through a yoke run at roughly the same pace.
The log press was set at 365, a respectable single for many Heavyweight amateurs, except today it was for reps and had to be returned to the floor each time. Trey Mitchell, Jacob Fincher, and Josh Reynolds finished in a 3 way tie for first at 5 reps with Wes Clayborn and Dylan Lockhard tied at 3 reps.
The big boys then prepared for an 1100lbs yoke, the heaviest around unless you find yourself at the Arnold Classic main stage. The crushing of souls was audible (or was it their ankles?). Trey, Jacob, Brian Clarke, and Allan Colley all cruised the 40' course in under 13 seconds. The rest of the field spit and stumbled, dropping and re-picking, until all but 2 had finished the course. Casey Garrison had an epic run, hanging on by shear will until the finish line where he went down hard and didn't get up for several minutes. Not one to be counted out too quick, he pushed aside the wheelchair the medic had brought for him and immediately started preparing for the deadlift.
The 430lb farmers walk (you read that right) was the most interesting to me. Super heavy farmers events are rare and I, having a sub-par grip myself, was eager to see what the best guys around could do. Jacob Fincher, one of the lightest guys at the show, took it 27', ahead of Lockhard and Reynolds' 22'. Trey, who went on to win the show and has a guaranteed spot at the Arnold Classic next year, went 8'.
The axle deadlift was last man standing. Probably the slowest way to run a max event, the bar started at 550 and went in 50lb jumps until no one was left. All of the mandatory attempts can fatigue competitors, and as more people drop out, there is less time to rest. 5 Competitors tied at 775 while Zach Hadge and Trey Mitchell were successful at 815, both moving up and failing 855. Yes, straps were allowed. No, an 855 axle deadlift is not a 'grip event'.
The stone of steel, no longer the logistical nightmare it once was to elite stone loaders, was set at 500 (though rumor was that it was 'only' 470). 4 athletes picked and loaded the enormous trump stone at least once, with Trey winning with a casual 3 reps.
Trey finished 9 points ahead of Jacob Fincher, putting an exclamation point on his meteoric rise and securing his position as one of the top American's in the sport.
The lightweight pros enjoyed weights that were disproportionately lighter, with higher numbers on the log and faster times on the yoke and farmers.
Demarinis won the 300 log with 7 reps, beating out Rady's 6. Nick Cambi came in behind with 4, suggesting that maybe his marriage to the split jerk should be termed.
The 900lb yoke was a drag race, with 8/9 finishing under 13 seconds and Demarinis clocking his second win with a time of 7.5 seconds.
Sean D then rounded out day 1 with a 775 axle deadlift, a third straight event win for the 3 time 105kg ASM champ.
The 340 farmers was another sprint for the top guys and only gave 3 of the MW Pros a problem. The 6 to finish all did so in under 12 seconds.
Rady, Moeller, and Bolling all were succesful on the 420 stone of steel, but Cambi stole the show with 3 reps on what was initially deemed the 'trump stone'. Demarinis did one token rep on the 380 stone, making history with his record 4th win as America's Strongest Man under 105kg.
I'm sure by now, many are aware that Sean ruptured his quad at this same event last year and was diagnosed with compartment syndrome. In less than 12 months, he had surgery, rehabbed and reclaimed his title as America's strongest lightweight man.
The women's divisions were painfully empty, with only 3-4 pros competing in each of the 3 categories. It begs the question; why is there an extra pro division for women when females don't compete in the numbers that men do? I'm not a fan of the ever increasing weight classes; I believe it only increases the participation of skiddish novices while watering down the pro ranks. But when the demand isn't even there to begin with, it really makes you wonder.
Thankfully, this was a non-issue in the HW division, since Britteny Corneleus and Brooke Sousa are two of the top HW women around and Kristen Rhodes is arguably the best ever. Unfortunately, Britteny pulled out due to injury on the yoke, but watching Kristen and Brooke go head to head was thrilling. Brooke cast a bit of doubt on the outcome, but Kristen came in as a force of nature, reassuring everyone that her title was never really in jeopardy to begin with.
The 565 axle deadlift that Kristen set is currently being shared across the internet as an 'all-time' worthy feat of strength, but more impressive to me was her log press. Announced at 210 (though I heard a report as low as 190), Kristen banged out 9 reps.... CLEANING EACH ONE. The pace that has to be kept to get that many reps in a minute is blistering. It's a testament to her endurance and her experience just as much as it is a testament to her strength. Kristen seized her 8th title and reminded everyone that she's at the top and will stay there for as long as she damn well pleases.
East Coast West Coast alum Ashley Crawford had a more narrow victory in the Middleweights, beating Sarah Cogswell by 1 point overall, an event that could have been turned around by .43 seconds on the farmers!
Rachel Pyron earned her win in the LW division by being dominant in the log and farmers and consistent through the yoke and deadlift. At under 5' tall, stone loading was sure to be her kryptonite, but going into the stone of steel her 5 point overall lead made it a moot point.
The event was ran as smooth as butter. As Scott Brengel said to me, this event was a piece of cake to run compared to the logistical nightmares he has to juggle with California's Strongest Man every year (you know, the annual contest in Huntington Beach that takes place next to the sand, features unique events, fills up 2 months out, and attracts a massive crowd and media attention?). Scott was a fill in for Dione who was attending one of the Arnold offshoots in Europe the same day, and he did a great job as mc for the crowd and event coordinator. He had his highly experienced East West Strength crew as judges and spotters, including Liefa Ingalls, Tommy Yanuzzi, and Chris 'the lawn gnome' Burke.
That being said, the people in charge of Strongman Corporation (that would be Dione Masters) need to strongly revisit the checklist of requirements used when picking out a venue for such a high level show. Such a show needs to draw a crowd, capture the attention of kids and families, and inspire some goddamn drama. IHGF puts on World's Strongest Logger every February in Redding, CA and uses logs, fingal fingers, and stone platforms handmade from timber by Casey Garrison's family, and each piece is worthy of a spot on the set of World's Strongest Man. The thought that this can be orchestrated by a lesser known federation but not for a staple like America's Strongest Man strongly suggests that the powers-that-be are phoning it in.
As someone involved in this sport, I have a deep appreciation for what went on at America's Strongest Man this year. But from the perspective of a spectator, I would best describe the tone as bland and uninspiring. The venue, crowd, equipment, etc, were so far beneath the caliber of this show that I don't know how the athletes can't come away feeling shorted.
Because of the restrictions of the expo hall (and I'm sure other factors), the equipment had an overly standardized, cookie-cutter feel to them. None of the implements had the impossibly immovable gravitas that is normally associated with the sport of Strongman. No giant wooden frames or fully loaded semi trucks. Just shiny, plate loaded equipment that looks about the same when it's loaded to 150 as when it's loaded to 500.
And crowd attendance? Not very high considering Legion had fewer attendees than they did vendors (Seriously. I counted). While some of the best strength athletes in the continent were breaking themselves against 1100lb yokes and 500lb stones, a grand total of 2 dozen spectators were there to bear witness. Even the amateur Crossfit competitors from across the hall weren't intrigued enough to walk 40 feet to watch the spectacle. I've always said that having a strongman show at an expo hall is like having a monster truck exhibit at an import car show. Kind of similar, but not where it counts.
America's Strongest Man should be a destination contest in this sport, second only to the Big Show at the Arnold. Fans should be travelling, eager to experience the electricity and to see who the next American phenom is. The show should inspire kids and convert powerlifters. While SC is putting America's best athletes on the floor of mediocre expo halls, promoters outside of the umbrella of Strongman Corp are starting to put up some amazing contests that do justice to both the crowd and the competitor. Here's hoping that the spirit of competition inspires a sense of urgency in SC and that the American Pro's can get an event worthy of the title America's Strongest Man.