More men have been on the moon than have deadlifted 500kg. It’s a fact that has kept Eddie Hall, an ex-HGV mechanic and the World’s Strongest Man in 2017, at the forefront of the sport of Strongman.
“That nearly killed me,” explained Eddie Hall, the owner of a genetic mutation that causes myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy – the ‘Hercules Gene’ – after tearing half a tonne from the floor at the Giants Live World Deadlift Championships. “The pressure on my body was surreal. I passed out after. I had nose bleeds. It’s not healthy doing something like that.”
His leviathan effort, not through his peers’ lack of trying, still remains to be beaten.
One of the favorite contenders to dethrone Hall’s efforts, however, is Hafþór Björnsson, who was crowned World’s Strongest Man in Manila, Philippines, in 2018, knocking Hall off his throne.
In fact, it was a year earlier, during the 2017 competition when their feud began. The story: Björnsson was disallowed a rep during the Viking press, a controversial decision that cost the Icelander the title by a single point and saw Hall emerge victorious, a decision that Björnsson would later say “robbed” him from the WSM title. Judging the event, Magnús Ver Magnússon had the swing vote on Björnsson’s no-rep and voted against him (he would later go on to be announced as the judge for Björnsson’s world record attempt).
Their feud, and bitter rivalry, continues to burn.
Since his WSM win in 2017 and his WR deadlift in 2016, Eddie Hall has retired from competing, meaning the pair’s relationship became a tug-of-war, punctuated with mutual respect and sporting admiration, that was almost always waged online. At its best, the two trade jibes for spikes in YouTube views and Instagram likes, but at its worst, the feud has seen Hall label Björnsson as “unsportsmanlike and unprofessional”, “the world’s weakest liar” and a “scum bag” and shared claims of poor conduct during Strongman competition meets. Hall has published ‘press releases’ on social media to try and retract certain defamatory comments.
Breaking the Unbreakable
There is one enormous, body-breaking common denominator between the two strongmen — the determination to break previously unthinkable world records. On 2nd May 2020, Björnsson plans to break Hall’s deadlift record of 500kg, by pulling 501kg — or more, potentially — and to walk away with a new deadlift world record. The catch? Due to coronavirus social-distancing rules, Björnsson is now planning to attempt the lift at his home gym with friends and family, instead of a legitimate, sanctioned event with an objective, unbiased referee.
It’s a decision that has landed the ex-basketball player and Game of Thrones star in hot water among fans and sporting peers, with polarizing comments being made on either side of the debate. While hosting a recent YouTube question-and-answer session, Eddie Hall made a sweeping statement on Björnsson’s pending deadlift attempt, detailing how he doesn’t “trust Icelandics,” but later went on to clarify that he was specifically referring to Bjornsson.
Elsewhere in Hall’s live YouTube Q&A, a fan posed the question, “Do you personally think that Thor [Hafþór Björnsson] should do more than 501[kg], as you broke it by so much before?” For those unaware, by tearing 500kg from the floor, Hall blitzed the previous record of 463kg by Benedikt Magnússon. “Breaking it is breaking it, if he breaks it by a kilo or ten kilos or 30 kilos, it doesn’t matter really,” Hall replied. “I will say that I broke it by 37kg in one day. I did something special, I broke that 500kg barrier when everybody thought it was impossible. We wouldn’t even be talking about the 500kg deadlift if it wasn’t for me right now.”
His next comments on Björnsson, however, were the most surprising. “I’m getting sick and tired of people saying they’re going to pull it [a 501kg deadlift], ‘Thor’ especially, I’m sick to death of hearing it. I’m sick to death of seeing my name in his titles on YouTube videos… it’s using my success for his views. I’m sick to death of it, if you’re going to pull it, then pull it. It’s been four years.”
After years of graft, ‘pulling it’ is precisely what Björnsson plans to do. But it’s the testing environment and the timing that has got the internet — and Eddie Hall’s temperament — lit up.
“We’re going into this pandemic and there’s nowhere to run,” said Hall “and now he’s going to do it in his home gym. He’s had plenty of opportunities – he could’ve done it in Dubai, late last year, in Europe’s Strongest Man [and at] Giants Live, it doesn’t feel right to me. Why not wait ’til this is over, ’til, I don’t know, October?”
What’s more, he’s not bothered about being disrespectful to his Strongman peer. “If I was doing that, people would call BS. So I’m calling BS on Thor.”
In terms of a response, Björnsson is yet to clap back in public to Hall, despite being more than active on his social media, where a recent Instagram post shows the 6’7″ Icelander lifting an “easy” 440kg from the floor for reps.
Björnsson also claimed an unofficial “world record” by lifting 480kg on an ‘elephant bar’ — a longer, more flexible barbell that’s specifically designed for world records — in February 2020. It was a lift that has got fans believing a lift at 501kg is more than possible in May. Instead of an elephant bar, however, Björnsson will have to use a standardized deadlift bar with calibrated weight plates – a comparatively harder lift.
Regardless, the feud between the two hasn’t stopped other athletes from stepping into the fold and weighing into the battle for 501. Brian Shaw, a four-time World’s Strongest Man winner, nine-time WSM podium finisher and three-time Arnold Strongman Classic winner, posted a personal video to his 1.27m YouTube followers earlier this week, sharing his thoughts on the growing rivalry between Hall and Björnsson.
“There was a lot of factors with that competition,” said Shaw, referring to Hall’s deadlift world record in 2016 at the Giants Live World Deadlift Championships. “That contest was definitely set up for Eddie to pull that 500 kilos… since then, there’s been a lot of talk back and forth about ‘if someone would break it’, I feel like it’s a never-ending story.”
“The bottom line is, Eddie Hall lifted the 500 kilos in 2016 on a standard bar with calibrated plates, said Shaw. “Moving forward, there’s been a lot of talking rising up about Hafþór [Björnsson] being potentially able to pull 501 kilos to break that record. In Hafþór’s defense, he planned and said he was going after this 501 kilo attempt in Bahrain in a World’s Ultimate Strongman-sanctioned event and, unfortunately due to the worldwide circumstances right now, that contest had to be cancelled.”
As Shaw describes, this was the turn of events that led Iceland’s Björnsson to his impending attempt at a 501kg lift in May. Despite Iceland not initiating a ‘lockdown’ similar to that of the United Kingdom or the USA, Björnsson will be attempting the record at his home gym, with ESPN and World’s Ultimate Strongman both broadcasting and live-streaming the attempt from the training facility.
In almost every other major sport on the planet, there’s a corresponding governing body to ensure competitions, races and matches are done fairly and with unprejudiced decisions. The Olympics has the National Olympic Committees, Football has FIFA and weightlifting has the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), to name three.
The catch here — fortunate for some, unfortunate for others — is that despite its growing popularity, there is no official governing body for the sport of strongman. “What I will say is that there is no governing body in strongman. There’s no federation. There’s no group of people or person that overlooks the sport, or says that this is a world record, or ‘we’ll count this as a world record,’” explained Shaw on YouTube. In this particular sport, the slack is made up by those running the sanctioned events — think Giants Live and World’s Ultimate Strongman — using the bigger competitions as a way of validating world records.
So, when it comes to setting a strongman world record, could one really be set outside of an event like those used before? It’s a contentious issue that even Shaw seems hesitant to pick a side on, noting some of Hall’s doubts of Björnsson’s legitimacy. “When it comes to this [deadlift] world record, in my opinion, it needs to be done in a competition. I will say that. It’s not because of anything with the bar not being what it’s supposed to be, or the weights not weighing they’re supposed to weigh.”
Instead, Shaw’s hesitance comes from the competition factor, or a lack thereof. “When you are in a competition, and there’s however many men competing alongside you, you do not get to determine when you go to lift… you don’t know how many guys will make it to the next round. You don’t know how long they’re going to take. For example, if somebody gets a bloody nose and bleeds all over the platform, they’ve got to take time to clean that up. You don’t get to time any of this out. In a training setting, you absolutely get to time it out. I know in my training, especially when I’m building up to a big ‘max’, I can take as long as I want to be ready for that lift and mentally prepare for it. In the contest, some of that goes out the window. When your name is called and the bar is loaded, you’ve got to go whether you’re ready or not.”
To Lift or Not?
“In my opinion, a strongman world record needs to be set in a competition,” says Hall. As part of a sport that, largely, originated in basements, warehouses and carparks, strongman is accelerating at an impressive rate. Would this be a step back?
“I genuinely feel bad for Hafþór,” said Shaw. “He’s put a lot of training and time into getting ready for this. But, if we start to allow for strongman records to be set in gyms with that person’s equipment, we’re opening pandora’s box. It’s only going to create more controversy, on whether the weights were correct, or the judging was correct.”
“The circumstances are very, very hard. But, that doesn’t mean that, because everything had to be cancelled, we get to set world records in our gyms and put it on camera.”
Crucially, this all could be for naught if Björnsson is unable to match and beat Hall’s 2017 WR of 500kg with a 501kg deadlift once May rolls around. The consensus, however, is that everyone, even Eddie Hall, wants Hafþór to break the record, and welcome the potential scenario, but want it under legitimate conditions.
What’s more, there are rumors, predictions and ‘theories’ ruminating across various forums that Björnsson will match the 500kg during his event in May, but beat it by a larger margin later in the year once restrictions are lifted and the strongman season is allowed to resume. For now, however, both old and new fans of the sport have already witnessed huge feats of strength, massive growths in the sport and unbelievable examples of human fortitude. Frankly, isn’t that what competitive sport is all about? We’ll see you on May 2nd.