Beasts in the Middle East

After months of build up and hype, World's Ultimate Strongman took place in Dubai on 26th October 2018. With 12 of the strongest men in the world competing and a $150,000 prize pot at stake, this was big news in Strongman. You may have watched the live stream and you've almost definitely seen some videos and photos come out of the day, but here I'm going to give you the athletes perspective and the full low down on WUS Dubai.

Dubai Bound

I'm no diva, but when you're traveling somewhere new on your own, to meet people you've never met before, you always hope you're going to be well looked after. I needn't have been concerned. From business class flights, to Rolls Royce's and an all expenses paid 5 star hotel, we were treated like Royalty the moment we stepped foot off the plane. The team behind the scenes are professional, helpful, ambitious and genuinely excited about this new venture.

I stayed in Dubai for 8 days in total, which meant I had plenty of time to relax, get over the flight and see the sights before comp day. It's not uncommon in Strongman to compete the day following a long haul flight when you're jet lagged and hanging out of your arse, so this was a nice treat.

The Venue

The event took place at Bab Al Shams arena and the Strongman show was part of a larger festival, which included everything from a UFC experience to fire dancers and Shaolin Monks. It was a really cool looking venue and quite different to anything we're used to seeing in Strongman. Spectators had tables but could also move up close to the action if they wanted. The crowd on the day were great, but I can only imagine how amazing the atmosphere would be if the arena was filled to capacity.

No expense had been spared when it came to the competition equipment, which was made by an Australian company called Stand or Submit. The equipment was rustic looking with a real Mad Max vibe, and everything felt really solid and well made.

Event 1 Truck Pull

The first event was a standard truck pull over 30 metres. In terms of a visually impressive event to kick off a show, it doesn't get much better than the truck pull. This show had arguably the best truck pullers in the world competing, so it was always going to be tough and a small mistake could be very costly.

I was lucky enough to draw 12th before the event meaning I got to go up last. The event was won by Terry Hollands, and it was great to see that he's still one of the best truck pullers in the world with his new lighter and leaner physique. It goes to show that there's so much more to it than bodyweight, as Terry is now one of the lighter guys competing at this level. I was really happy to take second place after Terry. Top five had been the aim for this, and it put me in a comfortable position knowing I had my worst event coming up next.

Truck Pull Results

1 Terry Hollands

2 Laurence Shahlaei

3 Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson

4 Brian Shaw

5 Mateusz Kieliszkowski

6 JF Caron

7 Žydrūnas Savickas

8 Martins Licis

9 Iron Biby

10 Luke Stoltman

11 Konstantine Janashia

12 Tom Stoltman

Event 2 Arm Over Arm Truck Pull

It seems they're fans of trucks in Dubai as event 2 was an arm over arm truck pull. While the standard truck pull hadn't been particularly heavy, the arm over arm was brutal. I don't know if it's my shape or my levers, but this has never been an event that's suited me and I was grateful to be one of the last out so I could watch the other guys and see what did and didn't seem to work for them.

By the time it was my turn, no one had finished the pull, and I'd noticed that the guys seemed to burn their legs out by using too much leg power. Knowing it was the weakest event of mine (and accepting that I'd be happy with anything other than last place), I figured I didn't have much to lose, and decided to try and do the pull in shorter bursts to save my legs for the really tough uphill part. Unfortunately that just resulted in me tiring out my arms instead, with the grip in my hands and forearms going completely.

The event actually ended up being a draw for distance between Mateusz Kieliszkowski and JF Caron, which is quite unusual, and means there was almost definitely some sort of incline or sticking point. I took 11th place, which wasn't ideal, but left me at the middle of the table with some good events to come.

Arm Over Arm Results

1 Mateusz Kieliszkowski

1 JF Caron

3 Martins Licis

4 Terry Hollands

5 Brian Shaw

6 Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson

7 Konstantine Janashia

8 Žydrūnas Savickas

9 Tom Stoltman

10 Luke Stoltman

11 Laurence Shahlaei

12 Iron Biby

Event 3 Silver Dollar Deadlift for Max

I should mention that at the start of event 3, we had already been competing for 4 or 5 hours. It's my only real criticism of the show - the fact that it went on for far too long. It really drains you when you're having to wait around in-between events and you have to warm up all over again. I tried to play it smart and rest as much as possible knowing we still had some really tough events to come.

Unlike a standard deadlift, the silver dollar deadlift is from 18 inches. It's been a while since my deadlift has been at its best thanks to numerous injuries, and I actually failed a 420kg lift from 18 inches earlier this year at Summermania. With an opening weight of 400kg/880lb and jumps of 30kg a time, it looked like a new world record was likely.

The goal for me was to pull a pb of 460kg, which was exactly what I ended up doing. While I felt like I probably had a little more in the tank (perhaps 470kg), I passed on the 490kg as it would have been expending a hell of a lot of energy just to attempt that kind of weight.

JF Caron and Thor tied for first place with a 520kg deadlift - an amazing performance by both athletes.

Silver Dollar Deadlift Results

Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson and JF Caron - 520kg

Konstantine Janashia - 510kg

Brian Shaw - 490kg

Laurence Shahlaei, Tom Stoltman, Martins Licis, Žydrūnas Savickas - 460kg

Terry Hollands, Luke Stoltman, Mateusz Kieliszkowski - 430kg

Iron Biby - 400kg

Event 4 Overhead Medley

The medley consisted of 4 different implements; a 160kg log, 100kg dumbbell, 160kg axel and a 140kg shield/block. Not the heaviest of events when you consider the athletes competing.

I'd been training hard for this medley and everything had been going well in the gym. I wasn't too fussed about the 4th lift as I was sure that getting the first three implements in a fast time would be enough to score big points, so that was my focus going into the event. Axel had been going really well in training and I wasn't worried as I knew I was good for 160kg, despite watching a few guys go up and fail it before me.

However, the axel was way harder than everyone expected. It was definitely heavier than they said, combined with the fact that we'd been competing for 6 hours and it was now gone 11pm - a lot of guys ended up failing the axel, myself included. This was a little disappointing as I could have gone faster with the first two implements, but I was certain I was good for the axel so I didn't rush it. There's no point in ifs and buts though.

Just three of the athletes were given all 4 lifts, with Mateusz Kieliszkowski leading the pack.

Overhead Medley Results

1 Mateusz Kieliszkowski

2 Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson

3 Brian Shaw

4 Iron Biby

5 JF Caron

6 Luke Stoltman

7 Žydrūnas Savickas

8 Konstantine Janashia

9 Laurence Shahlaei

10 Martins Licis

11 Tom Stoltman

12 Terry Hollands

Event 5 The Yoke

Most yokes we see in competition at the top level are generally no heavier than 450kg-480kg. The Arnold's Classic do a mega heavy yoke but it's over a much shorter distance, something like 3 metres. At WUS we had a 580kg yoke over 15 metres. I don't think any of us athletes had encountered a yoke of that weight over that long a distance in competition before.

While I'd been calm and relaxed throughout the show, I'll openly admit I was nervous waiting for my turn. The yoke has always been a great event for me, but with this kind of weight it's almost like a different event completely, and I didn't really know what to expect.

I ended up taking first place with a time of 15 seconds, setting a new world record in the process. The next athlete behind me completed in about 20 seconds, and 6 athletes in total were able to finish the run. It was a brutal event and not one I'm in a hurry to do again, but it's a great feeling knowing I have an event that I can beat anyone in the world at. I personally think it's probably my most impressive feat of strength to date, and it was definitely the highlight of the competition for me.

Yoke Race Results

1 Laurence Shahlaei

2 Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson

3 Mateusz Kieliszkowski

4 Brian Shaw

5 Martins Licis

6 Tom Stoltman

7 Konstantine Janashia

8 Luke Stoltman

9 JF Caron

10 Iron Biby

11 Terry Hollands

12 Žydrūnas Savickas

Event 6 The Atlas Stones

In traditional Strongman style, the 6th and final event was the atlas stones. Of course, this was no ordinary stone run with the opening weight being 170kg and the last stone a massive 225kg - the heaviest stone run we've seen in competition so far.

At this point Thor had something like a 4 point lead, and short of anything disastrous happening, he looked set to take the title. He knew what he needed to do to secure the win, and that's exactly what he did. Just half a point separated Brian Shaw and Mateusz Kieliszkowski who were sat in second and third place, JF was in 4th after his solid performance and I was rounding off the top 5 in fifth place.

I was head to head with Licis on the stones, and I knew I had to beat him to secure that fifth spot. Licis is an excellent stone lifter so I kept my head down and concentrated on what I needed to do rather than worrying about his performance.

The stones were very slippery, not helped by the humidity, and I fumbled a bit with the first one. I looked over at Martins and saw that he was struggling too, which gave me a little confidence boost and helped me refocus. I was able to beat him by lifting three of the five stones.

Brian Shaw completed the stone run in the fastest time, but hot on his heels was Tom Stoltman who had an excellent run. This was a great result for Tom who was able to finish the competition on a high with a nice bump up the scoreboard.

Atlas Stones Results

1 Brian Shaw

2 Tom Stoltman

3 Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson

4 Konstantine Janashia

5 Mateusz Kieliszkowski

6 Laurence Shahlaei

7 JF Caron

8 Terry Hollands

9 Luke Stoltman

10 Žydrūnas Savickas

11 Martins Licis

12 Iron Biby (withdrew)

Final Placings and Points

1 Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson 60.5

2 Brian Shaw 57

3 Mateusz Kieliszkowski 52.5

4 JF Caron 48

5 Laurence Shahlaei 42.5

6 Konstantine Janashia 38

7 Martins Licis 34.5

8 Tom Stoltman 31.5

9 Terry Hollands 31

10 Žydrūnas Savickas 27.5

11 Luke Stoltman 25

12 Iron Biby 18


For their first venture into the sport of Strongman, World's Ultimate Strongman Dubai was certainly ambitious.

Did it live up to the hype? I think so.

For the audience attending, there was loads to see and do, plus an all inclusive buffet and drinks, and comfortable spacious seating. Overall it was quite a different experience from the arena shows we've become accustomed to in the UK, and a world away from the competitions put on in car parks 10 years ago.

As previously mentioned, it went on for far too long. It's a fine art running a Strongman show quickly, but it's not impossible, and it'd be great if this is something the team could address for next time. The free live stream running on Facebook and YouTube was brilliant and is what the sport has always lacked - immediate viewing and results.

WUS have already confirmed 3 shows for next year, and hopefully I'll be lucky enough to be invited again. It'll be interesting to see what impact their shows have on the dynamics of the sport. They'll easily attract the biggest names when they're offering the most prize money, and they treated us all so well while we were out there, I can't imagine any athlete not wanting to compete in their shows.

Is it bad news for The World's Strongest Man? Only time will tell. I don't see any reason why the two cant run alongside each other, as WSM and The Arnold's currently do. A bit of competition between the organisers can be good news for the athletes, and excellent for the growth of Strongman.

Dubai was an overall fantastic experience and the team did a great job, especially when you consider this was their first competition. Lots would have been learned from this, and I'm excited to see WUS's impact on the future of Strongman.

Until the next one,


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