Going to Manchester: a fan's perspective

“Why don't you come over to the show in Leeds next week?” This question was asked to me by Bill Kazmaier back in April after his seminar. I was happy and disappointed at the same time. Happy because I would love to have gone, disappointed because I had no way of getting it all arranged in time. I would have loved to cheer for the best strongmen in the world for the first time at a live show. Leeds was sadly a no-go. Luckily Giants Live runs quite a few big shows in the UK. The Manchester Tour Finals in September looked like a good candidate. We would make it happen.

Getting there did not seem too hard. A direct flight from Brussels to Manchester, a train ride to Manchester Victoria station and a short walk later I was at my hotel. It was easy, yet somehow I had been travelling for half a day already. The hotel gym and swimming pool seemed like a good idea, but I ended up watching “This is the end” on TV instead. I could live with that choice.

The next day was a bit of a rollercoaster. I had perfectly planned it. It looked something like: 8:30 breakfast, 10:00 gym, 11:30 swimming pool, 12:30 lunch, 13:30 muck about in the hotel room, 15:00 go for drinks with the guy who invited me through Reddit, 16:30 go to Manchester Arena. Sounds like a good day right? Well, instead I ended up sitting in the athlete hotel lobby, watching them all pass by me, shaking hands and talking to them when appropriate, while being “slightly” nervous. A few moments later I was sitting at a table with Kaz and the crew, surrounded by athletes, talking about my strongman related experiences and listening to theirs. The taxi ride to the arena was the icing on the cake. Among my fellow passengers were Vytautas Lalas and Adam Bishop! The show had not even begun yet, but my day had already been made.

During the downtime before the show I went for drinks and made some new UK friends. Getting to the arena and to my seat was a cakewalk. Then the moment was at hand. The preparations were done. The music started playing. The athletes would make their grand entrance. The atmosphere was amazing. Mark Felix, Adam Bishop and Big Z received the biggest cheers I think. I was rooting for Big Z to win it with my World's Strongest Nation t-shirt on full display. Big Z would repeat last years win for sure.

The max axle kicked off the show. Some almost literal back-breaking action from the get-go. How could people bend like that?? Especially Iron Biby was just manhandling the bar with pure power and almost no control. It was unreal. “Do you want me to try for the world record?”, Biby asked, knowing full well what the answer would be. The crowd let their confirmation be heard and Biby went backstage to prepare. He came out firing with The Beast in tow encouraging him. A great sight that can only be applauded. The man who might lose his record was cheering for the man who would possibly take it from him. Only in strongman! A shame it was not to be. Balance and control went missing, so the WR axle did not go up this evening.

The axle was not done yet though. It would get a nice set of wheels and a big load of plates for the deadlift for reps. Head to head deadlift-off. Martins Licis blew everyone out of the water here as expected. And me? I just cheered and cheered. It was really nothing like sitting at home. I was in an arena filled with like-minded people who wanted to see amazing feats of strength. You can be sure these guys were delivering. The show was getting nicely underway. The downtime was minimal, Neil Pickup was doing an amazing job and the videos that were being shown added a nice touch of history to the show.

Out came the equipment for the duck walk and chain drag medley. A favourite amongst many strongmen (isn't that right Laurence?), this was a pretty heavy duck walk! The reward for completing it was the privilege of dragging the heavy chain and probably a lot of agony in the quads. Adam Bishop lit up the arena with his performance in this event. He showed all the heavier boys how it was done and was treated to one of the biggest roars of the evening.

The Flintstone simulator was up next. The biggest disappointment of the evening sadly came with Big Z retiring. We could all feel his pain, but it was not to be. Being the gentleman he is, he went up to fans and took some pictures with them. “Bittersweet” is the best way I can describe it. Meanwhile the cars were being hauled out. In a matter of minutes they were ready to be yabba-dabba-dood across the arena. Once again Mateusz Kieliszkowski blew everyone away on a moving event. Laurence was probably a bit worried about this, but his record held firm that night!

Then the cars had to be taken out to be replaced with atlas stone platforms. I can't stress enough how smooth everything in between events went. I barely had time to get a hot-dog! Alright alright... 2 hot-dogs... I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast and I was too nervous to eat at the hotel, remember?! Anyway, when I returned the atlas stones had just started. Mark Felix had to do it solo because Konstantine Janashia had apparently pulled out at that point. The interview afterwards showed once again what a great guy he is. I instantly became a bigger fan of his after that. Iron Biby mustered all of his remaining strength to get 4 stones up, but couldn't complete the 5th. It turned out afterwards that he had been on the verge of quitting as well. However, he had shown the perserverance needed to be a top strongman. He gained a lot of respect from the crowd for sure by doing that.

Vytautas Lalas made a costly mistake by not properly loading his 3rd stone. It came back with a vengeance off the platform to a collective gasp from the crowd. Luckily it did not land on him, but that was the biggest scare of the evening for sure. The other athletes continued with their stone runs. Everyone was keeping an eye on the battles between respectively Bishop and Belsak for 3rd and Licis and Kieliszkowski for 1st. Then Mateusz decided to treat the crowd one last time. Under the motto “save the best for last” he did one of the fastest stone runs ever! One motion for all of them. Licis actually did the same, just a bit slower. What a way to finish the show. The crowd went wild, it was crazy. If you think it's loud when you're watching a stream, then try being there! Nothing compares to it.

An award ceremony later it was time for the meet & greet. The athletes and legends were grouped by duo (with some exceptions) and you could just line up for the table of your choosing. There was plenty of time to meet them all. Also, imagine doing a heavy strongman contest, but instead of recovering you have to sit in a chair for over an hour and take pictures with fans. That's what all of these guys did with a smile. They made many people's evenings, including mine. Big Z recognised me from a seminar I had attended earlier this year and Vytautas Lalas said I had a nice shirt. Martins Licis had some encouragement for my nervousness about my upcoming contest. Mikhail Shivlyakov was just how he always is: charismatic and smiling all the way. I could go on about the other athletes too. They were all a pleasure to meet and happily signed the shirt I had brought.

I managed to talk with some of the referees and crew members too. It made me understand why these events are the way they are. It's because there is a big group of passionate people behind them. Every single person I met that evening was smiling and was a pleasure to talk to, including Colin Bryce, Zoie Carter-Ingham, Dave Warner and the camera crew, even after what must have been a pretty exhausting day.

I've been going on for quite awhile now, but I do need a few more words to thank Bill Kazmaier. Without him I would have never had this experience. To everyone else who has made it this far: I would advise you to go to one of these shows. There's nothing quite like it. That is all. Thank you for reading.

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