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Titans of Testosterone
Jack McCallum
October 18, 1999
The (mostly) juiced-up athletes competing for the title of World's Strongest Man tote stones, toss kegs and tow trucks for puny paychecks and the glory of exposure on late-night cable TV
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October 18, 1999

Titans Of Testosterone

The (mostly) juiced-up athletes competing for the title of World's Strongest Man tote stones, toss kegs and tow trucks for puny paychecks and the glory of exposure on late-night cable TV

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Oh, did he ever have it. "Kaz was an evil, diabolical bastard," says Reeves in admiration. "The freakin' prince of darkness."

Mitchell puts it another way: "I have Kaz on speed dial, and it's like a rock-and-roller being able to call up Elvis."

Kazmaier's chief antagonist during his competitive days was Jon Pall Sigmarsson, an Icelander who is to most European strongmen what Kaz is to most U.S. strongmen. Sigmarsson, who surpassed Kaz's WSM title total (he won in '84, '86, '88 and '90), played the role of happy-go-lucky jester to Kaz's dark prince. Webster says that perhaps the most memorable feat of strength he ever saw involved Sigmarsson and a heavy, heart-shaped Husafell Stone (its weight is not consistent but can reach 400 pounds), which, according to a Norse saga, an Icelandic shepherd-warlord-priest used to cover the pit in which he kept his flock. During an exhibition in Sydney, no man succeeded in hoisting the Husafell until Sigmarsson picked it up with great difficulty. He appeared to struggle in his first few steps, but then, reports Webster, "he started to dance and prance and waltz around and bow to everyone in the audience, as if he were carrying a feather. Never saw anything like it." On Jan. 16, 1993, while engaged in a deadlift workout, Sigmarsson collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was 32.

Kazmaier and Sigmarsson form two sides of a triangle of WSM legends. The third side is a Magnus. Which brings us to the answers to your Magnus questions—and a few others.

Why is this a Magnus-icent sport?

Magnus Ver Magnusson, an Icelander whose hero was Sigmarsson, tied the latter's record by winning WSM four times—in '91, '94, '95 and '96. His name, loaded as it is with double-Magnus ammunition, may be the most familiar one to WSM fans. As a competitor he is a cross between Sigmarsson and Kazmaier: more businesslike than the former, more fan-friendly than the latter. He is big, but at 6'3" and only 290 pounds, not outlandishly so, and among his contemporaries his athleticism was unparalleled. At 36, however, Ver Magnusson's best days are behind him. His knees are hurting. He underwent angioplasty to unblock an artery in 1998 and hasn't looked good since returning to competition. Further, he was not at WSM in Malta because he defected to Hoeberl's group, whose members are banned from IFSA events. "I would never say I am the best ever," says Ver Magnusson. "I think myself, Jon Pall Sigmarsson and Bill Kazmaier are together on top."

Ver Magnusson is not to be confused with Magnus Samuels-son, a fourth-generation Swedish farmer who won the '98 WSM in Morocco. Like Ver Magnusson, Samuelsson is an intelligent, quick-witted man whose friendly nature masks a deadly competitiveness. But he is 6'6½" and weighs 317 pounds, many of them packed into 23-inch biceps. He got his competitive start in arm wrestling, an event that was contested in the '95 WSM, Samuels-son's first. In the final he defeated 6'10" Nathan (Megaman) Jones, breaking Megaman's arm in the process. The Latin root of magnificent is magnus, meaning "great," but neither Magnus Ver Magnusson nor Magnus Samuelsson has any idea whether his parents were thinking of grand size when they named him.

"I don't know any other Magnuses except Magnus Ver and myself," says Samuelsson. "But I guess it can be confusing."

Are all strongmen on juice?

Most of them are. One competitor estimates that only about 1% of strongmen have never used anabolic steroids. (Kazmaier thinks it's closer to 50%.) Bruce Wilhelm, a silver medalist in weightlifting at the '76 Olympics and the winner of the first two WSM competitions, says, "If you tested for drugs, you wouldn't have a contest."

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