Volume 91, Issue 71
Wednesday, February 4, 1998
Sports of kings
In lieu of the opening ceremonies of the 18th Winter Olympiad this weekend in Nagano, Japan, I have decided to devote this space to a group of male athletes whose sport has yet to receive the popular recognition it so rightfully deserves.
Since the first winter Olympics in 1926, a number of demonstration sports have been included to the Games' short list of medal events, adding to the interest of the winter spectacle. Sadly however, organizers have allowed another Olympics to pass without considering what may be the most exciting and innovative sporting event in modern history: the World's Strongest Man Competition.
At first grunt, events with monstrous 300-pound men racing with refrigerators tied to their backs may seem like a bit of a joke, but throwing kegs of beer on the back of flat bed trucks or the famous Mack-truck pull (where the competitors race to see who can be the first to run 60 metres pulling the cab of a tractor trailer), belong at the Olympics. How much stranger are any of these sports than luge, where a competitor lies on a sled and propels down a tunnel of ice?
The strongest man competition epitomizes sport. It shows strength, endurance, excessiveness, passion and sportsmanship what more could a fan ask for? Best of all, it pits country against country in physical activities which tie in perfectly with the theme of the Olympics.
Like all other sports, there's a household superstar like Magnus Ver Magnusson, the happy Icelander. Ver Magnusson is the finest athlete imaginable, with thighs so strong they could crack coconuts and arms that would make Hulk Hogan blush. He is the current reigning champion and winner of the last seven annual competitions.
These men have been hidden from public admiration far too long, courtesy of television executives, who only air the competitions during the wee hours of the morning. When the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling is given prime-time coverage, there needs to be room for the World's Strongest Man in a reasonable time slot as well.
The Olympics have often been considered an event for fans to watch sports that are a little different from the mainstream, giving them a chance to cheer on competitors from their country. Sure, the nay-sayers may cite cost as a problem since a number of Mack trucks, street cars and boats will be needed, but sponsors will surely provide these instruments of torture since this event has become a global favourite.
Also, the competition is flexible with regard to whether it is included in the summer or the winter Olympics. These men are so highly talented they can adapt to any climate or event.
Obviously the sport should also be open to women, but let's hope the Chinese national swim team and other steroid-toting athletes will not flood the sport and taint its virgin image.
It seems odd that a competition which epitomizes everything the ancient Athenian Games were about, can be so easily neglected by the International Olympic Committee. The least the IOC could do would be to give it a dry run and make it a demonstration sport.
If the IOC is interested in improving their great global event, they need to look no further than a group of men who always compete with their hearts on their sweat-soaked sleeves. There is little doubt that if given the chance, the World's Strongest Man Competition will undoubtedly become the next Olympic glamour sport. Until then, fans will just have to keep cheering on Ver Magnusson on late night cable reruns.
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