In distinction to lots of the different athletes at this yr’s World’s Strongest Man festival, two-time reigning champion Tom Stoltman items as unflappable, nearly stoic, all through the match’s qualifying phases. His opponents regularly appear prepared to maximise their adrenaline within the leadup to each and every match – they fist pump on the crowd, scream into the sky, have a coaching spouse slap them at the again and so forth. Stoltman, however, stares flippantly into the center distance, outwardly oblivious to the crowds and tv cameras simply toes clear of him. Such measured conduct is a realized trait and, in Stoltman’s view, is a aggressive merit.
“The first few years, I used to go mental in the qualifiers and jump up and down … I would have been showing my emotions more, being aggressive more, hyping up the crowd and stuff,” he says. This is now not the case. “If I got really angry today, or if got really hyped up, it’s going to just drain me … [My] The tank is going to be empty by the time the final comes … That’s why I don’t really go out of first gear in the qualifiers.”
This more or less earned knowledge makes Stoltman probably the most favorites to win this yr’s festival, which began on Wednesday and concludes on Sunday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. If he pulls off the victory, Stoltman would do extra than simply retain the mantel of World’s Strongest Man – on the still-young-for-his-sport age of 28 – he would catapult himself into the rarefied corporate of the contest’s all-time greats. In the contest’s just about 50-year historical past, best two different athletes have received 3 consecutive titles, and nobody has finished so within the final quarter century. Before such discussions may well be entertained severely, then again, Stoltman first had to qualify for this yr’s finals and, for a few hours all through the gang phases on Thursday, his bid for a three-peat was once in jeopardy. After the primary 5 occasions, Stoltman was once at the verge of removing … a minimum of technically, It takes a second to provide an explanation for.
World’s Strongest Man is a multi-discipline festival – image one thing like a weightlifting decathlon. Instead of the usage of typical weights, then again, athletes pull huge cars, elevate 100kg anvils, raise similarly huge logs, and carry out many different abnormal feats of energy. The match’s first two days function its qualifying phases, all through which the preliminary box of 30 competition is whittled all the way down to the ten finalists who will take part in six occasions over the match’s final two days. In some ways, the method is analogous to “making the cut” in golfing tournaments—that is more than likely the one means through which the strongman is very similar to golfing.
The issues device for the qualifying phases are too sophisticated to provide an explanation for right here, however the salient details are those: the match’s 30 competition are divided into 5 teams and, after the primary handful of occasions, the 5 people atop each and every workforce mechanically advance to the finals. . The athletes who are available in 2d and 3rd in each and every workforce, then again, should compete head-to-head in a win-or-go-home problem for probably the most 5 final spots within the finals. Despite his standing as reigning champion, a last-place end in his workforce’s penultimate match intended that Stoltman was once compelled to stand off towards American Bobby Thompson for a place within the ultimate. Fortunately for Stoltman, the deciding match is named a “stone-off” and one among Stoltman’s nicknames is the King of the Stones.
“I’ll put it this way – if Tom lost the stone-off, I’d write an entire article about only that,” says Phil Blechman, staff editor at BarBend, a website that regularly covers strongman events. Literally put any of the 29 other athletes against Tom [in a stone-off] and I’d say the same thing.”
A stone-off is one of the strongman’s more thrilling events. The rules are simple: competitors take turns passing increasingly heavy boulders (known as “atlas stones”) over a four-foot hurdle until one of them can no longer do so. The first strongman to fail to lift a boulder over the hurdle is eliminated from the tournament, and the winner moves on to the final. In his stone-off against Johnson, it quickly becomes evident how Stoltman earned his nickname. It almost seems like he and Thompson are participating in two totally different events. While Thompson skillfully, but effortfully, heaves stones barely above the barrier, Stoltman raises them with such ease that the stones appear to be airborne for a microsecond after every lift. Blechman’s earlier confidence in Stoltman becomes understandable—it’s difficult to imagine anyone beating him in the event.
“I’ve never lost a stone-off,” Stoltman later confirms when speaking with The Guardian shortly after his victory over Thompson. Wearing a throwback Penny Hardaway basketball jersey and greeting acquaintances as he walks through a hotel lobby, Stoltman seems relaxed after a long day of competition in the South Carolina sun.
“The group stage is, for myself, the hardest part,” he says. “It was a very competitive field, which was good to see. You know, you’re at World’s Strongest Man, you want the thirty best guys. You don’t just want to be able to walk into the final.”
A native of Invergordon, Scotland, Stoltman is many things, including unignorably enormous, even for a strongman. At 6ft 8in (2.03m), 418lbs (190kg), if he were he born a thousand years ago people probably would have just assumed he was an actual giant. It is therefore surprising to learn that Stoltman came to weightlifting relatively late in life.
“Going to the gym at 18 years old, I was skinny … [I was] never stronger than my mates,” Stoltman reveals. “I was just a normal guy. I used to play soccer, football – that’s what I wanted to be, a professional footballer… I hated the gym, I didn’t see the point.” Ten years later, that very same thin youngster who as soon as hated the gymnasium is now the World’s Strongest Man. What took place?
Although he does not say so explicitly, going to the gymnasium turns out to have stored Stoltman’s lifestyles. Stoltman is at the autism spectrum, which regularly made him really feel remoted as a tender guy. “My teachers said you’re not going to do anything with your life. I was getting bullied … I wouldn’t be able to go sleep over at a friend’s house. I wouldn’t be able to go on a train 10 minutes from my house. I’d always have to have my mum everywhere.” His difficulties were amplified after leaving school and seeing his friends begin to move away.
“I was really, kind of, disheartened that I had autism … I was like ‘Why is it me who has it and not my brothers and sisters?’” Stoltman recollects. “I quit my football team because all my friends had left and I didn’t have anywhere to go. I locked myself in my house was like, ‘Right, I’m either going into [the social care system] or I’ll just kill myself.’”
Stoltman credits going to the gym with changing his perspective on his condition, implying that some of autism’s characteristics eventually proved crucial to his training. “Because I’m so tunnel-visioned,” he says, “it’s a superpower”.
Stoltman’s transformation isn’t solely a result of tunnel vision and reps, of course – it’s taken a decade of consistent training to transform his body. Stoltman consumes 10,000 calories per day and trains five days a week in the months leading up to a World’s Strongest Man. (“Saturday and Sunday are my downtime,” says Stoltman. “It took me some time to get that stability proper.”) Nevertheless, Stoltman’s relationship with autism is a major element in both his private and professional lives and, since winning World’s Strongest Man, he has endeavored to make it a significant feature of his public life as well.
“I’ve were given this platform,” Stoltman says. “My biggest goal is to be an ambassador for people with autism and to change the way people look at it. I’ve had five-year-old, six-year-old kids … all the way up to 40- or 50-year-olds saying to me, ‘You’ve changed my life by calling [autism] as a superpower.
When asked how people unfamiliar with autism can best engage with the topic, Stoltman recommends empathetic directness. “If you think someone’s got autism, if you think someone needs help, just [ask] them. They’re not going to be offended by it, they’re going to be thankful that you asked that question … That’s all I ever wanted for myself.”
It’s tempting to juxtapose Stoltman’s thoughtful advocacy with his imposing physical stature. To do so, however, is reductive – plus, the phrase “gentle giant” is too cliché to carry any real meaning. The truth is, it seems like Stoltman would be an eloquent public face for those on the autism spectrum, regardless of his size.
Furthermore, as movingly as he speaks about his condition, Stoltman also remains a battle-tested athlete keen on winning his third consecutive World’s Strongest Man title on Sunday. “I’m very very confident [heading into the finals]he says. “It’s going to be a good battle, but I’m not giving that title up easy.”