IronMind on Fortissimus: Here's What We Think

Fortissimus 2008 developments have been flooding the IronMind® News lately and unless you have been reading everything steadily, it would be easy to get lost in the details, so if IronMind® might summarize the situation, even loosely, this is how we see things.

Fortissimus started with a huge leg up simply by virtue of being hosted by a Quebecer, who also, most likely, happens to be the world's foremost expert on Louis Cyr. Imagine this: Instead of a strongman contest either constructed by TV crews busily moving plastic cactuses around in the background and delaying events until the sun gives cameramen the best light, or former McKinsey consultants claiming to be ready to take strongman to the financial heights of Formula One or the WWE, we have a guy who, guess what, had a more substantial basis for organizing the contest. Frankly, IronMind® found a lot to like in this idea.

And from those beginnings grew the idea that this decathlon of strength - in the tradition of the great Louis Cyr - could bring together the major players from all corners of the strongman world, regardless of which alphabet soup strongman federation they were aligned with. And, unlike simply picking their preferred player - such as the guy who signed a contract to return 10% of his earnings to them, or the guy whose TV market promised the most viewers, or the guy with the weak, skinny legs but a great shaved head and even better tattoos - the organizers of Fortissimus did something radical: They turned to the worldwide strongman community and asked for their input on the top strongmen worldwide. IronMind® jumped in and, to get the ball rolling, said that besides obviously giving Mariusz Pudzianowski and Zydrunas Savickas top billing, we felt that Vasyl Virastyuk had to be considered as a top echelon competitor. Market forces, objective reality and democratic processes - once again, IronMind® liked this.

The market spoke and, lo and behold, a really balanced, plausible list emerged, and before too much longer, it looked as if the top guys from IFSA were going to be be banging heads with the top guys from the World's Strongest Man side of things. IronMind® would like to say that from everything we saw - and we were privy to a lot of what was being passed back and forth - IFSA's managing director Christian Fennell and Fortissimus's steering committee chairman Paul Ohl were headed in the right direction and looking as if they were well on their way to making strongman history . . . sure, there were still disagreements about details and there was some level of restraint on each side, a certain reluctance to trust the other guys too much, but overall, things were going well. IronMind® liked this, too.

Everything fell apart, though, when Fortissimus gave IFSA a deadline for accepting, basically, the notion that they - Fortissimus - were calling the shots and they wanted direct confirmation from the IFSA athletes that they were coming to play ball - IFSA said that they could not accept this. A leitmotif in the IFSA criticism of Fortissimus's requirements is the question of events and safety. Fortissimus has been forthright in explaining something of the nature of its events and perfectly concrete about when the details would be announced, and as all World's Strongest Man fans know, that contest's tradition is to announce the events with much less lead time than Fortissimus is promising. IFSA (under its current management), with a much shorter history and a reliance on its standardized events and equipment, isn't really in a comparable position, and this might be why - interestingly enough - all the gripes about Fortissimus's events are coming from the IFSA side . . . and none from the WSM side. Strongman - unlike weightlifting or powerlifting - is supposed to have some novel events, and the tradition is that there should be some element of surprise and that the organizer should be able to leave his or her imprint on the mix of events, so IronMind® would vote for IFSA to say, "Hey, we're not afraid of the unknown. Our guys are so good, you can line up any ten events you want, and if they test strength, our guys will win them." IronMind® would like that.

Maybe IFSA didn't like being given a deadline, and maybe they resent a new kid on the block - Paul Ohl - working to put together what he sees as a humdinger of a contest. And for whatever rotten things one might want to say about IFSA, the old guard there has more hands-on strongman experience in their little fingers than most pie-in-sky newbies could ever dream of achieving, so it's natural that the IFSA guys might bristle a bit if someone they see as untested waltzes in and basically says, "I'm going to put together the best strongman contest of all time," especially if he adds something like, ". . . but I'm not going to tell you all the details yet and because I'm paying the piper, I'm calling the tune." Interestingly, this sensitivity seems to be somewhat shared by the other side of the Great Divide in strongman, even if that group is less vocal about expressing it. Nonetheless, one solution here is to embrace the idea that this contest could be all about the athletes, so let your people go ahead and have at it in the events and let the results speak for themselves. IronMind® would like that.

Event testing and safety have been raised by IFSA as a reason for holding back on Fortissimus and while both are vital and legitimate concerns, they appear to be something of a red herring here, as it seems implausible that inadequate event and equipment reviews would take place in the cradle of strongman. Let's not forget that even if he's not listed in the field, this is the neighborhood of Hugo Girard, and anyone who has been to a Hugo Girard strongman contest can attest to his ability to develop mind boggling strongman equipment, off the scale compared to any other, and if Hugo Girard, for example, were to give his imprimatur, the events and equipment would certainly be of the highest order. IronMind® would like that.

IronMind®'s friend Bruce Wilhelm doesn't sugarcoat things and he scoffs at what he sees as underpowered aspiring strongmen busily slathering their arms with tacky and focusing on lifting some concrete ball or another, instead of hitting the weights and getting stronger. "When you're strong, you're strong," says the Big B and that's how he won the first two World's Strongest Man contests . . . not by strapping a refrigerator on his back and running up and down his back yard with it. So in that spirit, let the IFSA guys join the party - they've already predicted a podium sweep, so here is their chance to make good on their call. If they're strong, they're strong. IronMind® would like to see this.

Zydrunas Savickas, Vasyl Virastyuk and Mikhail Koklaev are not merely top IFSA strongmen, they are guys you would like to see in any world class strongman contest. Thus, it was tremendous when it appeared they were headed to Fortissimus . . . was this the showdown that IFSA has been calling for on its home page? And IFSA - apparently flush with neither cash nor sponsors waiting in the wings, an organization whose stock value is measured in pennies per share - has a tremendous public relations opportunity . . . what if they really did sweep the podium? So, check the egos at the door, line up for the contest, blow the whistle and let's see who really can produce. IronMind® would like that.

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