Louis Cyr and When a Name Isn’t Just a Name

It began in the mind of Carl Dube, the mayor of Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire, a small Quebec village that wanted to honor the tradition of Quebec’s strongest son, the mighty Louis Cyr.

And to help take things from a vision to reality, Paul Ohl, author of what surely ranks as the most authoritative book ever written on Louis Cyr and a man for whom strongman is a passion, was enlisted as a senior advisor, responsible for coming up with a contest format that would link past and present. 

IronMind® broke the original story, and in short order the contest called Fortissimus, with Paul Ohl as head of the organizing committee, started to get a tremendous amount of coverage by the IronMind® News.

Initially, Paul Ohl did not want to include IFSA athletes, but IronMind® was adamant that this contest could not achieve its goal of being a truly inclusive, top-tier strongman contest unless IFSA athletes as well as the others were invited.  To his credit, Paul Ohl started to reach out to IFSA.  It should be understood this might not have been such an easy thing for Paul Ohl to do since he had briefly been on the organizing committee for the IFSA World Championships held in Quebec City in 2005, but there had been a quick and complete parting of ways due to divergent thinking.  Building unity in the strongman world, remember, has long been a central plank in the platform of this contest.

The initial descriptions of this contest were sufficiently grand, vague and unusual to create some waves in the strongman world, especially because Paul Ohl was not at the epicenter of any of the major strongman organizations and had, at best, a modest network within the international strongman community.  Unencumbered by this, though, and bolstered by key alliances forged along the way, as well as by his unswerving commitment to making this contest a top event, Paul Ohl gained traction, and by the time the curtain rose for the debut of Fortissiumus in 2008, the competition had won broad support within the strongman community.  It should be recognized that the power of the $50,000 purse was undeniable in winning over supporters because in strongman, prize money beyond even two zeros is a major magnet. 

And for those who were there, it would have been hard to do anything but heap praise on everyone involved in the effort, which involved many parties.  In 2008, those at the top, for example, were supported on the backs and shoulders of the local villagers who arose in the wee hours of Sunday morning to spread sand in and around le chapiteau, to soak up the rain that had fallen the night before . . . that’s the kind of grassroots effort that supported the larger glory of the contest, the very model that sustained the contest again in 2009.

The next year, the contest only gained popularity and momentum as Paul Ohl joined forces with more Montmagny area government officials, and the group called Canada World Strength became the organizer and promoter of the contest called Fortissimus, with Paul Ohl once again providing expertise in the field of strongman.

Long story short:  The contest was a huge success from the perspectives of staging a world-class strongman contest in only its second edition and bringing visibility to the Montmagny area, but along the way, some personalities on the board had rubbed each other the wrong way; and when it was clear that Fortissimus 2009 was not the moneymaker that would have given Hollywood its perfect canned ending, that’s when things took a turn for the worse. 

Paul Ohl left the board in August and in this last week has peppered the area’s mass media with assaults on Canada World Strength, saying that among other things, they had bungled matters strategically and financially.  Further, he said that since they were mere civil servants or were brazenly using the contest to increase their individual glory, only a poor outcome could be expected from such an inept group, which he now wanted nothing to do with.

Based on phone conversations with multiple Canada World Strength board members, a review of a number of key documents related to this situation, and the unique perspective of having championed this contest from well before its first public announcement and having been in close contact with Paul Ohl throughout, IronMind® takes the position that this assault is both unwarranted and counterproductive.

First, on this matter that the competition did not generate the surplus of cash one might have wished for, it is incontestable that Paul Ohl was a member of the board when each decision was made and, as IronMind® understands it, the vote was unanimous at each turn.  Further, as IronMind® understands it, Paul Ohl is directly responsible for the expense side of the ledger being as large as it is - urging, because he felt it the right way to do things, for example, that prize money be doubled from the prior year, that referees be brought in from Europe, and that another group of people be brought in to comment on the worthiness of the events, equipment and so forth.  Even the cost of the venue was much larger than it had to be, a choice driven by Paul Ohl’s preference given what he felt was the correct way to stage the contest.

On the revenue side, it was the other board members of Canada World Strength who identified and secured the funding that supported the program that followed Paul Ohl’s blueprint, so IronMind® sees this attack taking the appearance of one biting the hand that is feeding him.

For all the times IronMind® filed reports with the name Fortissimus, it took a while to become second nature to say it, let alone spell it, and its choice as a contest name seemed odd.  Certainly, it had the right Latin roots and was unique in the field, but it still didn’t seem to have much else going for it . . . unless you happened to have registered it and could put a legal fence around it, creating a toll booth so that all who wanted to pass had to pay you.

It turns out that Paul Ohl had registered the name Fortissimus in 2002 as it relates to various products, and in 2009 he registered artwork and the use of the name for related competitions.  Thus, while the contest was losing money in 2009, Paul Ohl collected a licensing fee for the use of this name, along with his consulting fee, and when the DVD comes out, once again, a licensing fee will be paid to Paul Ohl. 

Certainly, it is not unreasonable for the owner of a name with some value to be able to charge a licensing fee if others would like to use it, but in this case, the relationship raises eyebrows since 1) Paul Ohl has been merciless in assaulting the financial outcome of the contest while having contributed mightily to the expense side of the ledger and virtually nothing to the revenue side; and 2) the equity built up in this name was overwhelmingly created by people other than Paul Ohl and by resources he did not bring to the table.  Thus, it could be argued that Paul Ohl used the machinery of the contest to build up a brand name he owns and directly profited from, yet he has then turned and lashed out at the very group that gave his brand name the breath of life.

What is more dismaying is that a contest originally conceived of and pitched as steeped in Quebec’s unique heritage in the strongman world is now being shopped worldwide by Paul Ohl - effectively offering to let the contest escort the highest bidder.  To IronMind®, this is disgraceful and demonstrates a different set priorities here:  they have nothing to do with Louis Cyr’s heritage or being a proud Quebecer, but rather they point to self glory and enrichment, making Paul Ohl an easy target.

That friction would arise is not surprising, perhaps to the point that realignments would occur within the ranks, but IronMind® is calling for an end of the attacks on the very people who made this contest possible.  As everyone in business knows, good ideas are relatively easy to come by, but turning them into reality is a very different thing, and in the sports world, no job is easier than playing the role of a Monday-morning quarterback.  To IronMind®, the balance sheet is straightforward:  Paul Ohl brought knowledge and passion that helped lead the charge on this, but without the work of countless other people, and the funding brought to the table by Canada World Strength, all the talk might have gone no farther than the distance between two bar patrons sharing their latest million-dollar idea.

If Paul Ohl and Canada World Strength cannot find a basis for reaching a rapprochement, IronMind® suggests a cooling-off period, with the burden on Paul Ohl, having vented his frustration.  Paul Ohl now has to show that he is bigger than this bickering and that he truly wants to honor the memory of Louis Cyr and Quebec's legacy as the cradle of strongman, and that he places the vision of strongman unifying the past and the present above all. 

IronMind® thinks it is time for Paul Ohl to give his sword arm a little rest.

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