There can only be one World’s Strongest Man.
On Sunday 28-year-old Martins Licis won the title for the first time in his career after a grueling day of weightlifting trials on Anna Maria Island.
Representing the U.S., the Latvian-born athlete excelled in all five of the final trials set before the strongmen on Sunday, lifting his way to victory in the final Atlas stones event. A packed beach full of fans erupted in cheers as Licis hoisted the final, 460-pound stone onto its podium and completed the challenge in less than 28 seconds.
Licis handily defeated defending World’s Strongest Man champion Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, who is also known for his starring role as “The Mountain” in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Bjornsson, representing Iceland, placed third; Mateusz Kieliszkowski, representing Poland, was runner-up.
The three men topped a fierce group of competitors to make it to the winner’s circle.
A final field of 10 athletes took to the arena for Sunday’s first challenge: the loading race. The loading race required competitors to move objects from one side of the arena to the other as fast as possible.
Scotsman Tom Stoltman won the challenge with the fastest time, while Bjornsson lost his grip on an anvil and lost precious seconds on the clock.
The competition was reduced to nine players during the second event when Konstantine Janashia, a competitor from Georgia, suffered an injury during a dumbell lift. Janashia sat out the rest of the competition and later appeared on the sidelines wearing a sling.
The overhead medley, which required lifting a dumbell, a wooden pole and a circus barbell, also proved difficult for some of the other men.
Crowd members cheered on favorite contenders with catchphrases (shouts of “Thor” for Bjornsson and “Macaroni Grill” for Licis), but also offered support when any athlete appeared to be struggling with a challenge.
Cloudy conditions provided a reprieve from the scorching sun throughout the first rounds of competition, but it got hot in time for the third.
The third challenge, a squat lift, required the athletes to complete as many squats as possible with a massive barbell. Many of the athletes chose to have their legs wrapped in preparation under the shade of a tent instead of the open sun.
Licis topped the field in the event with nine repetitions. He also went on to win the fourth event, a deadlift challenge that required the athletes to hold up a car with their bare hands for as long as possible.
Licis said that it was the most mentally challenging event.
“I knew that Mateusz (Kieliszkowski) has an incredibly strong grip and I had to beat him to win,” Licis said about the deadlift. Sometimes he wins and sometimes I do. But today things came together.”
With a win in the fifth and final Atlas stones challenge, which required lifting spheres of increasing weight onto pillars, Licis clenched victory.
The weightlifter placed fourth in the last two World’s Strongest Man competitions, and he was joyful to finally make it onto the podium.
Licis has lived in the U.S. since childhood, and says he is happy to bring the title back to the U.S. while also being the first Latvian to win.
Licis credited his team, family, nutritionist and a recent second place win at the Arnold Sports Festival with giving him the confidence for the win.
“Placing second in the Arnold was like a wake up call. Especially being that close to Thor. I knew I could win this,” Licis said.
Bjornsson was the first to officially congratulate Licis; the past winner came running up behind Licis for a surprise bear hug and then lifted Licis’ arm in the air to screams from the crowd.
“It’s about time. I’m so happy I won,” Licis said, holding the golden first place trophy.
The World’s Strongest Man event will be televised in segments. Part one is set to air on CBS on June 30.
1. Martins Licis (United States)
2. Mateusz Kieliszkowski (Poland)
3. Hafthor Bjornsson (Iceland)
4. Tom Stoltman (United Kingdom)
5. Jean-Francois Caron (Canada)
6. Brian Shaw (United States)
7. Luke Stoltman (United Kingdom)
8. Trey Mitchell (United States)
9. Adam Bishop (United Kingdom)
10. Konstantine Janashia (Georgia)