Thor Bjornsson doesn’t need help to stand out. Even if he wasn’t one of the strongest men in the world, he’s still got acting to fall back on. And even if he wasn’t an actor, and chose a more humble life of farming, a 400 pound, 6’9″ frame is hard to hide in every day life. So taking on challenges in life, such as his 2015 attempt to break an ancient viking world record are really for his own emotional fulfillment. He doesn’t NEED to do it, he just does it because he can.
One could only take a guess as to the motives of Icelandic legend Orm Storulfsson, who first accomplished the feat. I would like to assume it was the result of a drunken bet, and his inebriation is the reason he made it 3 steps before stumbling and succumbing to injury. But feats of strength, for whatever reason, are as old as mankind. And re-telling the tales, (often exaggerating them) are part of the fun. While some feats of history earn their legendary status after a simple contest of strength, others earn their place from tales of warfare, others ingrained in the culture of masculinity and manhood. Even before leotard wearing, mustachioed circus men of the late 1800’s were lifting odd shaped barbells, the ground was being laid for what we have now.
These legends pave the way for the sport of strongman today. Some of these feats are well known, but maybe their origins or their back story is not. And some of these slip into the cracks of history, because their stories of strength are overshadowed by larger cultural events taking place.
Titormus of Aetolia
The origins of corn fed farm strength can likely be traced back to this Greek shepherd. He was a man of inconsequential background. He lived in remote wilderness, had no Olympic athletic pedigree, and no military background. In the 5th century BC, it was Milo of Croton who received such glory for being the all around biggest, strongest, fastest, and most heroic. An Olympic and military hero, he was a hero to many. So it was no small feat when the lonley shepherd, Titormus entered into a contest of strength, perhaps the first strongman games ” in a wild Aetolian scenery, while lifting or throwing rocks, or catching bulls.” Titormus emerged the victor, hoisting a boulder to his shoulder that Milo could not budge. Little remains of his heroics in modern culture, except as the logo of Greek soccer club Panetolikos F.C.
Often referred to as simply lifting stones, they are not foreign to today’s strongman events. Though their history traces back to northern Europe, throughout the British Isles and into Scandinavia. Some were carried, some loaded, but the reasons all similar: to test whether a boy had grown into the minimum of acceptable strength to be called a man. Some famous examples:
The Dinnie Stones
The Husafell Stone
The Menzies Stone
Often times, legends are born not from contest of sport but by blood and bravery. Times of war have produced countless legends and heroes of humanity, and most are soldiers who accomplish feats in a military manner. But hidden among these stories are other incredible herculean humans.
The Virginia Giant, standing 6’6″ and 275 pounds (especially massive given the era) was reputed to have carried a 1,100 pound cannon on his back during a retreat, to keep it from falling into the hands of the enemy.