2023 World’s Strongest Man Qualifying Stage Predictions – Fitnessnacks

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    The 2023 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) is finally here. The most prestigious competition in the sport traversed the USA to Myrtle Beach, SC, to host the 30-athlete roster is lush summer weather on the beach instead of the 100-plus-degree infernos of Sacramento, CA, in the peak of summer from the past two years.

    The Qualifying stage comprises the first two days of competition (April 19-20), with three events on each day before a rest day (April 21), followed by the 10-athlete Final over the weekend (April 22-23). BarBend is on the ground live in Myrtle Beach to cover all the strongman action, and what better way to kick things off than speculative predictions about who will advance to the Final?

    Check out who may or may not reach the second stage of competition to challenge two-time reigning WSM champion Tom Stoltman for the strongman throne.

    [Read More: Bill Kazmaier and the Birth of the Modern Strongman]

    Editor’s Note: This article is an op-ed by BarBend‘s Senior Editor, Phil Blechman, who is covering the 2023 WSM live in Myrtle Beach, SC. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

    Qualifying Stage Predictions

    As is customary for WSM, the Qualifying stage features five groups of six athletes. Each group’s athletes are only competing against each other in Qualifying, vying to win the group to advance to the Final or rank second or third to compete in the Stone Off event on Day Two. 

    Second and third-place finishers in each group will go head-to-head in the Stone Off — an Atlas Stone event comprised of six increasingly heavy stones. Whoever fails to lift a stone first will be eliminated as the winner advances to the Final with their group’s champion. Here are the six events slated for the Qualifying stage:

    Qualifying Stage Day One

    • Event One — Loading Race — April 19 | 8 a.m., Sand Stage
    • Event Two — Deadlift Machine — April 19 | 11:29 a.m., Land Stage
    • Event Three — Log Ladder — April 19 | 4:49 p.m., Sand Stage

    Qualifying Stage Day Two

    • Event Four — Conan’s Wheel — April 20 | 8 a.m., Land Stage
    • Event Five — Kettlebell Toss — April 20 | 1:20 p.m., Sand Stage
    • Event Six — Stone Off — April 20 | 6:13 p.m., Land Stage

    Below are the groups as they were announced one day before the competition began and predictions as to who will emerge victorious:

    [Related: Hafthor Björnsson Suffers Injury During Powerlifting Meet]

    The two athletes predicted to advance in each group are bolded under each group’s “Prediction” section.

    Group One


    • Winner — Tom Stoltman
    • Stone-Off — Pavlo Kordiyaka def. Bobby Thompson 

    The favorite in Group One is undoubtedly the reigning WSM champ, Tom Stoltman. Anyone who says otherwise is not being serious. He consistently displays his agility in loading events and won the ladder events in 2022 en route to winning his group. While it is unlikely for that to change this year,  Stoltman will face a challenging route to the Final.

    Kordiyaka is coming off a stellar win at the 2023 Europe’s Strongest Man (ESM) contest and appears in the best shape of his career. He is an all-around star who could threaten to win any event he’s in and gained much-needed WSM experience in 2022. He should pose tight races against Stoltman throughout, but Stoltman’s prowess in the Kettlebell Toss gets Stoltman the nod for the group win.

    Thompson bread and butter events — log press and deadlift — makeup two-thirds of the first day. If he shows up in prime form, he could build a nice point buffer to, at minimum, lock up a place in the Stone Off. The most significant hurdle for Thompson is the speed of the other favorites in the group — Stoltman and Kordiyaka.

    Although a tacky malfunction fiasco fumbled Thompson’s WSM Final hopes in 2022, he is no stranger to winning in Qualifying, as he accomplished just that in 2021. If Kordiyaka can rack up a second-place finish in the group, a Stone-Off for the ages could happen between him and Thompson, with the advantage of lifting second as the deciding variable.

    Pavlo KordiyakaImage courtesy of World’s Strongest Man

    Janashia is a wildcard in this group. Most years, he looks great — he’s reached five WSM Finals in his six career WSM appearances. However, 2022 was his first miss, when he ranked fifth out of six in his group. He’s in a stacked group, and the three aforementioned strongmen in his group will be tough to beat.

    O’Dwyer was a late addition to the WSM roster. If he trained as though he was competing in WSM during prep, then perhaps he could make a run in his sophomore WSM appearance (he debuted in 2020), but it is a long shot given Stoltman’s reign and Kordiyaka’s current heater.

    Likewise, Eddie Williams is making his second career WSM appearance this year — he finished in fifth of five in his 2019 WSM group. Thus far in his career, Williams has not tasted victory outside his home country of Australia. With such a challenging group, he would need the performance of a lifetime to overcome the odds.

    Group Two


    • Winner — Oleskii Novikov
    • Stone-Off — Luke Stoltman def. Thomas Evans

    Group Two feels a bit easier to predict than Group One. Not because of the caliber of the athletes but rather how they line up with the scheduled events. Novikov is the far-and-away front-runner to claim the gold in this group. All of the events aside from the Kettlebell Toss are well within Novikov’s fortes, and he was dominant in the medleys and ladder events in 2022. Expect the 2020 WSM champ to reach the Final and contend for the second WSM title of his career.

    Luke Stoltman has struggled in his last two competitive appearances — last place at the 2022 Shaw Classic due to injury and ninth place at the 2023 Arnold Strongman Classic (ASC). However, he skipped the 2023 ESM to better prepare for the 2023 WSM with his brother. There certainly is an advantage with training with the reigning WSM champion hungry to three-peat, and Stoltman can hold his own to score a runner-up finish in the group and go over in the Stone-Off.

    Evans was elevated to the WSM roster after Pavlo Nakonechnyy’s withdrawal due to the knee injury sustained at the 2023 ASC. Evans finished fifth at that contest and proved he could hang with the best in the world. Expect him to rush out of the gates hungry to continue proving himself on the world stage.

    While Evans is WSM-caliber, Novikov will contend for the podium after narrowly losing to Tom Stoltman in 2022, and Luke Stoltman is as consistent on the WSM stage as they come — he hasn’t missed the WSM Final since 2018.

    Oleksii NovikovImage courtesy of World’s Strongest Man

    Iron Biby is making his WSM debut and stepping out of his comfort zone of single-contest events. He posted a bronze finish at the 2021 Strongman Classic, but that was a single-day event. Iron Biby is a force of nature in maximal strength overhead events, but the Qualifying stage is not conducive to that. As one of the heaviest athletes in the field, he will likely struggle with the requisite speed of the events, causing him to concede points.

    Bilton’s 2023 WSM story will likely be similar to Iron Biby’s. The events are not conducive to his strengths. Bilton is a steady workhorse, but he’s not winning the Kentucky Derby. If Bilton is to make the Final, he should focus his efforts on staying ahead of Evans to square up against Stoltman in the Stone-Off, where his strength and endurance with heavy objects can shine.

    According to Strongman Archives, Fadi El Masri is an unknown on the WSM stage and has yet to score a professional win in his career thus far. That was the case for Mitchell Hooper last year, and ranking him to do poorly due to lack of experience was the biggest failed prediction in the history of strongman predictions. So if El Masri is slated for the same fate, being overwhelmingly wrong about ranking him to do poorly will be a joy to experience.

    Group Three


    • Winner — Mitchell Hooper
    • Stone-Off — Mateusz Kieliszkowski def. Aivars Šmaukstelis

    Hooper is one of the favorites to dethrone Tom Stoltman. Hooper achieved arguably the most outstanding rookie season in the sport’s history, including an eighth-place finish in his WSM debut in 2022, followed by a win at the 2023 ASC. The events are all exactly aligned with Hooper’s athleticism. The battle between Hooper, Stoltman, and Novikov in the Final will be one for the highlight reel.

    Šmaukstelis has been on a tear in the Strongman Champions League (SCL) over the past year and has a flare for spiking at big contests. If this contest is one of those, he will be an unstoppable force in the heavy events, and the Stone-Off is where that matters most.

    However, the prediction is Šmaukstelis finishes third overall and fails to overcome the disadvantage of lifting first against Kieliszkowski, who is also excellent on the stones. Hooper is an all-around technical genius in the sport without any glaring weaknesses after a year of dedicated strongman training. Kieliszkowski still has to tend to his recently repaired triceps and his constant deficiency in the deadlift. 

    Mitchell HooperImage courtesy of World’s Strongest Man

    Kieliszkowski could very well set a world record on Conan’s Wheel, and people would golf clap for him meeting the expectation as one of the best, if not the best ever, on that kind of implement. The deadlift will likely be enough of a concession to give Hooper the overall win. If Kieliszkowski can hold onto second place and overcome Šmaukstelis in the stones, the Final is a clean slate.

    Spenser Remick and Matthew Ragg are both excellent in overhead strength and can do damage in the deadlift. Like El Masri, they are untested at this level of competition. Nothing warms the heart more than knowing either could pull a Hooper and make a mockery of these predictions, and writing an editor’s note into this piece after the fact with a photo of them wagging their finger in disgust at these predictions would be a delight.

    Group Four


    • Winner — Adam Bishop
    • Stone-Off — Brian Shaw def. Gabriel Rhéaume

    If there were a prediction at odds with most of the strongman world, this would likely be it. How can someone not have Shaw winning the group in his last WSM contest ever when Shaw has reached the WSM Final a record 14 consecutive times?!

    That’s a fair assessment but a bit at odds with the context of this contest. Bishop is coming off a win at the 2023 Britain’s Strongest Man (BSM) contest, and all the events are in his wheelhouse. Rapid-fire deadlifts, speedy log lifts, what’s not to like for Bishop?

    Brian Shaw (USA) – SBD World’s Strongest Man 2022 – Day 5Image courtesy of World’s Strongest Man

    Conversely, Shaw is coming off recovering from an infection that threatened leg amputation, is one of the older athletes in the field at 41, and has the weight of expectation to do well in his final bid to tie Mariusz Pudzianowski for the all-time record for more WSM titles. Additionally, the speed events like the Log Ladder and Loading Race are not where Shaw shines.

    Shaw should be a dominant force in the Kettlebell Toss and hold his own in the Deadlift Machine if he’s 100 percent. If he does that, he should lock a spot in the Stone-Off where he could bury anyone standing across from him.

    Group Five


    • Winner — Trey Mitchell
    • Stone-Off — Eythor Ingolfsson Melsted def. Evan Singleton

    Mitchell is a brick wall of calm, cool, and collected consistency on the world stage. He has not yet reached the WSM podium but has only shown improvements year after year, and if he brings his A-game, the only athletes in the field capable of beating him are in the other groups.

    Selecting Ingolfson Melsted over Singleton is not a confident pick but is made from analyzing previous performances at this level. Ingolfsson Melsted routinely lands in the bottom side of the WSM Finals — 10th in 2021 and ninth in 2022. Singleton is a wrecking ball capable of spiking any contest.

    However, Singleton has yet to prove himself in contests that aren’t single-day competitions. Singleton’s folly typically seems to be his inability to temper his intensity when competing. That’s stellar for single-day competitions that reward going for broke on every event and throwing caution for the central nervous system to the wind.

    But the WSM contest is long. Four days of competition under the brightest lights require a composure that Singleton has not yet demonstrated adeptly. Could Singleton oust the competition swiftly and beclown this entire article? Yes, and let’s hope he does — that would make for one hell of a show and a career-defining performance. Until then, the steady hands of Mitchell and Ingolfsson Melsted get the WSM Final nod.

    Mark FelixImage courtesy of World’s Strongest Man

    Shout out to Mark “Miracle Man” Felix — an absolute G.O.A.T. in this sport. Unfortunately, without a static hold or grip event in the Qualifying stage and a weakness in overhead events, Felix’s final stand on the WSM stage will likely end in Qualifying. But to remain a competitive threat at 57 years old is unprecedented. It’s a blessing that we got to watch him compete for as long as we have.

    Fatesealing the Future

    Here is the predicted 2023 WSM Final roster:

    • Tom Stoltman
    • Pavlo Kordiyaka
    • Oleskii Novikov
    • Luke Stoltman
    • Mitchell Hooper
    • Mateusz Kieliszkowski
    • Adam Bishop
    • Brian Shaw
    • Trey Mitchell
    • Eythor Ingolfsson Melsted

    The Loading Race begins bright and early at 8:00 a.m. EST, and it is likely to be beautiful weather that will enable each strongman to bring their best. Best of luck to all 30 athletes in the field — may those I predicted to win, win, and may those I predicted to come up short prove me so, so, so very wonderfully wrong.

    Featured image: @theworldsstrongestman on Instagram

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