This week, the man of the hour at the 2023 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) in Myrtle Beach, SC, will likely be Tom Stoltman. The two-time reigning champion seeks to become only the third person ever to capture three straight WSM titles. However, with a loaded roster and stacked gauntlet of events standing in his way, Stoltman must overcome some challenging obstacles to defend his place at the top of strongman and score a legendary WSM victory.
From Stoltman’s hallowed pursuit of all-time strongman history to the last ride for one of the sport’s all-time legends, here are five prime 2023 WSM contenders to watch in Myrtle Beach the weekend of April 19-23.
Most notable accomplishment: Two-time WSM champion (2020-2021)
Stoltman is chasing history few have ever touched.
It’s been almost three decades since the last three-peat in the WSM. Icons like Poland’s Mariusz Pudzianowski and Lithuania’s Žydrūnas Savickas came close to the accomplishment in the early parts of the 21st century but ultimately fell short. The United States’ Bill Kazmaier (1980-1982) and Iceland’s Magnús Ver Magnússon (1994-1996) remain the only men to score this hallowed strongman feat.
With a win in the 2023 WSM, Stoltman would join them. In this specific respect, he will have surpassed Pudzianowski, Savickas, and another living legend in Brian Shaw. He will have eclipsed every strongman to have repeated as WSM champion, but who couldn’t take it another step further.
A lot is on the line for the Scottish superstar. He might rise up to meet the moment.
If there’s a strongman who seems destined for WSM greatness, the conversation probably starts and ends with Mitchell Hooper. The Canadian athlete first burst onto the scene when he blitzed the 2022 WSM Qualifying Round. While Hooper eventually lost gas in the Final, it was apparent he was part of the future of the sport. Ever since, he’s lived up to the hype and blazed a trail straight through the heart of strongman.
Per Strongman Archives, Hooper has qualified for the podium in each of his last eight strongman appearances since the 2022 WSM. Moreover, he’s won four of his last five contests, including the 2022 Arnold Strongman Classic UK (ASCUK), the 2022 Giants Live World Tour Finals, the 2023 Australia’s Strongest International, and the 2023 ASC.
Should someone like Stoltman drop even a little bit off in performance near the top, it would be fair to assume that someone red-hot like Hooper steps up to fill in the gap. Winning his first career WSM title would be a perfect way to cap Hooper’s recent run of sheer dominance.
Most notable accomplishment: Four-time WSM champion (2011, 2013, 2015-2016)
All around, 2023 is shaping up to be an emotional and seminal moment in Shaw’s strongman career. The 2023 WSM will not only be his last appearance in the flagship strongman contest — the ensuing 2023 Shaw Classic will be the legend’s last-ever professional strongman competition. That’s right: In the next few months, Shaw will lift his last Atlas Stone.
In a competitive setting, anyway.
Shaw appears to be reveling in his farewell tour, and justifiably so. He trained with the five other American strongmen participating in the 2023 WSM and is hoping a recent leg infection is a harbinger of coming good luck based on his past competitive precedent. If Shaw wins a fifth WSM title, he will match Pudzianowski for the most all-time.
That’d be one heck of a way to pen a final chapter in his resume.
Most notable accomplishment: WSM runner-up (2018-2019)
The last anyone saw Kieliszkowski in a WSM setting was almost four years ago, during the 2019 edition. The “Polish Terminator” had just capped a second-consecutive runner-up finish, making it appear his ascent to strongman’s tallest summit would be inevitable in the 2020s. However, injuries and their complications would muddle matters for Kieliszkowski. A late withdrawal from the 2022 WSM made it unclear when he’d again thrive amongst some of the globe’s strongest athletes.
After a recent 32-ton (64,000 pounds) truck pull in training, Kieliszkowski has professed he doesn’t have high expectations for his official return to the WSM. A sterling runner-up finish in the 2023 ASC — his first strongman appearance in over two years — says otherwise. When the dust settles, Kieliszkowski might not win the 2023 WSM. The five-time Poland’s Strongest Man (PSM) champion’s (2015-2019) evaluation of his own ability is probably more accurate than any outside perspective.
That said, counting his chances out on paper could be a massive mistake.
Most notable accomplishment: WSM champion (2020)
If one looked up the definition of consistency in a dictionary, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a picture of a roaring Novikov. According to Strongman Archives, the Ukrainian competitor has qualified for the podium in 18 out of 20 strongman competitions dating back to September 2020. He has recorded seven victories in that same time span, including a 2022 Europe’s Strongest Man (ESM) title and a triumph in the 2022 Rogue Invitational. Factor in Novikov’s WSM title to begin the decade, and it’s abundantly clear he has the pedigree to add another WSM notch to his already loaded belt of strength accomplishments.
Unfortunately, a lat muscle tear might limit Novikov’s capacity to thrive under strongman’s brightest “lights.” It didn’t seem to affect Novikov’s 2023 ESM runner-up performance in early April, but the severity of the potentially lingering injury is unconfirmed. While purely speculation, a healthier Novikov might have made it back-to-back ESM victories.
If Novikov is close to 100 percent, he will likely be a significant player working toward the 2023 WSM title until the curtains come up. His overall health status could determine whether Novikov wins outright or “only” records another podium finish.
Here’s a complete look at the full lineup of competitors in this year’s contest.
None of these predictions and insights are to say that other competitors on the 30-person roster for the 2023 WSM roster don’t have a chance. It’s more that the defending champion (Stoltman), the only other previous WSM winners in the competition (Shaw, Novikov), a young superstar (Hooper), and an established dark horse in his return (Kieliszkowski) could present the best possible chances for a win.
When the 2023 WSM weekend draws to a close in Myrtle Beach, it wouldn’t be a far cry to see this group of five men create fireworks.
Featured image: @shawstrength on Instagram