1977 World’s Strongest Man review

1977 World’s Strongest Man – the very first WSM competition ever
Universal Studios, California, USA

As you can see below, the early WSM competitions were rich in the diversity and quality of the strength athletes presents.  By the way, it was originally and appropriately names “The World’s Strongest Men”.  Just like in the first UFC, all the competitors came from different disciplines – Olympic lifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, football, track & field, wrestling, etc.  Each athletes were out of their confort zone competing in those tortuous and unusual event.  Nowaday, all WSM competitors are strongman competitors who trains specifically for the same predictable events coming back years after years.  Anyway, for the 1977 first edition of “The World’s Strongest Men”, the choice of the athletes was excellent.

P.S. (All the lifts in each competitor ‘s pedigree and all the contest events were performed RAW, without endless knee straps, multi ply shirts and suits and other silly powerlifting cheating devices.  All competitors ‘ here only weared a simple singlet, a light lifting belt, and running shoes.  You will see occasional knees and a rare elbow sleeve but nothing more than this.  The only faux pas I’ve seen there were leather gloves and towel around the squat bar?!?  But I’d rather see that than seeing Frankenstein-like powerlifters who can barely move cause they wears armor-like suits and shirts.).

The Competitors Invited:

1. Bruce Wilhelm, 6’3″, 326 lbs, 31 years old  33″ thigh…  Marvellous collegial athlete… 

Born July 13, 1945
Proficient in wrestling (freestyle and Greco-Roman), shot put, and Olympic lifting.  1963 California State Shotput Champion…  1965 Pacific- 10 Conference Heavyweight Wrestling Champion…  Top 10 US Men’s Shot rankings for 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973, and still holds #251 on the All-time World Shotput Records, with a mark of 20.12m (66′-1/4″)…  2 times US National AAU Super Heavyweight Weightlifting Champion (1975, 1976)…  1975 Pan-American Games in Mexico City Weightlifting Silver Medalist…  Placed 5th at the 1976 Olympics in weightlifting.

Lifetime Best Lifts: 290 kg Front Squat; 340 kg Back Squat; 210 kg Overhead Squat; 320 kg Deadlift; 260 kg Jerk off the rack.
Best Competition Olympic Lifts: 182.5 kg Snatch; 220 kg Clean and Jerk; 392.5 kg Best Total.

2. Bob Young, 6’1″, 284 lbs, 35 years old, Offensive Guard St. Louis Cardinals

1964 NFL Draft…  Biggest Neck: 22″…  500 pounds Bench Press, 800 pounds Squat, 800 pounds Deadlift.

3. Ken Patera, 6’1″, 286 lbs, 34 years old  Professional wrestler and a highly decorated Olympic weightlifter

Set 84 National or higher level records…  3rd in the 1968 NCAA track meet(shot put)…  4 times US National Weightlifting Champion (1969-1972)… 1971 World Weightlifting Championship Silver medal (just behind Vassily Alexeiv)…  4 Gold Medals at the 1971 Pan Am games…  Competed at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich…  He was the first American to clean and jerk over 500 pounds and the first American to clean and press 500 pounds. 

His Official Records (all achieved in a meet in San Francisco, California, USA on July 23, 1972): 386.5 lbs (175.3 kg) Snatch; 505.5 lbs (229.3 lbs) Clean and Jerk; 505,5 lbs (229.3 kg) Clean and Press; 1397.5 lbs (633.9 kg) Olympic 3-Lift Total – The highest 3-Lift total ever made by an American.
Some lifts at his peak: Incline Press (47 degree): 485 x 2; Rack Press: 552; Press: 506; Power Clean: 505; Squat Clean: 515; Hang clean: 486 x 3; Chest High High Pulls: 770; Squat: 820 x 2, 850 x 1 (no wraps or suit, super deep, belt only); Front Squat: 650 x 3; Deadlift: 875; Clean grip Deadlift: 785 x 2; Behind the Neck Press: 418, 405 x 2; Bench Press: 560 (“I never did them…goofing around”); Snatch: 387 official, 402 in training; Overhead Squat with Snatch Grip: 480; Clean and Jerk: 506 official, 518 in training; threw the discus 177-3; hammer more than 180 feet.  For more informations about Ken Patera go check my article: “The World’s Strongest Man of… wrestling

4. Lou Ferrigno, 6’5″, 278 lbs, 25 years old  1 time Mr. International

Born: November 9, 1951 New York, USA          A.K.A.: The Incredible Hulk
Arms: 22.5″  Chest: 59″  Waist: 34″  Thigh: 29″  Calves: 20″ 
Pro Mr. America 1971 (Teen); IFBB Mr. America 1973; IFBB Mr. International 1974; 2 times IFBB Mr. Universe 1973-1974…  Biggest Biceps: 22.5″

5. Franco Columbu, Italy, 5’5″(billed as 5’6″), 182 lbs, 34 years old  Bodybuilder,

Born: August 7, 1941, Sardinia, Italy
Biceps: 19″   Chest: 50″   Waist: 30″  Thigh: 26″  Calf: 17.5″
1968-1969 NABBA Mr. Universe; 1970 IFBB Mr. Europe; 1970-1971 IFBB Mr. Universe; 1971 IFBB Mr. World; IFBB Mr. Olympia in 1976 (plus several other titles and award in the Short, Medium, and Lightweight division).
Best Lifts: 525 lbs Bench Press; 665 lbs Squat; 750 lbs Deadlift (in some training sessions, he was reported to have lifter more than 780 lbs at a bodyweight below 190 lbs).
His strength acts included lifting the end of a car, blowing up hot water bottles, bending half-inch iron bars in his mouth.

6. Jon Cole, Scottdale, Arizona, 5’11”, 256 lbs, 34 years old  Wonderful all-around strength athlete. 

Marvellous in powerlifting, Olympic lifting and strength-based track and field.  Powerlifting records holder, 3 times AAU US National Powerlifting Champion (1968, 1970, 1972)…  Was the AAU Discus Champion and AAU US National Powerlifting Champion at the same time…  Holder of the highest five lifts Super Total of all time (without silly suits and equipment)…
Best Lifts: (powerlifting) 901.5 lbs raw Squat; 609.5 lbs raw Bench Press; 882.5 lbs raw Deadlift; 2364 lbs raw Powerlifting Total – current all-time raw powerlifting total world record holder in three wight categories.
(Weightlifting) 341.7 lbs Snatch; 430 lbs Clean and Jerk; 771.7 lbs modern Olympic Total; 430 lbs Clean and Press; 1201 lbs old Olympic 3-Lift Total.
Combined Weightlifting/Powerlifting Super Total: 3135 lbs; 5-best-lift total: 3163 lbs.  Both records holding from 1972 to 1995, both surpassed by Mark Henry.  However, his 6-lift-“Superman” total of 3564 lbs is still holding today.  Since the third Olympic lifts, the clean and press was removed as an Olympic lift in 1972.

7. Mike Dayton, 5’11”, 200 lbs, 29 years old.  Kung Fu master, Mr. America 1976, and classic strongman

Did strongman stunts in California in the 70s.  Breaking pliers, tearing license plates in half, tearing phone books, snapping baseball bats, breaking bolt cutters, breaking handcuffs, bending 10 penny spikes, bending screwdrivers, bending pennies, and hanging himself in a noose from the rafters.  Believe it or not, he could tear a nickle in half!!

8. George Frenn, 6′, 245 lbs, 36 years old   6 time US Hammer Throw Champion

George Frenn, born in San Fernando, California, 1941, took up the hammer throw toward the end of high school in 1959 and continued through 1978. In the 242-lb powerlifting division, he squatted 855 and had a 540 bench and 815 deadlift. An elite thrower of the 35-lb weight, an Olympic hammer thrower, and holder of a world record in the 56-lb.

The 10 events:

Now let’s examine the choice of the events.  As you may know if you follow my thoughts via this blog/website.  I’m very critical about the usual choice of strength events to determine who is truly the strongest on the planet.  I truly think that strongman contests should be limited to true test of strength excluding anything that require agility and cardio vascular fitness.  No more meli-melo, multiple repetitions, and pointless running with weight. I just don’t give a damn about knowing who is the best strength athlete.  I only want to know who is the STRONGEST S.O.B. on the planet!!!  My question to evaluate a strongman lift or event is: What would Louis Cyr do?  If my answer is that Louis Cyr wouldn’t perform in the event in question.  My verdict is simply that the events is pointless.  I’m a firm believer in the Arnold Classic Strongman Competition rules – 30 seconds time limits for a distance of 40-feet length maximum for all walking events (ex. Timber Carry).

With that in mind, I will analyze each events of the very first WSM competition. 

The Barrel Lift– filled with water and led shot – is an excellent events choice BUT…  The strict clean and press rule is pointless.  Lifting a big, ankward, movable object at arms ‘ length overhead is hard enough that you don’t need to prohibed knee jerk and snatch.  Just lift the fuckin’ barrel anyway you want overhead and lock your arms.  That’s good enough for me!!

The Steel Bar Bend is a pure and classic test of strength.  BUT… with a very high risk of injuries for the competitors.  Using your head and neck as a leverage to bend the bar shouldn’t be allowed.  First; it’s multiply the risk of injuries and second, bending the bar with your arms and hands only is a purest test of strength.  Whatever…

The Wrist Roller:  Very interesting events, but in my view the weight wasn’t heavy enough.

The Wheelbarrow Race: Pointless 40 yards race.  Too long and not heavy enough.

The Tyre Toss:  Somewhat interesting, but require too much technical skills.

The Tram Pull: Pointless and somewhat technical too.  No matter your strength level, it’s very hard to walk with a fuckin’ car or bus attached behing you.

Deadlift gasping a car bumper.  The Deadlift is a classic and necessary test of strength in any strongman competition.  Deadlifting a car by the bumper with your feet elevated on a small platform so you grab the bumper at your ankle level, the lower level possible must be horribly hard.  Great level of difficulty, 100% true and authentic test of brute strength, but the judging seems to be weird.

The Girls Squat Lift.  Just as the Deadlift above, Squat is an essential test of strength.  However, the squat was only performed on a very short distance.  It should have been performed deeper and at a measured exact same distance for each competitors.

Fridge Race:  Spectacular, but I’m against all kind of race in a strongman competition.  And it can be crippling, just see what happened to Franco Columbu.

Tug-of-War: A classic and spectacular test of strength between two behemoths.  A must for a strongman competition.  Sumo wrestling was a pointless event but Tug-of-War fits the bill.

My final note.  The Barrel Lift, the Steel Bar Bending, the Wrist Roller, the Deadlift, the Squat Lift, the Tug-of-War, and maybe the Tire Toss pass the test in super strongman event.  But all kind of race and static holds are pointless in a super strongman event.  So forget about the Wheelbarrow race, the Tram pull, and the Fridge race.  In that kind of event, the fittest strongman will get the edge over the strongest man.

With seven pertinent events on ten, and with the excellence and the diversity of the competitors.  1977 CBS Sports The World’s Strongest Men pass the test.  Anyway, just like the Ultimate Fighting Championship 1, WSM 1 is a memorable and historical event that will forever be painted on my heart.


1- Barrel lift (filled with led shot and water)
2- Steel bar bend
3- Wrist roller (45.4 kg (100 lbs) on ten feet of rope)
4- Wheelbarrow race (approximately 340.5 kg (750 lbs) up 40-yard slope)
5- Tyre toss (a 28″, 16 kg (35 lbs) tyre was thrown from a 10 ft. circle)
6- Tram pull (approximately 2,724 kg (6,000 lbs) vehicule pulled on 40 yards)
7- Deadlift gasping the bumper of a car
8- Girl lift (squat)
9- Fridge race (refrigerator and toll bars weighted 186 kg (410 lbs) on 40 yards)
10- Tug-of-War

The Results:

1- Barrel Lift clean and press: 1st Bruce Wilhelm with 250 lbs; 2nd Franco Columbu, George Frenn, Ken Patera, Bob Young with 200 lbs; everybody lifted the first 150 lbs.

2- Steel Bar Bend: 1st Lou Ferrigno (bend 24.5″ of each other); 2nd Franco Columbu; 3rd John Cole; 4th Bruce Wilhelm (last bar 5/8″, nobody came close to bend it all)

3- Wrist Roll: 1st Mike Dayton; 2nd Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu; 4th Ken Patera

4- Wheelbarrow Race: 1st Bruce Wilhelm; 2nd Ken Patera; 3rd John Cole;  Franco Columbu

5- Tyre Toss: 1st Ken Patera; 2nd George Frenn; 3rd Bob Young; 4th John Cole

6- Tram Pull: 1st Bruce Wilhelm; 2nd Bob Young; 3rd Ken Patera; 4th Mike Dayton

7- Car Deadlift: 1st Lou Ferrigno 2684 lbs; 2nd John Cole; 3rd Bob Young, Bruce Wilhelm, Mike Dayton, Franco Columbu
George Frenn got injured at the beginning of the event got to withdraw from the entire competition.

8- Girl Lift (Squat): 1st Bob Young; 2nd Franco Columbu, John Cole; 4th Bruce Wilhelm
Mike Dayton past the event.

9- Fridge Race: 1st Bruce Wilhelm 17,2 seconds; 2nd Mike Dayton; 3rd Bob Young; 4th Ken Patera
Franco Columbu dislocated his leg during the event and is out of the competition.

10- Tug-of-War (the four finalists only): 1st Bruce Wilhelm; 2rd Bob Young, Ken Patera; 4th Lou Ferrigno

Bruce Wilhelm won 5 event; Lou Ferrigno won 2 events; Mike Dayton, Ken Patera, and Bob Young won 1 events each.
The bodybuilders (Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu, Mike Dayton) proved that they were more than “show” muscles by winning true power events like the Car-bump Deadlift, the Steel Bar Bending and by dominating the Wrist Roller.  In fact, the bodybuilders bested Wilhelm in four events.

# Name Nationality Pts
Bruce Wilhelm United States USA 63.25
2 Bob Young United States USA 43.25
3 Ken Patera United States USA 34
4 Lou Ferrigno United States USA 27.5
5 Franco Columbu Italy Italy 22.25
6 Jon Cole United States USA 21.5
7 Mike Dayton United States USA 19.25
8 George Frenn United States USA 10

Bruce Wilhelm winning prize has been held-up since he was still a competing amateur Olympic athlete at the time of the contest.  And amateur athlete, by definition, aren’t supposed to compete for money in sports.  So he only gets his money at the end of his amateur sport career.

$20,000 for the winner!  That’s the only thing that haven’t change after 35 years of existence.

Watch the 1977 World’s Strongest Man Contest full footage online

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