When I got the invite to this show I was extremely excited and to be honest a bit nervous. My log training had been going very well and I have improved it so much in the last six months or so that I was pretty confident I could hit a good number. The event was to be held live on Eurosport in Vilnius, Lithuania using the old IFSA metal log. Traveling to Lithuania is definitely long and arduous. I missed a flight connection from Frankfurt to Vilnius which put my arrival time at around 8pm rather than the original 1pm. On top of the delay, United Airlines actually lost my baggage!
The hotel where the athletes were being housed was actually a "sports facility" that had tennis courts and a spa and 2-time World’s Strongest Man, Zydrunas Savickas' gym was attached. The restaurant that was part of the facility was terrific. They really had an understanding of what athletes need to fuel their bodies, and they have it in abundance. Later in the evening I met up with the other athletes and the promoters. Most of these guys looked MASSIVE, particularly Warrick Brant who looked bigger than I've ever seen him. Shortly after everyone headed off to bed because we had an athlete meeting and weigh in after breakfast the next morning.
When I woke the next morning we were treated to a great breakfast spread! The hotel had plenty of sausage and cheese and bread with jam and lots and lots of oatmeal, which is exactly what I needed after all that travel. I had a nice big breakfast then stepped outside to catch a cab to the local mall to pick up some sweat pants since United still had not found my bags.
When I returned, the athletes met for the rules meeting and weigh in. The rules meeting was one of the most relaxed I've ever been in. Everyone was joking and playing around. You could tell the atmosphere was one of fun rather than nervousness. After the rules meeting we all weighed in. I was quite disappointed to find that I only weighed 139kg (305lb) because when I left home I was weighing 143kg (315lb). I quickly realized that most of the guys were weighing significantly lighter than I expected, Big Z only weighed about 170kg(375lb) and Ervin Katona was only about 146kg (322lb), this was light for those guys. After weighing, it was time to eat and prepare for our trip to the venue where they event was being held.
When I arrived at the venue, I was really taken aback at the massive expanse of the place. We arrived an hour early, but spectators were already filling into their seats. The arena was actually quite cold, but much warmer than the -20C it was outside. One of the promoters led us to a heated warm up area. I started my warm-up lifts to try and decide what my opener would be. As I warmed up I started to feel very strong, hitting every lift with ease. I made 136kg, 146kg, 156kg and finally 166kg with ease! I decided that I would play it safe and open with the minimum opener of 170kg as I wasn't sure how the stage would feel or the different log on the stage, or how I would perform on live television. We drew numbers to determine the order of the lifters and I drew number 1 which meant I was leading the show..
The show started with great fanfare and the introduction of the athletes. As we lined up on the stage it was incredible to see how many fans had shown up. Strength Athletics certainly is much more popular in the Europe the whole arena was going nuts and cheering! After the introduction they loaded the starting weight and called for the first athlete. I stepped up onto the stage feeling extremely confident, got the lift signal from the official and grabbed the log. As I cleaned the log it felt sickeningly heavy!!!! I couldn't steady, I was losing my breath and I couldn't believe this was in fact 170kg, normally an easy press for me. I got my feet under me and tried to jerk the log like I do and couldn't get it any higher than my forehead. As I set the log down I was so confused and disappointed that this could happen to me.
The seven athletes or so after me missed their first attempts as well, all looking exactly as I did on my press. All of a sudden up stepped Patrick Baboumian a relatively light strongman from Germany and he basically strict pressed his 175kg opener!!! It was easily one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. Zydrunas took 185kg as his opener and had a hard time stabilizing it at the top even though the press looked very easy.
For my second attempt I stuck with 170kg as I didn't want to get too overzealous and end up bombing. As I was called up to the stage I was nervous and very angry. I stepped up cleaned the log and again couldn't get the log up! At this point a certain amount of depression was setting in. The Promoters had taken a bit of a gamble by placing me in the show based on some videos they had seen and I did not want to disappoint them as well as myself. I decided right then and there that even if I didn't hit my best log I WOULD NOT bomb the log press.
As I stepped up to my third attempt at 170k I was enraged. I cleaned the log and proceeded to smash it!! It flew up! I couldn't believe it, at this point I lost my mind in celebration, humped the log screamed a bunch and stepped off stage. I realize that 170kg is not a huge log press to most and I also realize it's not my best but I think Ervin Katona said it best when I came off the stage "When you miss it two times, and then make the third, it feels like a world record!"
After my press I watched as Warrick Brant took 187kg as his 3rd attempt. He barely missed the press. He needed the lift to move from sizth to third, but it just wasn’t his day. I felt really bad for him. The Lithuanians all hit very big numbers and Big Z ended up winning with 192.5kg, well under his personal best. Big Z did take an attempt at 215kg which was crazy just to see that happen.
All in all it was an amazing experience to say the least. Five athletes ended up bombing the log totally so I was happy that I at least got one good lift. I also realize that there will be lots of talk about "I could've hit this log" or "those lifts seemed light”. However, this competition was a whole different beast and as most athletes know, you can't say much unless you were there. After the log press the athletes split into Team Lithuania vs. Team World and competed in a six event strongman show. Team Lithuania won and to anyone going to the NAS Amateur Arnold Strongman you should watch out for those Lithuanian guys! Sick athletes!
I had a great time and the whole Strongman Champions League was nothing short of top notch. Our accommodations were great and the payment was prompt and quite good. In addition to all of these things they were very respectful of all the athletes and were a lot of fun to hang out with.
I would like to thank Dione Wessels for organizing and helping me to get into this show. She did everything from contacting the promoters to checking up on my flights to make sure I arrived on time. This is just one of many examples of how ASC has watched out for and internationally promoted one of its athletes.