World Strongman's pulling power hits Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI // Kevin Nee is the type of chap who likes to keep a close check on his daily intake of calories - up to 10,000 of them.

Kevin also likes to pull fire engines, but he has his reasons. He wants one day to be recognised as the world's strongest man.

In Abu Dhabi yesterday at least he made the top nine, in the WSF World Strongman Championship.

"What it really goes back to is just like the natural urge to be the strongest," said Kevin, 26, an American who weighs 135 kilograms but can lift 410.

"I mean, you look back in history to the Highland games and men were just throwing rocks to see who could throw the rocks the furthest. It's a natural high."

In the last of three days of competition in the capital yesterday, 25 finalists from 23 countries had been whittled down to nine.

The contestants had to strap on a harness with a rope attached to a 7.5-tonne lorry and pull the vehicle - driver, prayer beads and all - 20 metres while under the stopwatch. Kevin achieved that in 47.64 seconds.

That was one of five events that also included a race to flip 320kg tractor tyres, and the "farmer's walk", a sprint carrying two 160kg weights.

In the end, the title and US$6,000 (Dh22,000) first prize was won by Krzysztof Radzikowski of Poland, with the Briton Laurence Shahlaei, in second ($4,000) and the American Josh Thigpen third ($3,000).

Kevin, who dines freely on McDonald's and chocolate, is fanatical about not losing weight.

At the age of 13, he started to spend time in the gym and hang out with a local strongman.

When Kevin turned 15 his friend and mentor, Bruce Tessier, a corrections officer at a prison, had him entered into a local competition.

Kevin is still considered a baby in the sport, where many men reach their peak between 32 and 35 - if they are not injured.

"These are the toughest guys in the world, here in Abu Dhabi," said Ahmed Hassani, 21, an Emirati volunteer and former strongman who switched to boxing after an injury.

"This tournament is a tremendous thing."

The strongman event has its roots in Nordic and Highland games. In fact, the men identify themselves more with Vikings than conventional athletes.

"It's something different than just going to the gym and lifting weights," said the Australian Marc Wells, who at 182 centimetres and 138kg calls himself a "lightweight".

Marc, who was competing internationally for the first time, has pulled tractors, buses, semi-trailers and regularly pulls 4x4s with their brakes on.

But he said he had a simple regimen of three days a week at the gym and "a couple of hours" of strongman training on Saturday.

"No point in overdoing it, otherwise you get tired pretty quickly," Marc said.

The stadium began to fill yesterday evening with a crowd that included Abu Dhabi's young western businessmen and Arab grandmothers who cheered for their strongman favourites such as Josh, who was ranked first when yesterday's competition began.

He was a "small, skinny kid" when he saw his first strongman competition on television at the age of 12.

"I said, 'I'm going to be the world's strongest man some day'," Josh said.

Organisers said they would like to return to Abu Dhabi.

"This is the first time we've had this many countries and this is a big step for us," said Vladislav Redkin, the chief organiser of the WSF championship.

"This competition in Abu Dhabi is the biggest and we hope the next one will be even bigger.

"This is a style of life, this is a real style of life."

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