I’ve always been fascinated by the World’s Strongest Man competitions. Iceland, is home to two of the sport’s greatest icons, Jón Páll Sigmarsson and Magnús Ver Magnússon, who combined won the event eight times (four each), ranking Iceland at the top of the powerlifting game. Let’s take a look at these two hulking men and their contributions to strongman lore:
Jón Páll Sigmarsson
Born in Hafnarfjörður (just don’t ask the Sip Advisor to try and pronounce the word), Sigmarsson was the first to win the World’s Strongest Man event four times, doing so in a seven year span. His lowest finish in the tournament was third place in 1989. From humble beginnings, Sigmarsson’s legend grew as he participated in events around the world, including Scotland’s Highland Games.
Sigmarsson was a showman and loved to put on a performance. His charisma came through the TV screen with roars, shouting, and celebrations. During one event of the 1985 World’s Strongest Man, an audience member made the mistake of calling Sigmarrson an Eskimo, to which the powerlifter replied, “I am not an Eskimo, I am a Viking!” before snatching and seemingly with ease, lifting a 495kg cart.
Sadly, Sigmarsson passed away at the young age of 32, from a heart attack. He died doing what he loved, lifting, in his own gym, Jakaból (which means Giant’s Nest). While steroid use played a role in his death, there was also a heart defect that others in his family had suffered from. Sigmarsson was survived by a son, Sigmar, and I wonder if he ever followed in the footsteps of his dear ol’ dad?
A fascinating documentary was made on the life of Sigmarsson, titled Larger than Life. The Sip Advisor actually watched it en route to Iceland and it gave me a different perspective going into the country. Sigmarsson was enshrined in the World’s Strongest Man Hall of Fame in 2012, one of only three competitors to be selected thus far into the hallowed halls.
Magnús Ver Magnússon
Hailing from Egilsstaðir (again, I don’t even know where to begin with the pronunciation of this place name) and already owning one of the greatest villainous names in entertainment history, Ver Magnússon seemed like the perfect fit to take the torch from Sigmarsson and become the next great Icelandic strongman. Like Sigmarsson, Ver Magnússon travelled the world in his early years of lifting, winning competitions across the globe.
Equaling Sigmarsson’s achievement of four World Strongest Man titles (between 1991 and 1996), it should be noted that Ver Magnússon also ranked as the event’s runner-up in 1992 and 1993. That’s domination if I’ve ever seen it. The two Icelandic warriors are only surpassed by Mariusz Pudzianowski of Poland, who has five wins to his name.
Ver Magnússon reached mass American audiences, not only with his World’s Strongest Man accolades, but with an appearance in a Coors Light commercial, as well as an appearance on The Daily Show, in 2008, where he showed off his still formidable strongman skills. There are rumours that Ver Magnússon has been trying to raise funds to film a movie about his life, titled ‘My Way.’
In the meantime, Ver Magnússon has gone on to own the Jakaból gym, replacing Sigmarsson, and training the next generation of Icelandic Vikings. One of his protégés is Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, nicknamed ‘Thor.’ Bjornsson recently appeared on Game of Thrones as the fearful Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain. Ver Magnússon also judges strongman and powerlifting competitions internationally and remains a face of the sport.
- 1 oz Brennivin
- 0.5 oz Kahlua
- Top with Club Soda
- Splash of Lemon Juice
- Garnish with a Lemon Slice
I can’t even imagine lifting some of the items these two behemoths tossed over their shoulder or hurled through the air. Simarsson even set a Guinness World Records by lifting the largest whiskey bottle… that’s a feat the Sip Advisor can truly appreciate!
Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
Brennivin is also known as Black Death, which I don’t fully understand, given the spirit is clear and doesn’t taste bad at all. Icelanders might disagree with me on the taste experience, but I think I know my liquors. This cocktail is named after an active volcano in Iceland, but it will certainly not cause you to erupt and is actually quite nice.