Iceland. Its very name suggests a kind of strength. Something about its viking history, its inhospitable climate, and massive geothermal power has given the country an almost unparallel reputation in the world’s strongest man competition. It might have a population of just 300,000 people, but amongst those are some of the strongest that have ever lived. This small, black, volcanic rock is full of strong men. Everywhere you look, there are tough guys, men at checkout counters, driving taxis, or selling refrigerators. It’s an island of giants. Isolation and adversity, has fueled this tiny nation’s strength, but also contributed to tragedy. NEST OF GIANTS We arrived in the heart of mid-winter, when the average temperature is minus 15, and daylight rarely stretches beyond four hours. Our first destination was Jakaból, a notorious strongman gym. This name translates as “Nest of the giants”. JAKABÓL GYM. By the looks of the place, it’s got quite a, sort of, clandestine vibe going on. I can imagine that you have to sort of knock three times. It’s kind of “fight-club-esque”. Jakaból occupies a significant, but sad place in the history of Icelandic strongmen. It was first opened by Jón Páll Sigmarsson, the ice-blond poster-boy for the scene, and the four-time world’s strongest man. However, upon his untimely death, the gym closed down only to be reopened by his archrival, and the other four-time world’s strongest man winner, Magnús Ver Magnússon. On a personal level, Magnús Ver Magnússon is someone who I remember growing up, and it’s quite weird to think that all these years later, I would be in the middle of an Icelandic industrial state, hanging out with this man-beast himself. Jakaból is not your average gym. It looks more like a construction site than a pilates studio. There are no zumba classes here. Just steel, concrete, and sweat. [No pussies] So, obviously, looking around Jakaból, these aren’t the kind of things that you can go down and buy in your local sports shop. There are a lot of things I’ve developed. I know how to build things, I know how to work with metal, stuff like that. And so, making aluminium blocks, for example, that whole thing was my idea. The loglift, I built that myself. The cylinders as well, one thing here there isn’t nowhere else in the world, is what I call the “morning bit carry”. You carry that, like that. As far as you can. It’s so tough, it’s unreal. All the boys hate it. TRAINING SESSION. Are you quite hard on the boys? Sometimes. You gotta figure out a way to make them go to their limits, without killing them. 350, 351 [kg]… Do you think maybe the idea of the strongman kind of has had its day with guys like you and Jón Páll? The sport has grown. But I’m still waiting for it to take that really big leap. I used to love the carwalk. You would get in it like the Flintstones, and you walk off with the car and it looks amazing. Make it live, make it differently, you know what I mean? What I would love to see is like, throw a bunch of big, strong guys on an island, and make them like Survivor, and stuff like that. Show these guys they can do something else than just lift big things. Big men lifting big things is the essence of the world’s strongest man competition. In its 30-year history of thrills, spills, and ruptured ligaments, it’s moved from being a politically incorrect pantamime, to something more akin to a proper sport in recent years. [PÁLL LOGASON A.K.A “THE SQUARE METER”] [STRONGMAN] What’s it made out of? Concrete? Rubber. That’s rubber?! Not padding or anything, it’s just a steel bar. That’s a big no for a strongman, don’t use padding on anything. How does a four-time world’s strongest man reconsile getting weaker? Losing mass and losing strength, how does that make you feel? Well, I hate it. I really do. You look at something, and you go, “Yeah, I used to be lifting that, and it feels a lot heavier today.” You know what I mean? It’s been a bit of me for such a long time, that I’ll probably be buried with the bar. With some weights. Slowly, Jakaból began to fill up with strongmen. Everywhere you looked, there were big men lifting big things. But when a whole family showed up for a workout, the place took on a strangely domestic, everyday feel. I wonder what the people here did when they weren’t lifting building equipment. How they relaxed, and what they did for a living. And what is your day job? I work as a sales representer. I sell home appliances, refrigerators, and stuff. Some weekends and nights, I work as a bouncer. Do you enjoy that? No. It sucks a lot. It’s a horrible job. The fact is that being a strongman doesn’t absolve you from paying the bills. To find out more about the people at Jakaból’s day-to-day lives, we met with Ari Gunnarsson, another champion Icelandic strongman, [SUNDHÖLL REYKJAVÍKUR] who is off to his day job at the local pool. Come on, you can do it! Faster! Faster! You’re a lost cause, man. I don’t know what kind of swimming this was. Not butterfly, not breaststokes. It was a doggie style. My butterfly stroke was a humiliating experience, especially with the local kids and Ari’s somewhat out-of-shake collegue looking on. Is being strong useful in everyday situations? No, I wouldn’t say so. [ARI GUNNARSSON, STRONGMAN] I’m always tired, I’m so heavy, it’s always a pain in the knees, you know? When somebody asks me to help them move something, it’s very common and handy to pick on me, you know? “Oh, you’re strong, lift this cart for me,” or something. Is it a dangerous thing to be involved with, in terms of injuries and health problems and things like that? There are injuries in all sports, but in strongman, maybe a little bit see it more seriously. I tore my biceps tendon last summer. I was lifting a tire. 400 kilos. And I put my finger on it, and he said, “Go!” And I just heard that sound. In England, and in America and all sorts of places, I think we all grew up watching World’s Strongest Man. Usually on New Year’s Day, or something like that. We were all fascinated by it. It’s a different sport. You don’t see it quite often. You don’t see guys flipping cars, taking big stones. You don’t see it.