The Strongest Men in the World

The competition popularized by Magnus Ver Magnusson is ready for its close-up

After his performance—he finished ninth overall—some observers began saying that Ostlund might have what it takes to be the future face of the sport. "He looks like someone you'd be happy to have over to your house for dinner," says Randall Strossen, president of IronMind Enterprises, a California company that sells equipment to strongmen. "He doesn't look like a walking pharmacy. He's just a big, strong, healthy guy."

But Ostlund will have plenty of competition. Capitalizing on the sport's popularity on college campuses, the World's Strongest Man is about to launch a spin-off designed to find higher education's strongest man. Next year, students at 57 universities will compete within their conferences—SEC, Big 10, ACC, Big 12, and Pac 10—with the winner getting a bid to compete in the big show. "This is a major expansion of the brand," crows Frank.

Yet some traditionalists worry that the new series signals a shift away from the sport's gritty roots. Gillingham, a veteran of World's Strongest Man, outperformed more than half the field of competitors last year, but wasn't awarded a spot in the televised event. He can't help but suspect it's because his aging, battered body—powerful though it may be—lacked the camera-friendly quality producers desired. "They want 20-year-olds who look like they're on The Real World," complains Gillingham. "They want people who make a big scene—paint their face, hit stuff, and fall down afterwards. They want entertainers."

Standing in his driveway, watching Ostlund and other young men train for an upcoming event, Gillingham wonders how much longer he'll be able to compete, now that the sport has gone Hollywood. "The strongest man in the world isn't even in the World's Strongest Man competition," he says. "Zydrunas Savickas. He has no personality for TV."

Postscript: On June 16, Ostlund finished first at the WSM Super Series Grand Prix at Muscle Beach, and Gillingham finished fourth, guaranteeing each of them a spot in the 2007 MET-Rx World's Strongest Man contest.

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