What makes OTSM Different?

by Thom Van Vleck

John O'Brien had the top Apollons Lift of the OTSM Championships with this 300 pound lift.

First, please notice I said “different”.  Not BETTER, just different.  Al Myers came up with the concept for Old Time Strong Man contests to bring something different to the USAWA.  I really like the idea.  This does not mean I don’t like the regular USAWA.  On the contrary, I like the idea a lot!  But I have also been a fan of Strongman Contests as well.  I also think a lot of the other USAWA members do as well.  The OTSM brings that strongman flavor, but does something to it that no strongman contest does.  It allows for the events to be loaded to weights that will suit any age group, skill level, weight class, or gender.  Basically, it makes Strongman accessible to everyone, makes it quantifiable (for record keeping purposes that are legit), and brings it in line with the USAWA tenants that we all appreciate (drug testing for one!).

One of the things I like about the OTSM format is how the lifter is allowed several chances to complete a lift within the one minute time limit.  I think this adds some real excitement and drama to the meet.  Several successful lifts in this meet would not have been allowed in the format used by not only the regular USAWA and IAWA meets, but in any Olympic or Powerlifting contest.  For example, John O’Brien called for 300lbs on his final Appollon’s Axle attempt.  He pulled the weight, racked it, then missed the jerk….however, he still had time, so he pulled a second time, racked it, and made a very solid jerk.  This was the only 300lb lift of the meet in the Appollon’s Lift.  For those watching, it is really exciting to see something like that!  I know the limits placed on earlier meets was a time factor, but usually the lift is made quickly and it really doesn’t take much more time with the few times the whole minute is used.

Another thing I like that this format has over regular strongman contests is how you can start with any weight you want.  It brings the best part of a regular weightlifting meets in a Strongman format.  You get three attempts, you can start at any weight and go up to weights that are within your ability.  In most strongman meets, you have one weight for all…..and in my book, “one size does NOT fit all”.   This way, you can have a meet where young and old, the super strong and the weekend warrior, can all take part.

A third thing is the relaxed rules.  Most USAWA regular lifts have pretty strict interpretations on how the lift will be performed, with good reason.  But for the novice lifter or most spectators, this can lead to confusion or frustration when the complete a lift or see a lift completed only have it turned down on a technicality.  To those of us “in the know” we understand perfectly….but for many a slight press out leaves them shaking their heads.  OTSM has many lifts where the lifter can get a weight up multiple ways with few rules.  As a result, very few lifts are turned down upon completion.  This is very spectator friendly in my book!

Now, I do want to take some time to address some criticisms I’ve heard about the OTSM.  Some have to do with the very nature of it (relaxed rules, etc).  Not much I can say about that.  It is what it is.  But some things I can address.  I have heard concerns that we have enough in the USAWA already.  Why do we need more.  Well, first of all, that’s the very nature of those that have come to the USAWA!  Guys who were satisfied with the Olympic lifts stayed with those lifts, but there were a group of guys who weren’t and powerlifting was born…and so on.  The USAWA adds lifts every year!  I would argue that’s just who we are.  Plus, have you ever watched the Olympics….how many swimming styles do we need to compete, gymnastics events, running events?!?!  Nobody complains about why we need a 200 meter champion when we already have a 100 meter champion.   It’s just more ways to have fun and enjoy sports.  Track and Field has two shot put world champs every year…indoor and outdoor.  No big deal.

These seem to be the key differences to me.  It adds a nice wrinkle to all the USAWA offers and I think can serve  as a way to recruit new blood to the larger organization.  I think a lot of new people could get “hooked” into lifting through the OTSM and then as they became more “weightlifting savvy” we could draw them into the more structured lifting of the USAWA!  So, please, even if you don’t want to lift in the OTSM, help the rest of us out by supporting it by either helping at the meets or at the least supporting it through recommending it to others!  OTSM is still very much an experiment…..whether it stays is really up to everyone in the USAWA!   More fun for everyone!

Apollons Lift

by Al Myers

Bryan Benzel, of Jobes Steel Jungle, performing an Apollons Lift with 355 pounds at the latest OTSM competition, the Battle in the Barn. Will Bryan be the first USAWA lifter to surpass the mighty Apollons lift of 366 pounds? I predict YES!!

The Apollons Lift was one of the very first OTSM lifts approved in the USAWA.  This lift is intended to honor the late French Strongman Louis Uni, aka Apollon.  In his strongman stage acts he had his Challenge  “Apollon’s Wheels” which he could lift but no one else could. The wheels were railcar train wheels connected with a two inch shaft.  This event is regularly contested in strongman competitions under differing rules, but we are the only organization that offers it as a official lifting event under consistent rules.

Apollon was a very interesting oldtime strongman.  He lived from 1862 to 1928.  He was a big man, standing 6′3″ and weighing around 300 pounds. As a young man he first was employed with a circus as an animal trainer.  It is said he was the only man the big cats were afraid of.  His deep rough voice mixed with his menacing stare and large frame would back the tigers down.  He would often get “right in the middle” of the tigers and grab the alpha tiger by the neck and drag him around just to show his dominance over them.  This lead to his first strongman act in which he would carry a huge tiger over his shoulder in the circus performance.

One of his most famous strongman feats (along with lifting his famous Challenge Wheels) involved a show in which he was to escape from a cell with iron bars.  He would bend the bars with his bare hands and crawl out. He did this performance night after night.  Each time the bars would have to be restraightened for the next nights performance.  One time a local blacksmith not only straightened the bars but TEMPERED THEM to increase their strength.  Whether this was done intentional or not remains a mystery.  Apollon tried and tried to bend the bars to escape but it was beyond his abilities until his wife started yelling at him to “quit being lazy and start acting like a real man”.  This must have infuriated him as it is told that sweat was pouring from his brow and his veins were popping out of his neck as he proceeded to bend the bars and escape.  I can relate to that –  wives have a way of doing things like that to their husbands!

All the lifts within our list of Old Time Strongman Events honor an old time strongman like Apollon.  This is our way of keeping stories like these alive. This would be a good time to remind everyone about the USAWA mission statement:

MISSION STATEMENT

The USAWA was formed to continue the long standing tradition of old-time weightlifters like Eugen Sandow, Louis Cyr, Arthur Saxon, Hermann Goerner, Warren Lincoln Travis, and many others. We strive to preserve the history of the original forms of weightlifting, which in the past has been referred to as “odd lifting”. Many of the lifts we perform are based on stage acts or challenge lifts of old-time strongmen.

I really feel that our development of the Old Time Strongman as a branch of the USAWA is fulfilling this statement.

Apollons Lift

by Al Myers

Thom Van Vleck, of the JWC, training on his 245# Apollon Wheel Replica.

It’s about time I start highlighting the rules of the events that I plan on having in the Dino Gym Challenge on January 15th, the VERY FIRST strongman competition sanctioned by the USAWA.   Again – this strongman comp will be quite different than modern traditional strongman comps as this one will be based on feats of strength performed by OLD TIME STRONGMEN.  The first event that I am going to profile is the APOLLON’S LIFT.  This event is based on the old-time strongman Louis Uni, aka Apollon.  He made famous the Apollon’s Wheels – a 2″ axle connecting two railway car wheels.  The entire apparatus weighed in at 366 pounds!  David Willoughby made this feat well-known when in his book, The Super Athletes,  he listed it as one of  the “Five famous weights and the men who lifted them.”   Well, I don’t expect anyone to lift a replica of the original 366# Apollon’s Wheels so we will use a lighter set-up.  I do expect this event to be held to the basic dimensions of the original Apollon Wheels so a 2″ axle will be used and a higher bar height will be allowed (since the diameter of the original AW was 26 inches).  The rules for this lift will be very liberal since the object of this strongman feat is to “get it overhead in any fashion”.

The Rules for the Apollon’s Lift:

A 2 inch diameter axle (or Fulton Bar)  will be used as the bar for this lift.  The maximum starting bar height is 12 inches measured from the platform to the bottom of the bar.  Any method may be used to take the bar to the shoulders or overhead.  The bar or plates are allowed to retouch the platform during the lift.  If the bar is placed down or dropped, the lifter may try again as many times as he/she wants within the time limit.  A time limit of 1 minute is allowed.  Once the weight is overhead, with arms’ locked, legs straight,  and the feet in line with the torso,  an official will give the command to end the lift.

All other general rules of the USAWA will apply.  Each competitor will get three attempts of their choosing with the best one counting towards their total.