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:


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.

The Dino Gym’s Replica of the Apollon Wheels

by Al Myers

The Dino Gym's Apollon Wheels Replica

The Apollon Wheels have a mythical attraction to them.  What makes a better Challenge Barbell than TRAIN WHEELS!   I have  heard  the stories of Louis Uni (Apollon) lifting these giant  Train Wheels is his performances, and can only imagine how impressive he must have looked doing it. I only wish there were some pictures of him lifting them!!

Several people have made replicas of the Apollon Wheels (AW).  I have seen lots of pictures of them. What I don’t understand is why most replicas don’t resemble the original Apollon Wheels in the slightest.  Just look at the pictures of them and you will see what I am saying.  Most have rims that are way wider than the original Apollon Wheels. The hub design is not even remotely the same with some. Some replicas are plated with shiny chrome. The spokes are even turned wrong in some!  Sometimes I question whether they even used the original’s AW measurements! Most replicas that have been made look much bigger than the original AW.

I have wanted to undertake this project for quite some time – ever since I read in MILO several years ago (September 2004) an article  about the Hollie Brothers  and their quest in making an Apollon Wheel replica. They did it right, and tried to make a replica as close to the original as possible.  I had decided then, that when I took on this project, that would be my goal also.  Several design issues immediately became a problem.  First, only a “handful” of measurements have been recorded for the original AW and published. I read all the resources and tried to use what I considered the most accurate information.   I have several pictures of the original AW – and had to extrapolate from these pictures  and estimate some measurements – like the length of the gussets and width and diameter of the hub.  The one thing I did NOT want to be the same with my replica as the original AW was the weight.  The original AW weighed 366# (or 365# as some sources report).  I did not want to make it that heavy.  I don’t need any more heavy doorstops!  I wanted to make a replica that I could lift and train with!  So I decided my design weight goal would be around 250 pounds. The final weight of my AW replica turned out to be 240 pounds – which is ideal.

This project turned out to be a big success.  I was very pleased how my Apollon Wheels Replica turned out.  It’s nice to have something like this in the gym – when new lifters join their eyes are immediately drawn to this huge 2″ bar containing railroad car wheels as the plates.  It’s at that time I ask, “Have you heard the story about Apollon and his Challenge Barbell?”

The Apollon Wheels

by Al Myers

Norb Schemansky lifting the Apollon Wheels

The Apollon Wheels were made famous by the legendary French Professional Strongman, Louis Uni AKA Apollon, in the late 1800’s. Apollon used these in his strongman stage shows and billed them as the UNLIFTABLE Challenge Barbell. The Apollon Wheels were an old set of railroad car wheels connected by an axel. The Apollon Wheels weigh 366 pounds (total weight). The diameter of the Wheels are 26 inches and the diameter of the axel is 1.93 inches. The width of the Wheels are 4 inches wide and the length of the axel is under 6 feet (several sources report different lengths).

Who has lifted the original Apollon Wheels?

Besides Apollon himself, only three individuals have ever lifted the original Apollon Wheels. The first to lift the Apollon Wheels was Charles Rigoulet on March 3rd, 1930. Rigoulet, a Frenchman, was a World Weightlifting Champion and is credited with the first 400 pound Clean and Jerk in history!!! The next to lift the Apollon Wheels was John Davis, of the United States, on September 13th, 1949. Davis was also a World Champion Weightlifter and was the first man to Clean and Jerk 400 pounds under official meet conditions. Norb Schemansky, of the United States, was the third to lift the Apollon Wheels on October 17th, 1954, just one week after winning the World Championships. After Schemansky had the Wheels to his chest – he jerked the Apollon Wheels three times in a row!!!

Several modern day strength athletes have lifted Apollon Wheels replicas, but only these three lifters (or 4 if you count Apollon) lifted the original Apollon Wheels overhead. Today, the Apollon Wheels reside at the Musee National du Sport (a museum) in Paris, France.