Strongest Man of Finland 1999 
Turku harbour (qualifying) and Silja Europa (finals) 19-20. April  
Picture gallery in thumbnails

Strongest Man of Finland has been held since 1987. 
Contact info: Suomen Vahvin Mies r.y., Ojakatu 1, 21200 Raisio, Ilkka Nummisto p. 0500 526 923 
Final Results: 
1. Janne Virtanen (196cm/135kg) - 100.5 pts
2. Sami Heinonen (195cm/134kg) - 98
3. Juha Räsänen (198cm/135kg) - 93.5
4. Harri Simonen (185cm/130kg) - 87.5
5. Pasi Paavisto (201cm/135kg) - 87.5
6. Jani Lauren (179cm/110kg) - 84
7. Kalle Laaksonen (186cm/115kg) - 79
8. Kari Pudas (188cm/120kg) - 70
Janne Virtanen renews his title after a protest about Sami Heinonen's performance in the Conan Circle. Heinonen, who won four events of total 6, would have otherwise won the whole competition by four points - now placing only 7th in Conan instead of being 2nd he lost his chances to victory. The competition between these men was very close. 

- What's consolatory is that I know I'm stronger than Virtanen
- Rules are made to be followed
- Heinonen can't lose right. Everyone who followed the competition thought that for once it got a just end

The protest was based on Heinonen's first meters in Conan, where they carried a 300kg load of bricks on the ship's helicopter deck. Right when Heinonen started to lift the weight up, the ship and the load swayed, and he made a small step forwards before the load hit the ground again. He then picked it up and continued making the 2nd best performance (Virtanen won), but the mistake was already made. The rules are clear in this (the step crossed the start line) - result 18cm. 

Virtanen starts to carry a 140kg granite boulder

As I have followed these both men for a while now, I truly feel Heinonen should also get an invitation to WSM - he proved in Helsinki he can win even the reining World's Strongest Man, Magnus Samuelsson. With better luck and more flexible rules he'd have the invitation in his pocket already. (... Actually I think the gear in Conan should be made to swing less, that would eliminate many problems. Some changes of rules would be needed also.)

Janne "Jalo" Virtanen comes from Janakkala (close to Hämeenlinna where Ahola lives, also Marko Varalahti lives nereby), is 29 years old, has his sports background in greco-romanic wrestling (130kg class, 18 medals from national level), has also tried sumo wrestling (2nd in World Championships '97, current rank on amateur list 3rd!). Best strongman achievements: 3rd in Helsinki GP 1999, Strongest Man of Finland 98-99. Qualifying in WSM '98 Morocco was a disappointment but he was also one of those who didn't "like the food".

Later this year Virtanen will get a new try in the World's Strongest Man, and probably he gets to team European and World Championships also. An international competition in Scotland is as well part of his plans. 

The Qualifying

Warm but a very windy weather welcomed 35 competitors around the country to compete for a place in the WSM-99. As it was an open competition with no special prizes some had probably come also for the competition shirt (big text "Suomen vahvin mies 1999") and a cruise on Silja Europa with a very special group, but it seemed however nobody had come unprepared! About 30 men completed the first qualifying event, 350kg tire flip 10 times! And this particular tire wasn't even that big on diameter which would make it somewhat easier. Sami Heinonen rolled it in 42.5 seconds and I doubt if many men in the world could do it faster. For a "common strongman" it seemed to take well over 2 minutes and still the last flip might wait for the following day. 

Pasi Paavisto in 7th turn already. He made a good come-back after some years absent

From what I had heard about the competitors, 30 of them were over 300kg deadlifters and some can go over 350. A very impressive group on boat, will surely catch the eye. But this competition proved once again that it doesn't help to be just gym-strong, you need to be good with very different shape of objects and in performances very unfamiliar to most. Tire flip is as much about technique as it's about explosive strength. A slow deadlift won't turn it and you need to get your knee or even both knees under it. 

The qualifying area wasn't really that special, just a fence around ... say two trucks. The settings for the final must have been better, as this competition was designed to fit the helicopter platform on Silja Europa (no pics because the ship had not arrived yet) . Maybe it was even more windy there? I wasn't able to go on boat, sorry. So before I see it on TV I'll cover mostly the qualifying phase. 

Qualifying Events: 
  • Tire Flip 350kg 10 times
  • Truck Pull 7.4t 17m seated rope pull
  • Atlas Stone Carry 140kg for distance 

  • Events for the Finals: 
  • Log Lift
  • Conan Circle 300kg bricks
  • Farmer's Walk 

    In the first event 6 guys were able to go under a minute, Janne Virtanen got a slightly disappointing 57s (4th), but he wasn't simply as explosive as Heinonen some minutes earlier. Juha Räsänen, a very potential new strongman from Kuopio set the clock at 52s. Jarno Virtanen, a farmer's walk specialist whose father I got to talk with later used 1 minute flat. 

    Jarno's father reminded me that it might not be a good idea to put the competitors perform always just in alphabetical order. I must agree. He also pointed out that in qualifying where there are many many competitors the winner can get over 30 points from one event and if someone loses say 10 places and points in tight competition, he won't catch the difference in the finals just like that (only 8 competitors and so 8 pts/winning, 2nd gets 7pts...). Let's see if Ilkka and Markku will do anything about this?! These rules aren't actually fair. 

    Oh, Jarno Jokinen came 9th in the qualifying and disappointingly he was the first to drop out from the finals - he almost got there anyway because of an injury which I will tell you later. Jarno would have been close to even winning the farmer's walk in the finals?

    Juha Räsänen (was leading at the time -yellow)

    Sami Heinonen 

    Truck pull was the second event. It's hard to utilize one's max strength when the speed builds up; more important at that point is how fast you can produce say 70% of your max. Also if the truck is light and comes very fast, you need to pull more with your back and arms, the legs are too slow. Ziljstra proved this to Jouko in Team Championships remember? 

    Truck pull can be hard to practise for even used trucks can be relatively expensive, but then again what's the use when the setting is always very different and you must be able to adapt to different speeds. You just need to be natural strong and fast. The winner of this event (Räsänen??) pulled 7.4 ton truck 17 meters in 18 seconds, the others needed close to 20 secs and most over 21. 

    Heinonen was somewhat slow in this, Virtanen did slightly better (4th). Juha Räsänen leads after two events with 6 pts! 

    Event 3 - Atlas stone carry, 140kg granite for distance 

    What I heard about this event before it all started was that nobody can hold it against chest, so it must be carried supporting the stone on thigs. 50m is a good performance, the best will go 80. But what did Sami Heinonen do being the first to try it?! He shouldered the stone, then moved it behind his neck and started walking very fast. After 98 meters the gravity won - but so did he! Only one other guy, Jani Lauren, knew the same technique (even the father of it?) - which requires much training indeed, and he came second with 92 meters. Remember they weren't allowed to drop the stone after leaving the start area, which wasn't that wide - no way it would have allowed the stone to be dropped from the shoulder height. 

    Virtanen came 3rd in this event with about 75 meters (when he was resting at 70 the other strongmen shouted: "now lift it up behind the neck" :-). 5-6 guys went close to 70m and in '95 this same event was still won with only 40m (by Varalahti, who admittedly could have gone much further)! 

    Kari Pudas, who struggled far enough with the stone to ensure his place for the finals (7th after first day), fell badly at the end of his walk and dropped the whole 140kg on his ankle. That gave Jarno Jokinen a free cruise (9th after first day) as nobody knew if Pudas would be able to continue. Right after his injury Pudas wasn't that that frustrated about his ankle, but about not making it the to the finals! But the next day he was up to competing again, surprising us all.

    Positions after three events and the qualifiers

    1- Juha Räsänen 81pts
    2- Sami Heinonen 80pts
    3- Janne Virtanen 79pts
    4- Pasi Paavisto 74pts
    5- Jani Lauren 73pts 
    6- Harri Simonen 71pts 
    7- Kari Pudas (injured?)
    8- Kalle Laaksonen (31, Espoo) 
    9- 61p Jarno Jokinen 
    14- Jarmo Hirvi
    19- Jari Martikainen

    Sami Heinonen and best show of the day!

    Even though Räsänen was at the lead after the first day, not many believed he or anybody else can take the victory from either Virtanen or Heinonen in the end. Already in Helsinki GP they proved to be able to beat the very best in the world. Hopefully they will get more invitations this year than before, they sure qualify as strength ambassadors from Finland. 

    Some top competitors didn't participate this year: guys like Ahola, Kiri, Ojanaho, Tuhkasaari and many top names from previous years, who have probably seen enough competitions already. The very best don't even "need" to do this competition, as it has become mostly about qualifying for WSM, and when the Strongest Man of Finland isn't really even an IFSA sanctioned event, the rules might actually forbid some to enter. 

    Of course as Jouko said in public this is also a very tough competition and would need much concentration - therefore he must now concentrate on his U.S. tour with Phil Pfister (6 shows) and 3 GP's shortly after that. 

    Kiri, Tuhkasaari and Ojanaho find their money elsewhere. 

    As the mess with the federations, fight for the money and even attempts to monopolize the sport (the wildest claims) continue it seems that Nummisto and Suonenvirta also will have to organize non-sanctioned events in the future (the nature of some of their events is like that). Even Finland's Strongest might experience a big change for next year; there might come a new qualifying system for WSM organized by Kinnunen and IFSA. But we'll see about these things as time goes by. 

    Equipment allowed: Some people have claimed that strongman is even worse than powerlifting about equipment aid. I don't think so. In powerlifting they accept new and new shirts all the time, in strongman however they ban more and more equipment. In this particular competition the list of allowed equipment was given to the competitors just before the start. Chalk, resin, powerlifting belt, suit and wraps were allowed, but always depending about the event. They try to keep the rules fair to everyone, so most of the special equipment, like those high heeled shoes you saw still two years ago, are now standardized  (max 3.5cm heels) or banned. 

    So, how many of the guys would manage in an international competition then? Only some of the finalist were really that good. Many potential lifters were left outside of the finals of course, but they need much more event training. The last five I could have tried to compete with? If I compare this to U.S. Full Strength Challenge from last year the biggest differences are in energy and in coordination: The Finns understand the competition is about time and speed also and they are all mentally and some are even physically prepared to fight odd shape objects. 

    Just another spectator... That's Jouni's kid on the left. Both guys were already eager to get to the ship's entertainment areas.  Hey, who was it who convinced me that Jouko is married - I finally asked him and he's not - quite.  I wonder where all these rumors come from :-)

    Notes from the finals

    The best two of every event:

    Farmer's Walk, 2x115kg
    1. Heinonen 106.30m
    2. Virtanen 100.40m

    Conan Circle 300kg (very long pole so the results in m)
    1. Virtanen 25.9m
    2. (Heinonen)
    2. Räsänen 18.4m

    Log Press (136kg log, whatever that meant)
    1. Heinonen 18 reps
    2. Virtanen & Simonen 17 reps

    Heinonen didn't even participate in the victory ceremony.

    21-23 April, corrections 2nd of June, Sami