The World’s Strongest Man competition traveled to Sacramento, California, on the city waterfront for two days of qualifying Wednesday and Thursday, with the final set to get underway on Saturday, June 19.

Three of the past four winners were not competing— Eddie Hall and Hafthor Bjornsson having retired and Martins Licis because of an injury— leaving defending 2020 WSM champion Oleksii Novikov as the only recent winner in the field. Projected champion Mateusz Kieliszkowski was also absent from qualifying, still recovering from a torn triceps injury.

The only other champion in the field was 4x WSM-winner and American Brian Shaw, in search of a fifth title that would knot him with former Polish competitor Mariusz Pudzianowski for the most victories in a career.

World’s Strongest Man Qualifiers

The competitors were split into five groups of five for the two days of qualifying; the winner of each group would automatically advance to the final, and the second and third finishers within the group would battle each other in a one-on-one showdown for the final spot. This showdown involved the athletes lifting a series of six stones that ranged from 310-465 pounds— if both competitors manage to complete the task, they will alternate lifting the heaviest stone until one of them could not complete a repetition. The last man standing would advance to the final, and the loser would be sent home.

Luke Richardson and Graham Hicks were lost to injury on day one, though every group remained competitive throughout. Day two, however, came with several headlines.

Brian Shaw stole the show and cemented his place in the final with one event to go, completely dominating his group. Shaw tied for first in the squat, won Fingal’s Fingers and the overhead medley, got second in the loading medley, and only needed to show up at the pickaxe hold to advance. This is the best that the big American has looked in qualifying the past few years, and he is the favorite to take home the gold for the first time since 2016.

Fellow American Trey Mitchell was a surprise second in group two, beating out last year’s runner-up Tom Stoltman for an automatic qualifying spot in the final. Mitchell had trailed Stoltman heading into the final event (the train push) on day two but won by a margin of victory large enough to see him into the weekend showdown.

JF Caron stole the show in group three, securing the second-most points of any competitor and capitalizing on Luke Riachrdon’s absence. Caron is known as one of the best deadlifts in the world and set the Hummer Tyre Deadlift record last year and is presumed to have the second-best odds of winning this weekend.

The winner of group four was the “Georgian Bull” Konstantine Janashia, who has finished as high as fourth in his career. Janashia led all men with 21 points and appeared to be in form heading into the final after dealing with injuries in years past.

The group five-winner was Bobby Thompson, who came from behind thanks to an astounding performance in the pickaxe hold.

Elimination Matchups

The first stone-off was held between Maxime Boudreault and Aivars Smaukstelis, which the Canadian got the winning side of; the second featured Tom Stoltman and 55-year-old Mark Felix, which Stoltman won easily; third was Eythor Ingolfsson Melsted and Robert Oberst, and although Oberst was the more experienced and this was Melsted’s first WSM appearance, he outdueled the burly American; the fourth elimination matchup featured two injured competitors in Adam Bishop and Jerry Pritchett, which the Englishman won; and fifth was Luke Stoltman, younger brother of Tom, who beat Kevin Faires.

Notably, Novikov finished fourth in his group despite not publicly declaring any injuries leading up to or during the events. His early exit paves the way for Shaw and Caron to duke it out for the title, with possible interference from Tom Stoltman or Bobby Thompson.

Brian Shaw Contemplating Retirement Following Poor WSM Performance –  Fitness Volt

4x World’s Strongest Man winner and American Brian Shaw is in search of a fifth title that would knot him with former Polish competitor Mariusz Pudzianowski for the most victories in a career.

The Main Event

The finals run from Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening— the 10 remaining athletes will first take on the Giant’s Medley, an activity that involves carrying heavy items such as anvils, chains, and safes. From there, they will rotate an antique locomotive on a fixed platform by pushing against a bar. To conclude day one, the men will toss kegs of increasing weight over their head and a bar high in the air, with the first to complete all of the kegs and in the fastest time being declared the winner.

Day two will involve the log lift, deadlift, finishes with the atlas stones, similar to the stone-off that determined the finalists.

A fifth title could cement Shaw as the best ever, while everyone else in the field will be hunting for their first championship— regardless of who wins, there will be a true spectacle in Sacramento this weekend.

Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.