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AS SEEN ON TV…Myrtle Beach Attractions from the World's Strongest Man Competition

  By  Kathryn Hedgepath
Man in the Worlds Strongest Man competition victorious

I’m kind of blown away.  In April of 2023, tents were set up at the Burroughs & Chapin Pavilion Place along the Boardwalk on the oceanfront that was historically the site of the last two of a series of four Pavilions from 1908 to 2006.  These days it is more readily recognized as the spot where the main stage is set up for the annual Carolina Country Music Festival each June, twice nominated by the Academy of Country Music as the Best Country Music Festival on the planet. 

Word had spread that Myrtle Beach was going to be hosting the World's Strongest Man Competition (WSM) for the first time.  I was not familiar with the event, but the name said it all.  And the other major thing that I wasn’t aware of was that it was being covered for television, but not broadcast live. 

Much to my surprise, I subsequently discovered that it was going to be shown throughout the summer, from May to July, on CBS, CBS Sports Network and Paramount+.  See the schedule here.  The US is one of the biggest television markets for the WSM, and when CBS found that broadcasting the competition throughout the summer worked best for their scheduling, they influenced the annual event that was usually held in September to be moved to April to accommodate the summer broadcasts. But the American viewership was only the beginning. 

The year before, the competition was aired in almost 500 million households in nearly 70 countries.  According to the British newspaper, The Guardian, “…it’s in the top eight sport franchises on Facebook ahead of ATP tennis and the NHL and has gained more followers [last year] than F1.”  That’s Formula One Racing for those of you like myself who didn’t know that for sure.

I was impressed to read all of this, but what really took everything to the next level was the more than forty-year Christmas tradition in England that viewing the WSM is.  In the same way that my family and I watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV every year, our friends across the pond watch the World’s Strongest Man competition at Christmas.  In the four decades of viewership, it has been seen on Christmas or Boxing Day (December 26), and last year on the 27th. 

Also in the same way that I don’t think about that premiere dog show actually taking place months in advance while viewing it before having my turkey and stuffing as if it were happening live, folks in the UK make viewing the WSM a Christmas tradition.  Apparently, the number of people who Google the WSM throughout the year goes up about 300% in December. 

In this age of instantaneous results for almost anything, why the wait?  Well evidently tradition trumps technology.  Channel 5 in Britain, who airs the event, finds that, even months after its completion, their viewing audience tune in in big numbers at Christmas.  Even the 2017 champion, Eddie Hall who happens to be from the UK, told The Guardian that he thinks it’s a “bit weird” to wait so long to watch it, but also acknowledged that it would “be a shame to break that tradition” by broadcasting it live.  Of course, die-hard fans find out the results immediately, but I suppose mum’s the word for them for the rest of the year.  The tradition began in 1977 when it was first broadcast on the BBC.  It moved to Channel 5 in 2012 and shows no signs of stopping. 

The annual event, referred to by some as the Olympics of Strength, is held in different locations each year as decided by the WSM council.  From California to Botswana, you never know where it’s going to be staged.  It was a real coup by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to get them to come here.  You’ll see on TV “Visit Myrtle Beach South Carolina” displayed prominently on banners around the outdoor arena where beach volleyball nets are usually set up for much of the year. 

Thousands of spectators came from across the world to the former Pavilion site to witness firsthand these unparalleled tests of strength.  WSM organizers claimed that it was the biggest crowd that they have had for a first-time host.  We hope that bodes well for the Grand Strand to host it again in the future! Several attractions in downtown Myrtle Beach were featured and shown behind the events: 

Newcomers to the sport may have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to identifying the various types of competitions.  They have a variety of colorful names such as Fingal’s Fingers, Atlas Stone and Reign Shield Carry.  But one of the most popular spectacles was when the contestants pulled an actual motorcoach bus down North Ocean Boulevard. 

The ten competitors who went head-to-head in Myrtle Beach were:

  • Tom Stoltman (UK)
  • Pavlo Kordiyaka (Ukraine)
  • Brian Shaw (USA)
  • Jaco Schoonwinkel (South Africa)
  • Mitchell Hooper (Canada)
  • Oleksii Novikoc (Ukraine)
  • Luke Stoltman (UK)
  • Matthew Ragg (New Zealand)
  • Evan Singleton (USA)
  • Trey Mitchell (USA)

Many were veterans, but some were making their WSM debut. One competitor referred to them as an insane roster of new talent. I couldn’t help but giggle when the international television commentators would always point out the first timers by referring to these, large, burly men as “debutantes.”

As with any sport, fans choose their favorite competitors and learn about their backstories.  The World’s Strongest Man competition is no exception.  In Myrtle Beach, we hosted a few great examples.

In 2020, the title was won by Oleksii Novikov from Ukraine.  In the past few years, when he was not in training for or competing in the WSM, he was serving in the military defending his homeland.  He was definitely a crowd favorite. 

Another stand-out was the defending champion, the UK’s own Tom Stoltman.  His is a deeper story that goes beyond his exceptional physique, as is generally the case for most of his competitors.  Fellow champion from Britain, Eddie Hall, shared with The Guardian that, despite their large, muscular bodies, “Strongmen in general are big softies…They have a lot of emotion-- you’ll find that nine times out of 10 strongmen have got some sort of mental condition, whether that be some form of autism or depression or ADHD.”   After Stoltman took the title in 2022, he spoke about living with autism and the hurdles he and his brother, Luke, have had to overcome.

A special fan of Stoltman in Myrtle Beach is Becky Large.  She is the Founder and  Executive Director of the Champion Autism Network, Inc. (CAN).  She told a local news reporter that she had come to the event to support Stoltman and that she was “blessed to have a meet and greet with him” when he first arrived.  CAN is a nonprofit autism awareness organization started in 2012 in Surfside Beach, SC, just to the south of Myrtle Beach.  One of the many cool things that they do is offer the Autism Travel Card to provide families with a quiet, dignified way to let participating businesses know that they are an autism family and ensure proper service and support while patronizing those businesses.

There are a few ways to watch the show as it premieres throughout the year in the US, so check your local listings for more info! 

Kathryn Hedgepath

Myrtle Beach native, Kathryn Hedgepath, loves to share her hometown’s history with visitors and newcomers to the Grand Strand.  She is the creator and narrator of the Myrtle Beach History Trolley and Step-On Tours, and the author of the book, Myrtle Beach Movies, that tells the stories behind the motion pictures that were made or premiered in Myrtle Beach.  She has traveled in 40 countries on 6 continents and uses her experience to convey our local history through a world lens. Kathryn returned home from NYC in 2002 to marry her beloved husband, Jenks, after a career in television and publishing (and even worked in Space Shuttle Operations at NASA Headquarters in DC for a semester before starting grad school at Georgetown University).  Her first career job was as Personal Assistant to television icon and wildlife expert, Jim Fowler, of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom fame. Her dad, Myrtle Beach’s first veterinarian, arranged the job interview when Jim Fowler came to Myrtle Beach for a speaking appearance at a veterinary conference in 1991.