Twist 'em, turn 'em, toss 'em: Tires are mere toys to the world's strongest men
Lifting heavy tires by hand is an ergonomic nightmare, and generally frowned upon these days -- unless you're trying to crown the earth's mightiest mortal.
Tires have played key parts in World's Strongest Man (WSM) competitions since the event's inception in 1977, when 10 bruisers from the sports of powerlifting, football, bodybuilding and wrestling gathered in Hollywood, Calif., to gauge their mettle by pulling an 8,000-pound tram, hoisting full kegs of beer and, yes, tossing 40-plus-pound truck tires through the air.
Ken Patera, who became the first man in Olympic history to press 500 pounds over his head at the 1972 Munich (Germany) Games, won WSM's inaugural tire-tossing contest in 1977, hurling the casing nearly 40 feet. "I smoked everybody!" he laughs. Patera, a top-level professional wrestler at the time, had injured his back two weeks earlier, so his preparation for the event was minimal. "A friend had an old truck tire laying in his backyard. I tossed it around (a few times). Everyone else had literally trained for it."
Patera finished third in the overall competition that year. He partially credits his tire-tossing success to his unique double-overhand grip of the tire's bead (other competitors held the casing one hand over and one hand under). "I spun around twice and threw it." That was the last time he ever hurled a tire. The U.K.-based International Federation of Strength Athletes, which sanctions the event, discontinued tire-tossing a couple of years later for unknown reasons, according to WSM historian Adam White.
Tires were re-introduced to WSM in 1995. Competitors raced to flip 800-pound OTR tires end-over-end for a distance of 30 meters. The event, which has since become an integral part of WSM, is grueling, White says. "Tires don't have hand grips, so they have to wedge their fingers into the tread and actually start lifting with their fingers. Once they lift (the tires) up to their knees, then they can use their whole bodies."
Tire-flipping can be dangerous, too. "One of the athletes several years ago thought he had flipped a tire but it fell back and landed on his knees, which blew them out."
Tire weights are increasing as WSM promoters keep raising the bar to create drama. "They prefer to have some guys struggle," White says. Tires used at this year's event last month in Zambia, Africa, weighed more than 900 pounds each. Incredibly, a group of strongman contestants in Canada regularly train with 1,200-pound tires!
Milwaukee, Wis.-based tire dealer Steve Reinheimer knows first-hand what strongmen can do to poor, defenseless tires. In 1972, his father, Dave Reinheimer, hired famous pro wrestler and Milwaukee legend Reggie "The Crusher" Lisowski (in photo) to appear in a commercial for his dealership, Byron's Tire & Battery Corp. Reinheimer decided to film the spot at a local TV studio with Lisowski regurgitating words from a pre-written script. "So here The Crusher comes, walking in with his cigar and sport coat," says Steve, who was in junior high school at the time but remembers the incident vividly. "He takes his jacket off and has his trunks on underneath, then looks at the script and reads it. After a couple of seconds, he crumples it up and says, 'Gimme that tire!'" pointing to a 16-inch bias-ply light truck tire sitting nearby.
At that point, Lisowski, with red face and bulging eyeballs, proceeded to fold the casing in half and screamed into the camera, "I want all you turkey necks to buy your tires at Byron's!" as an announcer chimed in with the company's slogan "Byron's Tire: We're in your corner."
Nearly 30 years later, many of the Reinheimers' customers still talk about the commercial. Its cost at the time? Five hundred dollars. "Money well spent," Steve says.