Thursday, September 3, 2009

Paul Anderson’s Claims - Steve Neece

Paul Anderson’s Claims

by Steve Neece ((1992)

This article has been on my mind for some time how. Several years ago I submitted articles on this very subject to several magazines in rebuttal to stories they had written on Paul Anderson. They all backed out in the end, unwilling to face the facts and the controversy the exposure of these facts would entail. As Anderson is scheduled to be honored next year as the strongest man of the century, I will once again endeavor to set the record straight.

Over the last 30 years the legends of Anderson’s feats of strength have grown by leaps and bounds. Every time a lifter sets a new record someone will write an article claiming that Anderson did more back in some obscure time and place. This has robbed a generation of lifters of their rightful due. It is long past time for this inaccuracy to cease and the official facts to be presented.

Let me say, before I go any further, that I do not deny that in his time (mid 50’s and late 60’s) Paul Anderson was foremost in overall strength. In terms of squatting power he may still be the best ever, but, overall, his time has long passed and it is time for his aging fan club to admit it and give more recent champions their long-denied due. I can think of no other man who has had every claim, no matter how outlandish, accepted as gospel.

In fact, the 1991 edition of The Guinness Book of Records has deleted all of his claimed lifts on the grounds of inadequate documentation, after having accepted them unquestioningly for nearly 25 years. A close friend of mine (Joe Roark) spent a great deal of time attempting to document Anderson’s claim of a 6,200 lb. backlift.

See three-part Paul Anderson article here –

Nobody in Anderson’s hometown of Toccoa, Georgia could remember actually witnessing the lift, not even his brother-in-law, who usually photographed his feats of strength. At the time this lift was alleged to have occurred (1957) he was already a celebrity and could have performed the feat on TV, to be witnessed by millions, or could have done it at any major contest to be verified beyond all doubt. He did not! Why? In light of this I have made a list of his best official and / or public performances as opposed to claims made by him.

First, the Factual Lifts.

Lift, followed by Poundage then Year.

Squat – 930 – 1965.

Deadlift – 750 – 1965-66.

Bench Press – 450x3 – 1955; 485 – 1965.

Clean & Press – 445 – 1963; 415x3 – 1962; 424x2 – 1958.

Snatch – 347 – 1961.

Clean & Jerk – 445 – at several times.

Push Press (from rack) – 500 – 1957.

Press (from rack) – no record.

Backlift – no record.

Hiplift – no record.

Side Press – 215-250x3-5 – 1965-75.

Front Squat – no record.

Deadlift (with straps) – no record.

Now, the Claimed Lifts.

Squat – 1,200 – 1957.

Deadlift – 820 – ?

Bench Press – 627 – 1957-58?

Clean & Press – 485 – ?

Snatch – 375 – ?

Clean & Jerk – 485 – ?

Push Press (from rack) –

545 (Anderson claim) – ?

600 (Glossbrenner claim) – ?

600x3 (Bob Hise claim) – ?

Press (from rack) – 530x3 (Glossbrenner claim) – ?

Backlift – 6,270 – 1957.

Hiplift – 5,500 – ?

Side Press –

300x11 (right hand) – ?

300x7 (left hand) – ?

Front Squat – 771 (Glossbrenner claim) – ?

Deadlift (with straps) – 960 (Glossbrenner claim) – ?

Notes On The Above Claims:

Anderson’s silver-dollar squats were never publicly weighed. Also, the safes were suspended under the bar, making the leverages more favorable. Anderson never performed a limit back or hip lift in public, though he had numerous opportunities to do so. As for the purported 629 lb. bench press done in 1957, I can find no claim for more than 575 lbs. in any magazine from that era. I have no doubt he was capable of a 550+ touch-and-go bench, but that is far from the amount claimed. The squat and deadlift marks were the best I could find from the numerous exhibitions he gave between 1964 and 1967. I could not find any evidence for the Olympic lifts or the rack lifts claimed by and for him in any of the major publications of the 50’s and 60’s. Certainly, if such lifts were performed in public, there would be written and photographic proof. When I say “public” I refer to public exhibitions performed at contests or public gatherings, before competent and unbiased witnesses where the weight and the manner it was lifted could be accurately assessed. I do not give any credence to what someone claimed he saw in a garage or gym.

Anderson had countless opportunities in the 60’s and early 70’s to better the Olympic and powerlifting records then being established. Any promoter would have been overjoyed to give him the opportunity to better the marks being set by likes of Zhabotinsky, Alexeev, Bob Bednarski, George Pickett, Joe Dube, Ken Patera, Jim Williams, Jon Cole or Pat Casey. No matter that it would have been an unofficial exhibition; the proof would have been there for all to see. In 1958, in Madison Square Garden, he gave an exhibition after a USA-USSR competition in which the U.S. team was defeated. Hoping to soothe the crowd, he took the Soviet heavyweight’s winning clean and jerk of 424 lbs. and cleaned and pressed it for two reps. A few years later, in 1962, when Yuri Vlasov broke his amateur record with a press of 415 lbs., Anderson answered by pressing 415 lbs. for three reps in an exhibition in Dalton, Georgia. Obviously he had no qualms of performing in public then. Why not a few years later when he was, by his own admission, at the height of his powers? Instead, he gave countless exhibitions of side-pressing, neck-lifting and spike-driving, but no Olympic of powerlifts. Why? Did he realize that his time was past? It didn’t matter. He had, and has, a dedicated corps of sycophants who kept rewriting his records for him. He and they even went so far as to submit many of his alleged lifts to The Guinness Book of Records, which published them without official proof.

The most damaging document may well be Anderson’s own autobiography, The Strongest Man in the World, written in 1975, when he claimed that he was always within 95% of his maximal strength when he trained on a given lift. He also stated that all his records were world records and nobody had come within 30 lbs. of any of them. As a matter of record, at the time the book was written, Jim Williams had exceeded Anderson’s highest claimed bench press by 50 lbs., and Jon Cole had exceeded his claimed deadlift by 65 lbs. As far as Olympic lifts go, even his greatest claims had been exceeded by 35-50 lbs. and his public lifts by 70-95 lbs. As can be seen, there are some major discrepancies. Also, since then the official records on all of the lifts have climbed considerably higher still. If he was within 95% of his best at any given time, why is there such a huge gap between his claims and his official / public performances. I find it even more amazing that numerous publications printed photos of him side-pressing what was claimed to be a 300 lb. dumbell when it was clearly evident from the visible plates that the true weight was in the 215-250 range.

It is also claimed that he was light years ahead of everybody else in his era (1955-1965). Not so. His amateur marks in Olympic lifting had all been bettered by 1962, as had his pro marks in the snatch and clean & jerk. His pro record in the press was exceeded in 1968. His best total as an amateur was exceeded in 1960 and his pro best in 1964. His best public deadlift of 750 was short of Hermann Goerner’s incredible 792 set back in 1920 and Benoit Cote’s 784 done in 1962. Doug Hepburn benched 580 lbs. collar-to-collar back in 1954 and also performed feats as diverse as a 260 strict curl and a 480 push press in public. He also claimed a 440 press off the rack and the first 500 lb. push press back in 1954. He squatted 775 with no wraps, no supersuit, and I don’t think he even wore a belt. This was with a withered right calf from a childhood ailment. French-Canadian Jean-Louis Auger was a mammoth 6’4”, 400-pounder in the early 60’s who benched 620 (collar-to-collar) publicly and was said to be outstanding in hip and back lifting. Bruce Randall was another 400-pounder who was photographed doing a 685 bent-leg good morning and claimed a 770 deadlift (circa 1955). He won the NABBA Mr. Universe in 1959, weighing 220. Chuck Fish was a 330-pounder out of Chicago, whose peak was from 1960 to 1962 but whose strength career was curtailed by a back injury in his early 20’s. Chuck Ahrens, who could cheat-curl 325 lbs. and press very heavy weights, specialized in unorthodox feats of arm and shoulder strength that may be unequalled to this day. As he wouldn’t perform in public, these feats are difficult to document. Richard Kee was a little-known 280-pounder who was enormously strong on all upper-body exercises (circa 1959). Steve Merjanian, possibly the strongest strict presser and incliner around in the mid-60’s, did a 450 behind-the-neck press and a 560 touch-and-go bench press. Yuri Vlasov bettered all of Anderson’s amateur and pro Olympic lifts, except for his pro press, and was probably close in the power and bodybuilding lifts except for the squat.

Thus it is evident that Paul Anderson was far from being alone. It is merely that the others lacked his publicity, as none of them were associated with the York Barbell Club, which pretty well decided at the time who was given credibility and who wasn’t. In fact, Hepburn in the early 50’s and Vlasov in the early 60’s were in competition with them, lifting for Canada and the USSR respectively. Had the others played Bob Hoffman’s game and / or stuck around a little longer, it’s possible that one of them might have supplanted Anderson in Hoffman’s pantheon.

Let it also be noted that back in 1972 Jon Cole publicly challenged Anderson’s claim as the world’s strongest man. Claiming business pressures, Anderson proposed an alternative where during the course of a year he would periodically visit the York gym and do one or two lifts at a time before supposedly impartial witnesses, his best marks during the course of the year being added up against what Cole did in official contests. It never came off – and was unacceptable anyway.

Since then stronger men than Jon Cole have come and gone. Who do I think is the strongest man of the 20th century? First of all, the 20th Century has yet to be completed and I’m sure we are going to see a lot more claimants to the throne before it ends. As of now I would give the lead to Bill Kazmaier simply because I don’t know how strong the Soviet greats of the present and recent past were outside of the Olympic lifts. Also, I believe that to be considered all-around strong you should also be proficient at all exercises, such as all manner of strict curls, triceps work, strict high-angle pressing and inclines, pulldowns and pullins, standing pulls and shrugs, calf work, leg presses, etc. – in other words, total body strength. If that were measured you might find some bodybuilders who could outscore the best power and Olympic lifters, who often these days are narrow specialists.

In closing, let us by all means give Paul Anderson his due as the strongest man of his time. His time, however, has long since passed. Let us give long overdue recognition to those who have succeeded him and bettered his marks.

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