You likely know him as The Mountain, slayer of Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) on one of the most gruesome Game of Thrones episodes ever, but Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson has just made history in the real world.
Unperturbed by global-scale shutdowns of gyms and strongman competitions in the face of the coronavirus, Bjӧrnsson took it upon himself to make all his time and effort training count for something. On May 2, 2020, he performed a world-record deadlift of 501kg (1,104.5lbs) at his home gym, with ESPN live-streaming the attempt. That’s officially more than half a metric ton lifted by a human being — and defeats the previous record holder, Eddie Hall, by one kilogram.
It’s Wikipedia-official — which seems to mean that the record, having been live-streamed by a sports network, will be widely accepted despite being an at-home attempt. Hall, however, appears less willing to recognize his rival’s achievement. It’s turning into a whole thing, in fact, now that they’ve agreed to an official boxing match over it. (Did Hall just, like, skip that episode of GoT?)
No matter any personal quibbles about his record-breaking venture, Bjӧrnsson has put a new, incredibly high mark on the limitations of human strength. But this is hardly his first major achievement or even world record — and will certainly not be the last.
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson has a long history of making history
Bjӧrnsson, surprisingly enough, originally was a professional basketball player in his native Iceland. At 6’9″, that would make sense, but the man we all recognize today would have been much more lithe back then for the fast-paced athleticism of basketball.
After recurrent ankle injuries ended his sports career, however, Bjӧrnsson shifted into strongman lifting and powerlifting as a career and never looked back. Acting appears to be almost a hobby compared to the single-minded focus he places on his competitive strongman career.
Since that decision, hardly a year has gone by that Bjӧrnsson didn’t at least make the ranking podium at any one strongman competition — first just in Iceland, then all of Europe, and then finally tackling the World’s Strongest Man competition — if he didn’t outright win. In 2015, Bjӧrnsson made a special kind of cultural history by carrying a massive log weighing more than 650kg across his shoulders for five excruciating steps at the World’s Strongest Viking competition, outperforming a 1,000-year-old Icelandic legend.
He also holds the world record (as of 2019) for a specialized form of deadlift using what’s called an elephant bar, at 474kg (via BroBible). This version of deadlifting makes it slightly easier to pull weight, and as such doesn’t carry the kind of accolades that the regular deadlifting record he’s just broken brings.
The public pinnacle seemed to arrive in 2018 — when, after competing in the World’s Strongest Man show for eight straight years, Bjӧrnsson finally won first place. Though he only took third place at the celebrated tournament the next year, breaking a world record and actual human barrier has to take the sting out of going home with bronze. Though Bjӧrnsson may not get to go to any official meets this year, there’s little doubt he won’t keep eyeing every new personal and world record he can get — even if it must be done from home.