If you’ve ever binge-watched — is there any other way watch television? — the “World’s Strongest Man,” you’d no doubt agree that the spectacle can be quite entertaining.
WSM is more reality show than sporting event, but there’s really nothing comparable to watching incredibly large men deadlifting a thousand-pound barbell, dragging an airliner across a runway by pulling on a rope the size of the ones used to secure ocean liners or shoulder pressing a steel cart filled with half a dozen young women from whatever remote African nation where that year’s annual contest is being filmed.
Although athletes from numerous countries qualify for the finals of the event, the number of titles won by competitors from Iceland is staggering. Including Jón Páll Sigmarsson, who won the event four times in the 1980s, Magnús Ver Magnússon, who collected four titles in the 1990s, and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, the 6’9”, 450-pound weightlifter who plays Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in the HBO series Game of Thrones, Icelanders have either won or placed in the top three 29 times since the inaugural World’s Strongest Man contest was held in 1977.
Not bad for a country the size of Indiana, with a population of just over 350,000.
Along with producing more than its share of Viking-esque strongmen, Iceland has some other unique characteristics. For example:
- As a resident of that Nordic land, you don’t just scroll through some list of trendy names for your new baby. In Iceland, a national Naming Committee approves the use of names for all Icelanders, and a panel of appointed judges decides on whether or not to accept new names “based on historical precedent and in accordance with Icelandic grammar rules” (and spelling conventions, as evidenced by the WSM winners noted above).
- Like Ireland, nearly a quarter of the then-Danish territory’s population was forced by a mid-19th century famine to leave the island, emigrating mostly to the province of Manitoba in Canada.
- Across the country, Iceland has hundreds of locations with hot springs and geothermal activity (including the iconic Geysir, from which the word “geyser” is derived), providing most of its residents with inexpensive hot water and heat.
Hot and meaty
Access to geothermal energy is a good deal for Icelanders, because at a latitude above 68 degrees North, the island gets mighty cold in the winter — which, by the way, has already officially begun there.
By the time Americans are carving pumpkins and stocking up on treats for Halloween, winter’s already well underway in Iceland, spawning an unusual, yet totally appropriate tradition there called “Kjótsúpudagurinn.”
In case you don’t happen to speak Icelandic, that translates to “Meat Soup Day,” an official event celebrated across the country, particularly in the capital city of Reykjavík.
According to the Reykjavík Grapevine website, on the afternoon of Oct. 27, the first day of winter, a number of restaurants serve people on the streets their own special variations of Iceland’s traditional lamb-and-vegetable soup, with some of the country’s top chefs competing to serve the best-tasting broth.
Not quite the World’s Strongest Soup competition, but probably pretty close.
That’s because in colder climates, meat-eating is essential. From turn-of-the-century polar explorers to Nordic herdsmen living above the Arctic Circle to the indigenous people of Canada’s vast expanse of Nunavut and The Northwest Territories — an area larger than Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah combined — meat was and is the centerpiece of people’s diets.
Granted, Scandinavians are known for consuming lots of salted fish and pickled herring, but it’s awfully difficult to survive, much less thrive, a winter season that lasts for eight months of the year living on only soybeans and salad.
Even if your local geyser is providing you all the hot water you can handle.