Blonde, blue-eyed and muscular. That was Jon Pall Sigmarsson. This white giant was born 1960 in Island. He was ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ and the national hero. Jon was quite famous for his strength and character. But in 1993 a tragedy occurred. This White Giant died while working out. He was only 33 years old and of course his death shocked the whole nation.
His muscles were buried but his legacy will live for centuries. Jon Pall Sigmarsson’s efforts will not have been in vain. He affected and influenced the today’s strongman generation.
Even ‘The Mountain’ Hafthor Bjornsson is looking up to Jon Pall. Probably he was influenced by him to start lifting weights. To pay tribute to Jon Pall he tattoed a portrait of him on his left leg. And above you can read Jon Pall’s most famous quote in the strongman history: ‘There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift’.
Life and Training
Jon Pall was born in a small fishing town called Hafnarfjörður on 28 April 1960. Jon was always surrounded by nature, good air, food and strong people.
Bob’s Family was strong and athletic. His fosterfather Svein Gudmundsson was a robust man. He was the Icelandic champion in glima (viking style wrestling) and held “The Belt of Grettir”. He worked hard in the construction business and applied good work habits. After a hard day’s work he still had energy left for wrestling!
He wanted to be like his fosterfather and Jon Pall (after turning ten) started working from dawn until dusk, carrying pails of water and assisting his fosterfather on seal hunts. Thus his body was primed for the heavy lifting in the future days. In Iceland the 12-13 year kids are used to work 8-10 hours a day!
Jon Pall wrestled until he was 12-13. During summer days he used to stay with his grandmother. She lived in a bigger town. In this period of time he tried team sports like soccer and hand ball. He even tried distance running.
But Jon realized that he didn’t like team sports. He said: “I felt that the team as a whole didn’t put their hearts into each task, and I hated that.”
1975 he quitted all group sports and started training with bullworker weights at home. He bought some oldschool magazines and training courses like ‘Strength & Health”, “Charles Atlas” and a book by George F. Jowett (probably his famous training course: “How to Mold a Mighty Chest/Grip..). He trained mostly without weights.
1976 he started training with barbells. He wanted a big chest for the summer days and thus he was more focused on the bench press. He also started Karate to become strong. He cited that he was not a muscle head. He did Karate to become more quicker and agile.
Around this period he quitted his job in the construction business and started working as a bouncer in a club in Reykjavik. But he still kept training. 1978 he joined a powerifting club and started olympic lifting. He decided to become really strong and enormous. He used to train the snatch and clean and jerk.
Jon Pall Sigmarsson: “It wasn’t till I was seventeen that I started lifting weights. To do better in sport I must lift weights! But at that time powerlifting was an up and coming thing and although I was becoming more and more involved with that I still wanted to have a good body at the same time. Normally when people think about strong men they think about big bellies. I wanted to show people that you can be strong without an ugly body.”
“But you know throughout my strength training for powerlifting I always did bodybuilding…more bodybuilding than powerlifters reckoned was allowed. More sets more different bodyparts. I took well to it, having a natural enough athletic shape anyway. I was crazy for training.”
But he started getting elbow problems and injured himself while jerking 251lb. He quitted olympic weightlifting and turned to powerlifting and made rapid progress
1979 17. Feb. First Competition
Weight Class 110kg/242lb
His best in powerlifting competition was in the year 1984
1984 Sigmarson decided to try bodybuilding. When he decided to enter the Iceland Bodybuilding Championships, he was weighing 275 lb of rough muscles. Many people laughed at the idea, especially the bodybuilders, but being of stubborn nature Sigmarsson literally stopped eating and lost bodyweight all the way down to 225lb. He was close to zero bodyfat and won the 1984 title. He also won the 1988 title Icelandic Bodybuilding Championship and this was his last one.
Most amazing feat is that Jón won these bodybuilding titles AND World’s Strongest Man those years too. Jon cutted his bodyweight 20-30 kg down and this affected Jon’s strength level, but The White Giant was still able to win. He was the greatest strongman that ever lived!
Jon Pall’s stats:
His grip strength is legendary. In the farmer walks he was able to go over 330 yards while holding 165lb. 551 lb deadlift with one hand. When he started training at sixteen he could lift 140 lb with his smallest finger.
1983 Jon was invited to Europe’s Strongest Man contest in Holland. He was not fully fit, having hurt an ankle while fooling around playing soccer, but he gave a good fight and finished third, behind Wulfse of Holland (who recently cracked the 2204lb in total) and Capes of England
World’s Strongest Man
Was invited to New Zealand for the contest 1983. Held in Christchurch. Pall won some events, placed well in others, and was a close second to Capes.
1984 World’s Strongest Man
Pall was getting fed up with second places. In January of 1984, the stage was set for the ‘1984 World’s Strongest Man’ contest. Jon was focused and ready for the events. He setted a world record in the caber toss, won several events and placed high in others. When it came to the second to the last event, ‘the stone lifting’, it was a duel between Sigmarsson and Capes. The deciding factor was one large stone, nearly 300lb and stubborn to lift.
First Capes came out, but as he tried to lift above his head, he narrowly missed. Sigmarsson strode out, ripped the unmoveable stone off the floor and easily pressed it! Then he screamed: “THE KING HAS LOST HIS CROWN”. In the next event a sad thing happened. Sigmarsson easily pinned Capes in arm wrestling but while doing so Capes ripped an arm muscle.
Jon Pall was now the world’s strongest man!
Jón Páll Sigmarsson came in 1st place at the 1988 WSM. Bill Kazmaier finished 2nd, and Jamie Reeves placed 3rd.
Jon Pall Sigmarsson: “I looked at him and I saw something totally new, a powerful man with a lot of experience. Kazmaier is something you see once in your lifetime. You look at him, huge traps, huge forearm, a rough looking man but with tremendous strength!”
“The night before the competition I went over all the events working out all the points and even though I always placed myself low – always making it tough for myself…I always won, in my mind. So, I couldn’t loose, no way!”
“The competition was really well balanced, I thought. They took points off me because I have a very good grip, but I didn’t worry about it. Now Kazmaier is the greatest deadlifter ever and at pressing overhead. In the competition when I won ‘his’ events, I knew I was going to win.”
“But he is the greatest sportsman and he gave me to wear his T-shirt which he brought from the States saying ‘There can only be ONE World’s Strongest Man.’
In the year 1992 he won 13 strongman competitions. Around october he stopped competing in Iceland because of injuries.
On 16 January 1993, Jón Páll died of an aortic rupture while deadlifting in his own gym, “Gym 80” in Reykjavík. He completed a set of deadlifts and after lifting he felt dizzy. He tried sitting on the chair to catch his breath but missed it, collapsed and died.
The funeral of Jon was in Reykjavik. More than 1200 people attended it. Athletes, musicians, actors from all over Europe. Jon was well-known and loved through the whole world.
Brian Batcheldor was one of Jon’s friends and he wrote this:
“Jon Pall Sigmarsson – our King is dead.
I will never forget the expression on thousands of children’s faces as the news broke over the microphone the next day at a strongman show in Finnland. Nor will I ever forget the hauning sound of the lone trumpet playing “Amazing Grace” at the end of Jon Pall’s funeral service as over a thousand pairs of eyes filled uncontrollably with tears.”
The Viking was laid to rest January the 16th, 1993 at 4:14 pm.
PL USA 1988 MARCH; interview w. JP
Muscle Mag 1988 Aug.; interview w. JP