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There weren't many performing "strongwomen" ...but there were a few, one of the greatest of whom was Athleta Van Huffelen, of Belgium. In the late 1800's, her solo act at the Eden Alhambra Theater in Brussels caused quite a stir in the strength world as she performed feats that, at the time, were thought all but impossible for a woman.
Athleta lifted barrels, bent horseshoes and spikes, and, as shown above, danced a waltz while supporting three men and a loaded barbell on her shoulders. The French strength historian Professor Desbonnet had never seen anything like it, so much so that he listed Athleta among the great strength athletes in his classic book "The Kings of Strength."
Yes, they knew all about "functional" training way back in 1906. There's nothing more "functional" than sawing wood (the best exercise known to man, indeed). Chopping a couple cords before dinner will put some hair on your chest but when you can't always make it out to the wood pile grab one of "Bailey's Rubber Exercisers" instead. Now you can go to town in the comfort of your own living room. Perhaps we can see about coming up with something similar?
A look at John Grunn Marx about to break a chain with the arm that broke three horseshoes in two minutes and 15 seconds. Marx did a lot of training with thick-handled barbells and dumbbells which gave him a grip of steel, in fact, that was the title of a grip course that he wrote: "The Grip of Steel. The Complete Science of Hand and Forearm Training."
If there ever were a "bar belle" it was Abbye "Pudgy" Stockton. (She aquired the nickname "Pudgy" as a child and it stuck.) "Pudgy" was anything but, she weighed 115 pounds at a height of 5'2" and, as you can see, was quite the physical specimen -- especially impressive at a time when weightlifting for either gender was frowned upon.
She and husband Les Stockton were well known at the first "Muscle Beach" at Santa Monica, California where they primarily worked on acrobatics and gymnastic feats
for the crowds.
Aside from being a frequent contributor to Strength and Health Magazine, Pudgy also helped organize the very first weight lifting contect for women through the AAU. In that contest, Stockton pressed 100 pounds, snatched 105 pounds, and clean and jerked 135 pounds.
Here's an unusual handbalancing feat from an old postcard. Unfortunately the names of these gentlemen is lost to the sands of time, but this is a truly excellent feat, one I have actually never seen before. The coordination and intense focus required to pull this one off is tremendous.
In 1912, the Austrian government issued a 4 Heller stamp honoring the great strength champion Karl Swoboda who had just won the world weightlifting championship the year before. It's not hard to see why one of the lifts that won him the title was a right arm military press of 154-1/2 pounds.
Here's a sport you don't see these days, at least not around these parts: Barrel Rolling. Many competitive events started off as "work" and this is a perfect example. Long before mechanical machinery, heavy lifting had to be done by hand and in the vineyards of France, the quickest way to move a wine barrel from was to roll it on its edge here to there. Well, as these things go, one fine day, one gentleman said that he could roll a barrel farther and faster than all his friends and soon it turned into a full-fledged contest. It became very popular, so much so that the different areas of France had their own tournaments culminating with the championship held in Paris.
It takes strength as well as dexterity to keep a rolling barrel under control and moving in a straight line. The champions of this sport could keep their barrel moving while at a full sprint. Some places in France still have these contests.
One of the more colorful Canadian Strongmen was "The Great Antonio" who lived most of his life in Montreal. Antonio was known to pull several city buses at once, sometimes with his hair and could lift a truck. The photo above is unfortunately cropped, otherwise you'd be able to see the other dozen or so people that Antonio is supporting haning on the telephone pole on his shoulder.
Antonio also certainly lived up to his "Grand" nickname, usually tipping the scales somewhere between four and five hundred pounds at a height of 6' 6". He also toured Japan as a professional wrestler.
How outstanding is this picture? Shown here is Pete George's final press of 122.5 kg at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games... enough to put him in the lead, at least temporarily. George had to settle for silver though as a few minutes later he was overtaken by Fyodor Bogdanovsky of the Soviet Union who eventually took the gold with a 420 kg total (75kg weight class.) If you look very closely, you can see Bob Hoffman in the crowd.