2020 ‘World’s Strongest Man’ Oleksii Novikov: ‘Power Is in the Mind’

World's Strongest Man
Hector Vivas/World's Strongest Man

While some of us are struggling just to get off the sofa, other folks are lifting things. Heavy things. In fact, Oleksii Novikov of Ukraine was recently crowned 2020 SBD World’s Strongest Man, standing atop the podium in Bradenton, Florida, at last after COVID-related delays and postponements. The 24-year-old made history as the youngest competitor to win since 1984 and the first representative from the country since Vasyl Virastyuk, the 2004 victor. And he broke a deadlift record!

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Rounding out the results was runner-up Tom Stoltman of Great Britain and JF Caron of Canada in third place. This year’s WSM took place in November without spectators, although viewers were able to watch the competition unfold throughout December on the CBS Sports Network and CBS. Coming off his milestone win, Novikov (through translation) talked to us about his journey to success.

World's Strongest Man

Hector Vivas/World’s Strongest Man

What inspired you to enter strongman competitions?

Oleksii Novikov: I was raised in a sports atmosphere. As a child, I had an opportunity to watch the training of our Ukrainian athletes in my yard, because my grandfather made equipment for them. My sports passion started when I was 14, and I just really love strongman.

You are the youngest competitor to win in 36 years and second ever from Ukraine. What does hearing that mean to you?

Of course, I’m very proud to represent Ukraine and to show the world the power of Ukrainians. Yes, I’m the youngest—and that means I have a lot more to achieve.

You also break a longstanding record for the deadlift with 1,185 pounds.

I felt awesome when I realized I did it. To be honest, I only had one training of this exact deadlift before the competition. It went well, but I wasn’t planning anything special. Somehow, I just did it.

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It was a close final with the top spots mere points apart. What do you think gave you the edge?

I can say for sure that power is in the mind. After the first events, I got a feeling of confidence, and it never left me after that. I just enjoyed it and did everything I could to win.

How did the postponements in May impact training for the event, especially having to maintain a rigorous schedule as you prepared?

Those postponements had both positive and negative impacts simultaneously. We almost lost the whole season of competitions, but on the other hand, I can say that I had more time to rest, to heal old injuries and to recover.

World's Strongest Man

Hector Vivas/World’s Strongest Man

Did you have to adjust your game plan heading in because it took place in a different season? How do you think the Florida weather affected the competitors?

I didn’t change my plan—I was just training and getting ready. To me, the weather was even better than it might have been in summer because it wasn’t hot. Cool weather was a pleasant bonus—it was easier to breathe and recover after events.

What was your biggest challenge in the competition?

Deadlift was the best event for me but at the same time the hardest. When you lift such weights, you already can’t feel anything, [so] you just wait for the referee’s signal.

How did you celebrate the big win?

That evening I called my family and my girlfriend. I cried and was incredibly happy. When I came to Ukraine, I celebrated a few times with family, friends and other friends. People still continue congratulating me, and I am so happy to share this joy.

World's Strongest Man

Hector Vivas/World’s Strongest Man

What’s next for you?

Working hard is always what’s next: more competitions, more training. I hope to develop interest in Strongman in my country and all over the world. I have a lot of dreams to make come true, goals to achieve, and I will continue to work on them.

What do you think is the future of the sport as it gains new fans?

I hope for a great future for Strongman. This sport is spectacular and it is all about strength, which is always valued in the world at any time. I want everyone to understand and realize that it is not only about brutal physical strength, it is even more about the force in the mind. You don’t have to be the biggest to be the strongest. Tackle the high goals and do everything dependent on you to achieve them.