An Interview with Andrew Lanter
Director of Special Events at the International Management Group, which owns Trans World International, and Director of the American Strongman Finals
Webmaster's Notes: This conversation took place on January 23rd 1998. Because the interview was not recorded, these are not direct quotes but rather paraphrases of our lengthy conversation. Where it is both accurate and appropriate, I took direct quotes from Mr. Lanter. I found Mr. Lanter to be very professional, kind, candid and genuinely interested in the sport and the welfare of the sport and most importantly the athletes.
Lanter: Hey Justin How are you?
ASL: Good yourself?
Lanter: Good. How can I help you?
ASL: Basically I would like to basically ask you some questions about the World's Strongest man if that is OK?
Lanter: That's fine. I'll try my best to answer them.
Lanter: I thought that the production this year for the American Competition far surpassed any production that we have done to date. I attribute that to Mr. Lanne and Ms. Weinberg who were the director and the assistant to the director as far as the look it had, the graphics and such. Hal Connolly, who as you know, was one of the originators of the World's Strongest Man. He came back to do the special version of it. He selected the competitors, the competition and basically put it all together with IMG and TWI.
ASL: I really liked Bill Kazmaier as the color announcer. He was great.
Lanter: That was a decision that I made to get him involved. We were actually deciding between two people: Bruce Wilhelm and Bill Kazmaier.
ASL: Oh. That's a tough choice.
Lanter: It's a tough choice but Kazmaier is more 80's. And basically what the event came down to was a fusion of the 80's style of the first BBC taking over the show and the 70's style that TWI New York gave the show. Basically we wanted to fuse the two elements and go a little retro because everything is going back to the times of the 70's now in culture in the US, but we still wanted to capture the events of the 80's that TWI UK initiated. So we basically did a fusion of the two decades and we got our two offices working together on it. It was a success.
ASL: Yeah, I thought so too. Now, I'd like to ask some background information. What is your position?
Lanter: I am the Director of Special Events and Director of the American Strongman Final.
ASL: How and when did you first become involved in the World's Strongest Man Competition?
Lanter: This year, I got involved. It was almost by fluke. I got involved because Magnus ver Magnusson was originally supposed to do an appearance on Dave Letterman's show for his birthday special. We put together something with the Letterman show that highlighted World's Strongest Man, not just as a sporting event but as an entertaining sporting event where we had Magnus do a couple of lifts. We had Magnus lift 500 of ground beef and 300 pounds of beer, Mugapul and Sarajewel (sic) on the scale. We thought that we were really on to something with the entertainment value of the show. You can take this event to any site and you can gear the events to the surroundings. Las Vegas you can do stuff with slot machines and showgirls. You can do things that capture the Ritz and glitz of Las Vegas. The silver dollar lift can all be done in a Las Vegas atmosphere. What is unique is that we did it outside of Vegas at the Pimmadonna because we wanted to showcase that resort. The people that this resort pulls in really fit into the World's Strongest Man demographics. I thought we had the best of both worlds. So, I became involved in the entertainment value of the show. Mr. Frank who was the originator of the show is the Senior Vice-President of Trans World International which is the television arm of IMG. He realized that he became passionate about the project and made me his right hand man and coordinator for the events. Basically we ran with it from there to work with TWI UK and Hal Connolly who was hired as a special consultant for the event as an event director. He put together a brand new show for 1998 season. ESPN loves the show. We already got tremendous, tremendous kudos from them for the American competition and the look we gave it. It was something we did because a lot of American's felt alienated because historically there were no US competitors in it. There were only foreigners: Icelandic and Scandinavians dominate the sport. They do so because they are more exposed to these type of competitions than the US competitors are. They have 15 or 20 of these types of competitions with the World's Strongest Man being the epitome of it all. There is the World Muscle Power Championship. These guys are constantly using and seeing the special equipment. They have the training access and familiarity with them, where the US strongmen do not. In the US you have Iron Bear Collins at it and Phil Martin at it, but these were not the two best competitors that emerged. Philippi ran away with the American Strongman finals and I think he finished sixth in the finals if I am not mistaken. For a US competitor to finish that high up in the Finals is a pretty big accomplishment because the Scandinavians dominate this sport. It's an over-seas sport. ESPN feels it is on to something. Once you are on that channel, you're not going to flip it because you just want to see what these people are doing.
ASL: Is there any officially licensed World's Strongest Men Competition merchandise?
Lanter: No. Not of as yet. That is another area we are looking into. We are discussing the prospects with two sites for this year's US competition where merchandise will be available. There is a market for it but we have to get a better feeling for that. Next year's event will definitely be tied into some sort of licensed agreement with merchandise.
ASL: You already briefly mentioned that the competitors were picked by Hal Connolly. I was wondering if you could go into a little more detail.
Lanter: Hal Connolly was the hammer throw champion, gold medalist and competed in three Olympics and originated the World's Strongest Man. Hal Connolly met with strength and conditioning coaches. He got recommendations from Randall Strossen from Milo magazine. He went on an all out process of recruiting the top eight competitors for the US competition. There were other people we wanted but we could not get because of conflicts or the events. Like Mark Henry we wanted but he couldn't. It was a selection process of him [Hal Connolly] scouting the strength and conditioning world for the eight best prospects.
ASL: Do you have any sort of input with the events or the various apparatus used?
Lanter: There is no unilateral decision as to what the events are going to be. There are just recommendations. There is a whole process of evaluation as to what would be the best events for World's Strongest Man. Basically, there are meetings and committee decisions as to what the events are going to be and also beyond that there is input from the executive committee beyond that. There is also input from the site as far as what is doable. A lot of events will be repeating put you will see them in a different setting.
ASL: Like the power stairs. I saw in 1996 and it was on again this year with more steps and higher steps too. It made it a lot harder to complete. Plus the sun made it pretty close to impossible.
Lanter: Let me think. In the US Competition there was a little hesitancy to do the Sumo Challenge because of the camaraderie amongst the guys. They were all cheering each other on through three days of competition. Then, you turn them on each other in the final event. There was hesitancy to do it. You think all of these guys are big and strong and tough and they are really looking to capture the championship, but they are really gentle giants with compassion for one another and realize what they are doing are incredible feats of strength. There is such a camaraderie amongst the competitors that you see guys that are so big when you see them walking down the street that you say, "Oh my God!", but they really are gentle giants that really don't want to inflict personal harm on another and are compassionate towards one another. That is what makes the Sumo Challenge such a unique event. There was a whole thing that they really didn't want to do it. Then, Kazmaier basically made them familiar with the event and its tradition. Plus, he told them it would only last a few seconds. The risk of injury is not tremendous. It takes a lot out of you.
ASL: Can you tell me where next year's World's Strongest Man Competition will be?
Lanter: I can't tell you because it is not totally confirmed yet. There are a couple of sites still bidding. It may go overseas. It may stay in the US for one more year. The US competition will stay in the states. It will be televised on ESPN. I can't release it until it is 100% firm. Let's put it this way, this year's competition will be very very unique. It will have a very unique thematic twist to it. There will be an underlying theme that will make it very unique.
ASL: Great. I can't wait.
Lanter: I can't tell you what it is but when you hear it will be pretty cool.
ASL: There has been a lot of talk around the internet, and I know the internet is not the most reliable source of information, but there is a lot of debate about Bill Kazmaier not being invited to the World's Strongest Man Competition for several years while he was in his prime.
Lanter: That was before my time so I couldn't comment about that because I don't know the history involved. I really don't know what happened to be honest. I think Bill would be a better source for that. I think that anything that happened in the past is in the past in Bill's mind. Bill is a great guy. Bill became a personal friend of mine at World's Strongest Man where everyone has horror stories with the political problems that are involved in international competition. It's always possible that one country might want to try to screw over another and showcase their elite. The truth of the matter is Bill's state of mind about the World's Strongest Man is different than it was in the past. He is very supportive of the guys. Basically, he was brought on because they look up to him with the utmost respect. He has Magnus ver Magnusson in his corner looking for advice from him because he is probably looked at with Jon Pall as the top two strongest men of all time. I know there was an issue. That is all I can say. There was some sort of issue that Bill wasn't happy with. Anything that happened in the past is in the past and Bill is very happy to be a part of World's Strongest Man in the capacity he is in right now. It brings him back to his roots. He is nostalgic about it. He is really appreciative about it. He is appreciated by ESPN, the competitors and World's Strongest Men. It was probably the smartest decision made as far as to bring him in to the US Strongman finals. He is happy about it. We know that. Our relationship is moving forward with Bill
ASL: There are claims, and I don't know how true they are, that Magnus ver Magnusson claims that he was systematically discriminated against in the heats. That is also why Riku Kiri and Gerrit Badenhorst didn't make it through to the finals. Can you comment?
Lanter: You hear these stories of this or that guy being screwed over or he was put into this heat instead of another or he was competing against his countrymen or the events weren't good. The truth of the matter is that the international qualifying round is a very very very very very hard. Basically it is a round that you have to be at your very best. There are four events for a total of six individuals. If you have a bad event, you're screwed. It shows how you really have to be at the top of your game for that. If something goes wrong well... The equipment doesn't discriminate. It doesn't say I'm going to screw up for Magnus ver Magnusson. You can't pick the top disciplines for certain fields or it is an unfair advantage. You want to make it as fair as possible. You will always have problems with equipment, but as long as it is across the board. As long as it doesn't discriminate against or for one guy. The truth of the matter is Magnus is a great champion and when a great champion falls a lot of people start asking questions. There are a lot of up and coming guys like Jouko Ahola, Magnus Samuelsson and Mark Philippi who are really hungry for the title. Sometimes when you fall you look for the excuse. NOW, I'M NOT SAYING MAGNUS DID THAT! That's the public perception: Magnus, Gerrit and Riku didn't make it into the final round so there has got to be something wrong with the system. It's not necessarily a question of the system, but desire and not necessarily peaking. Who wants to be the next Magnus? You have to recognize that there are other guys who are younger and want that title that are going to be working just as hard and it is going to come a little easier to them because they are a little younger. Magnus was not healthy and had the flu. He was not at his top level. Riku was injured prior and the same thing for Gerrit. THIS IS NOT TO MAKE EXCUSES FOR THEIR PERFORMANCES!! There were mitigating circumstances with a lot of hungry guys out there that really want the title and want to take it from Magnus. Torfi Olafsson put on a spectacular show. So what do you do? There was no discriminatory process to eliminate anybody. The best case scenario for us from a television stand point would have been if Magnus was in the finals. The best would have been Magnus versus Mark Phillipi, American champion who was Las Vegas bred, in the finals. There were a lot of disappointed people who came down to the finals thinking that Magnus was in the finals. If we were to show it live then nobody would have watched or came down. So, from our side it would not make sense to eliminate Magnus. Is it good to have a new champion? Sure. Magnus is the guy to beat. He's the machine. So, why would you want to eliminate or alienate that element? He's basically the name and the face that everyone associates with the World's Strongest Man. I can't think of one reason why World's Strongest Man as an organization would want to eliminate Magnus. You have to make it a fair event. Sometimes champions, like Magnus, have it really tough. Too much is expected of them. When you win it's like, "Sure, he won, he's Magnus." But if you lose it's like what's wrong with Magnus or the system. Even Michael Jordan misses a shot now and then. He can't gain he can only lose. I think Magnus will be back in full force next year. It was a wake-up call to him. The competition is getting more intense. I think Riku will come back too. The champion had a bad day. He just didn't fall. He'll be back. In no way was he or anyone forced out. Anybody can have a bad day which means maybe not this year for him, but next.
ASL: Here is my last question. Who is your favorite American strongman and who is your favorite international strongman?
Lanter: I really don't have a favorite. There are certain people that I have relationships with that are independent of the competition. Magnus and I have a two year relationship now on a friendship level outside of World's Strongest Man. Magnus is a first class individual through and through. He has a great sense of humor. He is very knowledgeable. He is very well respected and worldly too. Mark Phillipi and I have a great relationship. Mark was very instrumental in helping bring the events to Vegas. He helped the British staff get the equipment they needed. Mark is a classy individual through and through. His personality shines on TV. He is very soft spoken and professional. Everything is focused on the competition. I think the highlight of the competition to show what a competitor he is, by day 3 we already knew that Mark qualified for the finals. He could have relaxed. He didn't need to enter the Sumo challenge. He did and went hard with the Chief. Why did he do it? Because he is a competitor through and through and he wanted to go for the highest possible points just to prove something to himself. He risked injury. He could have just rested up for the finals. He is a warrior. He is an excellent, excellent, excellent spokesperson for US Competitors. He is really passionate about the sport. He is an all-round nice person. Anything that we asked before the competition he really helped. He was always available 24-7. He is a classy individual. I think next year that whoever the American competitors are, the world is in for a run on its money. He [Mark] is one of those guys who doesn't quit and takes it to the next level. He squatted 980 pounds. He and Iron Bear are the strongest. As far as squat, those two are heads and shoulders above the pack. Mark showed everyone that in the finals. I mean these guys couldn't keep up with him. He had the mental aspect that Magnus had. I think those two are the two most mental competitors when it comes to thinking it through. They are thinkers and that is what it is all about. It's not just size and strength. It is about psyching yourself up mentally.
ASL: I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me.
Lanter: Sure, anytime.