William “Bill ” Kazmaier was born on 30th December 1953 in Burlington, Wisconsin. Despite being the youngest of his siblings – Kazmaier had two sisters, one brother and a half brother- Kazmaier was a keen athlete throughout his childhood. He played football at Burlington High School and held the school’s records in both the 100 metre dash and the shot-put. Kazmaier struggled to achieve high grades at school and often advises young weightlifters to;
“train hard and hit the books harder”.
Despite these academic difficulties Kazmaier was admitted to the University of Wisconsin where he played football for two years. However, in 1974 Kazmaier dropped out of school to concentrate on his power lifting career. He frequently attended the Madison YMCA where he honed his power lifting technique and was also inspired by a Bible verse in Psalms 40. In recent years Kazmaier has stated that this was a period of spiritual awakening for him and that it fuelled his passion and determination to succeed in power lifting.
During these early years Kazmaier was employed in a myriad of roles in order to earn a living and pursue his power lifting ambitions. He worked as a oil rigger, bouncer and a lumberjack amongst other professions before he achieved national recognition as a formidable power lifter in 1979.
Power Lifting Career
Kazmaier’s first national championships power lifting success came in 1978 when he participated in the Amateur Athletic Union competition in Los Angeles, California. In the 275lbs weight class Kazmaier squatted 782 lbs, bench pressed 534lbs, and dead lifted 804lbs.
After this impressive win Kazmaier stayed in Southern California. Despite his staggering feats of physical strength Kazmaier struggled to earn a living and was often homeless. Fortunately Terry Todd, a kinesiology professor at Auburn University, recognised Kazmaier’s power lifting potential and brought him to Auburn in 1979 where he equipped Kazmaier with a place to live, meals and power lifting training facilities. In return Kazmaier helped support the National Strength Research Centre that Todd was in the process of founding with Mike Stone, John Garhammer, and Tom McLaughlin. Before competing in the American Power Lifting Championships and the IPF (International Power Lifting Federation) World Championship Kazmaier worked in Opelika for barbell manufacturers Diversified Products. As part of his job Kazmaier would represent the company in power lifting competitions as well as making appearances at sporting goods trade shows.
In 1979 Kazmaier became the best power lifter in the world by winning both the American Power Lifting Championships and the IPF World Championship in the super-weight class. At the age of 25 Kazmaier set the world benching press record with a weight of 622 lbs. He then went on to become the first human being ever to bench press over 660 lbs. During this time Kazmaier also participated in numerous Highland Games competitions. At 1979 Braemar Gathering in Aberdeenshire, Scotland he tossed a 560lbs weight 16 feet 2 inches over a pole-vault standard. He was also the first man ever to lift all five MacGlashen Stones at the Highland Games and is still the only man ever to lift the Thomas Inch Dumbbell overhead; a 173lbs dumbbell with a handle two and a half inches thick! When asked what it was like to lift Kazmaier compared it to “driving a golf ball 1000 yards”.
Between 1979 and 1983 Kazmaier dominated the power lifting scene. In May 1980 he set 18 world records at a World Series of Power Lifting event in Auburn; one of which was a 633lbs bench press. In January 1981 Kazmaier set the IPF and USPF (United States Power Lifting Federation) Senior American record total in power lifting of 1100kg (2420lbs) in Columbus, Georgia; a record which he still holds to this day. Furthermore, he also won the IPF World Championship again in 1983 in Gothenburg, Sweden whereupon he squatted 848 lbs, benched 501 lbs and dead lifted 799lbs; all with a severe pec injury. However, the most impressive aspect of all of Kazmaier’s power lifting feats is the fact that they were achieved without the use of a bench shirt, a squat suit, or any of the modern lifting attire that modern day athletes currently use to improve their weightlifting capabilities.
By this time in his career Bill Kazmaier was acknowledged by many within the power lifting profession as the world’s strongest man. However, to officially claim this title he would need to compete in the renowned World Strongest Man (WSM) Championships. Kazmaier first competed in the WSM event in 1979 when the competition was held in Studio City, California. Kazmaier was awarded third place overall; with American Don Reinhoudt being awarded first place and Swedish competitor Lars Hedlund being awarded second place.
Kazmaier returned to the fourth edition of the WSM competition in 1980 which was held in Vernon, New Jersey. Kazmaier dominated the contest; winning with a total of 102.4 points whilst Lars Hedlund earned second place with 74 points and Briton Geoff Capes earned third place with 69.5 points. The contest comprised of ten events out of which Kazmaier won six; the Overhead Log Lift (which he tied with Hedlund by lifting 346lbs), the Engine Race (wherein he carried 800lbs over a 150 feet uphill course), the Steel Bar Bend wherein he was the only contestant who could bend the two bends of the bar 5 inches together), the Girl Squat Lift (wherein he squatted a 934lbs Smith machine with Playboy girls on top), the Silver Dollar Dead Lift (wherein he lifted 956lbs 18 inches off the floor with straps allowed) and the Tug Of War event (which he won out of the four best competitors).
The 1981 WSM competition was held in Magic Mountain, California, and it marked Kazmaier’s second WSM title. He won with 96 points against Geoff Capes’ 88 points and fellow American Dave Waddington’s 72.5 points. Kazmaier’s 1981 WSM win is even more impressive when you consider that he overstrained and tore a pectoral muscle in the contest’s Steel Bar Bend event. Despite this injury, Kazmaier went on to dead lift 426kg (940lbs) twice. Combine this feat with his 163kg (360lbs) press in the Log Lift and Kazmaier truly earned his 1981 title as the World’s Strongest Man.
The 1982 WSM contest was held once more in Magic Mountain, California. This contest was a landmark event both for Kazmaier and the WSM organisation because it marked the first time ever that a contestant had won the title three times. In fact, it was during this competition that Kazmaier proclaimed himself to be;
“the strongest man alive”.
Kazmaier won with a highly respectable 91 points to Canadian Tom Magee’s 78 points and American John Gamble’s 69.5 points. Once again Kazmaier dominated the contest; he easily won the first two events, achieved joint first in the Dead Lift event with a weight of 478kg(1055lbs) and although he did not win against Dave Waddington in the final Sumo event, he had earned enough points throughout the contest to comfortably claim his third WSM title.
Despite his formidable strength and impressive technique Kazmaier was not invited back to the 1983 WSM competition that was held in Christchurch, New Zealand. Many athletes and fans of strongman competitions suggested that Kazmaier was not invited back because he was dominating the contest and the organisers wanted to move away from American tradition in order to expand WSM into an international event.
Regardless of this WSM dismissal, Kazmaier competed in various other strongman competitions as well as participating in the WFL (World Football League) and thus retained his reputation as the strongest man alive. He competed in Le Defi Mark Ten International strongman championships; being awarded first place in 1987 and second place in 1990, he won the Strongbow Strongman challenge in both 1980 and in 1981, he reigned supreme at the Scottish Strongman competition; winning every contest that was held between 1984 and 1989, he won the World Muscle Power Classic (WMPC) in 1988 and he also won the two-man Pure Strength strongman team challenge twice; winning first in 1988 with Stuart Thompson and again in 1990 with Oders Dell “O.D” Wilson.
Although Kazmaier was eventually invited to compete in the 1988 WSM contest he
did not win another title; instead being awarded second place after narrowly losing out to Icelandic strongman legend Jon Pall Sigmarsson. Kazmaier scored 51 points to Sigmarsson’s 56 points and Briton Jamie Reeves was awarded third place with 47.5 points. Kazmaier competed in the WSM contest once more in San Sebastián, Spain in 1989 but he severely injured his ankle in the first event. The culmination of this injury with a pre-existing ripped bicep injury resulted in Kazmaier only achieving fourth place in the 1989 contest. However, despite this loss Kazmaier went on to become only the fifth person ever to lift the aforementioned Thomas Inch Dumbbell above the knee on 13th October 1990.
Ultimately, his cacophony of WSM titles, power lifting world records and strongman titles earned Kazmaier worldwide recognition throughout the 1980s as the strongest man alive. Kazmaier even had superhuman eyesight; possessing 20/13 in one eye and 20/11 in the other! In fact, Kazmaier’s physical capabilities were so staggering that they even amazed scientists and sparked a wealth of research whilst he worked as the Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Auburn. As matters stand Kazmaier is one of the most studied humans in history. It is even believed that his brute strength and physical power formed the basis for the Holden Thesis; a scientific paper which debated how Sauropod dinosaurs could not stand and would simply be crushed by their own weight in our present world.
Although he no longer professionally competes in strongman competitions, Kazmaier continues to support the sport as an ESPN commentator for the World’s Strongest Man competition. During his strongman career Kazmaier had opened the KAZ Fitness Centre in Auburn with assistance from barbell manufacturers Diversified Products. Kazmaier continued to support this business long after he retired from professional strongman competitions and, when this business closed in 2005, Kazmaier opened another two fitness centres in Opelika and Lee County; both of which were titled SWAT Gym. As well as pursuing his commentating career and managing his fitness centres Kazmaier is also an active public speaker who frequently hosts motivational conferences for 3D Sports Tech. Through these speeches Kazmaier is able to use his celebrity status and staggering lifetime achievements to inspire younger generations to pursue healthy and productive lives.