Articles in the For Fact’s Sake columns are – according to Google and the Duck ’n Fiddle’s Explanation of Everything – based on facts. Occasionally though, names and places have been changed to protect innocent people involved.

The Mighty Atom

We’ve all come across those ‘Strong Man’ contests on TV or in the papers, where huge brutes from around the world compete for the title of ‘The World’s Strongest Man’.

These raucously popular spectacles involving the regular vein-popping, sinew-snapping and tendon-tearing events, require various heavy objects to be lifted/pushed/thrown or pulled from one place to another. The fastest/heaviest/furthest wins. Judging by their expressions of excruciating pain, strain and anguish, the contestants certainly don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves. One wonders why they keep doing it. Foolhardy flattery, or fame and fortune?

Well, above the Old Harbour, Hermanus hosted its own regional Strong Man competition, and among others, two Duck ’n Fiddle regulars, Druiwe du Toit and Klippies Combrink entered.

Growing up on adjacent farms in Heaven’s Valley, they were bred tough. They’d been throwing tractor tyres to each other like frisbees for years, and played touch rugby with a bag of cement. Together they could lift Sparky Snyman’s Mini right off the ground – no sweat. Hell, even their muscles had muscles, so this competition would be a walk in the park.

Sadly, being deemed far too drunk, they were disqualified in the preliminaries by the eventual winner Johan Kruger, and as a prize, he received life-long membership to the Duck ’n Fiddle’s new 18-hole virtual golf course and pole-dancing academy.

Anyway, going global and back in time, we notice a strong flow of Viking blood coursing through the veins of many World Champs.  Perhaps the pristine Arctic waters give them those larger frames and bigger bulging muscles, making hurling boulders around a little bit easier. But the accolades must go to an extraordinary guy who earned a living as the world’s strongest man around a hundred years ago – without being Scandinavian.

Meet Joseph Greenstein. He weighed around 68kg and stood 1.6m in his socks. He was born prematurely and underweight, and contracted TB aged 14. On both occasions doctors gave him little chance of survival, but the ‘Strong Man’ from the local circus took him under his wing and taught him the skills required to become extremely strong through diet, exercise and mind control. For the next few years he did just that, and excelled in the art of becoming physically and mentally tough.

By the time he was about 20, he’d earned a reputation as a wrestler, and his family emigrated from Poland to America where he married the lovely Leah. A jealous would-be suitor shot him between the eyes from 10 metres, and witnesses claim that the bullet actually flattened on impact, leaving Jo with only a superficial wound on his forehead. This incident kicked off his career as ‘The Mighty Atom’ – The World’s Strongest Man.

His travelling show amazed people around the globe. He could change a tyre with his bare hands, and prevent an aeroplane from taking off with a rope tied to his hair. He would hammer nails into wood – palm down – with only a hanky round his hand, and bend steel bars, not only lengthwise, but into spirals with sheer strength and willpower. He could tie horseshoes into knots, and also pulled a two-ton truck 30 metres with his teeth. I’m not making this up.

He maintained that the brain instructs us to stop when the pain threshold is reached, but this is when he would accelerate his pressure and ignore the negative signals. At his shows he sold his various health elixirs and potions well into his eighties and died in 1977 aged 84 – without a drop of Scandinavian blood in his veins.

The Nordic Influence

As we know, the English language accumulated a lashing of many tongues from India through to Iceland, and here are some randomly chosen English words derived from the frozen Norse: mistake, mug, husband, rotten, fellow, knife, slaughter, happy, scant regret. Ladies, please don’t try this at home.

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