“I think powerlifting competitions should ban PEBs,” said Hafþór Björnsson. “Performance enhancing babies detract from the clean nature of the sport.”
Photo by Connor Betterly
On March 10, contestant Birna Sterkkona won the powerlifting tournament and game show Do You Even Lift, Bro? with a world record standard-equipped deadlift of 505 kg (1,113.3 lbs). Her choice of equipment for the competition included a belt and — in a controversial first for powerlifting competitions — her 2-year-old son Fulþór, who she positioned under the bar.
Some viewers expressed concerns for Fulþór’s health and safety, while others asked whether he was “actually stuck under the bar” or if it was “just for show.” One viewer said, “I was afraid Birna would give ‘deadlift’ new meaning, but when she got the bar off Fulþór she really lifted my spirits.” Others commented that the child — who is 25 cm from back to sternum (or “as thick as the standard height of a bar off the ground,” according to Sterkkona) — was “shockingly massive for a toddler,” and “overwhelming evidence for Lamarckism.”
Powerlifting competitors have also been split on Sterkkona’s use of Fulþór as equipment. Harold “Big Greg” Johnson — who was invited to compete but was unable to attend on account of his pregnant girlfriend Barbara Bell going into labor before the competition — said, “Birna is a genius. If I had thought of it, I could’ve had Barb lie under the bar and been able to compete and be present for my daughter’s birth simultaneously.” Conversely, runner-up contestant and former world record holder Hafþór Björnsson said, “It’s cheating. The kid isn’t equipment, he’s another person, so really it’s like if two of me were to lift the weights together. I think if you zoom in on the video you’ll see that Fulþór puts his hands on the bar as Sterkkona lifts it —clearly an assisted lift.”
Sterkkona explained her technique in a post-win interview. “I’ve trained Fuller from birth so he could grow big enough to be trapped under the bar without it actually harming him,” said Sterkkona. “I’ve planned for this win since I knew I was pregnant with Fulbert, honing my body — and more importantly, my motherly instincts — for years. The only reason I could do this is because I’m such a loving mother to my son, um … Fulgencio.”
“It’s true that in life-or-death circumstances a parent can exhibit a phenomenon called ‘hysterical strength’ to save their child,” said Dr. Brian Braun, professor of kinesiology at UCLA. “But hysterical strength is not something that we can conjure up at will. To utilize it, Birna would have needed to believe that Fulþór’s life was legitimately in danger, which seems unlikely given the whole setup was contrived.” In response to Dr. Braun’s comments, Sterkkona said, “I was hysterical. If I had lost my precious Fulcrum, how could I possibly use him to win future competitions?”
Despite discouragement from child safety advocates, other powerlifters have already begun to announce that they too will bring their children to their next competitions. Sterkkona herself has said that she will continue to use this strategy and that, “to make the danger even more real next time,” she plans on incorporating a “slowly-moving laser death trap.”