Joe Roark's

The HUGE library of Iron History compiled by Joe Roark.


Welcome to Iron History with Joe Roark!  

Joe Roark has been studying the iron game since 1957, and by 1970 began a systematic gathering of information on index cards. By the time his first computer was acquired, there were several hundred thousand references to be typed into it.

For a few years he published his own newsletter called MuscleSearch: The Roark Report. By 1992 he was appointed as the IFBB Men's Bodybuilding Historian, and began writing about history for FLEX in his column Factoids. For ten years he contributed to Iron Game History from the U of Texas at Austin. Recently he also began writing All Our Yesterdays for FLEX.

His passion has always been the period between 1880 and 1920, with particular emphasis on the oldtime strongmen of that era. Joe will be offering bits of history for Cyberpump once per week, and the text will be relevant to the dates of the calendar for those events of yesteryear relevant to the coming week.

In this column, readers will also be able to ask Joe questions or comment on his posts.  Note: The comments are solely for interaction between Joe and the readers only -- not reader to reader.

Apollon 4

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

In the year 2000 when Kim Wood purchased the original Inch 172 lb dumbell from David Prowse, the bell left England for its very first time. It arrived at Kim's home where I measured it, juggled it from hand to hand (sorry, I was dreaming about that part), and looked it over carefully on May 27, 2001 and took exact measurements. Thus the bell, which I calculate was cast circa 1906 (not earlier), and which had become the most famous bell in England during that interim, left a void among British grip men which Alan Radley and Steve Gardener decided to fill.

The two men, considering the year, named their new bell the Millennium Bell, and it was cast as close as possible to what we know about the Professor Desbonnet dumbell which Apollon is credited with almost snatching one handed, which is to say, the handle is 60mm, (2.38") in diameter, and the weight is approximately 226 lbs. It is solid, non-revolving, and is murderously difficult to separate from the floor using only one hand. So difficult in fact that only two men have so far caused that divorce, Steve, and pro wrestler Mark Henry. But it was a trial separation and the floor soon re-mated with the bell.

Mark Henry is also the man who in 2002 cleaned and then push pressed a replica of the Inch 172 lb bell- becoming the first man to perform this feat without the aid of a knee kick. Mark used only his right hand.

For decades, Thomas Inch, the man who had the 172 bell cast, claimed that only he could perform the feat- no other strongman of any bodyweight, of any country, of any reputation could even so much as get the 172 to stop kissing the floor upon which it sat. We now know that Inch did not overhead lift it either, but instead substituted one of his identical bells of lesser weight, and further, that he did not mention the requirement of cleaning the bell with one hand and then overheading it until other men began to be able to deadlift it, or at least elevate it a few inches. So, in his old age he seemed to change the requirements after others began to lift it off the floor.

Inch was, of course, very selective regarding which strongmen he allowed to try to lift the bell. The very grip men who would have had a realistic chance at succeeding never laid a hand on the bell. After Saxon died, Inch claimed that Saxon was never able to separate the bell from the floor PERIOD. As David Willoughby pointed out, to consider that Inch's grip strength was superior to Saxon's is unthinkable. Saxon had very long hands, Inch did not.

Another strongman with long hands, and a grip superior to even Saxon, was Apollon.

In installments 1,2, and 3, we have outlined some of Apollon's feats, which, I believe any thinking person will decide demonstrate how easily Apollon would have toyed with 172 lbs- which was four lbs less than the 176 pound block weight with ring handle that he often, very often, lifted during his performances in a one snatch, and the dimensions of which would have necessitated that the weight be lifted farther away from the body than would be required with the 172 Inch. Plus, being a ring weight, the torque on the wrist would have been monstrous. Frankly, it is laughable to me for any serious student of iron history to conclude that the Inch 172 would have been anything more, literally anything more, for Apollon, than an easy lift. So the question becomes, how much more than 172 lbs could he snatch on a thick bar? And please keep in mind with 9" long hands, the bar did not feel as thick to Apollon as it did to others with shorter hands.

There are those who disagree with me. I hold to my conclusion. Some also disagree that Apollon could have handled the Radley/Gardener Millennium Bell. Let's look at why I think he could have, by comparing what he is claimed to have done in regard to Desbonnet's bell, which is for all practical purposes the twin of the Gardener/Radley bell.

Establishing Apollon's thick bar prowess:

Please re-read installments 1,2, and 3 of this series for a grasp of his grasp on matters thick.

Keep in mind that Apollon, while performing in London, had a standing offer of two hundreds pounds British money to anyone who could duplicate his feats- lifting one handed a cluster of iron weights totaling 189 lbs, lifting an enormous 157 lb barbell overhead with one hand and juggling it with other weights. This amount of money was a fortune for that period in England. So, Apollon would not use false weights, or choose a real weight so light that anyone had a remote chance of taking his money.

At the age of 18 he was able to lift one handed 176 lbs in the snatch in the form of four separate weights tied together.

One day In Lille, Apollon went to Desbonnet's physical culture studio and there happened to be a 205 lb barbell present which had gained fame all over northern France because of the difficulty of lifting it one handed. Very few athletes could deadlift it to knee height. Cyclops and Noel the Gaul, were not able to separate the bell from the floor. Leon See and Vandernocke had, on first try, deadlifted the bell. When Desbonnet explained all this to Apollon, the giant Frenchman smiled as though the Professor were teasing him, but when Apollon realized the Professor was not joking, he grabbed the bell with his right hand 'hefted it as if it were a walking stick' and tossed it up over a meter into the air and caught it with his left hand.

[As an aside, Cyclops was not able to elevate the 205 lb bell at all, nor was he able to lift the 260 lb Gasnier bell, whose dimensions remain unknown to me, but one would assume a thinner handle-otherwise why would a lifter who failed at 205 even bother to try 260- unless, of course, the sequence was reversed, and he first had occasion to try the 260.

Leon See, who was of incredible grip strength, was nonetheless on a rung just below that occupied by Apollon, a position which See himself acknowledged. See could deadlift the 226, but not bring the bell any higher. There are many men currently who can deadlift the 172 Inch bell, but only one- Mark Henry, so far as I know, who has one hand overheaded it. There is a parallel between Apollon and Mark Henry being a step ahead of their contemporaries. Apparently See deadlifted the 226 for the first time about a year before Apollon had an opportunity to try it. Note this: Was See a giant man like Apollon? Well, he stood about 5'6" tall and weighed 155 lbs, and it can be assumed that his hand length was normal size for a man of his height. So See's deadlift of a 226 lb thick handled bell is a much more remarkable feat than for Apollon to simply one hand deadlift the same size bell. See was outweighed by the bell by 71 lbs, yet no one has cast any doubt on the assertion that See could deadlift the bell. Imagine today, a man weighing 155 lbs and one hand deadlifting the Millennium bell! I believe Gardener weighs about 250 lbs and Mark Henry close to 400 lbs! Apollon outweighed the bell by probably 50 lbs, so he had a distinct advantage, and would need to do more than deadlift it to impress the onlookers, who were aware that the diminutive See saw success with the bell.

Returning to the story: Apollon announced he thought he could snatch this weight. Remember this is a 205 lbs barbell , not a 226 lbs dumbell. The men who had just witnessed him toss this bell after cleaning it, tried to dissuade him from a snatch attempt- a much harder lift. But Apollon was now determined, and snatched it to arms length overhead, but misjudged the grip and the bell flew ten feet behind him- almost flying into Paul Corman standing there. A similar story is told of the 226 lb Desbonnet bell, which is the twin of the modern Millennium Bell, though the detail of first cleaning it then tossing it aloft for a meter is never included when the story is told about the 226 lb bell.

On another occasion a very thick handled 154 lb bell, which none of the strongest men could shoulder one-handed, was shown to Apollon. He tried, in his usual, casual manner to lift it, and when he realized he had lost his grip, his anger kicked in, and matched with his now renewed determination, he attacked the bar, and lifted it easily.

Now please a word describing my opinion: Apollon was a lazy lifter, blessed with strength in one handed movements that we have not yet seen matched. Only his anger would propel him into full gear, and Florent Marchand who witnessed the lift with the 154 lb bell remarked, according to David Chapman's translation, "We are all miserable little runts, and starting today I will never touch another weight or barbell'. And thus began Marchand's retirement from lifting that very day.

The gap between Apollon's real strength, and the amount of his strength that was required to perform feats which stopped other strongmen was substantial. Only when he failed on first try did he summon what I call his 'anger-strength' level, and this level, witnessed by many strongmen, absolutely baffled them and confuses modern students of the game.

If we accept the story of the 205 lb bell, which Apollon was able to toss a meter into the air beyond his outstretched, upright arm, it seems a small jump to accept the extra 21 pounds for a near-snatch with 226 lbs on the Desbonnet bell. As we have seen in previous installments, more than once, Apollon's weights were doctored to weigh more- but this fact was unknown to him at the time and he lifted the weights as though he did not notice the increased poundage. As Desbonnet noted, Apollon was born twenty years too soon. Had he been born somewhat later perhaps he would have been challenged more and forced to reveal what his potential truly was.

Apollon was able to snatch, one handed, a group of four weights in his right hand, the total weight was 176 lbs, and this he could snatch for 12 consecutive reps, and did so on occasion as his closing lift, with an offer of cash to anyone able to duplicate the feat.

The 226 lb barbell incident happened in Roubaix, France in 1895. In regard to this bell, See, Vandenocke, and John Grun Marx, could deadlift it one handed- a feat Marx demonstrated to goad Apollon into action. Apollon seized the barbell and snatched it but lost his grip overhead and again, the bell went flying ten feet behind him. Sometimes this bell is referred to as a barbell, sometimes as a dumbell. Webster refers to it as a dumbell, others as a barbell, Miller called it a dumbell in one place and a barbell in another. We know that Apollon did at least a partial deadlift one handed with 500 lbs, though it appears the one handed deadlift, by that name, was unknown in his day- indeed Thomas Inch claimed to have invented the lift many years later. So, given Apollon's overall basic strength, his very long hands, and his specialization at one handed lifts, as well as the poundages he could rep with (12 snatches in a row etc), it is within the realm of what I can accept for Apollon to have snatched the 226 lb Desbonnet bell.

As today, very few would believe that Mark Henry could one hand overhead the 172 Inch (had there not been dozens of witnesses and a video) because most men can only, and barely, deadlift it, so it seems many doubt Apollon's ability to one hand overhead a bell that other strongmen could only, and barely, deadlift with one hand.

The choice is yours. I choose yes See deadlifted the bell and yes Apollon did lift the bell overhead as witnessed by the Father of Physical Culture in France.

Posted by TheEditor @ 08:27 PM CST


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