The 2020 winner placed third in the 2023 contest in South Carolina.

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2020 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) winner Oleksii Novikov was hoping to join the list of two-time champions at the 2023 WSM contest in Myrtle Beach, SC. However, he finished in third place behind champion Mitchell Hooper and runner-up Tom Stoltman.

On May 8, 2023, Novikov shared a 42-minute video on his YouTube channel recapping his WSM week. The former champion reviewed his performance through the contest’s 11 events. However, one key piece of information he shared may shed some light on his surprising third-place finish in the Circus Dumbbell event on the final day of competition. Novikov has traditionally dominated that challenging overhead press in previous competitions and set an unofficial world record lifting 153.2 kilograms (337.8 pounds) while training in 2021.

Novikov revealed that he competed in the 2023 WSM with an elbow injury suffered in training, though he didn’t discuss a specific diagnosis. Novikov spoke in Ukrainian and the captions showed the English translation. He spoke about the injury at the 30:36 mark in the video below.

WSM 2023 / How It Was / Oleksii Novikov

Novikov suffered the injury in training while performing the Circus Dumbbell with weights heavier than what he would eventually lift in the contest — at the 2023 WSM, Novikov was only able to successfully press 132.5 kilograms (291 pounds) overhead. He shared that he initially thought it was simple elbow pain and less serious than it actually was. 

“In the last training session [before the WSM contest], I lifted 144 kilograms (317 pounds). At 148 kilograms (326 pounds), I didn’t get the lockout. And during all these processes, I got an injury which I didn’t pay much attention to. Just some elbow pain. I kept training and only then noticed this issue with my elbow.

The elbow lost its function at full extension and activating where it has to activate. And due to that, there were problems with the lockout. And that’s why locking out heavy weights became a problem for me … Don’t know whether I need a surgery or not, but I’ll certainly take care of my elbow,” he said.

He felt the issues with lockouts were why he struggled during the dumbbell event on the last day of competition. He’s uncertain whether or not he will need surgery, but Novikov made it sound as if that is at least being considered.

Novikov realized that this issue and the result of that event could’ve very well cost him the title in South Carolina.

“My signature event became an Achilles heel for me. For me, that’s an upset for sure and it brought me down, mentally, a little.”

Novikov also assessed that his issues for the competition went beyond physical problems. Many athletes feel sports are as much mental as they are physical, and Novikov is no different. Hearing and reading comments that suggested he ‘win or not come back’ as a way of encouragement may have backfired.

“You all want me to win, and I also want that. I guess not less than you, but it puts some kind of pressure on me that I start thinking that it’s super important, and I plan my performance the way like ‘either win or nothing.’ And when some kind of problem occurs, like with the [Reign Total Body Fuel Shield Carry event], it hurts me mentally, and, overall, it becomes hard to focus on the next events.”

Novikov also shared that he will take time off to let his body recover from the competitions he’s already entered this year, as well as to allow his elbow to heal whether he has surgery or not.

Novikov had also suffered a lat injury earlier in the year leading up to the 2023 Europe’s Strongest Man contest. Clearly, an athlete of Novikov’s caliber has world-class levels of strength both in the muscle and mind, but time to rebuild and refocus could be what he needs to put himself in the best position to succeed going forward. He didn’t reveal what his next contest will be or if he will do another show in 2023.

Featured Image: Todd Burandt / Courtesy of World’s Strongest Man