Interview with Svend Karlsen

October 11, 1997

Me and Svend in Nevada.

Bill: All right, I guess we could start off with some background info. Where were you born and where'd you grow up?

Svend: I was born in Norway in a town called Drammen. It's 30 minutes from Oslo. And I've lived there all my life. I lived in Oslo for a while, but basically most there.

Bill: How old where you when you decided you wanted to get into the strength scene?

Svend: I started to train weight at the age of 13, so I've been training for 17 years now. And it was never a question of just to train for fun. I always wanted to be big, so I basically strived to be a bodybuilder, but after a while I got over to powerlifting and I did that up to '89. After then, I started to do bodybuilding, and I turned professional in '93. I started with five or six professional shows in the IFBB.

Bill: When did you get into the strongman competitions?

Svend: Last year. World's Strongest Man last year was first competition.

Bill: That was the first one?

Svend: Yeah.

Bill: You did very well for that being your first one.

Svend: Yeah, I think so.

Bill: You only missed qualifying by a single point, and with a lot of those events, if it was the first time you'd ever seen those, it would be a lot different than any other competition you'd been in.

Svend: Like the stone today was actually the first time I'd seen that.

Bill: Really?

Svend: Yeah.

Bill: What do you eat in a day to keep the size that you are?

Svend: I think that the eating is probably one advantage I have on the other guys, because I know a lot about nutrition due to my years in bodybuilding. So here, I just eat whatever I find naturally, but back home I start off in the morning with oatmeal, skimmed milk, and egg whites. I take a lot of vitamins, minerals, amino acids - that I also take through every meal I eat. And basically I have five more meals on a day. It's usually cod fish and rice, steak and rice, or chicken and rice. A very simple diet, but it works.

Bill: Do you try and cut out the fat?

Svend: Yeah, you can probably tell by my physique.

Bill: Yeah, you're very defined. What does it mean to you to be a Viking?

Svend: The Norwegian are the original Vikings, so I must be one of them. And it sounds good.

Bill: It sounds good?

Svend: Yeah. Vikings don't take shit from nobody.

Bill: Since you were in the heat with Magnus ver Magnusson, and you won that heat, how did you feel after you won and you were effectively responsible for eliminating last year's champion?

Svend: That was actually a dilemma for me, because I could actually choose if I only did what I had to do to go to the final, Maggie would qualify for the final. But then again, what about Torfi? He did a great qualifying round as well, so was it right to get Magnus into the final just because I was lazy? And then again I wanted to win as many events as possible, and I won that event and pushed Maggie out of the finals. But it was bound to happen sooner or later anyway, and I don't think he was feeling all right either. He said he had a lot of back pain and probably would've made it worse if he'd gone to the final.

Bill: Yeah. Well, you've been doing real well so far... so what are your goals that you have set for yourself right now.

Svend: When I first came out here, it was just to get to the final, so I was very surprised when I won my heat. And with five points distance to the next one, I think. So it was a lot different from the past year. So, when the final started, my goal has been to win. I still have that goal, but I just want to take it one event at a time, and count the points when the competition is over. My goal is, of course, to win. And I think I have a chance now. We're half way through and I'm only one point from the top, and my best events are to come.

Bill: You had a tough heat last year, with Riku Kiri and Flemming...

Svend: Yeah.

Bill: You did very well. I was surprised the first time I saw you that you did so well...

Svend: And even after the first event last time, I thought I was going to die. I said to myself after lying there for half and hour puking, that "never again, never again!"

Bill: That was the anchor and the...

Svend: Right, the chain. It made me very sick. And endurance has come up very well now, because during training I said to myself, "I never want to have that feeling again." And I haven't, so it was actually good.

Bill: How far do you think you'll take this - with your strength career? How far do you think you can go?

Svend: I think after one year in strongman competitions, if I win now, I'll be very tough to beat next year. Because I'm the kind of person that if I first set my goal, I do 100 percent. And I'm only going to take a few weeks off training when I'm back from this competition, and I'm going to start again preparing for next year's.

Bill: Have you been doing any other strength competitions other than World's Strongest Man?

Svend: Yeah, I've done a lot of competitions this year. I've placed everywhere from number five to number one.

Bill: What other ones did you do?

Svend: I did one in Australia called the World's Strongman Challenge Series, or something. I came third there, after Magnus ver Magnusson and Heinz Ollesch. With Jamie in fourth place and Magnus Samuelsson in fifth place.

Bill: Jamie Reeves?

Svend: Yeah. Then I was in, like, this battle between Norway and Sweden. I won that one. And I came second in a competition in Finland with Ahola by one or two points I think, with a back injury. I was leading half way through, but I had a back injury. So, that was okay. Then it was Europe's Strongest Man, and I didn't recover, really, for that, for my back. I couldn't feel anything wrong, but I just got a bump on one side, so I bet something was wrong. Because I came ninth there. And I was really surprised. It was the same competition that Gary Taylor...

Bill: Hurt his legs.

Svend: Yeah. And that was also one of the things, I think, because I was going after him, and there was a 45 minute break when he was lying on the floor screaming that his knee was totally destroyed. And the next competitor was me, and I couldn't do it. I won the wheel flip here, but there I only did one flip. There was no energy, I didn't have my mind into it. It was very hard.

Bill: I can imagine that would be frightening after seeing that.

Svend: And if you first start to do bad, everything goes bad. And now, when things go good, even the bad events go good.

Bill: When you have that energy, it's not hard to do well in the events that you've never done before.

Svend: No. Like, the Hercules Hold in the qualification rounds. I've never done anything else but come last in Hercules Hold, and I was second. Only beaten by Magnus. So, I think that was very good. It was actually on of the events here I've been most pleased about. Because that was the most surprising for me. To come second in that one, so I'm most happy about that one.

Bill: One thing I've noticed that I've personally enjoyed a lot about watching you is how much enthusiasm you have when you finish all the events, very similar in a lot of your attitude towards competing to Jon Pall Sigmarsson. With your "Viking Power." I find it very encouraging. It's fun to watch.

Svend: It's good to hear that, because I don't think I copy him because he didn't have that "Viking Power", he was only "The Viking." I have the Viking power and I'm still the Viking. And I very moodish, so if I think I do bad, like you probably saw today after the car turn. When I'm angry I can't hide it for myself, or for anybody else and pretend that I'm happy, but not. And if I'm happy, I can't hide that either. It's not an act. It's just the way I am.

Bill: You seemed very disappointed with the car turn even though you were .3 seconds out of the lead, so I thought you did very well.

Svend: If I'd come, like, fifth place, or something it would be very bad for me, but a second didn't matter that much. But it's very hard to lose by that short of a margin.

Bill: Yeah, you've been very consistent so far, which is one thing that you can say that you have an advantage over Magnus Samuelsson, because he's had three good events and one bad event. And you've done well in all the events so far.

Svend: I think so. Like, the log yesterday, I was disappointed with that, but I think that's more to blame on the event because only three reps separated number one from number ten. That's not good enough.

Bill: Yeah. It seemed like everyone was too evenly matched.

Svend: It's too close. Because with the truck pull, only five guys finished it, I think.

Bill: I think they should have possibly put more weight on the log or given a longer time so that there was a bigger disparity between the reps.

Svend: Because it's too hard to lose three points just because you couldn't lock out your arms.

Bill: What other hobbies do you have besides strength and strongman?

Svend: I do a lot of fishing in the summer. I haven't actually done this summer. I live beside one of the best salmon rivers in Norway, so I fish a lot. And I've just started hunting. And I have a dog called Elvis - a rottweiler. That's basically my hobbies, I think, besides just training. It's a lot of training.

Bill: Do you have another job to rely on income other than just the strongmen events?

Svend: Yeah, I have a gym. That's what we make the living out of.

Bill: What's your gym called?

Svend: It's called Nanna and Svend's Galaxy Fitness Center.

Svend: We used to call it Galaxy Fitness Center, but nobody knew what that was. Because everybody knew, "oh, Nanna and Svend's gym. Yeah, it's over there." So then we changed the name to Nanna and Svend's Galaxi Fitness Center.

Bill: And your wife has been very supportive of you so far, and has that been helpful to you?

Svend: Yeah, very helpful, because I actually start to believe in her now. Because she told me things during this competition that actually seem to come true. Like today, I was planning to carry the stone with jacket on and everything, but she said it's better to do it with nothing on, just use the tacky. And I did, and it worked very well.

Bill: You went very fast with the stone.

Svend: Yeah. I think that if I'd gone last, maybe I could've won it. Because there was more to come there, but I was pleased anyway. Because I know, only Magnus can't beat me in both squat and deadlift. And I think he's going to lose a lot of points there.

Bill: Also, I believe you were already ahead of Magnus going into that event, so the biggest deal to you was to get ahead of Flemming and of Jouko.

Svend: Flemming is... I don't know, but he's a very tough competitor. But it looks like he's struggling now.

Bill: He seems to have an injury with his hand.

Svend: Yeah. So it's going to be tough for him. And it's of course, going to be tough for everybody. So, I think it's going to be a tough one, but it will surprise me if not the top four competitors are me, Samuelsson, Ahola, and Flemming.

Bill: Yeah, it seemed right from the beginning that you four were out on top.

Svend: Like, Ahola is very strong in deadlift so we're going to have a big fight there, I think. It's going to go down to who has the best day, I think.

Bill: You've got to make sure you pick your lifts well.

Svend: I am planning just to follow him.

Bill: Really?

Svend: Yeah. So I told him we start with 300, do 350, and then 400 and take it from there. So, we'll have to see.

Bill: What would you say, from everything you've done in the world of strength - what's your biggest accomplishment so far?

Svend: The best I've ever done I think, strengthwise, I've done 3 reps at 400 kilos deadlift. And that's probably the best I've done. I don't think anybody in the world has done that before.

Bill: Really?

Svend: I don't think so.

Bill: That's great. How much do you think you could do on one rep on the deadlift?

Svend: It depends because deadlift, like the one we're going to do now is from the knee. And I'm not really as strong there. It doesn't matter for me if I start with the normal bar, if I start from the knee, because I've got very much speed from the bottom when I start it as a normal deadlift. And Ahola has also done 400 kilo deadlift, so it's going to be a tough one. But then again, you have these American guys who are supposed to be very strong in deadlift, and they're shorter than me, so maybe he can start over the knees and that will make a hell of a difference.

Bill: Yes. Well, thanks a lot, and good luck tomorrow.

Svend: Yeah.