Interview with Manfred Hoeberl

January 17, 1997

Manfred clowning around with me and Magnus.

Bill: So, you're home town, Graz... what's going on there? You were born there and Arnold Schwarzenegger was also born there. Is there something in the water?

Manfred: Well, probably in the air or in the water there must be something. The genes which we got from our mothers and fathers that are down there in Graz... it must be something secret there, definitely.

Bill: Yeah, they're growing them huge.

Manfred: Right.

Bill: Did you plan on getting your arms as big as they are, or did it just kind of happen when you were training?

Manfred: It actually just happened throughout the course of my workout... out of my life. You cannot plan on having something incredibly big because you never know how your genetics will work. So, when I started first I had no idea how far I could go in the sport at all. And that I had such big arms in our sport was actually a disadvantage. So, I never planned to have them that big, however I sooner or later realized that having the biggest arms in the world is a great marketing tool.

Bill: Yeah, you wrote your book, "Ten Minutes to Massive Arms"... can you tell us a little about the book?

Manfred: Well, what can I tell you about the book? I mean, it virtually reflects how I got to those arms and when I say ten minutes, I didn't want to make a gimmick out of it. It's just the real workout time to do with arms. I think ten minutes is more than enough. You know, it's not the time you sit around and you talk to your friends in the gym. Those ten minutes are the total time you're working out, and if you spend the time appropriately, it is really an effective time where you can get the most out of it. That's why it was named "Ten Minutes."

Bill: I've talked to a couple of people who've trained using the strategy you present in your book and they say that it's definitely worked for them and they've shown a big difference in the size of their arms.

Manfred: You know, Bill, that's another thing because every single individual is different, and to give rules in a book, "You have to do this, you have to do that," is totally wrong. So, I don't believe in that. What I did in the book is I told you what I did... like those ten minutes, it's a general rule, I think, because you can justify it. The muscle is such a small muscle part, you know, the biceps. If you have long periods of interims between your sets then it will cool down. What I could scientifically lay down... generally I just gave ideas of how a possible way could be found, because to give a man a guideline is to sit down with him and explore his genetics and his possibilities and his will of how big to get.

Bill: That's one thing that definitely impressed me about your book... how much you seem to know technically about how the body works.

Manfred: Well, it seems if you're a professional, I think it's something you need to have. Like, I could never accept if you're an auto mechanic and you don't know about a car.

Bill: Did you study that at all?

Manfred: I went to several courses and things like that to find out. I had a lot of discussion with doctors, I read many, many books about medicals and all. My knowledge is pretty high about that.

Bill: That was definitely apparent from the book. Well, now you're the Vice President of the IFSA, correct?

Manfred: Correct, yes, the International Federation of Strength Athletes.

Bill: And what exactly does the IFSA do?

Manfred: The International Federation is the official governing body of sports of strength athletics, which includes, of course, all different strongman. And we are the only ones that sanction events worldwide and hold the world championships. And hold amateur championships and pro championships.

Bill: So, you function to organize the World's Strongest Man?

Manfred: We did the last couple of years already. We're in coordination with Trans World International. They produced it and we gave them all the athletes and information to it. We did all the pre-qualifying and the qualifying heats. We are busy structuring it over here in the United States, and we can only give titles to compete internationally, as well. Because there is no other federation that has that many members and that can live up to, maybe 25 countries worldwide, so far. We're now just busy with the American Federation of Strength Athletes, which is an affiliated Federation to the International one, with me as the President, and we are going to get this going. We have a little thing at the Arnold Classic, and things like that to get it started. Maybe next year it'll be much bigger. We've ideally planned of having in every state in the United States an amateur event, which leads up to a final, blah blah blah, as they have in other sports as well.

Bill: To have state champions?

Manfred: Yeah.

Bill: And as Vice President, what is your job? What are your responsibilities?

Manfred: Because of the structure of the IFSA, we have what we call Vice Presidents, there's five of them. And everyone has a different field of expertise or a working force where his is in. I mainly do the international coordination with television and shows, and other guys do the technical stuff like equipment and so on. Also, I'm busy with a magazine right now, which we want to hopefully have the first issue out by the Arnold Classic, but that's going to be very tight.

Bill: Since you deal with organizing the World's Strongest Man contest, I have a couple questions that I hadn't been able to get the answer to that people had been asking me a lot from the website, and hopefully you can answer them... a lot of people wanted to know what the prize money is for the winner.

Manfred: The prize money for the winner was 11,000 pounds, that's about 25,000 dollars.

Bill: And also, I believe that I heard that Jouko Ahola said that there was drug testing this year.

Manfred: Yes, we do drug tests according to the rules of the IFSA, which includes certain substances, of course, as well amphetamines and cocaine and things like that.

Bill: And how long has the contest been testing for drugs?

Manfred: The first time I remember when we were doing testing was South Africa in 1994.

Bill: Yeah, I think that's definitely a step in the right direction for the sport.

Manfred: Absolutely, and I will fully support that. In Australia in April, we are having an IOC test for the first time ever for our athletes. Which is a little heavier, I think, for now because we have to give them time to get the right direction. But, we're going to try it and I fully support that.

Bill: I think it's great that they're doing that.

Manfred: I fully believe only clean sports can survive in the United States.

Bill: Definitely. Especially if you're trying to make it a lot more popular in the States because everything is tested here.

Manfred: Absolutely, and the other thing is we have a program that is so good on family viewing, so it needs to reflect a clean thing, and it's not violent, so it's should be clean just as well.

Bill: I think there's definitely a market for it here, we just need to find the right way to get it out to the public so people know about it and it can get better recognition.

Manfred: I'm trying to acquire sponsors right now, like with the magazine and the Arnold Classic where 40,000 people come by... to lay out this magazine and offer promoters a chance to put on events and things like that. And that's what I'm going to try. I'm going to be out here until March, as you know, and hopefully in that time I'll find quite a few people to be interested in this.

Bill: I've heard a rumor that you were moving to the United States, is that true?

Manfred: Yes, I mean, I'm committed in Europe, as well, to a great extent because now there are so many countries that want to join the IFSA. The next year we're going to have the first Amateur World Championships. I'm putting people in my place there in Germany right now and spending more time over here, and ideally I want to be living out here.

Bill: In Vegas?

Manfred: Yes, by the looks of it, because it's pretty close to everywhere, the weather's good, and it's an entertainment city. I mean, I want to hold a yearly event here, if I can.

Bill: Some of the people who were watching the contest on TV this year were questioning the refereeing and were kind of unhappy with Doug Edmunds.

Manfred: With regards to Douglas Edmunds, that story goes back to some years before the existence of the IFSA with an existing contract already with television and the producer of the program. But to give you a run down, the AFSA will hold international judging courses, and if people are interested they can contact us at the Las Vegas office.

Bill: All right, when did you start your training?

Manfred: Strength training?

Bill: Yes.

Manfred: Pretty late, when I was about 18. I had been doing all kind of sports, but not directly in the strength field. I believe you should have a really grown out body before you really put all this pressure on it. I mean, you get your peak around 30. So, ten years of professional sports will wreck you anyway. I think that will be more than enough.

Bill: Have you done other strength sports besides strongman? Did you do any Highland Games?

Manfred: Yeah, I did some Highland Games. I was very good with the Scottish Hammer and the 56 for height. I still hold the world record, I think, together with Ben Plucknett. That's about it... that was my experience with Highland Games.

Bill: Did you choose to stick with strongman because you enjoyed that more?

Manfred: Oh yeah, much more. It's more than being a strongman now, it's strength athletics, I want to emphasize that. You have to be very explosive, you have to be strong, you have to be mobile, you have to have coordination. All these criteria athletes need to have. Everything, and you have to know what to do. There are new athletes coming up which are incredible. Some youngsters that really have a scientific approach to the whole issue.

Bill: As it gets more popular and more people start to know about it, I think it'll be very interesting to see how many new, great athletes we have coming up and all the records that will be broken.

Manfred: That's another point I want to make here in the United States and, I mean, I've devoted myself to bring some good athletes out of America. And to give them my experience and my support.

Bill: How long did you compete before you had your car accident?

Manfred: Since 1991. Well, actually, that's the first time I competed in the World championships. It was actually since 1989.

Bill: And when exactly was the car accident? Was that in 1995?

Manfred: Yes.

Bill: And how serious was that? How long did it take you to recover?

Manfred: It was about nine months in the hospital. That was pretty serious, yeah. But I'm fully recovered. I did some strength feats again. The last year I did the team championships, and I did some other events and I tore, unfortunately, my bicep. That's when I decided to quit it. I mean, the strength was back and I was doing good with my pelvis and my hips and my left leg that was paralyzed. But I don't know, when it just starts to come off like that and wear and tear comes in, I think one had to make a decision.

Bill: So, you're definitely not doing any competing anymore?

Manfred: No, I'm not.

Bill: Just organizing.

Manfred: Yes, you see, because the sport needs somebody behind it, and to really bring it out. The thing is we've got a variety of new events which I've thought up. I've got the know how to put on good events, not that stupid hanging on a bar, or something. And really to make it safe and proper for everyone concerned - the audience as viewers and definitely the competitors. So that's my concern and that's what I want to push through.

Bill: I think it would definitely help to have someone as experienced as you...

Manfred: It needs it, I mean, it doesn't help to have a 60 year old man trying to create events, you know? This thing has changed totally. And I'm really going to speak to television while I'm here and I'm going to really try to make some events for the end of this year or beginning of next year, and to have that happen in the United States. And that's international events, just as well as amateurs. We want to have team events, and I want to have women events. So it's not just going to be limited to the strongest and the biggest guy. We're going to have height classes, hopefully. This will still take a while. But we want to have different heights so that shorter people have a chance as well, I mean, how many short people say, "Well, we would like to compete, but we can't because we're too short."

Bill: You seem to have to be pretty tall... like, Gary Taylor was only about six feet, but he was probably the exception to the rule...

Manfred: Look how explosive he was.

Bill: Have you heard anything about how he's been doing since he had that accident with the tire over the summer?

Manfred: He had to have a couple of other operations still. But, no, he's not really doing that well. That's what I wanted to prevent, seeing that in Holland, as well. These accidents... when one gets old, one gets more receptive to injuries. It's not that one does more mistakes, but the youngsters come up and they are getting better, and I think one has reached his top and there's limits to one's performance. Because, I mean, Gary wasn't the youngest anymore, as well. And then those things happen, and I really want to prevent that.

Bill: Do you think that through your work on marketing the sport that it could ever get popular enough to be like any of the other sports in the United States where it's on network TV?

Manfred: Just take the arm wrestling, I mean, the arm wrestlers are hardly ever on television, and there are over 50 national events - one a week. The prize money is topping $50,000 many times. There are 300 professionals throughout the world, and I think that's easily possible.

Bill: Do you think it could make it's way onto network TV?

Manfred: I hope so. I'm driving for that. I've put a lot of personal effort, and especially money, into this trying to promote it.

Bill: I know it's a lot bigger in Britain. They run it in prime time...

Manfred: World's Strongest Man, for the program, in Britain alone there were, last year, about 33 million viewers. And there are only about 83 million people there, so it's incredible. In America, I think the potential is absolutely here. It's just to find companies that will go with it and support it, because there's no honey without money, or something, as the saying is. So everything costs and especially producing shows and putting them on and running a federation. It's very, very expensive just with all the attorneys to write all the laws and bylaws. All those things have offices, blah blah blah... that goes into thousands, and thousands, and thousands. And that has been spent already. So I'm not going to let it just float away.

Bill: I remember a few years back there were some sponsors like Tonka and DAF Trucks. What happened to them?

Manfred: You see, the sponsors are individual sponsors for one contest. But, I mean, what I'm looking at is to go out, to bring out the magazine I'll need a lot of money to do the quarterly magazine. I'll need some other money to run the offices... to get going first. And that's the main thing. I've put a lot of the money up myself, but I hate seeing it dying off and having an investment done which wasn't successful. I've got very many contacts and we're looking at gyms around the country to possibly get them involved. It's a risky business for an investor, of course, but the return could be just as great.

Bill: I'm sure... all right, well thank you Manfred.