We caught up with Big Z to find out what his thoughts were on his most recent title victory, the upcoming competition in Malaysia, his competitors and the world of Strongmen training. 

Looking back at last year’s World’s Strongest Man final, what went through your mind before the Atlas Stones?

I had one thing on my mind, and that was I must beat Brian Shaw on the stones because I need that for first place. I knew I could beat him, because in 2013 in China I almost beat him in the stones but I made a few mistakes on the first and second stones. I knew I could win if I didn’t make those mistakes again. I was lucky because I didn’t make those mistakes and I lifted faster than him.

It was an incredibly close final and just half a point between you and Hafthór Björnsson for the title. Is the competition closer now than ever before?

For sure now it’s much closer because in 2014 it was down to three athletes (at the last event), not two like before. All of us are strong and good at the events, and it is just small things and small mistakes are very important in the overall results.

When you realised you had won the trophy in 2014, what went through your mind?

I understood I was the World’s Strongest Man before I got the trophy. I put the last stone on and I felt I was faster than Brian but I needed to wait one or two minutes before they announced the result. I knew I must have been faster by a second, or half a second. I felt I was faster. When they announced it, it was the best feeling. At the awards ceremony when I got the trophy I felt I had finished my work.

You have been so consistent throughout your career. What has been key to this?

I have good experience, because I have competed for a long time. Also, I have good basic power and it’s very important in events like deadlift and squat. I have good stamina and good speed in some events. So this combination has worked well. I train very seriously before every World’s Strongest Man and try to be better each year, and be stronger in all the events.

How are your victories perceived back home in Lithuania? Do people stop you in the street?

They are very happy but I have competed for many years and they think I must win every time (laughs). I have won so many times, and so many competitions, not just World’s Strongest Man.  They think that it is normal, not something special to win (laughs).

This year you have the title everyone wants. Is there extra pressure being the reigning champion?

For sure when you are the champion you have extra pressure because all positions are bad, except first place! If you are not the champion, then there is smaller pressure, but I think for me there is always pressure because I always want to be at my maximum, and I always want to win. For the World’s strongest Man there is always big pressure.

We are heading to Malaysia this year for the World’s Strongest Man. You  competed the last time the event was held there. What are your memories from 2002?

2002 was my third World’s Strongest Man. In 1998 I came to the event  for the first time, and I got injured and went home. In 2000 I was very close to going to the final, and in 2002 I made the final and I was in good shape. I competed well. I finished in 2nd place. It’s an important place for me because it was my first podium in World’s Strongest Man. It was the first big competition where I was near the top and after Malaysia I believed I could be the World’s Strongest Man, and that I could win many competitions. Malaysia was just one year after I had a very serious injury, and I had not fully recovered from that. I believed I would win soon after, but it took much longer than I expected (laughs).  But if you train and have your dream then someday it will happen.

Who will be your main challengers this year when the World’s Strongest Man heads to Malaysia?

I think for strongmen competitions it is very important to know what events we will have and which athletes qualify. At this moment I don’t know the events, so it’s hard to say. It looks like the main athletes will be Brian Shaw and Hafthór Björnsson. I think Eddie Hall is getting stronger and stronger and last year he was in sixth place. I think he can finish higher. There are some new guys also who are getting stronger and I think it will be a very interesting final like last year, maybe more interesting (laughs). We will see! It will not be easy for anyone but the strongest will win.