As a Highland Games competitor he was six times world champion, first winning the title in Lagos in 1981, and held world records in numerous events. Following retirement from competitive sport he continued to be involved in strength athletics as a referee, event promoter and coach. He also ran a sportswear retail shop and became renowned as a world-class breeder of birds. Capes stood 6 feet 5.5 inches (196.9 cm) and weighed 23 stone (320 lb; 150 kg) at his peak condition.
Capes was born in 1949 in Holbeach, Lincolnshire, the seventh of nine children. He was the seventh child of Eileen Capes, though the eldest of her three children by her third husband Bill Capes. Of his older siblings, the elder two were Braithwaites and the middle four Cannons. He grew up in the town and went to the local secondary school, George Farmer. He became a member of Holbeach Athletic Club where he was coached by Stuart Storey. He was a gifted sportsman, and represented Lincolnshire at basketball, football and cross-country. In addition he was a decent sprinter, running 23.7 s for the 200 m. Growing up on the Lincolnshire fens he had an early fascination with the natural world and cared for injured birds and animals from when he was a young boy. After school he worked as a coalman and an agricultural labourer, being able to load twenty tons of potatoes in twenty minutes. He joined Cambridgeshire Constabulary in 1970, and remained in the police for ten years.
First and foremost, Capes was a shot putter and represented his country over a span of 11 years, winning two Commonwealth Games and two Indoor European Championship titles. His first major games were the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, where he finished fourth. In the next two games in 1974 and 1978 he took the gold medal. In this period he also became the European Indoor Champion in both 1974 and 1976. His first Olympic experience was in 1972 when he competed in Munich. The 21-year-old Capes did not make it past the qualifying round, but improved on this considerably four years later. Having thrown his personal best on 28 May 1976 at Gateshead of 21.55 m. Capes went into the 1976 Montreal Olympics as one of the favourites for the gold medal. He came second in his qualifying group but went on to come sixth overall in the final, the winner being Udo Beyer of East Germany. 1980 was the year that saw Capes put the best distance of his career and increased the British record to 21.68 m (71 ft. 3.5 in.) in Cwmbran on 18 May 1980 being a new Commonwealth and British record. He went into the Olympics as the athlete with the best distance of the year so far and was once again a favourite for the title. However, he eventually placed fifth, the winner being Vladimir Kiselyov who although putting an Olympic Record of 21.35 m was well short of Capes' distance prior to the Olympics. Capes said of his performance at the 1980 Moscow Olympics that the result that left him "numbed with disappointment".
Capes is the most capped British maleathlete of all time, receiving 67 International caps, and returning 35 wins, not including a further 35 caps for England. He is a winner of 17 national titles including being 7 times a winner of the AAA championship and three times UK champion, In 1983 he was voted Britain's best ever field athlete and his 1980 British shot-put record stood until 2003, when Carl Myerscough took the mantle.
As a strongman, Capes became a household name in Britain and many parts of the world. He was particularly known for his incredible hand and arm strength, easily tearing London telephone directories in half and bending rolled steel bars measuring over 1 inch in diameter, and three feet in length. Capes turned fully professional in 1980, the Olympics in Moscow being his last event as an amateur athlete. He had already begun to make a name as a strongman having won the inaugural Britain's Strongest Man in 1979. In that competition he beat Bill Anderson, the World Highland Games champion into second place. Bill went on to the 1979 World's Strongest Man, the first Briton to compete in this tournament, whilst Capes concentrated on his athletic career. In 1980 the Olympics dominated the year and Capes did not compete in Britain's Strongest Man, but he did compete later in the Europe's Strongest Man competition and won that. This ensured his invitation to the 1980 World's Strongest Man and on his first entry he came third behind the by then more experienced Bill Kazmaier and Lars Hedlund. In 1981 he returned and improved to second place, again behind Kazmaier, and in 1982 he came fourth. The 1983 contest was the first held outside the United States and in Christchurch, New Zealand he held off the challenge of a world class field including the young Jón Páll Sigmarsson and to take the first of two World's Strongest Man titles. The Christchurch hosted tournament also had the Canadian world powerlifting champion, Tom Magee, and the European powerlifting champion, Siem Wulfse, competing. But it was the duel between Sigmarsson and Capes that heralded the beginning of a great rivalry. The following year in Mora, Sweden, Sigmarsson, eleven years Capes' junior, took the title proclaiming "The King has lost his crown!". Capes retorted "I'll be back" and the following year won the title in Cascais, his closing remark being "The King has not lost his crown". Sigmarsson won once again in 1986 with Capes coming second.
Aside from the World's Strongest Man, Capes also won Europe's Strongest Man on three occasions, in London (1980), Amsterdam (1982) and Marken (1984). He regained his Britain's Strongest Man title in 1981 and again in 1983. He won the World Muscle Power championship in 1987, and has been ascribed two World Muscle Power championships by the creator of the event, David Webster, although other sources suggest the 1987 victory was the only one. In 1987 his win in the World Muscle Power was accompanied by a win in the World Strongman Challenge and he is one of only three athletes to have won all three titles. There was no World's Strongest Man that year, but an event was held designed specifically to pit the three most successful strongmen against one another. Called the Pure Strength, the Ultimate Challenge, it featured Bill Kazmaier, Jón Páll Sigmarsson and Geoff Capes. The event was held at Huntly Castle and Capes entered despite having been in hospital the previous weekend with strained trapeziums. Strong performances in the first few rounds belied his condition but he eventually pulled out during the log-lift and ended the contest in third place. Capes, the oldest of the three, was close to strongman retirement at this stage and the next year, the World Muscle Power where he finished second, proved to be his last major outing as a strongman.
As a professional, Capes' mainstay was in fact Highland Games. He competed at many gatherings in Scotland and across the world and became a hugely popular and respected figure. He won the World Heavy Events title in Lagos in 1981, in a year when there were two world championships, the second won in Melbourne by Bill Anderson. He went on to win again in 1983 in Carmunnock and the next four consecutive titles, making him the most successful competitor ever in terms of titles. He set world records in many disciplines, including the 56 lb weight over the bar and brick lifting. As a Highland competitor he was dubbed Geoff Dubh Laidir, translated as Black Strong Geoff.
Capes went on to coach many rising stars in both athletics and strength athletics. Adrian Smith later took fifth sport at the World's Strongest Man under the combined coaching of Capes and Bill Pittuck. Capes also helped promote the Daily Star funded UK Strongest Man tournaments until the turn of the millennium. In February 2006 Capes finished first in a dramatic fell race in Cumbria, finishing just seconds before fellow contender Vincent Vurgest.
Outside of his sporting career Capes was for a long time a policeman and prior to that was a member of the Air Training Corps. Prior to his athletic retirement he had been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, for services to the community. He went on to run a sportswear retail shop in Holbeach, before moving to Spalding where in 1998 he became a Justice of the Peace. At the height of his fame in 1985, the game Geoff Capes Strongman was released on the Amstrad CPC, the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64, featuring a truck pulling and tug-of-war, allowing control of each muscle group. His profile also led to numerous appearances on British television, one such example being in the Tyne Tees Television programme Supergran in the episode "Supergran Grounded". A persistent story about Capes is that in 1979, he stood in for friend and fellow strongman David Prowse to play the part of Darth Vader in several scenes during filming of The Empire Strikes Back while Prowse recovered from an elbow injury. During an interview on BBC Radio Cleveland on 31 January 2007, Capes was asked about this and he stated that it never happened. Another story, told on YouTube by former wrestler Mark Rocco, is that Big Daddy picked him up and threw him to the ground after Capes challenged him to 'wrestle' on a training ground.
Later, he appeared on the fourth series of Shooting Stars, alongside Patsy Kensit, where he threw a bomb at Johnny Vegas and in 2007 he became the face of Cadbury's Wispa relaunch, appearing on billboards and magazine advertisements. As of Spring 2010, he was in the advert for the Great British Food Fight, which appeared on Channel 4 as well as being in an advert for Churchill insurance.
Aside from sport and television appearances, Capes is famed for breeding budgerigars and has had quite a lot of success (a former world champion) on the show bench with his Recessive Pieds. In 2008 he assumed the role of president of the Budgerigar Society, along with Mick Widdowson who is also a keen budgie breeder and friend. He frequently appears in the pages of Cage & Aviary Birds.
^ abcAlthough the IHGF state on their official website that Geoff Capes won the World Heavy Championship in 1983 in Lagos in their IHGF Champions page (here) the 1983 championship finals were held in Carmunnock, as stated in the Development section of IHGF's same website (here). The location of the 1983 championships being Carmunnock is corroborated by Emily Ann Donaldson in her book The Scottish Highland Games in America (Emily Ann Donaldson, The Scottish Highland Games in America, p19, Pelican Publishing, 1986, ISBN 1-56554-560-5, ISBN 978-1-56554-560-1). In Donaldson's book it is mentioned that a World Championship was held in Lagos in 1981 and Capes won this. The book states that the World Heavy Events Championships was also held in 1981 in Melbourne. From this evidence it would seem that there were two World Championships held in 1981, both sponsored by the IHF. Further corroborating the existence of the 1981 Lagos World Championships is the profile of Geoff Capes written by the founder of the IHF, David Webster, who states that Capes won his first world title in 1981 in Lagos. (David Webster, Sons of Samson Volume 2 Profiles, page 78 (Ironmind Enterprises), ISBN 0-926888-06-4). Further still, on his official website, Capes states that he was six times world champion.