Paul Anderson (weightlifter)

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Paul Anderson
Personal information
Born(1932-10-17)October 17, 1932
Toccoa, Georgia, U.S.
DiedAugust 15, 1994(1994-08-15) (aged 61)
Vidalia, Georgia, U.S.
Height5 ft 10.5 in (179 cm)
Weight360 lb (163 kg)
Glenda Garland
(m. 1959)
SportOlympic weightlifting, strongman, powerlifting
Medal record
Men's weightlifting
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1956 Melbourne +90 kg
World Championships
Gold medal – first place 1955 Munich +90 kg
U.S. National Weightlifting Championships[1][2]
1st 1955 +90kg
1st 1956 +90kg

Paul Edward Anderson (October 17, 1932 – August 15, 1994) was an American weightlifter, strongman, and powerlifter. He was an Olympic gold medalist, a world champion, and a two-time national champion in Olympic weightlifting.[3] Anderson contributed significantly to the development of competitive powerlifting.

Early life[edit]

Anderson was born in Toccoa, Georgia, the only son of Ethel Bennett and Robert Anderson. As a teenager, he began his early weight training and training on his own in his family's backyard to increase his size and strength so that he would be able to play on the Toccoa High School football team, where he earned a position as first-team blocking back.[4] He used special homemade weights that his father created out of concrete poured into a wooden form.[5] Anderson attended Furman University on a football scholarship, where he began lifting weights. He later moved to Elizabethton, Tennessee, with his parents, where he met weightlifter Bob Peoples, who would greatly influence him in squat training and introduce him into weightlifting circles.[4][6]


In 1955, at the height of the Cold War, Anderson, as winner of the USA National Amateur Athletic Union Weightlifting Championship, traveled to the Soviet Union, where weightlifting was a popular sport, for an international weightlifting competition. In a newsreel of the event shown in the United States the narrator, Bud Palmer, commented as follows: "Then, up to the bar stepped a great ball of a man, Paul Anderson." Palmer said, "The Russians snickered as Anderson gripped the bar, which was set at 402.5 pounds, an unheard-of lift. But their snickers quickly changed to awe and all-out cheers as up went the bar and Anderson lifted the heaviest weight overhead of any human in history." "We rarely have such weights lifted," said the solemn Russian announcer as Anderson hoisted 402.41 lb (182.53 kg) in the two-hand press.[7] Prior to Anderson's lift, the Soviet champion, Alexey Medvedev, had matched the Olympic record of the time with a 330.3 lb (149.8 kg) press. Anderson then did a 402.5 lb (182.6 kg) press. At a time when Americans were engaged in a symbolic Cold War battle with the Soviet Union, Anderson's strength — and his singular, tank-like appearance — became a rallying cry to all.[8]

During the 1955 World Championships in Munich, Germany, that October, Anderson went on to establish two other world records (for the press [407.7 lb (184.9 kg)] and total weight cleared [1,129.5 lb (512.3 kg)]) as he easily won the competition in his weight class to become world champion. Upon his return to the United States, Anderson was received by then Vice-President Richard Nixon, who thanked him for being a goodwill ambassador.

In 1956, Anderson won a gold medal in a long, tough duel with Argentine Humberto Selvetti in the Melbourne, Australia, Olympic Games as a weightlifter in the super-heavyweight class (while suffering from a 104 °F (40 °C) fever). The two competitors were tied in the amount of weight lifted, but because Anderson, who weighed in at 137.9 kg (304 lb), was lighter than Selvetti at the time, who weighed 143.5 kg (316 lb), Anderson was awarded the gold.

Anderson could not compete in the 1960 Olympics because he had been ruled a professional for accepting money for some of his weightlifting and strength exhibitions, including a stint in professional wrestling. Thus at the 1960 Olympics the Soviet heavyweight Yury Vlasov bested records set at the 1956 Olympics, with Anderson not competing in the contest. A short time later, however, not to be outdone by the Ukrainian as the World's Strongest Man, Anderson lifted the same weight as Vlasov three times in quick succession, demonstrating unbelievable strength. This feat solidified his position as the most dominant lifter in the world and cemented his legacy as the strongest of the strong.[9][10][11][12]

Paul Anderson, 1957

In 1961, Anderson and his wife Glenda founded the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a home for troubled youth, in Vidalia, Georgia. They both helped to build and support the home with an average of 500 speaking engagements and strength exhibitions per year—notwithstanding the congenital chronic kidney disease that eventually killed him at age 61. He would perform stunts such as hammering a nail with his bare fist and raising a table loaded with eight men onto his back.

The Guinness Book of World Records (1985 edition) lists his feat of lifting 6,270 lb (2,840 kg) in a back lift as "the greatest weight ever raised by a human being".[11] Anderson turned professional after the 1956 Summer Olympics, and thus many of his feats of strength, while generally credible, were not done under rigorous enough conditions to be official. In fact, controversy surrounding the figure in the 1985 Guinness Book led to its withdrawal in subsequent editions;[13] the currently listed Guinness record is 5,340 lbs, set by Gregg Ernst in 1993.[14]

Personal life[edit]

In 1950, Anderson married Glenda Garland. The couple were devout Christians. They had one daughter, born 1966.

While competing, Anderson weighed 275–370 lb (125–168 kg)[15] and was 5 feet 10.5 inches (1.79 m)[16] tall or less.[4]


As a child, Anderson suffered from Bright's disease (now known as chronic nephritis), a kidney disorder, and he eventually died from kidney disease on August 15, 1994, at the age of 61.[17]


Anderson's true life testimony can be heard through the Unshackled! radio ministry. It was first broadcast as program number 2521 and later redramatized as program number 3478.[18] Unshackled! has also produced a comic booklet telling Anderson's story.

Paul Anderson Memorial Park, located at the corner of East Tugalo Street and Big A Road in Toccoa, is named for Anderson.[19] The park features a life-size sculpture of him performing an overhead barbell lift.[20] The sculpture was created by Jerry McKenna, renowned American sculptor.

Was once a contestant on “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx. Paul and his partner answered four questions correctly, winning them $1000.

In July 2019, an episode of the History Channel show The Strongest Man in History featured Paul Anderson's story and several of his historic feats of strength.

Personal records[edit]

Official records[edit]

Olympic weightlifting

Done in official competition[16][15]

  • Clean and press: 408.5 lb (185.29 kg) on 1955-10-16, in Munich at the 1955 World Championships
  • Snatch: 335 lb (151.95 kg) on 1956-06-02 in Philadelphia at the 1956 Senior Nationals
  • Clean and jerk: 440 lb (199.58 kg) on 1956-06-02 in Philadelphia at the 1956 Senior Nationals
  • Total: 1,175 lb (532.97 kg). Clean and press: 400 lb (181.44 kg). Snatch: 335 lb (151.95 kg). Clean and jerk: 440 lb (199.58 kg) on 1956-06-02 in Philadelphia at the 1956 Senior Nationals

Unofficial lifts[edit]


Guinness also listed Anderson's best powerlifts[16]

Done in small exhibitions or training (according to Anderson himself)

Olympic weightlifting

Best gym lifts (according to Anderson himself)[16]

Other lifts

Done in small exhibitions or training

Quotes about Anderson[edit]

"I could do 310 in a standing one-arm side press with a dumbbell. Paul could do it for reps with ease."[23]
  • Ed Coan (powerlifting record-breaker)
"Though I never met him personally until the Strength Symposium in Florida, I saw films of him lifting in his heyday, with such absolute ease it was astonishing. Using his strength to benefit others is something that should make all powerlifters proud. What a great benefactor to mankind."
  • Jon Cole (powerlifter of the early 1970s)
"My love and respect for Paul runs deep. His ability to lift enormous weights in limited movements surpasses all. Those who attempt to discredit him shame our sport."
"He's the king of strength. His backlift was unbelievable. But more amazing was his total commitment as a Christian."
"Paul was an inspiration to me. Some of his feats may never be surpassed."
"A lot of lifters gathered at Sydney's on Santa Monica Beach near the base of the Pier. Here, as they got pissed [drunk], their stories became more and more fantastic. One heard of deltoids like watermelons and squats of a thousand pounds. This last turned out to be a solid fact for the incredible Paul Anderson. He was squatting with almost twice as much as anyone else's maximum."[24]
  • Yuri Vlasov (Anderson's major competitor in heavyweight weightlifting)
"Anderson overcame the limits of human capabilities .. I eagerly absorbed the crumbs of information about his training from the sports magazines. I tried to understand the nature of his amazing power. I did not associate it only with body weight. There should have been something in his training, different from the accepted norms"[25]
"Absolutely no question, Paul was the strongest of the strong. His physical deterioration and prolonged illness for the last 16 years of his life was a fate unbefitting such a great strongman and humanitarian. Paul was really a powerlifter and did the overhead lifts only because powerlifting as a sport did not exist 40 years ago. He excelled and was world and Olympic champ because he was far stronger than anyone else. When I hear people talk that a powerlifter will never win an Olympic gold medal, I tell them that Paul Anderson already did it, almost forty years ago."


  1. ^ "U. S. Weightlifting Champions - Men (all weightclasses)". Hickok Archived from the original on March 27, 2004. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  2. ^ "Olympic Weightlifting On the Web!". LiftTilyaDie.Com. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  3. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Paul Anderson". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on December 4, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "American Strength Legends: Paul Anderson". Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  5. ^ Bisher, Furman (October 8, 1955). "The Strongest Man on Earth". Saturday Evening Post. 228 (15): 96. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  6. ^ Poliquin, Charles (April 2012). "Squat or Deadlift?". Flex. 30 (4). Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  7. ^ "Moscow Marvel". Time. Vol. 65, no. 26. June 27, 1955. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  8. ^ Morais, Dominic G. (2013). "Lifting the Iron Curtain: Paul Anderson and the Cold War's First Sport Exchange". Iron Game History. 12 (2): 33. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  9. ^ "Insane lifts by paul aderson". Archived from the original on August 22, 2016. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  10. ^ "Paul Anderson at the Lift Up Hall of Fame". Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  11. ^ a b "American Strength Legends: Paul Anderson". Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  12. ^ "Welcome -". Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  13. ^ "Paul Anderson's June 12, 1957 Backlift" (PDF). Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  14. ^ "Log in". Guinness World Records. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c "The Strength Legacy of Strongman Paul Anderson". March 24, 2012. Archived from the original on March 24, 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  16. ^ a b c d e "Paul Anderson: Superman from the South" by Jim Murray
  17. ^ Thomas, Robert McG. (August 16, 1994). "Paul Anderson Is Dead at 61; Was 'World's Strongest Man'". New York Times: B 10. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  18. ^ "Paul Anderson", Unshackled!. Pacific Garden Mission. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  19. ^ "Paul Anderson Memorial Park". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  20. ^ "Paul Anderson - Toccoa, GA - Statues of Historic Figures on". Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  21. ^ Perine, Shawn (2015). "The 10 Strongest Humans Ever to Walk the Earth". Muscle & Fitness. 76 (3). Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  22. ^ Simmons, Louie (December 2013). "Don't Deadlift". Flex. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  23. ^ "Bodybuilding & Weightlifting Books | Super Strength Training". Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  24. ^ Sacks, Oliver (October 2015). "Mind Over Muscle". Muscle & Fitness. 116. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  25. ^ Kalinina, Elena (June 5, 2022) Власов Ю.П. Стечение сложных обстоятельств.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]