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September 24, 2013

Floyds Knobs' own takedown king

Mike West a four-time world arm wrestling champ

FLOYDS KNOBS — He’s an elite athlete who captured his fourth world championship earlier this month, but do you know Mike West?

Regardless of the popularity of the sport in his homeland, the Floyd County native remains on top of his game. West — who lives in Floyds Knobs with his family — bested a strong European field to  win his fourth World Armwrestling Federation Championship title during a tournament that wrapped up on Sept. 8 in Poland.

While arm wrestling draws hundreds of thousands of television viewers and fans in other countries, the sport remains somewhat obsolete in terms of media spotlight in the United States.

Though he may dwell in relative anonymity in his native country, West, 52, gets satisfaction from the competition of the sport.

“Getting to the top and staying at the top is nearly impossible, and that’s what motivates me,” he said.

As the saying goes, West knows the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.

He’s persevered through the physical toll the sport has taken on his body, as well as the disappointment of losing some of the biggest matches in the world.

West defeated a familiar foe in the right-handed, 90-kilogram master’s bracket world championship this year. In the first round of the double elimination tournament, West faced a Swiss arm wrestler who had knocked him out of the 2012 world championships.

This year, West exacted some revenge and beat the Swiss opponent in their first match. His rival made his way through the loser’s bracket to setup a championship duel with West.

West lost the first match in the championship to the Switzerland native, but rebounded to take the final round and capture the title.

“That was a sweet match,” West said.

He won World Armwrestling Federation world championships in 2002 in Egypt, in 2003 in Russia, and in 2004 in Brazil.

“To win it and then to go back the next two years and win it again, that was a blessing. That’s a rarity, very rare,” West said.

But triumph doesn’t always come without struggle, as West was plagued with injuries for a stint that began in 2005.

Arm wrestling isn’t just a bar room contest, it’s a sport that requires thought and technique to master. It also mandates that a person have a high pain threshold.

West lost 18 months of his career after breaking his arm during a match. He’s also ripped a biceps loose and suffered other arm-related injuries.

When he trains others, West said he emphasizes safety.

“Often times you do it to yourself,” West said of being injured.

He started off competitive arm wrestling in high school, and conceded he knew little about the technique of the sport at the time.

“I was just using brute strength,” he said.

He met a Southern Indiana arm wrestling trainer named Terry Spine who took him under his wing.

West and Spine still train to this day. While regular weightlifting and endurance exercises are required to compete on a global level, West said arm wrestling is about the will to win.   

“For arm wrestlers, it’s a lot of arm and forearm strength, but you have to have a passion for it,” West said.   

He’s competed in matches that ended in a matter of seconds, and others that have stretched close to five minutes.

West has evolved from his days of relying on strength to become more of a defensive arm wrestler who wears down his opponents.

“I’m just more stubborn,” he said.

West has traveled around the world to compete in tournaments, and most of the time he’s paid his own way.

Though the U.S. fields a team for world championship events, sponsorship is rare, and West said the expense of paying for travel and lodging fare can push some talented arm wrestlers out of the sport.

The traditional powerhouse countries of the sport such as Russia have sponsorships and team budgets for physicians and training programs, West said.

Arm wrestling is so popular in countries such as Turkey that weekly television shows are dedicated to the sport.

West would love to see the American team receive the same kind of financial and fan support as other countries. It isn’t an Olympic sport, and ESPN doesn’t seem likely to begin featuring arm wrestling matches during prime time, but West said he and his teammates are still proud to wear the red, white and blue during tournaments abroad.

“We do it out of the love of the sport. We do it for our country,” West said.

On the web

• For more about Mike West, armwrestling tips and training info, visit the website

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