Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and the Louisiana Leviathan: Part II

Published 7:46 pm Thursday, October 7, 2021

BY ALEX CAMPBELL
It was 1947 and the biggest duel in the history of strength was about to come to its momentous conclusion in Chattanooga TN. Chattanooga, although not considered a major city today, was quite the happening place in the late 1800 and early 1900’s.

It was a major railroad hub that connected the deep south to the midsouth and points beyond. By the 1930’s it was being referred to as the “Dynamo of Dixie” and well-known musicians (like Glen Miller) were singing its praises in nationwide hits like “Chattanooga Choo Choo”.

And by the time of this epic showdown between Bob Peoples and Bill Boone, its population neared 130,000. 

Chattanooga was also home to just one of many legends, this one in strength, Bob Hise. He was a lifter in his own right but eventually became well-known for his ability as an event organizer and coach – specializing in Olympic lifting.

Eventually, his exploits earned him a place in the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame. At this time, however, he was organizing lifting meets in his hometown. It was at The Bob Hise Show, a weightlifting event organized by the YMCA that Peoples and Boone would do battle, and the show was just about to begin. 

Boone woke from his restless night early and left his cramped room before 7 am. Both Boone and Peoples tried to pass the time until evening by walking through the town and taking in a few of the sights, but to be honest, neither man was really paying any attention to his surroundings.

Both were there for a reason, and everything else was just an insignificant distraction. But soon enough the hours rolled by and signaled their date with destiny. 

The place was packed as the population was swelled by loyal fans of Peoples as they streamed out of the valleys and hollows of East Tennessee. There was no doubt which lifter would play the hero that night, and which lifter was there to spoil the day as the ultimate antagonist.

The nearly 300-pound Boone was more than ready to play his part. 

At weigh-ins, the sinewy Peoples tipped the scales at 175 pounds while Boone nearly crushed the scale with his 285 pounds. At this time, a heavyweight lifter was considered anyone that weighed over 181 pounds.

To be a full 100 pounds over that limit was unheard of. The event was shaping up to be a real-life battle of David versus Goliath. How could a man so small even hope to compete against a giant of a man like Boone?

Although tiny in comparison to Boone, Peoples was the reigning world record holder with a 651.25-pound pull which had annihilated the previous world record of Jack Hope at 624.25 pounds. Now Peoples was ready to take out the next barrier…700. But Bill Boone would have a little something to say about that. 

Peoples started with an appetizer as he called for 660 pounds. That was a new record, but still, way off the mark, he came to achieve. The crowd was rowdy and excited, but as Peoples centered himself over the bar and bent over to grab the weight, the crowd settled into a hushed silence.

Peoples’ style of lifting was unusual compared to most deadlifters of that time or any time for that matter. He tended to start very slowly off the floor, he took a deep breath but exhaled half of it before he held his breath to brace himself to start the lift, and he allowed his back to round which is a big “no-no” in the book of many lifters and coaches.

So as Peoples sucked in a monstrous breath then blew out half of it, he locked in his grip with his monstrous hands, held his breath to brace his torso, and began the momentous tug.

The weight flew up easily with only a short moment of hesitation on the floor, He held it at the top as the crowd went wild with enthusiasm, then returned it to the floor and scooted off the platform in his stocking feet. The gauntlet had been thrown down to the Goliath waiting side stage. 

Not to be outdone, the monstrous Boone called for 670 pounds. He carried his massive frame to the bar as the men added the weights to the bar.

Boone was a different kind of lifter.

A small man, like Peoples, has to be very technical to lift huge weights. It was harder for him to balance with so little bodyweight to counter. Huge men like Boone can be more explosive and lift more violently without the fear of getting off balance.

And with that, Boone ripped the bar from the ground, and even the home crowd of adoring mountaineers couldn’t resist the urge. A thunder of applause escaped the crowd now knowing that their boy Bob Peoples may indeed win the night, but he was going to have to fight to do it. 

Boone was now in the lead, but it was easy to see that both men had more pounds left in them. That is when the announcer proclaimed that Peoples had called for the historic 700 on his next lift.

The crowd went insane thinking that they would get to see their hero break the record before their eyes, however, would even this barrier-shattering lift even be enough to win the night?