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The Romano Factor
Judging at the Olympia
Several thousand bodybuilding fans from all over the world are making a trip to Las Vegas to be in town for the 50th anniversary of the Mr. Olympia competition. And by all accounts, they’re going to have the time of their lives. But, I wonder if people are thinking past the pageantry of such an auspicious weekend, the masses of people at the convention center, the outrageous outfits and the bodies in them, star-spotting in the Orleans lobby, and the long list of parties guaranteed to give you brain damage, to appreciate just how pivotal a contest this year’s will be in deciding who is going to occupy the top five and, out of them, who will be crowned king of them all.
It’s almost inconceivable that something that is viewed by many as nothing more that frivolous vanity and of little importance has not only endured 50 years but also grown exponentially in its scope and popularity. But not without its bumps. Today, the bumps seem to be in the shape of distended abdomens, and today, there’s a motion afoot to do something about it. By many informed accounts, this year’s event will go down in history for a bit more than just its silver anniversary.
The Olympia was first held on September 18, 1965, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. It was a stand-alone event won by Larry Scott. Then Sergio Oliva, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Frank Zane, Chris Dickerson, Samir Bannout, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson, and finally Phil Heath. Fifty years and just 13 champions, from six different countries.
When you consider the sheer number of bodybuilders out there, in not only those six countries but the rest of the world as well, then you get an idea of just how rare a bird Mr. O is and just how tall a climb it is up Mount Olympus. That rarity, that ever-so-slight percentage, the staggering odds against winning, make this event tailor-made for Las Vegas. Next to peanut butter and jelly, no two things go better together than bodybuilding and Las Vegas.
The prize money for the event is finally being measured in digits understood by the Vegas lexicon. When Larry Scott won in ‘65, the prize money was supposed to be $1,000. But, cost overruns in putting on the show had Mr. Olympia leave empty-handed. This year’s O will be the first time in history that the total prize money approaches the $1 million mark, with Mr. O walking away with $250,000 and leaving another $400,000 to spread generously around the remaining nine places in the top 10.
But how do we arrive at such a lofty peak? Who decides who’s numero uno? And how do they do it? What’s the criteria? That, my friends, seems to be the $250,000 question, especially these days. Before bodybuilding started being measured to the right of 250, the upper echelon of pro bodybuilder exhibited the classic “X frame” physique—wide shoulders; a small, trim waist; and sweeping quads. Emphasis on “small, trim waist.” The ‘90s champions—Coleman, Wheeler, Levrone, Cormier, Dillett, Priest, Nasser, and company—exhibited those classic lines to, some say, the most exorbitant degree aesthetically possible while maintaining the requisite symmetry. All of those guys could hit a vacuum pose. Two-and-a-half decades later, almost no one can. Not only can’t they hit a vacuum, but most of the guys can’t keep their stomachs from sticking out. They look pregnant. They’re also huge. Like, bigger than any other time in history. How about Big Ramy onstage at 5'9" and 300 pounds? And if the past is any indication of the future, one day he too will be eclipsed. Or will he?
The explosion of the physiques along with their guts has some rather forcefully contending that physique development has passed its logical limit. What is being rewarded today as the world’s best seems to be a gross departure from the requisite symmetry for the sake of shock and awe. No one has been more vocal about this than the governor of bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He made a lot of noise after the Arnold Classic and demanded that the industry call out the IFBB and its president to change the deleterious direction bodybuilding is taking and aim it back at its roots. This Olympia will be the first major contest to go on in the wake of Arnold’s demands. What we will see, either way, will be a turning point in bodybuilding.
If the judging heeds Arnold, then all will be good in the world. People are tired of the preggo-looking bodybuilder, and to see it marked down will be a welcome sight indeed. And props will go to Arnold for saving the direction of the sport by championing the voice of the fans.
However, if the judging ignores Arnold’s pleas, then you’re going to see a very annoyed Austrian that’s accustomed to getting what he wants. If the IFBB shades him, it won’t go unanswered. And, I have a feeling Arnold’s answer will be more than the status quo can bear. And the fallout from that, my friends, will be very interesting. It will no doubt alter the course of bodybuilding history. <<insert popcorn eating emoticon here>>
For a history of the Mr. Olympia competition, click here!