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Greg Kovacs Remembered

Dan Kennedy

The Man Who Cast a Huge Shadow on the Landscape
of Canadian Bodybuilding Passes Away at 44.

The passing of Greg Kovacs is a huge loss to the bodybuilding community.

This gentle giant suffered a heart attack this past November, although the official cause of death was listed as organ failure. Two weeks prior to Greg’s death, he had been suffering from water retention issues, and he had recently undergone mitral valve surgery. Did the surgery contribute to Greg’s death, or was Greg’s condition more serious than the medical staff initially thought? Many in the industry believe that Greg burst on the bodybuilding scene only via the many MuscleTech advertisements he was featured in at the start of his career, but this is not strictly the case. Earlier on, the fi rst mention of Greg was in the late Negrita Jayde’s MuscleMag International article “Genetics: Reality and the Bodybuilder.” In issue #86, Jayde wrote: At a recent bench press contest there was 430 pounds on The bar and it was the last lift of the evening. Slowly but surely the bar was pressed up. The lift was good. It was also the winning lift and the crowd went wild. Minutes later most of the audience went home but a small gathering remained around the bar. Four hundred and thirty pounds still sat on the stands. Suddenly, a large figure stepped out from nowhere and positioned himself under the weight. He took it off the rack, pressed it 17 times, and put it back! He then quietly left out the door while a group of stunned onlookers remained speechless. Her article illustrated a hard reality concerning competitive success in bodybuilding: It’s so much more about genetics than many physique athletes would like to admit. To a very significant degree, either you’re born with it or you’re not. You have to work to develop your gifts, but nature pretty much limits how much you can achieve. But when it comes to the genetic inheritance for size and strength, there is no doubt that Kovacs was born with it. My God, how he was born with it.  However, although I agree with much of Negrita’s hardtruth article, I do believe she missed a key piece of bodybuilding success: the undeniable fact that being at the right place at the right time plays a crucial role in success. Would Greg have been as successful in today’s age of the pretty-boy mass-with-class men’s physique athlete as he was in the ‘90s? I don’t think so. The ‘90s were a time of excess when “bigger is better” were words to live by. Cars were bigger (remember the Hummer?), movie success was determined by body count (“I’ll be back!”), muscle magazines grew to Sears catalog dimensions, and the best bodybuilders were the biggest.

When it came to big bodybuilders, Greg Kovacs wasn’t Just big—he was the biggest! Tipping the scales at an incredible 400+ pounds of myostatinmutated beef, Greg dwarfed all of the competitive body-builders of his era. All of the “ankle biters” bowed down to King Kovacs. Greg easily won his IFBB pro card at the 1996 Canadian Nationals, much to the dismay of future pro Erik Alstrup. Alstrup’s classic physique was no match for the gargantuan development of the incredible Kovacian. He dominated the stage to the degree that it looked as if the other weight class winners could have easily been a carb-up meal for the monstrous Kovacs. MuscleTech CEO Paul Gardiner foresaw Greg’s tremendous potential and signed him to an endorsement contract. It was common to see Greg’s picture in multiple MuscleTech ads for Creatine 6000ES, Acetabolan, Hydroxycut, and many others. Who can forget the photos where Greg was training outside at Muscle Beach or stepping out of the beach surf, wearing sunglasses and hitting a most muscular pose? It was as if some new species was rising from the ocean depths, ready to wreak havoc like a ravenous Godzilla.

And there is no doubt that Kovacs wasn’t plagued with the common  bodybuilder stereotype of being all show and no go. As demonstrated by the bench press story, he was immensely strong. Freakishly powerful! He boasted of performing a 700-pound bench press, a 500-pound military press, a 500-pound bentover row, and a 2,025-pound
leg press. These are serious strength claims and in my view should have been Greg’s focus: a shock and awe campaign that would be mythologized by gym rats all over the world for years to come.
But unfortunately for Greg, his sights were set on the pro bodybuilding stage. This pursuit resulted in several poor and disappointing
placings, which eventually led to his retirement from competitive bodybuilding in2005. Some might say that Kovacs had less than ideal structure to compete successfully, while others might suggest poor diet advice led to his downfall. Perhaps both of these are true to some degree. In bodybuilding competition, no matter how hard you train and massive you become, it is how you look onstage, after months of dieting, that will determine the result. Greg had suggested to me that he was never filled out enough and the lean (and stringy) look he often exhibited in contests did his physique a disservice. I’m certain everyone remembers the picture that was posted on the now-defunct Muscle Mayhem forum. Contest prep guru Chad Nicholls had managed to get Greg in contest condition, but the result sacrificed Greg’s trademarked size and freakiness.

Greg was adamant that if he had structured his diet himself instead of using different gurus during his career, the results would have been much different. It was certainly this appreciation of fullness that was the
foundation of the contest prep and off-season training programs he advocated for clients whose development he guided, and that set him
apart from other physique coaches. It was almost as if Greg was on a crusade to keep his clients full. MUSCLE INSIDER owner Scott Welch
points out that if a bodybuilder was serious about packing on quality mass in the off-season, Greg was the coach to work with. I took Scott’s
advice and worked with Greg and can honestly say it was my most productive training period in almost 30 years of training. He helped me to build up to over 300 pounds I’m hesitant to reveal the “supplement” program he suggested. But I will say it was incredible! I’ll let Greg keep that secret with him. Sometimes it’s best to let sleeping giants lie. When I talked with Greg during his fi nal years, it was apparent his love of bodybuilding remained a part of his life, but that he had become soured by the industry. He felt abandoned by his fair-weather friends, and the comments from Internet trolls weighed heavily on his mind. He was very giving to many in the bodybuilding world, but in his time of need he was alone.

Maybe Greg had become too accustomed to relying on others to take care of his day-today, mundane needs (as was the case when he was in his prime). Maybe he still lived in the world where he was “King Kovacs.” I’m not sure, but thinking back, I like to remember the caring, giving, mischievous character Greg was when I knew him at his most successful. It is quite telling that Greg opted not to have a funeral but asked for donations to be collected for a scholarship in his name. The scholarship is intended for a student at Westlane Secondary School in Niagara Falls who achieves respectable grades and excels in athletic activities. This is who Greg was, and I have been proud to call him my friend.