|15||Nasser El Sonbaty||Yugoslavia||071||078||73||222|
|20||Francisco ‘Paco’ Bautista||Spain||099||099||80||278|
|24||Gustavo Badell||Puerto Rico||116||117||80||313|
Olympia Press Conference What started as simply the media’s introduction to the upcoming weekend has become almost an event in itself ‹ made even more popular by last year’s near free-for-all among many of the competitors. This year, though, was a much tamer affair — some even called it downright boring ‹ but it was spiced up a tad when well-known past competitor Milos Sarcev took to the microphone on behalf of some of the competitors.
Sarcev’s goal was to challenge IFBB Pro Chairman Wayne Demila on the topic of low-placing competitors’ getting some sort of prize money. He was stifled quickly, though, when Demila repeatedly told him that “this is not the place Milos.”
Mr. Olympia Prejudging It was clear from the beginning that this would be another contest that was over before it ever really started. The 25 competitors lined the stage and a quick scan across showed that four-time winner Ronnie Coleman was far ahead of everyone else.
Unlike last year when Jay Cutler actually beat Coleman but was awarded only second place, this year there was no such rival. Still, the rest of the pack is pretty well-conditioned and the fight for second place on down may well be fierce.
It was clear from the first callout that Kevin Levrone and Chris Cormier are being favored for the top spots. Neither competitor is in their best condition, but they are in very good condition and each would make worthy runner-up competitors. Kevin’s not quite as hard as he was on 2000 and his legs are still light, but he’s good and can out-pose most of the rest with ease. Cormier isn’t as hard as he should be, and perhaps worse, doesn’t seem to have a fighter’s instinct onstage ‹ perhaps he’s disgruntled he won’t be in first.
In terms of the other competitors, the much-anticipated return of Flex Wheeler has turned into the non-event of the year. Flex looked small, smooth, and didn’t seem to even condition his skin well or put on any oil — and that’s not to mention the rather, ahem, odd-looking calves. Out of the 25 competitors, he should not be in the top 10, but you never really know if the judges will see things the same way since he is a well-liked past champion.
And speaking of those, while Nasser El Sonbaty doesn’t have quite the same problems as Flex, he showed up again in a condition that should not see him in the top 10. In the last couple of years he was blessed with some generous placings, but I think his luck may be running out. And while Flex has his calves, Nasser has those shoulders.
Gunter Schlierkamp, mind you, has never placed too high, but deserves to be here ‹ geez, the guy supposedly hit 300 pounds on the scale? It also helps that the audience loves Gunter. And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum with diminutive Lee Priest. His height is quoted as anywhere from 5’2″ to 5’4″, but that doesn’t really matter in this sport. Side-by-side against the huge guys, he can hold his own. And when it comes to huge guys, there are few as big as Markus Ruhl.
I saw Markus guest-pose in July when he was said to weigh an astounding 330 pounds ‹ and looked it in more ways than one. Markus shed a number of pounds since then, and although he could stand to lose another 10 to be really ripped, he’s well-conditioned here and should manage a top 10. If he doesn’t make the top tier this year, I suspect the huge number of fans he has in the audience will be rightly upset.
Speaking of improving, Craig Titus didn’t make the top 10 last year, but he should make it this year. Thicker and harder, he won’t crack top 5, but he’s far better than more than half the other competitors here. And in a reversal of fortune, Titus’ arch-rival King Kamali easily beat Titus last year; this year, though, things switched around quite drastically. He actually looked smaller and less defined than in 2001. He better have a fantastic posing routine again if he wants to manage any type of respectable placing.
Then there’s Dexter Jackson ‹ a guy that constantly keeps getting screwed in his placings. I’ve heard some say he’s too small. But if that’s true, why don’t Gunter and Markus win all the shows? It’s because bodybuilding is about more than just size. Dexter has a fantastic physique with wonderful shape and outstanding conditioning. Should he be top 5? Yes. Will he be? You never know.
One other guy I’ll mention is Art Atwood. Art won in Toronto this year and has been talked about a lot lately. Art showed up in good overall condition, although flawed. His legs are simply far ahead of his upper body in size and conditioning — in fact, his legs are so vascular here they’re scary! His abs are also amazing, particularly for a big guy. His arms, shoulders, and chest, though, just aren’t up to the rest ‹ at least today. Still, he may well crack a top-10 placing and that’s pretty darn good.
Doug Schneider’s top-3 predictions: Ronnie will win with ease (the only question will be how long he will lie down for on the stage, and how long his acceptance speech will be); Kevin Levrone will likely squeak into second; and Chris Cormier will take third — although I’d rather see Lee Priest get the third spot.
Mr. Olympia Finals The Mr. Olympia finals was a briskly run affair ‹ barely two-and-a-half-hours long. However, the fast pace was greatly appreciated since it made for a more entertaining event.
No surprise to anyone, Ronnie Coleman walked away with the title for the fifth time — and he deserved it. I’ve seen Coleman win every year and in my estimation, this was his best condition. However, what did surprise everyone was Gunter Schlierkamp stealing the spotlight, and the crowd, from Coleman. In the best shape of his life, the 300-pound Schlierkamp had the audience behind him like few other competitors I’ve seen. Like Jay Cutler did in 2001, this year Schlierkamp leapt to the forefront of the bodybuilding world and from now on will be regarded as one of the world’s best.
Placed side-by-side to Coleman, Schlierkamp displayed astonishing size and density and even out-muscled him on many poses. When Schlierkamp’s free-posing routine finished, the crowd roared louder than for any other competitor. When he was announced in fifth place, the crowd booed with disapproval — some feel he should place as high as top-3, others felt he should outright displace Coleman for the title.
So when Gunter received his trophy, he became the only competitor of the evening to receive a standing ovation — his first of two! Quieting the crowd with a few words at the microphone, the crowd quickly stood again for the well-liked competitor. Ronnie Coleman won the Olympia title, but the night belonged to Gunter Schlierkamp.
Reflections on the 2002 Olympia Weekend It’s Sunday, October 20, 2002 — one day after the 2002 Mr. Olympia competition. I’m flying home via Chicago with the weekend events fresh in my mind. While I never planned to write much this weekend — instead, letting pictures tell the story — I don’t think that even great photos can tell you everything that happened in Las Vegas these last few days. So here it is: my final thoughts, as well as some interesting things that I noticed at this year’s event.
One thing is for sure: The male bodybuilding competitors could certainly learn a whole lot from the female bodybuilders, except for King Kamali who had, by far, the most entertaining posing routine of the men’s competition. Kamali was not in good shape this year, but his innovative routine left one with a positive impression. No other competitor in as poor condition could turn things around for themselves as he did — and that shows just how much impact the posing routine can have.
What happened this year is nothing new. The art of posing seems to have become lost in men’s quest for ultimate size. Most often the men’s posing routines followed the same formula. They start with some slow, syrupy music and go through some slo-mo poses and then midway the music turns to hard rock, rap, or hip-hop with the competitor simply wandering from one stage to the next, hitting the same few poses. Professional? Hardly. Boring? Unless the guy has got an unbelievable physique that night — yeah.
It’s surprising really, given just how much time and money these men spend getting ready for a competition, only to neglect posing. As a result, when it’s their time to really show it off, most sell themselves short. Remember the part in Pumping Iron when Arnold and Franco visit the ballet coach? There’s a reason good competitors do stuff like that.
Contrast the men’s routines with those of the women — in particular, Juliette Bergmann, Lenda Murray, and Valentina Chepiga. Their routines were wonderfully diverse and professionally executed. The women didn’t need to wave their hands in the air, egging the audience on to cheer for them. The cheers just happened.
And there are other things the men could learn from the women too: like how to conduct themselves on the stage during the prejudging round. Juliette, probably because she’s a judge herself, knows that the judges watch the competitors all the time — even when they’re not being asked to pose or being directly compared to another competitor. Why? The judges are making notes and occasionally taking quick glimpses here and there to finalize their scoring.
The relaxed time a competitor has still counts. Imagine what will happen to a competitor if a judge is doing a last-minute check on his first-, second-, and third-place rankings and he looks up to see one of the three standing relaxed with his or her belly hanging out and talking to the competitor beside him. Don’t laugh, it happens often!
I watched Juliette closely as her class was being judged. Because she was the superior athlete in her class, she was not called out as often — it was obvious that they had her in first place quite quickly. But when she stood in the line, she didn’t just stand there; Juliette was standing there posing — meaning she made sure she was standing perfectly, accentuating her physique every time she could, even if she was not hitting formal poses.
Lenda Murray did the same thing. Not only does this help if the judges happen to look at you; it also forces the judges and the audience to look at you even when they’re supposed to have their attention on someone else.
On the flipside is our men’s champion Ronnie Coleman. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Ronnie and I had him picked for the top spot this year, even if some others did not. I feel that this year he was in his best condition ever. Nevertheless, Ronnie could do a whole lot more to secure his success as a winner.
Like Juliette, Ronnie gets called our far less than most of the top-10 competitors. But what does Ronnie do with his extra time? He spends most of it standing with his hands on his hips, muscles relaxed, yawning — yes, yawning! Actually, I’ve made a habit of snapping off photos of Ronnie in various stages of his yawns — it’s almost a show in itself. What’s more, he doesn’t just do it during prejudging, he yawned just before being announced the winner that night! Is he sleep-deprived? Perhaps — but maybe it would be better if he took a few naps before the show.
Does that hurt Ronnie’s placing? Based on the fact that he was the winner, you would think not — at least that’s what I originally thought. But my insiders at the event tell me otherwise. From what I gathered, Ronnie certainly wasn’t the unanimous winner this year and, in fact, may well have been closer to losing his title than he and almost everyone else thought. Every moment a competitor is onstage counts.
Then again, Ronnie is not the only competitor to commit such a sin; in fact, he could be doing much worse. As far as I can see, during the prejudging Flex Wheeler enjoys nothing better than standing around talking to whichever competitor is within earshot. Don’t these guys get enough time to talk to each other backstage? Perhaps they can start wearing microphones so we can get in on the conversations too.
Now, let’s discuss something else that, this year, the women all had over the men: a V-taper. Guys like Bob Chicarelli and Chris Cormier like to talk about their “X-frames” — and certainly, these men have more taper and greater flare than many of the professionals who have bellies larger than half the guys at a chili cook-off. But you don’t hear champions like Juliette and Lenda bragging about their X’s, V’s, T’s, and A’s or whatever. Juliette and Lenda are so exquisitely shaped that it just shows without being said.
The shoulder-to-waist tapers of Juliette and Lenda are astonishing — and they know it. Certainly, this has a lot to do with genetics, but it’s obvious they train for it and pose with it in mind. When they each first walked onstage, they hit poses to accentuate their dramatic tapers and the crowd responded with a roar.
This is a part of physique building that is getting lost in this modern age of male athletes carrying way-too-much weight than is good for them — in more ways than one. I suspect that the great Frank Zane and Vince Gironda would see much to admire in those two women’s physiques too, and the day that some of these guys realize bigger is not always better (particularly with your stomach), will be the day they get better placings!
Finally, let’s touch on that nasty topic of Synthol — something one writer (I forget who, sorry) hilariously dubbed the “Silly Putty of bodybuilding.” While everyone claims not to use such a hideous creation, once again I saw far too many competitors with the oddest-looking muscle deformities that I have to ask: If it’s not oil in there, then what the hell is it?
I’m not going to name names, but here are the body parts that I thought looked rather conspicuous at Olympia 2002: shoulders (most often); triceps (tied for second most often with); calves (for those that don’t have them, I guess, and never will now); biceps (fill’er up!); inner thigh just above the knee (now that was a new one!); and lats (can you imagine what that looks like?). In fact, I noticed something really strange this year. Between the morning and the night shows a few competitors appeared to, ahem, go for a fill-up on certain body parts ‹ and it was not subtle, nor did they look any better for it.
Here’s what I can’t figure out: the stuff looks downright foolish since the muscle takes on a rather deformed look and loses all definition. From what I can see, it also appears to cause damage to the muscles on some competitors. I certainly hope that the IFBB does something about this; but on the bright side, even if they don’t, I have this feeling that many of the better competitors are now seeing just how ludicrous it is and the use of Synthol will die a slow death ‹ none too soon for me.
Now, let’s get to the biggest things that happened (quite literally) for a more positive finish to what was, in fact, a pretty grand time.
Gunter Schlierkamp doesn’t exactly have a name that rhymes with anything catchy, so I’ve just been calling what happened on Saturday night the “Gunter Phenomenon.” And the full impact of it never really reached me until this morning when I was running to catch a plane with my friend Garry Bartlett. It was when Garry said that he’d “never seen a crowd cheer for a man like that in 15 years” that I realized Gunter’s accomplishment and how his presence made the 2002 Olympia such a relevant event.
Gunter has always been a crowd favorite, constantly cheered on by the audience and supported with boos when the judges screw him out of a top-10 placing (until this year that seemed to be a given for him). But when he emerged from behind the curtain in 2002, the Gunter-hype was different ‹ and bigger! The crowd roared to life to a point that it was deafening ‹ and they kept on going.
No one, and I mean no one ‹ not Coleman or Levrone or even Kamali after his fantastic routine ‹ came close to the applause and support that Gunter received. Heck, when Joe Weider was handing out the participation medals to each competitor I thought the crowd had gone to sleep; but it was like a bomb going off when he got down to Gunter’s place in line. His support never declined; in fact, it hit a fever pitch by the end.
When Gunter graciously received his fifth-place trophy he was rewarded with not one, but two standing ovations! The only other time the crowd stood up that day was to go to the bathroom and to leave at the end of the show.
So what accounted for all the Gunter love last night? I think it has to do with a few things.
First, he was undoubtedly in the best shape of his life ‹ good-enough shape that some even felt he should take the title from Ronnie. He was reportedly 300 pounds, making him the biggest guy at the show. While it’s hard to know if that was really his weight ‹ many of the competitors seem to like to embellish it ‹ we’ll just have to take their word on that one. What I can verify, mind you, is that he was rock-hard from head to toe.
Geez, he had striations on his glutes ‹ try that at a weight of three Susie Curry’s. He was good ‹ no, great! ‹ but I still had Ronnie ahead of Gunter even though I did notice Gunter managing to outmuscle Ronnie in quite a few poses ‹ sometimes even to the point of making Ronnie look small! Gunter was not necessarily good enough to take first place, but after the pose down that night, I felt him good enough to be runner-up to Ronnie.
Second, Gunter’s got charisma. As almost any woman will attest, the guy’s got great looks. And I’ve always seen Gunter with an ear-to-ear smile. He lit up the press conference a few days earlier with his wide-eyed explanation of his acting and modeling efforts. Catch him walking through the hallways and he always has a larger-than-life, confident look on his face. And on the stage, he looks and acts like a true professional — in much the same way that Juliette and Lenda do. That’s, at least, part of what helped last night.
But there’s more.
For the three years that I’ve been coming to the Olympia in Las Vegas, I’ve never been more impressed with a competitor’s rapport with his fans than I have been with Gunter’s. Now anyone who knows me knows that I can’t say that about all, or even many, of the so-called pros in our sport ‹ some of whom seem to have such a sour attitude toward their fans that I wonder why anyone would stand in line for them.
But Gunter’s the exception to the rule, and I believe his years of consistently treating his fans with respect and acting like, get this, a gentleman has paid off. His fan base has grown and this year they paid his hospitability back with their support.
So while I think that many of the men could use some lessons from the women, I think that everyone could take some lessons from Gunter Schlierkamp. From my perspective, he represents a tide of change in men’s bodybuilding ‹ a long overdue one, in fact. So don’t go calling Gunter the “Uncrowned Mr. Olympia” or anything like that. In 2002 he was crowned the Fan’s Champion by everyone in attendance and that’s probably more important to him than anything.