Like many people, I'd taken a few business trips to Las Vegas, Nevada before. I'd already experienced the sore legs, spent too much on cabs, revelled in the antics of the inebriated throngs and handbill distributors - but this was the first time I'd ever attended the Olympia.
Meet & Greet
My first taste of what the 'O' is all about came on Thursday night, when I attended the "Meet The Olympians" meet and greet event at the Orleans Arena Concourse.
Having spent the past few weeks working with the bloggers on the Olympia group blog, I noticed them first thing as I ascended the escalator. Photographer SecondFocus (sometimes known as Ian L. Sitren) was there at the concourse entrance talking to BodySpace supergirl Crissy King and her fiancé and fellow photographer, Bryan Mylius.
After shootin' the bull with them for a few minutes, I made the rounds with Ian while he snapped shots of all the pro athletes.
Of course, I also had the pleasure of seeing and meeting some of the female competitors (grabbing a photo with Tanji Johnson, catching a smile from the elegant Mary Elizabeth Lado, and talking shop with the lovely Valerie Waugaman), and basking in the glow of the gargantuan Olympian monsters themselves, such as Jay Cutler, Günter Schlierkamp, Dexter Jackson, and Ronnie Coleman, to name a few.
The Expo: Pro's & Personalities
Friday morning had us (Webmaster Will and I) getting up early and heading over to the Orleans to pick up our press passes, spying some of the Olympian ladies boarding the athletes' bus, and then heading on over to the Las Vegas Convention Center ourselves.
You know you can't wait to see this super high-quality, ultra-exciting video of the amazing bus ride from the Orleans to the Convention Center:
See, wasn't that amazing?!! LOL.
The full two-day experience of weaving in and through the expo booths was pretty darn sweet, as I got to meet and talk to even more familiar faces and manage to have my photo taken with a few of them, too, as you'll see throughout this article.
One special treat I experienced was getting to meet Mike Summers, a Bodybuilding.com Amateur of the Week from a few months ago. He told us about how whenever he goes to the beach now, women flock to him and for some strange reason, he ends up picking them up - literally, not euphemistically.
We thought he was kidding, of course, but then it happened right in front of our eyes at our own Bodybuilding.com booth:
Besides the booths and the industry personalities, there were also other events going on which were entertaining, such as the arm wrestling contests, the bench press competition, the "most reps" on a Smith Machine contest (benching), some MMA demos in a boxing ring, some UFC fighters signing autographs, Lou Ferrigno selling autographs (LOL), the little people representing Xyience, and much more!
Not to drop names, but - well okay, yes, I'm dropping names - here's a representative yet not exhaustive list of some of the more famous people that I talked to whilst meandering around over the weekend:
Mr. O: Top 15
On Friday night, the time finally came for the Men's and Figure finals, at the Orleans Arena. I got there a little late, so I missed the Figure one-piece judging. When I found my seat, Ronny Rockel and Dennis Wolf were just exiting the stage - and then it was time for the Men's Top 15.
The intro videos during this part of the show were excellent - and really brought character to the competitors, giving some personality and voice to what otherwise might've been a somewhat repetitive chunk of the show. The music sound quality was also notably good, and gave the event that excitement that made me say, "This is awesome, I'm glad I'm here."
Then "Marvelous" Melvin Anthony stole the spotlight with his bright yellow posing trunks and his awesome breakdancing moves. It's true what they say, Melvin never ceases to deliver entertaining routines!
Mr. Anthony was followed by "The Freakin' Rican" Gustavo Badell in his sparkly red posing trunks and his 4 points of bodybuilding:
Next up was Johnnie O. Jackson in his purple posing suit that appeared blue on the big screens, and the people's favorite underdog, the jolly green giant Günter Schlierkamp. Günter seemed to me to be a little lacking in his abs, but his hamstrings were very impressive, easily beating those coming before and after him.
Toney Freeman was next on the roster, repeating his routine from the 2006 Europa with his hood and battleaxe and red & black posing suit. Very scary, ooooh.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Random Body Parts: My Back And The Expo Entrance
& My Arm With The BB.com Supplement Awards.
Toney was followed by Dexter Jackson in his yellow sequin trunks, Branch Warren, and Darrem Charles, who apparently thought that a little ballet and a love ballad would make a great routine. Ummmm... no. Feeling very in-touch with my feminine side, I then witnessed Dennis James come out in what looked like a red rubber Speedo, which only added to the weirdness.
At this point, there were only four (4) competitors left to pose, and they were:
- Jay Cutler
- Marcus Ruhl
- Vince Taylor
- Ronnie Coleman
When Jay "Cuts" Cutler took the stage, the crowd, who up until now had been disappointingly silent and apparently asleep, actually jumped to life and cheered wildly! Until that moment, it honestly felt like I was at a silent movie instead of a sporting event. Zero, I mean zero, crowd participation - until Jay came out.
Jay's routine followed a car analogy, where a salesman's voice was introducing the all-new 2006 model Cutler Supreme with a brand-new bronze finish (tan), precision detailing (striations), incredible ABS system (abdominals), all-wheel drive (quads), and hatch back (lats). Jay, of course, would flex and highlight the areas of the body that the voice was describing - which made for a fun and entertaining presentation. Very cool.
And then it was time for RRRUUUUHHHHHHLLLLLLLLL... Marcus Ruhl, the genetic freak, stole the spotlight to the low rumbling chant of "Ruuuuhhhhllll". He looked absolutely huge, very impressive - and the crowd loved him.
Vince Taylor "The Quiet Storm" followed Ruhl, talking first on his video segment about how he is now 50 years old and still competing in the Olympia. His "Transformer" routine was a big hit, and especially nostalgic to this 80's cartoon buff (yours truly).
And last, but not least by any stretch of the imagination, was the king himself, Ronnie Coleman - whose relatives in the stands erupted with applause when he made his entrance. Speaking of his entrance, however, it was a little confusing, though.
He started out jogging through the crowd, down the main aisle of the arena, like Rocky Balboa or Apollo Creed, with a black boxing robe covering everything but his eyes, and the "Eye of the Tiger" theme music (or something very similar) playing over the loudspeakers. He was surrounded by a small horde of bodyguards who jogged in front of and behind him.
Thus being prepared for a boxing themed posing performance, he appears on stage just moments later dressed up as Moses descending Mount Sinai with the two stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments. I'm talking the long grey beard, the desert-like robe and everything.
I wasn't alone in feeling confused by the mixed metaphors - the crowd went silent with the whole Moses thing, and I actually felt bad for him, as it obviously was a horrible flop.
To add insult to injury, he seemed to struggle getting the costume robe off (it seemed to get stuck on his shoulder), and then he forgot to take his beard off, so several poses were completely covered by the fake beard. Whoops. Once all the gimmick was removed, the rest of his routine went well, but wow - what an awful way to start.
The more familiar Ronnie we all know and love emerged moments later as he donned his signature black shades, as we all tried to forget the whole Rocky/Moses fiasco.
Figure Results & The Sandow
Ben Weider and Rob Wilkins took the stage next and brought out all 21 of the Figure Olympia competitors, in nearly perfectly alphabetical order, from Michelle Adams to Latisha Wilder, including a little twist from the mouth of Bob Cicherillo when he introduced Jessica Paxson as Jessica Putnam (she got married on Sunday to Peter Putnam, but was still technically Paxson on Friday night).
As the Figure two-piece judging was occuring, I couldn't help but remark again on what a really tough crowd this was - not a single female competitor got any applause (except from me - I clapped for everyone) - it actually made me mad. Here are these athletes (both men and women) who all worked their glutes off to be here at this sporting event in a stadium filled all the way up to the nosebleed section with 8,000 people, and nobody cheers??
Click Image To Enlarge.
Me With Fitness Model, Christina Lindley
& Masters World Champion, Bob Cicherillo.
I then remembered that this was Vegas, and many of the people in the crowd probably didn't know anything about bodybuilding and fitness at all, they just got tickets as part of their travel package or thought it was an interesting alternative to Celene Dion, those blue dudes, or the magicians who get bitten by tigers.
The Top 6 ladies were then announced and awarded their medals and prize monies:
5. Mary Elizabeth Lado
4. Christine Pomponio-Pate
3. Monica Brant-Peckham
2. Amber Littlejohn
1. Jenny Lynn
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The crowd surprised me again, however, when Monica was named as #3 - the boo's for the ranking was definitely heard, followed by some supportive applause when she accepted the medal and check and waved to the audience.
After the Figure awards were finished, Shawn and Bob spoke briefly to 8-Time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney about his predictions on whether or not Ronnie would be breaking the tie tonight or not. Bob nailed it right on the head when he said that either way, tonight would make history.
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The Top 10 awards were then presented, starting with a $14,000 USD check going to #10... Günter Schlierkamp. Boo's and hisses erupted from the crowd, as no one expected Big G to place so low. Claps and supportive applause were offered, however, as Günter accepted the award, smiled, and waved to his fans.
The Top 6 competitors were then invited out for some judging and the infamous posedown round. Emcee Shawn Ray noted after the fact that this was one of the longest posedowns in the history of bodybuilding. And for good reason - the crowd was suddenly very alive and very much into what was happening onstage.
Chants of "Ron-nie, Ron-nie..." erupted like a wave, circling the stadium, as Gustavo, Melvin, Dexter, and Victor all competitively posed, but the real action was obviously happening in the battle for the Sandow between Jay and Ronnie.
And this is where the champion was born in my mind. Jay Cutler was a step ahead of Ronnie in every aspect of this posedown. Jay was alive and on fire, and actively playing to the crowd. At the split second I remember thinking that Jay lacked Ronnie's massive traps, something absolutely amazing and utterly unexpected happened... Ronnie started copying Jay.
At that second, Jay cemented his win, and took absolute command over the entire show. When Jay started pumping up the crowd, two seconds later Ronnie started doing the same thing. Jay then jumped off the stage and down onto a lower platform and started flexing for different sections of the crowd, followed two seconds later by Ronnie doing the same exact thing.
Jay hopped back up onto the stage and ran from side to side eliciting roars from the seats below, followed by a half-hearted attempt to replicate him by the former Mr. O. It was like watching a game of cat and mouse, and honestly, was a bit pathetic on Ronnie's part. (No offense, Ronnie, but it just came across that way to me.)
Click Image To Enlarge.
Me With NPC Competitor Ginger Redeker
& Ali Metkovich (How Did I End Up So Flat?)
For what seemed to stretch on for a lifetime, I sat dumbfounded and utterly amazed as I watched Ronnie Coleman fall from the throne, to be replaced with a much better showman, that of what I would find out a few minutes later was the new Mr. Olympia, Mr. Jay "Cuts" Cutler.
The next four final checks were then awarded, going to Gustavo Badell in sixth place, winning $30k; Melvin Anthony in fifth, winning 38 grand; Dexter Jackson in fourth, snagging 48 grand, and Victor Martinez ascending into the third spot for a cool sixty-thousand dollars.
At this point, there were only two competitors left, and the tension in the air was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Bob then explained that the next name we would hear would not be the #2 ranked competitor, but the winner of the Sandow Trophy, and the one who would be this year's Mr. Olympia, earning for himself the top prize money of $155,000 U.S. dollars.
Dramatic pause... Seconds passed... And then...
Immediately, 8,000+ people all jumped to their feet and Las Vegas erupted with a roar so loud, it was deafening. Despite the overwhelming cacophany, cellphones lit up instantly and were yelled at, laptop keys were being trampled by furious fingers, and Blackberrys were mangled by thumbs texting the results to unknown parties obviously not in attendance.
As swiftfooted photographers lit up the stage with hundreds of millions of extra lumens and footcandles, Jay received not only the Sandow Trophy but armfuls of hugs and a handful of microphones and the opportunity to express his feelings to the eagerly-awaiting masses.
Ironically, I actually missed Jay's victory speech, as I was one of those cradling a cellphone, barking news of the upset into the ear of someone ready to post the results online as soon as they were available. But, wow - what a rush! Someone obviously not feeling the rush, however, was Ronnie - seemingly cast aside by everyone onstage - sulking in the background, obviously disappointed and looking quite sad.
The weird thing was that I didn't even see them give Ronnie his medal or a check - everyone was so focused on Jay that I think the IFBB reps kind of botched how they handled treating the second place contestant. If I were Ronnie, I would rightly feel that I deserved an apology from the contest officials.
| What Does IFBB Stand For?
IFBB stands for the "International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness". Visit their website at http://www.ifbb.com/. (The IFBB is for professional competitors.)
The buzz and excitement in the arena didn't die down for a long time, until restless security guards started to get rude trying to convince people to start exiting the venue.
I left with a smile, with Bob's parting sentence ringing in my ears, "Pizza and beer, see you next year!"
After Party & Conclusion
Later that night - much later - so much later, in fact, that it was technically well into the next day, Webmaster Will and I briefly attended the Official BSN & Bodybuilding.com After Party, held at Club Risqué in the Hotel Paris.
I got to see and talk to once again a few famous faces, such as Fawnia Mondey-Dietrich, Christina Lindley, Bodybuilding.com Writer Isaac Hinds, Get Big's Ron Avidan, and IFBB Figure Pro, Mercedes Khani, who had flown over from Amsterdam (a 10-hour flight!) just to attend the Olympia.
In conclusion, I had a great time at the 2006 Olympia weekend, and felt that I really learned a lot about the fitness industry as a whole, and also about the live competition aspect of bodybuilding as a sport. The Expo was fun, and the Mr. 'O' finals were electrifying (toward the end, at least).
If you've never been to the Olympia yet, and are actually still wondering if you should consider going next year... Go! You won't regret it! =)
P.S. Yes, I know, after getting back and seeing all of these photos, I now realize that I really need a tan - badly!