Monday, October 27, 2003
The 2003 Mr. Olympia reminded us all that predictions and prognostications have no place in the world of bodybuilding. For the past 12 months there has been wide spread speculation that a new champ would be crowned on October 25th. Many of the "so-called" experts (including myself) were anticipating a changing of the guard.
We had seen the champ appear vulnerable in recent years. Just 2 years ago we witnessed Jay Cutler nearly dethrone Ronnie Coleman, coming within just 4 points at the '01 Olympia. Just last year we saw the popular Gunter Schlierkamp defeat Coleman on a less prestigious stage...and suddenly, the champ was beatable - the competition appeared to be gaining ground.
Back Stage @ The Olympia
Back stage in the pump-up room the athletes were just moments away from walking on stage for pre-judging. All eyes were on the "Big 3". Ronnie, Jay and Gunter had spent the past year listening to fans predict and debate their futures. Cutler entered the event as the top contender. Meanwhile, Gunter was the only bodybuilder who had defeated Ronnie in the past 5 years. The groundwork had been laid and we were just minutes away from getting our first look.
The athletes were brought out one by one. Each of the 16 qualified IFBB pros took their spot on the Mandalay Bay stage. After the initial introductions, the athletes braced themselves for the coveted "first call-out". After an extended pause, the voice of head judge Jim Manion echoed throughout the event center; "Ronnie Coleman in the center, Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson & Dennis James". There it was, the 2003 contenders were put on notice. Immediately, with this first callout, we received the answer to a question that had been asked countless times over the past year, "Would Gunter claim Ronnie's title". The answer was quite clear... not today!
Next question! Would Jay Cutler claim Ronnie's title? This question was answered the moment the two heavyweights turned around for their mandatory back double biceps comparison. Both athletes were incredible. But, it was Coleman who displayed superior striated detail through the glutes. This was not the best version of Jay that we had seen. His physique was massive and aesthetically impressive, however it was a bit "watery". The 30 year-old Cutler will be Mr. Olympia someday, but not today.
Speaking of future Olympia contenders, Dexter Jackson put the world on notice by presenting his all-time best physique. His lines were razor sharp, befitting of his nickname "The Blade". Dexter informed me backstage that he was competing 11 lbs heavier than he did a year ago. The improvements were stunning and the judges agreed. In fact, many of us backstage felt that Dexter presented the best "overall" package in the contest.
Dennis James was quite possibly the happiest man on stage. After enduring years of Olympia frustrations and unfulfilled potential, Dennis was out to prove that he belonged among the sport's elite. His inclusion in the first callout was an obvious indication that Dennis had finally put it all together. For his effort, Dennis vaulted to 4th place.
Once again, the sold out crowd cheered mightily for Gunter. His physique was very similar to the one he presented a year earlier. He was enormous, well conditioned and tight. But, as I've written in the past, he simply lacks the detail and separation necessary to match up with Coleman or Cutler. Gunter remains one of the classiest and most likeable guys in the sport. He is a tremendous ambassador for bodybuilding and was deserving of his top 5 finish.
When we arrived in Vegas we were greeted with 2 significant pieces of information. "Cormier Out... Levrone In". A few weeks earlier we learned that Kevin Levrone suffered a triceps tear. Kevin informed promoters that he would likely be out of the Olympia. Apparently, the injury recovered sufficiently and Kevin arrived in Las Vegas ready for battle. Unfortunately, Chris Cormier wasn't quite as fortunate. A stomach virus just days before the event forced last year's 3rd place finisher out of the show. When the dust finally settled, Levrone simply took Cormier's spot in the lineup. Kevin has an uncanny ability to prepare for a contest in a very short time, however, Kevin's size and overall condition simply did not resemble the physique that finished 2nd just a year earlier. Kevin is a great champion and it was great to see him on-stage, but it's fair to say that his 6th place finish was a bit of a gift.
Finishing off an outstanding year was Darrem Charles. This was Darrem's 5th Olympia appearance and he was in search of his first Top 10 finish. Expectations were high following his 2nd professional win earlier in the year. During the pre-judging, Darrem found himself in the 3rd callout which was a great indication that the judges took notice of his added size and pin-point conditioning. During the evening finals Darrem solidified his position with a classic posing presentation that showcased his uncanny ability to present his physique unlike anyone else in the contest. His transitions are seemless and his showmanship remains arguably the best in the business. Darrem finished 7th.
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Until next time...