Trying to determine exactly were an Olympia competitor will place and why is not an easy task, given slight changes in conditioning and certain improvements made can give the edge to a competitor that might otherwise be out of the running, therefore pushing them up a few places.
It also takes an expert eye and an insiders knowledge of the sport to really know what is going on to happen onstage. Given the variability among the physiques and the newer competitors coming through to assert their authority, the final result is often hard to predict.
One thing is for sure though: to reach the upper echelons at the Olympia one needs to be at their all-time best and there is no room for error, no room for mediocrity when one is presenting their physique among the best of the best. One athlete, who has qualified but won't be competing, will be Masters World Champ Bob Cicherillo.
As host of the event, it is to a large extent Bob's role to have a detailed knowledge of who will be competing, and what their individual strengths and weaknesses as athletes are. Bob has as detailed an understanding as anyone of the sacrifices needed and qualities required for success at the highest level in a show as prestigious as the Olympia. Here he gives his view on the 2006 Olympia line-up.
[ Q ] We will start at the top Bob. Will this be Ronnie's years again?
Ronnie is obviously the man to beat. It will be his to show to win or lose, depending on how he comes in. We have heard everything recently: he's big, he's small, and he's injured. I predict the bigger he comes in, the more of a chance he has of getting beat. The closer to 300 he is the more the percentages go higher that he will be beat.
[ Q ] So we can expect Ronnie to come in possibly a little smaller this year?
Well for his sake hopefully he comes in a little smaller, because when he does come in larger I think his physique suffers and I think he leaves the door open.
[ Q ] I am assuming you mean the door will be left open for Jay Cutler?
Cutler from what I hear is dead on the money. He is right there, he has been in great shape all year and he has added a few pounds. Same thing though: he needs to come in with the form he presented in 2001. If he can duplicate that and Ronnie comes in too big, I predict an upset.
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Jay At The 2001 Olympia.
[ Q ] These two will have to content with Gustavo Badell. Do you think he is a legitimate threat?
Gustavo is very dangerous because he has the best of both worlds as he is not small, he carries a lot of beef, and he gets in great condition. He is bigger then Dexter, and if he can hang with the big boys and bring the aesthetics he should do very well. What he needs to watch is his mid-section.
You see the same thing with almost everybody. You will see the bigger these guys try to come in, the more their mid-section suffers and Gustavo has been party to that too. He brought it down last year. If can come in the same condition or better he will definitely be in the hunt for the top four.
[ Q ] Contrasting Gustavo's physique to that of Dexter's, if Dexter brings his best package can he overcome the size of Gustavo? Could he possibly even come second to Ronnie?
Dexter is very dangerous also as he is the odd man out. He doesn't look like the other guys and that is where it gets a little dicey. That can work for you or against you. It can work for him if everyone comes in big, and he comes in with that nice small mid-section, depending on what the judges are looking for it could be his day.
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Dexter @ The 2003 Mr. Olympia.
On the other hand, like I say the odd man out is the odd man out. He doesn't match with the rest of the guys. If the judging panel is favouring the big boys, where you have Ronnie, Jay Gustavo, Gunter, Victor and Markus, he will not match up. That is where it gets interesting. Not so many people match up that well with Dexter. I think one of the better guys that would match up with Dexter is Phil Heath, but he is not going in.
[ Q ] David Henry has a similar physique to Dexter, with good aesthetics and a lot of detail. Would these two match up?
Sure, David Henry could hang very favourably, and he does match up very well with Dexter. The problem those guys have is that in bodybuilding it is usually going to go to the bigger man, and those two guys are obviously on the other end of the spectrum. If David is in 100% condition, and the guy who is 50lbs heavier than him is in 100% condition, David is going to lose every time.
[ Q ] So if David comes in at 100% we can expect to see him in the top ten, but not the top six?
Yes, that is exactly where I would put him. Definitely a top ten candidate, but top six will be tough. Again, we are down to the best of the best. These guys are all there for a reason. The top six are the top six in the world for a reason. It is just like when you are watching a National show, a 50lb difference is huge. You are talking the difference between a middleweight and a super-heavyweight.
If you put these guys together in the line-up, the middleweight usually gets lost because he is so much smaller that you just can't overlook it. It is no different at the pro level, although the pros are a little more complete. Again, a 50 to 70lb difference is huge.
Lets put things into perspective. We use those numbers, but they are actually higher than that as Ronnie comes in at that 290lbs, and David is about 200lbs. You are literally talking about almost 100lbs difference. It is huge and is almost too much to overcome.
[ Q ] It seems that these "smaller" athletes are not being given credit for being, in many cases, more complete athletes.
Absolutely. David and other smaller guys should be given credit for that, but like I say, bodybuilding is always going to be a big mans sport. With all things being equal, your eyes are automatically drawn to the bigger guys. It makes the smaller guys look weaker by comparison.
Bodybuilding is all about comparison. You will get a guy like David Henry, or even Branch Warren who is again not very tall - quite short with a narrow structure - even though he has per pound probably more muscle than anyone up there - kind of like Lee Priest - will not fare very well against the big boys.
[ Q ] Where do you thing Branch will place? What are you thoughts on his physique?
I think Branch is great. He brings a lot of muscle to the table. He is hard. But when you are talking about the best of the best, he suffers a bit in the area is aesthetics, he is only around 5.6 and this hurts him.
As big as he is, you can only put so much muscle on your frame before your physique starts to suffer. Again, not taking anything away from these guys, but when you are splitting hairs at the top, they are good bodybuilders, not great bodybuilders. When you are separating one great bodybuilder from another, what is the difference? Well, it will be aesthetics, size and conditioning.
[ Q ] In comparing Branch Warren to another big guy, Dennis James, do these two match up favourably?
They definitely match up favourably. Dennis' Achilles Heel has traditionally been his conditioning. I think he has done a great job in getting his conditioning even better, and he is as big as a house. But same thing as with those other big boys: when he goes bigger and tries to play the Ronnie game, the only thing that gets bigger is his mid-section.
The shoulders are not going to get any bigger; the arms are not going to get any bigger. These guys are packed out when it comes to building muscle. You are not going to move mountains when you have been training for 20 years and you have a 22-inch arm. You are not going to make it a 24-inch arm. You get these guys who say, "I have out on 10lbs in the off-season," it is usually a big red flag for me that says this guy has got the wrong game plan.
[ Q ] How would you like to see Dennis looking onstage? Would more streamlined be a better look?
If I were managing Dennis' training, I would absolutely have him coming in not bigger, but more streamlined. Maybe 5-7lbs lighter would bring his waist down even more and make his shoulders arms and legs even more impressive.
[ Q ] Dennis is often criticized as being not as aesthetic as some of the others, but he gets a lot of respect at the Olympia. Can we see him placing in the top six?
He has his work cut out for him. Is he in that group? Without question. He has earned the right to be in that group. Now it is just a matter if he comes to play that day. We have got probably eight good guys who should all be in the top six. Obviously not everybody can place there and somebody has to come in off, or somebody has to come in way on to make that difference.
[ Q ] What can we expect from Gunter this year? Will he be top four material?
Gunter is definitely top five, top six material. The only problem Gunter has is aesthetics. He is not as aesthetically pleasing as some of the other guys, and that hurts him. He doesn't have the aesthetics of a Ronnie. Jay is often criticized for being blocky, but I think Gunter is even more so.
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Gunter has done one great thing in the off-season and that is too bring his back up. It is now a little bit wider, which will help with respect to shoulder to waist ratio. He is as big as a house right now and if he can duplicate his 2002 form, where he actually beat Ronnie when Ronnie was off, he will stack up very well.
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Gunter At The 2005 Olympia.
[ Q ] Victor Martinez is a man many are picking to eventually go all the way. Will this be his year?
Again, here we have another guy on the perennial top six. He has everything he possibly needs to establish himself as a top four guy. He can beat Gustavo. If Dexter was off a hair, I think he could beat Dexter. Even if Dexter was on I think if Victor matches him in conditioning, he can beat Dexter.
As far as being compared to Jay, I don't think he is at the level to beat Ronnie. His back matches up very well though. Jay as good as he is cannot match Ronnie from the back, but Victor comes pretty damn close. Victor has all that raw talent, but once again, he has to bring his best conditioning. At the Olympia you don't have to be too far off in conditioning. 98% conditioning will leave two percent of the door open for somebody else.
[ Q ] Melvin Anthony did well last year, placing ahead of several larger guys. What are his chances this year?
Melvin Anthony is in that second group as far as I'm concerned. Melvin is great; he is obviously one of the better entertainers and has the smallest waist onstage, bar none. Very nice aesthetics, but he definitely does not have the size to match up with the big boys. He will be a good contender but he will be somewhere between seventh and tenth.
[ Q ] So we could see Branch overtaking Melvin this year based on his superior size and conditioning?
He could, sure.
[ Q ] What can we expect to see from Darrem Charles this year?
Well, Darrem has been struggling a bit in the smaller shows this year. He hasn't nailed it 100%, not to say that he can't nail it at the Olympia. The problem Darrem has is that at 255-230lbs, even at 100% he looks too small in comparison to the big boys. In the $10,000 shows, Darren usually reins supreme, but up against the bigger talent pool he will be in that second group.
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When Darrem is standing next to Melvin or Branch - that whole crew - he stands out pretty good, his conditioning is spot on and he is very aesthetic. But when you stick him next to Ronnie, Jay, Gustavo and Victor he is the odd man out. He doesn't look as big, or as muscular. Those guys just overpower him with sheer muscle mass.
Darrem has to stick with what Darrem is known for and that is his conditioning and ability to present his physique. He should place somewhere between seventh and tenth.
[ Q ] It is clear that traditionally the guys with the size limitations tend to place lower at the Olympia, but is this trend something that might change soon. Perhaps there will be a surprise this year?
Well, not so much the smaller guys but the guys who might surprise a few include the biggest X-factor, the X-man himself Tony Freeman. If I had to pick a dark horse he would be it, because here is a big man who can step in there and instantly contend with the other big guys.
He is making some great progress, and he finally got his due by winning his first pro show, and this is fresh in the judge's minds also. Also he can step into that top five and be comparable. It is a question of whether you can hang with the big dogs and Tony can. If he comes in five percent sharper than he was at the Texas show he won, that could spell trouble for someone. He could be bumping guys out of that top six slot. I wouldn't even blink an eye if he Tony Freeman made the top six at the end of the day.
[ Q ] And he did predict on talk radio a few weeks back that he would place in the top five so he is obviously very confident.
And so he should be. If you know anything about bodybuilding, it is obvious that he matches up very favourably with Gunter, with Ronnie, with Jay. He can hang right up there. He is up at around 290lbs and at his height he is not going to get dwarfed, or out-muscled. And he has some of the better aesthetics for a big man. Actually, if you compare him and Gunter, I think Tony can give Gunter a very hard time and possibly beat him.
[ Q ] People are expecting big things from Johnnie Jackson, who hasn't had a lot of love at the Olympia in recent years. He has improved a lot so can we expect to see him in the top ten?
Johnnie is right in that second group. Again, great bodybuilder with a lot of good muscle, but can he hang with the big dogs? Thick as he is, his height and structure are going to work against him when he is compared to the big boys. He is very comparable with Branch, Melvin and Darrem Charles though.
[ Q ] First Olympia for Bill Wilmore. What can we expect from him?
This is his rookie appearance at the Olympia and he will be getting his feet wet. Again, can he hang with the big guys? Bill is not a small guy, but I don't think he has the structure to hang with these guys, so I think he will place towards the lower half. Bill will probably be somewhere between 10th and 15th.
[ Q ] Another big guy who might experience some difficulties is Mustafa Mohammad. What is your take on him?
Mustafa is a big question mark. Here is a guy who has just about as much muscle as anybody pound for pound. His biggest problem is detail. He has a lot of muscle, but tends to come in a little bit soft and doesn't have a whole lot of detail. Tremendous quads are nice, but they overpower his physique and that becomes very apparent when he stands next to someone who does have good detail and balance.
He shows softness in the back, glutes and hams and this will hurt him. He is another one who could dial it down about eight pounds and see what he can do then. I think he is a great poser, and presents his physique very well, but I think he will get lost in the shuffle. Definitely a contender, but there is no question he is in that second group.
[ Q ] So lower top ten for Mustafa?
Yes, between seventh and twelve.
[ Q ] Another athlete who has the required size, but just doesn't have the complete package.
Absolutely. Size is nice, but you cannot stand next to that calibre of guys and lack separation and detail. Size is good, but separation is even more important.
[ Q ] Speaking of detail, Ronnie Rockel displayed a great physique at this year's Australian Pro. What are his chances? Will he be overlooked?
Ronnie Rockel has very good physique. He is probably the most underrated guy in the Olympia. He is very complete, and has made great progress over the last three years. He also gets in great conditioning. On the downside, he is not one of the bigger guys so the big boys will probably overshadow him, but he could upset the apple cart in the second crew.
Because of his size I don't think he can be in that first crew, but if he gets some different color on him, instead of that Dream Tan - which ruined his physique last year - he should do well. Last year he showed up gold, which covered up all kinds of cuts and conditioning.
A couple of bottles of pro tan along with the same physique he bought this season where he logged his first victory, he could beat a lot of the guys in that second crew. If Tony Freeman is my dark horse pick from the big boys, Ronnie Rockel is my pick for the smaller guys.
[ Q ] So with a slight improvement and better color we could see Ronnie moving way up.
Again the conditioning in the show he won was spot on and it looked like he had better color. People underestimate the power of color. There is a reason why none of the pros use Dream Tan. In fact, I was talking to an amateur awhile back and we were having a war on color and he was "no man, I will tell you how good dream tan is. I had a buddy with tattoos and he used dream tan and you couldn't even see any of the tattoos." I said, "yes, exactly."
[ Q ] How will comeback champion Vince Taylor stack up against the new breed of pro?
Vince is a former great bodybuilder who is still hanging in there at his age. This guy looks amazing. That being said, where can he place? Vince on a strong day at this point in his career I think is going to be toward the bottom of the pack, he will be fighting for some between ninth and 15th.
If his conditioning is on and he has brought his legs up somewhat - he has had injuries over the years that have prevented him from hitting legs the way he used to - he can do well. He might come up with some new tricks. Don't count out the old guys as they have a lot of knowledge. Again, he can work himself up into that top twelve somewhere.
[ Q ] A third group?
Yes definitely in the third group. Vince in his day could hang in there with anyone. He was never one of the bigger guys onstage. On a good day he might place a little higher, but he is likely to be in the last group of athletes.
[ Q ] And you will be hosting the event? To your knowledge, will there be any other athletes entering?
Yes, I will be hosting the event and there are still a couple of competitor slots open. Markus Ruhl is yet to qualify. Should he qualify he might be in that top group also. King Kamali has chosen to sit out the Olympia. I think he thinks that at this point in his career he would be fighting for something like 14th.
His best bet is to take another year off and get back to the drawing board, fix what he needs to fix, and come back strong next year and try to get a win under his belt.
[ Q ] The Olympia has drawn a lot of criticism this year, for various reasons. How do you think this years Olympia will be run?
Its funny. I mean, how bad were things? The arena is great, the hotel I wasn't too pleased with myself. Having it in the one place would be nice and I know that they are looking in the future at some possibilities of doing that again. The arena is set up really well and the expo itself was great also, probably the best it has been.
Also, last year we logged more people into the stands than ever before in Olympia history. As bad as people like to make it sound, it is not all bad. Did they have difficulties? Yes. Hopefully, we can avoid all that this year with myself and Shawn Ray commentating, and with a better system of running it in place.
[ Q ] And the athletes will be of a very high standard.
Yes, people bitch about the venue, bitch about the hotel. They bitched about the Mandalay when we were there. They said it was too expensive. Then you go to New Orleans and the they bitch because "no, its not even on the strip." Guys, you can't have it both ways.
The bottom line is, bodybuilding fans are there to see a bodybuilding show. If you held it in the parking lot of the Orleans you would still have the same 7,000 people turn up. They are there to see Ronnie Coleman get number nine or the biggest upset in bodybuilding history. If you are there to see the inside of a hotel room you are there for the wrong reasons.