Promoter Extraordinaire Robin Chang On Organizing The Mr. Olympia Weekend!

In the following interview, Mr. Chang discusses how the Olympia weekend is run, what fans and competitors can expect come September 24 and what he, as the man in charge, must do to ensure all goes as planned.

Article Summary:
  • Robin Chang is the director of AMI events.
  • The winner of the 2009 Olympia will take home $200,00.
  • This year promises to be the biggest year for the Olympia yet.
  • In 2005, Director of AMI events, Robin Chang, produced his first Olympia Weekend event. Since then, what has become known as the 'super bowl of bodybuilding' has grown to be, by far, the world's largest bodybuilding/fitness extravaganza, annually hosting the best bodybuilders, figure and fitness competitors and strength athletes on the planet.

    In 2009 it promises to be larger than ever, a proclamation that is made with each successive show. According to Mr. Chang, the 2009 Olympia Weekend will host the biggest line-up of competitors ever seen in a series of contests, from men's bodybuilding through to women's figure, that, year after year, never fail to provide something new for the fans.

    Robin Chang With Ben Weider, Jim Manion,<br />Rafael Santonja, And Eric Weider.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Robin Chang With Ben Weider, Jim Manion,
    Rafael Santonja, And Eric Weider.

    If the sheer quality and quantity of contestants competing in the Olympia doesn't suggest the show has grown exponentially, the increase in prize money from $720,000 in 2008 to $800,000 in '09, with the winner of the Mr. Olympia alone earning $200,000 (up $45,000 from 2008), does.

    Organizing the world's biggest bodybuilding and fitness event, including the largest expo of its kind, is, on the face of it, a major task.

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    With all that is needed to ensure the smooth running of an event with so many component parts, as the Olympia Weekend has, an organizer with knowledge of what the competitors themselves will experience and the entrepreneurial savvy and diplomatic skills required to effectively market the show while keeping everyone happy, is a must.

    With Robin Chang at the helm, this particular requirement is more than fulfilled. In the following interview, Mr. Chang discusses how the Olympia weekend is run, what fans and competitors can expect come September 24 and what he, as the man in charge, must do to ensure all goes as planned.

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    [ Q ] It seems the Olympia weekend is getting bigger every year. What can fans expect from the 2009 event compared to previous years?
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      They're going to see the most competitive lineup in the history of the sport. Sure, there have been great lineups in the past, but it's never been this deep. The Sandow has changed hands three times since 2006 so obviously no one has a lock on it.

      That makes it more exciting for the fans, and when you add the talent of this lineup, you have a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something special.

      I mean, if you make the top ten in this show, you're a legitimate top ten bodybuilder in the world. Plus, there's the Expo, the FLEX Bikini Model Search, the 202 Showdown, the MHP Strongest Man Challenge, the NAGA North American Grappling Championships, Johnnie Jackson vs. Ben White for the Olympia Strongest Bodybuilder Challenge and lots more.

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    [ Q ] Where will the separate events be held this year?
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      The Mr. Olympia prejudging and finals will be at the Orleans Arena along with the finals for Ms. Olympia, Fitness, Figure and the 202 Showdown.

      The expo will, once again, be at the Las Vegas Convention Center and we'll have tons of events and, of course, prejudging for the Ms. Olympia, Fitness Olympia, Figure Olympia and the 202 Showdown.

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    [ Q ] Of all the Olympia events currently scheduled, what has proven to be the most popular and why?
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      That's a tough one. The Mr. Olympia is definitely the main draw, but the weekend represents the entire bodybuilding and fitness industry, so it's hard to say what's going to be at the top of everyone's list.

      Obviously the main competitions, bodybuilding, fitness and figure are front and center. And the FLEX Bikini contest is way up there too, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out why.

      The FLEX and Muscle & Fitness booths are always heavy traffic areas. Fans love competing in the Battle of the Biceps. We try to give everybody something they can enjoy.

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      I want people leaving Las Vegas and saying things like, "The bikini contest was awesome, there were so many gorgeous girls" or "The strongest bodybuilder challenge was insane!" People have memories of the Olympia Weekend because there's so much to see and do.

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    [ Q ] What kind of feedback have you had concerning the 202-pound pro bodybuilding event?
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      It's been incredible! This event has really taken on a life of its own. The athletes and fans have embraced it 100%. The $20,000 in total prize money attests to that. That rivals some of the open men's events.

      I mean, there's a lot of pride involved in being called the greatest under 202-pound bodybuilder in the world. The guys are incredibly hungry.

    There's A Lot Of Pride Involved In Being Called The Greatest Under 202-Pound Bodybuilder In The World.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    There's A Lot Of Pride Involved In Being Called
    The Greatest Under 202-Pound Bodybuilder In The World.

    See More Pics From The 2008 Olympia 202 Showdown.

      They know that at the end of the year, instead of getting lost in a lineup of competitors that outweigh them by 50 to 60 pounds, they have a legitimate championship to shoot for. It's opened up a whole new world of competition.

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    [ Q ] Will the 202-pound event be run on the same stage as the main show this year?
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      Yes and no. The prejudging and individual posing routines will be Saturday, on the main expo stage at the Convention Center. Then, as a bonus treat, we'll bring out the entire 202 lineup to the Orleans Arena for the Saturday finals.

      After each competitor is introduced, the top five will stay onstage for their final pose-down and receive their awards. It's the first year we're doing this and the competitor's love it. I know the fans will, too.

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    [ Q ] What time will the 202-pound class routines take place?
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      The 202 Showdown routines will take place on the Expo stage around 1 PM.

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    [ Q ] How difficult is it to run such a massive event as the Olympia weekend? What are some of the difficulties you encounter and how do you deal with these?
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      It's such a big show with a million moving parts, but you know what? As overwhelming as it can be, honestly, I love it. It's certainly challenging, but that comes with the territory. I'd have to say that one of the keys to pulling off a show of this magnitude is to plan ahead and then manage it.

      You have to be aware of all the details and how everything, and I do mean everything, affects everything else. Everything you do plays a part somewhere else, even if it's not apparent at first. And you have to go into it knowing that things will pop up at the last minute. It never fails.

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      Expect the unexpected. But you deal with it when it happens, nine times out of ten the best solution is the simplest one. You have to believe it can be done and then you go out and do it.

      You don't pull off a show like this without a lot of people in your corner and by far, the biggest help is having the best production and management team in the world.

      Maria Ibarra, Cindy Petrosky, Craig Arthur and the entire FLEX and Muscle & Fitness staff: that's my team. I couldn?t do it without them. I trust them completely. We've been doing this for so long that we all understand what we have to do, as individuals and as a team.

      Everyone knows their role and they're committed to getting the job done. Of course, none of this would be possible without David Pecker at the AMI helm and the guidance and help of IFBB Pro League Chairman and NPC President Jim Manion.

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    [ Q ] What do you enjoy most about running the Olympia weekend, and why?
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      With all the craziness, getting it organized and making sure everyone hits his or her mark. Is the lighting right? What about sound? Issues with the stage, video, everything.

      In the middle of all that, there's that moment when you stop and take a look around. You don't see the production crew scrambling like mad to keep the show going or whatever else needs to be done.

      You look at the arena, you see all the lights, the stage, and you look out into the crowd and see the fans. You can feel the energy in the air.

    You Can Feel The Energy In The Air.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    You Can Feel The Energy In The Air.

      Everyone's having a great time. Here are the greatest bodybuilders and fitness athletes in the world at the sport's biggest show and we're all enjoying it. That's what I love most.

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    [ Q ] What tells you that an Olympia weekend has been a success?
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      It's a combination of several factors. Obviously numbers do play a role, because you can't put on a show without good numbers, but it's about the fans and the athletes. How did they respond to it? Did they have a good time? What was the reaction after the show?

      I look at all these things in determining whether or not we had a successful show. Was it smooth? Maybe some things didn't work out quite as well as we would have wanted but now we know we have work to do for next year.

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    [ Q ] To ensure the safety of and a professional environment for the competitors, how do you organize the backstage area? Who is allowed access and who is not?
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      We arrange the backstage area so that the athletes can focus on what they need to do without distractions, so access is limited to key personnel. Backstage can be chaos because everyone wants to go backstage, so if you're backstage, it's because you need to be there.

      If you're not serving a specific, absolutely necessary purpose, you're not there. It's impossible to run the show and take care of the athletes if people that shouldn't be there are getting in the way.

    We Arrange The Backstage Area So That The Athletes Can Focus On What They Need To Do Without Distractions.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    We Arrange The Backstage Area So That The Athletes
    Can Focus On What They Need To Do Without Distractions.

      Before the show, I review the list of backstage personnel myself and anyone not on the list is not going to be allowed backstage, no excuses.

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    [ Q ] With the expansion of the Olympia has come a steady increase in prize money for the competitors. Will the prize money be increased this year and, if so, by how much?
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      You bet it will. That's one of the things I'm especially proud about. It's proof that the show and the sport are headed in the right direction.

      Prize money this year has been increased to $800,000. That's a $60,000 increase from last year. The winner of the Mr. Olympia will earn $200,000. That's up $45,000 from 2008.

      Thanks to the support of our main sponsors (Ultimate Nutrition and Bodybuilding.com), the overall increase from last year is $60,000.

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      Also, for the first time in history, the purse for the runner-up in a men's bodybuilding contest will reach the six-figure mark, as the second-place finisher will receive $100,000 in prize money.

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    [ Q ] There has been a degree of criticism within the bodybuilding community regarding the prize money awarded to the Olympia competitors. Do you feel this criticism is warranted?
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      There will always be critics and that's fine because if they're on the money, it alerts you to things that need improvement. But the Olympia has more prize money than any other show in the sport.

      We've got almost double the cash prize of the Arnold Classic, the second biggest show in the industry. So no, I don't feel it's warranted.

    The Olympia Has More Prize Money Than Any Other Show In The Sport.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    The Olympia Has More Prize Money
    Than Any Other Show In The Sport.

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    [ Q ] What are your personal views on the current crop of bodybuilders seen on the Mr. Olympia stage today? In your view, how far has professional bodybuilding progressed?
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      They've taken size, muscularity and condition to another level. And we're seeing a shift in terms of the whole size vs. shape debate.

      It's no longer about size at all costs, like it was a few years ago. We have a 230-pound Mr. Olympia in Dexter Jackson beating out 265 to 280 pound guys. That says a lot.

      It's about having it all and this current crop is raising the bar... fast. Look at Phil Heath. He's got a phenomenal physique and he's only 29 years old and improving every year. We have Dennis Wolf, who's got loads of potential.

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    [ Q ] Why do you believe the Olympia is such a popular event? Why do bodybuilding fans continue coming back year after year?
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      Because people want to see the best in the world. That's why millions watch the Super Bowl and World Series. You want to see the impossible become possible and in bodybuilding, that's the Olympia.

      As a fan, that keeps me coming back for more. We owe that to Joe and Ben Weider. They had a vision and made it happen.

    People Want To See The Best In The World.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    People Want To See The Best In The World.

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    [ Q ] Why does the Olympia remain the biggest and best bodybuilding spectacle in the world today?
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      The Olympia continues to push the boundaries. We're not sitting back and resting on our laurels. When you're the best, people expect more and we don't want to disappoint anybody.

      We put the show on for fans that have been coming for years and for the new fan that's going for the first time. So whether you're veteran or a first-timer, it should be an unforgettable experience.