I still remember the first muscle magazine I laid my hands on. I actually stole it from a corner store at the age of 15 because I spent all of my money on my bad habits. It was a Flex Magazine with Gunter Schlierkamp on the cover. I just remember thinking one word.
Wow... followed by, how? (he was curling a dumbbell that weighed more than I did at the time) This was followed by even more 'Wow's' when I opened up to the centerfold of Timea Majorova. She got a spot on my wall, but that's another story you probably don't want to hear.
The Arnold Sports Expo
Fast forward 7 years to this same kids 'wow filled' eyes taking in the sights as I walked into the Arnold Sports Expo in Columbus Ohio. I didn't say much as I walked in and stared at the huge displays of supplement companies, clothing companies, and of course right at the entrance one of the biggest displays, the Bodybuilding.com booth.
Bodybuilding & Fitness Celebrities In The Flesh:
Seven years of reading Flex & MuscleMag pages reading about these modern day kings of the physical world were all in front of my face. I felt like I should have had a personal soundtrack following me around with mystical Indiana Jones style music followed by huge cymbal crashes when I saw Kevin Levrone, Lee Labrada, & Lou Ferrigno.
This would then be followed by a drowning out of my background tunes as Kevin just walked by, Lee was talking to a fan, and Lou was talking to one of the BSN girls.
'Doesn't he know, I've seen him in pictures and movies 1000 times, I can't believe he doesn't recognize me'.
Walking around it really was surreal. Everyone I was so used to seeing on a flat piece of paper was right here in the flesh. You have to remember; I was born and raised in a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada where a bench press hero was that guy who pressed 4 plates a side.
Compare this to big Ron Coleman who was sitting in front of me signing autographs with the same arms I watched bench press a small house... for 6 reps.
This year was my second year at the Arnold classic and just as fun as my first time. Walking through the hundreds of booths featuring new fitness and nutrition products it's easy to feel like a celebrity yourself. Everyone has a 50 gallon sized shopping bag filled with samples of new products, books, t shirts, and protein bars.
Top this off with hundreds of unbelievably good looking girls walking around in an outfit that looks like it could be used as dental floss. Ryan's a happy guy.
It hits you just how huge this industry has become. The fact that thousands of people, competitors and merchants all come together with one focus, healthy, happy bodies. It's such a nice change from the normal population. Just the crowd in itself is a mass of chiseled bodies, tanned and wearing more Under Armor than the NHL.
My Favorite Arnold Classic Competitors
Enough of the free stuff, hot chicks and childhood heroes. It's time for the main event. Let's check out this year's lineup of beastlike competitors in the Men's Bodybuilding finals.
The only thing bigger than the bodybuilding.com setup is the actual stage at the Veterans Memorial. This year was one of the best bodybuilding show's I've ever seen.
The competitors were so close, it really was impossible to determine who won even after the callouts of the prejudging. Let's take a look at some of my favorites.
I think they planned this. Who else could blow you away with an awesome show of size and symmetry than fan favorite 6'2" giant, Tony Freeman? He walked out so confident which I love to see. It was as if he was saying, 'Try and take this from me'. His huge calves swept out and carried him down the stage.
Once I got over his dominating physique I have to say, I was disappointed with his choice of music. Let's take a moment here. I pay good money for a few things in life like roller coasters, concerts, UFC pay per view features and professional bodybuilding competitions.
Why do I do this? Because, I like to get pumped up and excited. Loud rock and roll music, and pyrotechnics, they do the trick. The newest feature at Universal Studios, sign me up. Two guys pounding the crap out of each other in an octagon, heck yea. But when I pay good money to see my childhood heroes on stage, PUT ME ON THE EDGE OF MY SEAT!
Tony Freeman was one of, in my opinion, too many who posed to sappy slow music. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy seeing someone be so graceful onstage. Starting out with this is cool, but hit me in the face with some serious rock at least half way through! There's something that doesn't mix here. Here is the closest thing to a modern day HULK, and he is putting me to sleep faster than the first ten minutes of 'The Secret Garden'.
Oh and I only watched that movie because I was on a date. I know when I'm onstage there is nothing better than to hear the crowd yell and scream. Tony and the others with similar music were posing and the crowd was silent. Anyways, Tony looked amazing, freaky amazing, a very impressive competitor and deserves nothing but praise on everything but his choice of music. Again, it's just my opinion but I think a lot of others agree.
No one has a better walk than Branch. It feels like his legs should shake the floor when they hit. This is a guy who pumps up the crowd! When he shook his leg mid routine, the crowd erupted. Awesome Job!
I think Branch was more defined in 2006, and so did the judges. I did get a picture with Branch, and although he doesn't smile much, he was a very nice guy.
Who? I mean, this guy competed 8 times. Period! This includes Amateur and Professional shows. Keep your eye on this guy.
His deep striations combined with impressive mass will surely be taking some titles in the next few years. Now that I know him, I won't soon be forgetting him.
I'll be honest; I thought Dexter had it again this year. A great poser, who could have had a more exciting posing routine, made up for his choice of slow music with one of the best physiques in the industry.
I mean, they need to make a statue out of this guy. I don't know where you would put it, but get one made.
The sounds of booing surprised me. A second later I realized they were chanting RUUUUHHHLL! He is definitely a crowd favorite. I remember seeing an interview with him a few years back and was taken back when I heard a soft spoken Ruhl thank his mom for coming and wished his grandmother well in the post competition interview.
A great guy with a mountain of muscle, I was expecting Markus to walk out in the top 6, but the judges disagreed.
Gustavo just seems to have 'the look'. His different and unique posing style seemed to be more focused on accentuating the shape and paid homage to classic bodybuilders of past years. Well done!
This year he poked fun at a few of today's competitors during his routine and judging by the eruption of laughter, the crowd was loving it as much as he was. I have to tell you, I missed seeing the figure & fitness girls who opened the doors for the competitors last year.
This guy came in as the 'underdog', and took the show! I was hoping he would come through, I mean, you always have to hope for the underdog. Victor brought a complete package to the stage and his mass trumped Dexter's slight advantage in symmetry.
In true champion's style, Victor took both the overall win and the most muscular award. Well deserved, but I think I could take him.
As I was sitting in the audience, I was taking notes as to who I thought the top 3 would be. Here's what I wrote:
2nd- The rest I don't know!
I won't be judging any competitions anytime soon.
All in all, the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic brings 120,000 + athletes to Columbus each year. The bodybuilding is only one of many great sports featured over 3 days.
For 10 dollars you can get into the expo, see half naked people, watch the freaks of nature in the Animal booth which is surrounded by chain link fence and blasting megadeath (awesome), eat enough protein samples to last a week, watch a guy bench press over 900 lbs, see the bodybuilding.com babes, take pictures with anyone you've ever seen in a magazine, get a free T shirt, and did I mention the girls that are wearing dental floss!
Well Arnold, you can bet on one thing, keep these things coming, and I can guarantee I'll be back.
All the Best!