At this year's Mr. Olympia, history is in the air and the excitement level is a little higher than usual. For one thing, this is the 50th edition of bodybuilding's biggest show, which means everyone is thinking in terms of the greats of the past and how today's competitors stack up. For another, there has never been more coverage than there is in 2014. This year's competition will be broadcast on national television for the first time in 30 years, and the competitors have been pushing their fans into a frenzy on social media and traditional media alike. Fans are excited, the competitors are excited, and everyone involved with the bodybuilding industry is excited.
Now imagine how Mr. Olympia himself feels. Only one man gets to walk into the biggest bodybuilding show of all time as the man, and that's Phil "The Gift" Heath. The 34-year-old has been busier than ever this year, building his brand, engaging with fans from around the sports world, and working to bring more eyes and hype to this historic contest.
Despite being the busiest bodybuilder in the biz, Heath found the time just six days before the start of the Olympia to sit down with Bodybuilding.com and share what's on his mind.
This year's Olympia is historic for a number of reasons—the 50th anniversary and the return to TV being only two. With all the buzz and significance of the event, what are your thoughts about being the champion for this year's contest?
Honestly, I'm excited because of this being the 50th, and me going in as the champ is something I feel is an achievement in itself. That's a huge honor for me. I'm blessed to be competing at this age and with the good health to compete at this level. The fans have been excited, the tickets have been sold out for months, you see the buzz on social media, and it's on NBC Sports. Man, that's awesome.
I know that everyone involved has worked on it for a long time, and it's a total collaborative effort, from the writers to the staff working the events to the athletes. This is a big deal for me.
This year has been quite busy for you as well. You became a supplement free agent and the entire industry was buzzing about where you would go. I think the only free agent that got more attention than you was LeBron James. You ultimately decided to start your own company, Gifted Nutrition. What was the deciding factor in starting your own brand?
My contract was up on June 30, and I was informed some time before that it would expire and not be renewed. I was approached by a lot of people in the industry because word gets around when contracts come up. I talked to a few companies, and I think something that I did that helped a lot was utilize social media. When I posted on Facebook that my contract was expiring, there were tags, tags, tags and I saw them all as well as a lot of positive feedback. I gave fans the chance to engage and have a voice. There were friends in the NBA who actually were saying there was buzz over this #HeathDecision. It trended worldwide, so to have that kind of influence was substantial for me.
I gotta tell you, there were some good offers. I'm not going to mention names, but I had a lot to consider before making a final decision. The best opportunity for me, though, was Gifted Nutrition. The guys there had something brewing and hoped I could be a part of it. This was the best one for me, and I'm happy.
What's cool is that I'm President, and as President, I'm chief visionary. So what I see at the ground level as Mr. O is something that executives may not be able to see. What I have in mind, I can make happen. Imagine we have a conversation and you say, "Wouldn't it be cool if there was a supplement that did this?" I can say, "Hold that thought," and place a call to the guys.
As far as the timing, why wait until retirement to do this? We're approaching the 50th Mr. Olympia, and I'm Mr. Olympia. Make a splash now. Think about the Super Bowl. Notice how Sports Illustrated and other companies have stuff pre-printed beforehand? They're taking advantage of the market. That's what we did. Instead of joining another company, I chose to bet on myself.
Most past champions and elite bodybuilders "shut down" and focus on the prep for the Olympia. They basically only train, eat, sleep, and stay at home during the last 12-16 weeks before the show. You've done the complete opposite, and may be the busiest champion in recent memory. Do you work better when you stay busy?
I would probably lose my mind if I wasn't busy. There's only so many video games I can play (laughs).
I like the engagement. That's my personality; that's who I am. I genuinely like to engage with people, and know I can do that while prepping. Talking with fans on social media makes the work easier because I'm not trying to put myself in a prison. I've actually read that isolation is the enemy, so why do that to myself? Consider this: When the other guys do that, they're tired the day of the show. When you see me at the show, I'm smiling because I want you to know I can do this all day.
I never understood cutting off people in your life. The whole thought of isolation and "shutting down" sounds negative to me. Friends and family want to join the journey, and you're cutting them off, but yet you want their help. I've hung out with friends at restaurants. I take my own food, but I still interact on a regular basis. It's my personality and I enjoy the people in my life, so it actually makes the prep better for me.
You're very connected to your fans, but you've also done shows like TNA Wrestling and different shows on ESPN. Are you trying to increase awareness of the sport, or is the mainstream attention something that happened organically?
I think it happened more organically. It wasn't forced. I'm a big sports fan, so I jumped right away when opportunities like SportsNation came up. The Dan LeBetard show was fun. SportsNation was a show that came about for me and I wanted to do that even though it was so close to the Olympia. That happened organically. I jumped on those and made myself available, just like everything with Generation Iron.
As Mr. Olympia, I have to go above and beyond. It's more than just showing muscle. That's why I jump on calls and interviews like this. I probably have five more things like this less than a week before the O. It's what it takes to bring more people into bodybuilding. You can't just go out there and post muscle. Ninety-nine percent of my posts are about things other than muscle. I talk sports, entertainment, and politics, and that shows people I'm more than a meathead. I feel this makes a difference and shows people who see me as a bodybuilder that I'm more than that.
You're considered by many to be the overwhelming favorite to take the win. Some experts have said that, basically, the only hope for other competitors is if you slip up and come in off. How has the prep for this year been for you in comparison to past shows?
Every year is different. No prep is the same. We see different weaknesses and body parts to bring up. I change the diet. My trainer and I make adjustments all the time, and we had to change a lot. The cardio that worked last year didn't work this year. Same with training, so we changed it.
I actually enjoy the prep because I know how to execute, and many guys don't know how to do that. And I go by fact: I won every Olympia with a perfect score. As with every year, I'm really focused on doing that again.
There's lots of different motivation this year as well. I have my new company, and my father died earlier this year, so I want to dedicate this year to him. And let's face it. Every year there is adversity. Instead of crumbling, I want people to know that they should stand tall and work to be their best when faced with adversity. I want fans to see me and I want to spread that message to them, that when life throws them a curve ball, hit that pitch out of the damn park to win the game.
Winning is what I do and what I like, and I'm excited to win number four in a row. Think about the legends who have won four Olympias: Jay, Dorian, Arnold, Ronnie, and Lee. We're talking legends now. That makes me more excited to chase what's in front of me instead of behind me. Don't get me wrong. The other competitors bring out the best in me, but I prepare by thinking about looking forward.
The overall goal is to put myself in the best position to succeed. If I'm better this year than last year, I win. So that's been the focus of the prep, and it's been good. Even during this last week, I'm not trying to set PR's, but the training is intense. I can still go and sprint 400 meters, which a lot of guys can't do at this point before a show.
Does it ever cross your mind that you might be able to catch or pass Ronnie Coleman and Lee Haney's record of eight Olympia titles, or do you take it year by year?
The Gods of the Olympia
- Lee Haney: 8 victories
- Ronnie Coleman: 8 victories
- Arnold Schwarzenegger: 7 victories
- Dorian Yates: 6 victories
- Jay Cutler: 4 victories
- Phil Heath: 3 victories (and counting)
It's both. In my dreams, it's 10 of them, but I have to do so much for that to happen, and these guys I compete with are impressive, and I respect that. I have to be willing and my body has to be willing. Right now, I'm focused on this year, and I've never been more excited than this year.
To win three started a dynasty for me. To win a fourth, that's a clean sweep. Like in the hockey playoffs or NBA playoffs, 4-0 is a sweep. The other guys may not think like that, but I think more in terms of sports because that's what I follow. In my mind, to win four in a row means they have no more excuses. The guys who are in the top five, their fans would argue why they feel this guy can win, but after me winning four in a row, it becomes a silly argument. So if you're 4-0 in bodybuilding against them, you own them.
Will it wear down on them? It would wear on me. So if you've seen #OperationCleanSweep or #WarFor4 on social media, that's why.
What are the plans after next weekend? Do you plan on doing any post-Olympia appearances or shows?
Competing, no. There will be no other shows but the Olympia from here on out. I'm in a position where I can do that now, plus I need to focus on improving business for my companies. The Olympia requires focus.
Once that's over, I need some type of break. If I get on a plane and fly to Madrid to compete, I can't interact with fans like I want to. It will be nice to go over and interact like I want to and answer questions about the company and network with other business leaders. I want to be ready for all of that. I can now devote more time to that as president of a company.
I love handshake tours. I enjoy meeting people. That's part of my personality, and now it will be good to do that from a business perspective. As for appearances, this year, I will be in Spain, Dubai, Prague, I think Turkey, Florida for guest posing, home, then L.A. to guest pose, New York for more business and networking, and then my own show in Wyoming on October 25. I'm a busy man.
Lots of fans will be in Vegas and many will be watching around the world on the Bodybuilding.com Webcast. Talk to them.
I just want to tell the fans that I'm excited for all of them. When I got into the sport, it wasn't where it is today. Because of them it's where it is now. For them to care as much as they do and know the show has been sold out for months; for people to go mental on social media and forums, fight online, heckle me onstage where I can hear it; all of that means it's growing.
I'm thankful for them, whether they root for me to win or the other guys. They care about the sport. Thank you for every ounce of energy they put into me and them. I need their support and energy, for me and for all 18 guys who are trying to live this dream. We need support. That's why I'm so involved.
I engage as much as I do because I love them—even the ones who troll, heckle, and talk trash—because ... they know. It's like when I was shooting free throws [as a college basketball player]. They tried to distract me but when I made it, they smiled because they knew. The fans know. So whether you're a Phil Heath fan or not, thank you for being a bodybuilding fan.