09/13/2007 MR. OLYMPIA: EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED

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In the October 2007 issue, FLEX magazine published an article in which we rank our picks for the greatest bodybuilding contests of all time. Not surprisingly, nine of the 13 listed were Mr. Olympias, including the top six. In the end, it was last year’s Mr. O that trumped the competition, much the much same way as its winner, Jay Cutler, overpowered his 21 adversaries on the Orleans Arena stage last September 15.

What made the 2006 incarnation of the Big O so rousing had as much to do with what it wasn’t as what it was. Sure, the contest featured the best of the best bodybuilders in the world and brought a good dose of entertainment to fans of the sport of bodybuilding. As usual, it proved itself to be the ultimate event in its sport, as it has been since 1965. In other words, it was the highlight of the bodybuilding season.

However, as opposed to (admittedly) a number of its forbears, what the 42nd edition of the Mr. Olympia most definitely was not, was predictable. When Cutler was pronounced victorious, a thunderous cacophony arose from the arena stands. A kind of excitement was generated by the decision that had not been experienced for a long time.

For the previous eight years the last name announced at an Olympia had been Ronnie Coleman. For six years prior it was Dorian Yates. For eight years before that, Lee Haney was declared the winner. In other words, for more than two decades fans had come to expect that once a Mr. Olympia was crowned, he could not be uncrowned. So with Coleman gunning for an historic ninth Sandow trophy last year, few if any expected to see the title change hands. Yet the torch was indeed passed.

Now as we turn our attention once again to our sport’s premier competition, we find ourselves less sure of our powers of prediction than a year ago, and that’s a very good thing indeed. Will Cutler, this year’s defending champ, leave Orleans Arena the de facto defending champ on September 29? The Magic 8 Ball says, “Reply hazy, try again.”

Sure, Cutler’s the favorite, and deservedly so. With a lean offseason bodyweight that's hovered between 290 and 300 pounds, he’s consistently appeared to be within striking distance of another title all year. He's bigger than ever and promises to be at least as conditioned as he was in ’06. Yet, with the image of a slumped Ronnie Coleman standing beside an ebullient Jay Cutler still fresh in our minds, we know now that being the defending champ is no free pass with the Olympia judges. If Cutler wants to be a repeat champ he’s going to have to earn the title again.

At 43, Ronnie Coleman — who just announced on the Pro Bodybuilding Weekly Radio Show September 10 that this will be his last O, win or lose — is attempting to do what no other man has done in the Olympia’s 42-year history: regain the title the year after losing it. If successful, he will become the oldest man ever to win the O, surpassing Chris Dickerson in his 1983 win by a few months.

The slope will be steep however, and the 16-year professional career during which he’s climbed and fought to stay atop Mt. Olympia has taken its toll on his body. The question is not so much whether Ronnie can overcome Jay or the rest of the contenders for the 2007 title, but whether he can overcome himself.

The man many consider the greatest bodybuilder who’s ever lived (Cutler himself has paid Coleman such a tribute) will no doubt squeeze every last ounce of potential from his superannuated self in his fight to regain his supremacy. However, while Colman presents a very large threat to the defending champ, his is far from the only one.

Last year Victor Martinez finally realized his potential on an Olympia stage and was awarded a third place trophy for his efforts. This year many have the “Dominican Dominator” fighting for top honors. He possesses innate gifts aplenty, from his size to his shape and, at long last, his conditioning, which has in the past often been his undoing. In other words, look out Cutler, Coleman and the rest of the best in muscledom.

Despite the formidable trio of Cutler, Coleman and Martinez, when it comes to the Mr. Olympia there’s no such thing as a three-man race (at least not since the days of Oliva and Schwarzenegger).

Dexter Jackson has three fourth-place finishes and a third in his last four Olympia outings, and is once again chomping at the bit to prove that the O isn’t just a big man’s game. Should he come in with the peeled conditioning that first caught our attention back in 2002 then “The Blade” could shock a lot of people come Saturday night.

Much like Martinez, last year’s fifth-place finisher, Melvin Anthony, seems to have finally nailed down the formula for dialing it in without losing size. Blessed with arguably the best God-given shape in the entire contest, the dynamic poser is championed by those who hope that their sport might one day return to the aesthetic ideals of earlier decades.

At 41, Toney Freeman is on the rise, as evidenced by his three pro wins since late last year. Nothing less than a top-six finish is expected on the 6’2” Atlantan from his fans.

Of course, former top-three finisher Gustavo Badell is raring to prove that his Challenge Round win of two years ago was no fluke. Then there are guys like 2007 Keystone Pro winner Dennis Wolfe, 2007 New York Pro winner Branch Warren, and 2007 Europa Super Show winner Silvio Samuel.

In other words, this year’s iteration of Joe Weider’s paen to bodybuilding excellence is stacked to the hilt with talent, drive and tons of shredded muscle. Let the showdown begin!

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