WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO DETHRONE A REIGNING MR. OLYMPIA?
It’s a Herculean task that lives up to the mythological Greek imagery. In 2014, the 50th rendition of Joe Weider’s iconic bodybuilding event will take place. In that five-decade history, an incumbent Mr. O has only been bested onstage and lost his title seven times, the last when the current keeper of the Sandow, Phil Heath, slipped past four-time winner Jay Cutler. Heath hasn’t relented since, adding two more trophies with his eye on a fourth this coming September. *Note: Shawn placed 3rd at the 2014 Olympia. Click HERE for his 2014 Olympia gallery.Advertisement
The Gift is a wunderkind who has, amazingly, exceeded all the hype bestowed upon him when he entered the bodybuilding pro ranks in 2006 with a rare blend of size and symmetry, along with an intimidating array of freaky body parts. To beat him, you not only need a near-flawless physique of your own, you also need a range of other attributes.
Experience, for one. Rookies on the Olympia stage are not treated kindly. There are dues to be paid, lessons to be learned. It’s no wonder that the only first timer to ever win the O was Larry Scott, at the inaugural rendition in 1965, and that’s merely a technicality.
As well, you need a team in your corner who has been there before, and knows your body almost better than you. It’s this team that dials in your diet, rest, and training to time your peak perfectly—a three- to six-month ordeal in which you coax your body to vascular, full, thin-skinned perfection on the exact moment pre-judging begins on the Orleans Arena stage. Precision counts, as even a 15-minute miscalculation slams the door of opportunity shut for 365 more days.
Even with all that, however, another factor looms that far too many overlook. Because, no matter how spectacular your physique may be when it’s “go” time, without this, you’ll lose—guaranteed.
“I remember last year’s Olympia, everybody leading up to it was talking about Big Ramy [Mamdouh Elssbiay]...that Big Ramy was going to win the show,” Shawn Rhoden says. “I’m like, ‘Oh, you guys forgot about Phil, you guys forgot about Jay [Cutler], about Kai [Greene]. You forgot all the main players. Yeah, Ramy is big, no disrespect, but on the Olympia stage, it’s different. You have to walk out on the Olympia stage like this is your house and take control. A rookie isn’t going to do that. You need confidence.”
That lesson has been cemented with Rhoden ever since he was taken aside by none other than Cutler, who before his string of titles came in second to Ronnie Coleman four times—including one very disputed loss in 2001, when he was leading the champ after pre-judging—and finally broke through, wresting the title away in 2006. Cutler’s advice was simple: Carry yourself in your training, preparation, competition, and daily existence as if you’re already Mr. O.
Thus stirred, Rhoden—with contest guru Chris Aceto and legendary trainer Charles Glass rounding out his prep team—has been storming through the IFBB calendar. Since finishing outside the top six at the 2012 Arnold Classic, Rhoden has won five pro contests, including the 2012 Arnold Classic Europe, and crashed the upper echelon of the Olympia, taking third in 2012 and fourth in 2013, and inserting himself in the conversation as a legitimate threat to win the Sandow.
“I’ll never be the biggest guy on that stage,” he admits, “but I walk out like I’m the biggest guy. You have to have that confidence, whether it’s a local show or the Olympia. ‘Hey, you guys might outweigh me by 20, 30 pounds, but right now I am a friggin’ giant. Want some? Come and get some!’ I’m not afraid to stand next to Phil, Kai...doesn’t matter who you are.” Click HERE for the 2014 Olympia comparison gallery.
This profound self-assurance has not ebbed, despite the events of March 1, 2014 in Columbus, OH. There, in a passionately debated decision among fans and media members, Dennis Wolf won the Arnold Classic, relegating a primed and peeled Rhoden to second.
“I had been preparing for the Arnold Classic since the Arnold Europe in Spain in October [where Rhoden finished fourth behind Heath, Greene, and Wolf],” he recalls. “From my understanding, the judges would be looking for a more aesthetic look, symmetry, not having that bulging stomach and so forth, so that suited my physique. Chris [Aceto] and I sat in the hotel room in Spain and went over a couple of things as far as what we could improve on for the Arnold, and we dove right in. We were like, ‘This was our playground. We have all the pieces, it’s just a matter of coming in the condition I’m accustomed to.’ “
It would be his second Arnold Classic, but this time, instead of being a long shot as he was in 2012, he would enter as a favorite, along with Wolf, former two-time champ Branch Warren, and 2007 winner Victor Martinez. “The Arnold Classic was the first pro show I’d ever seen in person back in 2009 and is a show I’ve always wanted to win, and in my opinion, I did my homework,” he says. “I brought every body part up I was told I needed to improve on. I know every competitor says this, but I feel like I didn’t lose this show. Dennis was taller and heavier, but when it comes to the total package, I felt as if I won. So it was a tough loss, a very tough loss.”
“I don’t take losing lightly,” Rhoden says of his second-place finish at the 2014 Arnold Classic. “I spent a good five seconds on that stage, looking down, and a few things were going through my head. I was just telling myself it’s not over. It was a tough loss, but it provides the motivation I need going into the Olympia.”
In saying that, however, Rhoden is clear; he doesn’t hold the result against Wolf, who had his own frustrations in two runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2012. “I can’t be mad at Dennis, I offer congratulations to him,” he says. “For me though, next time I can’t leave any doubts. I can’t leave a crack for anyone to sneak by. Next year, it’s not going to happen again.”
A week later, a little salve was applied to the wound when Rhoden few halfway around the world and earned the 2014 Australian Pro title. “I had hoped Dennis would come down to Australia so we could go at it one more time, but I understand he wanted to enjoy his Arnold victory a little bit longer,” he says with a chuckle. But back Stateside in late March, he was buckling in for his Olympia run.
“I’m motivated for the Olympia,” he says. “That’s the next show for me. I’m fortunate in that we can take a little bit from what we did going into Spain last year, the Olympia, the Arnold—we’re going to combine those things and give it a go.”
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