Facebook, Sept. 29, 2013: Killin em ohhhh killin em here at @xslasvegas for my @mrolympiallc Victory Party. We have endured a ton of hardship this year but now it is time for my family and friends to celebrate a great win. #3peathttp
Just a scant few hours before that late-night Facebook status update, Phil Heath etched his name in the bodybuilding record books with a third-straight Mr. Olympia title, blowing away the field in Las Vegas on Sept. 28.
Historically speaking, only five men have laid claim to more Mr. Olympia crowns—Jay Cutler with four, Dorian Yates with six, Arnold Schwarzenegger with seven, and at the top, Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman with eight apiece.
Such rarefied air and at such a relatively young age. Now 34, Heath has ascended quickly and confidently, with a resounding résumé of success. In 15 pro contests since 2006, he’s never finished outside the top five, with nine wins to his credit thus far, including those three O’s that have put him squarely at the peak of the pro ranks.
As he put it in the pages of FLEX in March, “A lot of guys have been touted as the future of the sport—I was the only one who was able to follow through. I smashed all the critics and justified the hype.”
Titles are one thing, but Heath has done something else rather groundbreaking in professional bodybuilding. He’s opened a window into the mind of one of its elite participants. Not simply sharing the well- rehearsed dictums of training, diet, and motivational tactics that made him the 5'9", 250-pound wrecking machine he is today, we’re also there for everything from the fender benders (Nov. 21) to a Jay-Z concert (Dec. 3) to the attempted rescue of a dog who had just been hit by a car (Jan. 18), among other adventures great and small.
Wonder what makes Phil Heath tick? What he’s doing, what he’s thinking at this very moment? It’s all online, in real time.
Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, Facebook forever altered the realm of sports in the decade since its inception. Joined in 2006 by Twitter, the revolution has proved unstoppable. Never before have we had such raw, unfettered access to athletes. Today, instead of seeking the chance encounter with your favorite pro at an autograph signing or a contest, an endeavor that often required plenty of advance planning, one can instantly engage with two thumbs and an iPhone.
Online, we now peer into the grinding, lonely months of training and diet leading up to the events that define their legacies. We share, in a small way, those moments away from the limelight, alone with nothing but doubts and their own ambitions to alternately drive and haunt them.
Fans are now witnessing a grand social experiment, as Heath has taken to Facebook and Twitter with a fervent desire to grant access to his life. The interesting, the uplifting, the trivial and banal...it’s all there.
And it’s by design, sure enough. Heath has been outspoken in his desire to extend the popularity of his chosen profession in any way he can.
“When I first got into it, I told my wife [Jen]...I want to change the perception of bodybuilding,” Heath recalls. “I want to change it to where people will never feel inadequate. Guys in a group setting who are clearly bodybuilders are asked about their body, and they’ll say, ‘I played football,’ or ‘I’m into MMA.’ Why do they do that? It’s because they’re embarrassed about the negative stereotypes that come along with bodybuilding today. But back in the ’70s and early ’80s, everyone wanted to be a bodybuilder. Guys like Arnold and Haney made bodybuilding look cool.”
To that end, Heath has barnstormed across the globe, meeting fans who could never dream of showing up in person at Orleans Arena, but who are still awed by the sight of a real-live Mr. Olympia. After his late-September victory, Heath jetted out to Europe and China, leaving a telltale imprint across his social media accounts, from a stop at Hosa Gym in Beijing to a tour of Greece. In the midst of it all, he even landed an interview on ESPN2’s Highly Questionable with Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones on Oct. 31.
From Heath’s perspective, it’s all in a day’s work for a reigning Mr. O—one that needs to be taken seriously if bodybuilding is ever to approach anything resembling a “heyday” again.
“I think there are a lot of athletes who don’t impact other people’s lives that much,” he says. “They don’t put themselves out there. You know how some of them are—they just want the paycheck. They train and that’s it. They’ll hide like a hermit and don’t appear until contest day. I don’t mind doing interviews or being in the public eye. It’s not just about me anymore. My goal is to change the negative perceptions of bodybuilding.”
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