The Arnold Classic 2008
Well what can I say about the Arnold Classic other than it doesn’t get any better than that, and a must for any muscle fan. If I may introduce the event for those of you that don''t know by saying that this is a 3 day extravaganza of muscle, strength, combat and plenty of pretty girls; it is a who''s who of the muscle business where the magazines come to life.
There is no doubt that the great man himself Arnold is revered as a god in the USA and as a result of his loyalty to his bodybuilding background and commitment to health and strength he has created this mecca of muscle for hardcore fans from the 4 corners of the earth.
Somewhere in the region of 200,000 muscle disciples make the pilgrimage to the city of Columbus in Ohio to watch and be part of history in the making as new stars are born and world records get blown away, power lifting, arm wrestling, weight lifting, strongman, boxing, martial arts, the list goes on.
This years event was the 20th anniversary and featured the stars and heroes of the past the present and the future. Not only was I to meet up with some great names from the sport it was to be my induction into the IFBB/UKBFF and thanks to President Bill Tierney and his wife Wanda I had the opportunity to be introduced to many great people from our sport including IFBB World President Rafael Santonja.
My party consisted of my wife Lindsay, Pat Warner heavyweight star and future pro, Colin Wright ex UK pro, Andy Coulson from Chameleon and his nephew Tom. We all traveled out on the Thursday full of excitement and enthusiasm with one intention, to support our boys James Llewellin and Daz Ball plus take in some serious muscle and have a great time; the aim of which we achieved on all fronts.
The Arnold is the highlight of the year in Columbus, Ohio and the whole city is geared towards the invasion of beef, everything gets brushed to one side including political campaigns when Big Arnie and the muscle boys come to town, we all know that the Austrian Oak will one day be the American Eagle when he becomes president of the USA in his own time.
Moving on to the event itself I would say that as a spectator the key to success is planning exactly what you want to do. There are so many things going on at any one time and timings as always are flexible to say the least.
There is no time to get jet lagged because everything is so full on so after an evening out with Jack Daniels and a few mutual friends we were all up bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready for action at the veteran’s memorial hall early on Friday morning for the amateur pre judging.
On arrival and after speaking to Bill and Wanda who were already in full swing at the judges table I went backstage to find James and Darren. I met some familiar faces that I know from the European circuit but there was no sign of Darren and after a full scale red alert and as a result of a breakdown in communications Darren unfortunately missed the whole show. Lesson to be learnt for competitors at all shows, there is never ever a guarantee in timings at any show so get there the night before and camp outside if you have to and once you are in the venue do not leave for anything, be in the right place at the right time end of story.
What can I say about James Llewellin that people don''t already know, he is always a great ambassador for our sport and a real Hercules. I have traveled with James before to international competitions and as always he did everybody proud. I know that James was not happy with his final product on stage this time but he placed fifth at the Arnold Classic and believe me that does not come easy. I saw James compete as a first timer and the reality is that James has done so much in a relatively short space of time through his dedication and commitment; he is also his own hardest critic but there is no ceiling on his potential. Gravesend Classic to the Arnold with more to come; great result James we know you could have actually won if you had nailed it.
Thanks to Bill Tierney and by special approval of the world president Rafael it was decided that Darren could appear onstage the following day at the finals not as a competitor but that he would get the opportunity to do his routine so in actual fact he is the first person to ever have a guest spot at the Arnold so Bill''s is a pint.
The following day we made our way to the Convention Centre for the amateur finals and James came on to the stage with renewed vigour and heart and was presented with his fifth place trophy a great achievement. Just before the super heavies Darren came thundering on stage to the nods of approval of all the judges and showed everybody he has what it takes to mix it up with the big boys even the MC Lonnie Teper was impressed and I quote “that’s not calves that’s cows".
Darren had the opportunity to showcase himself and did a good job; he will certainly make the pro ranks and there haven’t been many sets of legs like that since Platz but check this out, directly after coming off of the stage he left the venue to find a gym to start preparing for his next competition and his quest for his Pro card. Now that is hardcore. Point of interest for other competitors at this standard and that is if you haven''t got slabs of feathered quads on the day then you might as well stay at home.
The overall title for the amateurs was taken by the Egyptian with a magnificent polished and complete physique certainly one to look out for in the future.
As for the ladies figure, well my hat goes off to the judges who try and separate all of these beautiful girls when the difference between first place and last place is almost negligible. As for the ladies physique there has always been a variance in the criteria but it seems to have struck a balance between size masculinity and femininity and the balance appears to be about right with the onus being on the maintenance of femininity whilst still pushing the boundaries of real muscle. My own opinion is quite simple if you want muscles like a man and I mean big man muscles then you have to be judged accordingly so just forget sexy and feminine they don''t really go with the whole masculine muscle thing.
At what stage are the boundaries of gender completely blown away, is there a place for it? There will always be somebody who likes total extreme and bizarre and the muscle fraternity loves its freaks so just bring it all on.
After 30 years in bodybuilding it was certainly the icing on the cake for me to meet some of the legends of the sport and also very humbling, I felt the same sense of awe as I did at my first Olympia in London 1982. These are the men who put the awe into awesome and one of my highlights was to meet the myth himself Sergio. I think that some of today’s athletes could take a leaf out of his book and take in the whole work ethos; here was a man that spent the day busting his balls in a steel foundry and still found the time and the inspiration to train, beat Arnold and become ''The Myth'' and you don''t get a nickname like that for being a pussy.
Sergio looked like an old man and to a degree I suppose he is now, however nobody keeps all of their muscles forever and if you are fortunate enough to make it to the twilight zone it is the man inside the muscles that counts and remember if you don''t make any friends on the way up you sure aren’t going to make any on the way down. How you conduct yourself as a bodybuilder and a champion will remain with you for the rest of your life.
Sergio was the original medallion man unlike me, but what a job he made of it and from my point of view it was a leveler for me to be in the company of these kings of muscle. I am not convinced that everybody actually knew and appreciated who some of these guys were, Ed Corney, Frank Zane, Mike Katz, Lou Ferrigno, Labrada and Gaspari are considered the old timers these days so if this is your sport then make it your business to find out who all these names are and glean inspiration from the pioneering glory days when serious muscle evolved.
Talking style with Sergio, talking posing with Vince Taylor and strength with Kazmir is almost surreal but that is how you learn your trade by talking to the masters about what they do best and all of these guys are happy to interact with Joe Public. Do not ask divvy questions and you will be fine, apparently a lot of these guys had been looking forward to meeting me; can you believe it?
The expo area itself rages with excitement as champs and celebrities advertise their sponsors and themselves among the hordes of admiring fans, the indoor stage area throbs with heavy metal power as feats of strength and world records bite the dust one after another. Fitness and bikini girls pose and pout for the cameras and give out free samples of the latest products.
Our own James Flex Lewis was on the Gaspari stand signing autographs for his new fan club. It is always good to see familiar faces from the UK at these events, James is another great example of someone who has taken the bull by the horns and gone for it.
My pal Pat Warner styled it up with the best of them and was treated like a pro in his own right and as always was incredibly popular.
UK bodybuilding and boxing Icon Kerry Kayes was on his CNP stand a familiar and popular face in the business.
Dorian was cruising being Dorian in his own inimitable way and believe me the 6 time Mr Olympia still heads an army of fans.
Dorian and I will be co promoting the first of Dorian''s shows later on in the year and that will make your hair stand on end take and your breath away and that is just at the after the show party.
Neil and Donna from Scotland were bronzing the beautiful on their Jan Tana stand. Good to see James Collier from Muscletalk and Bill Wilson from Ultrabodies Peterborough getting amongst it.
From a personal point of view, I was disappointed in the turn out from the UK and would like to see a huge entourage of British Beef and I fully expect to be accompanied by such on my return next year.
The UK and European bodybuilders are a force to be reckoned with at this time so now is the time for our top boys to earn and command some serious respect.
The highlight of the weekend was the Pro show on Saturday night which started with bands playing singers singing and patriotism that only the Americans know how to express these days and very proud of it they are. The evening commenced with Arnold paying homage and great respect to the late and great Reg Park Mr Universe and man of iron, this was followed by a tribute to Ben Weider for a lifetime achievement award after all it was Joe and Ben Weider who created the whole Weider and IFBB empire in 1946 with Arnold at the helm. The ship is still on course and picking up steam with the mantle of responsibility now carried by Rafael Santonja.
After Arnold captivating the audience with his charm and wit it was onto the parade of the gladiators. After all the mutual appreciation, suddenly boom 15 of the greatest physiques on the planet took to the stage and entertained a star studded audience.
The results for the top 6 were as follows:-
First Dexter Jackson
Second Phil Heath
Third Kai Greene
Fourth Branch Warren
Fifth Sylvio Samuel
Sixth Gustavo Badell
In my eyes all of these athletes are champions and there is never much room for complaint in the odd place such is the standard of today’s competitions. I have been judging shows for 25 years and it gets harder all of the time, no room for weak parts anymore. I like to let people make their own opinions and judgments educated or not but I personally am always happier to discuss a physique with its owner rather than share my opinions in a report.
You do not have to win a show to be the star and as far as I am concerned the new man to look out for is Kai Green, this is one serious cool dude who has put on two stone of muscle in a year under the guidance of George Farah. This man is innovative and a natural showman in the line of John Brown and Vince Taylor and he stole the show for me, and many others.
The amazing brothers broke the boundaries of strength and balance with a routine the likes of which defy the realities of the human body and the American street dance acrobats wowed everybody with their daring and world class gymnastics and tumbling.
Before any decisions were made the audience was treated to a parade of champions featuring the past winners of the classic, both ladies and gentlemen. All of the ladies looked healthy and beautiful in their natural state some of which you would not recognize from their competitive days. The men showed true testament to the bodybuilding lifestyle looking fit and healthy and living proof to the benefits of being a bodybuilder. I personally thought that Mike Francois had the courage and the heart of a lion for standing onstage amongst his former colleagues and adversaries in the body he now lives within. Sadly Mike has been very ill and is now in a somewhat depleted state compared to the former behemoth he used to be and present in his competitive days.
Before anybody starts jumping to conclusions people get ill, it is a side effect of life so instead of looking for reasons why and something to blame just be positive about everything and show respect where it is due, so well done Mike top man.
Dexter the Blade Jackson won the overall and surprised Arnold with his declaration of training for 1 hour a day only, poor Reg would turn in his grave.
The power continued with Zavicus defending his strongman title live on stage but like all shows people started to leave after they had seen their favourites this will never change but be aware it is bad manners and pretty disrespectful to the athletes still competing.
In summary, I would like to give special thanks to power lifting entrepreneur Kevin Farley the MD of Startrac for hosting our UKBFF party at the VIP enclosure at the after show buffet and made my stay all the more special. Arnold was very pro active with his fans and friends including Diane Bennett from the UK who was instrumental in Arnolds rise to glory.
Unfortunately Arnold did not get a chance to talk to me on this occasion but I did have a few words for one of his minders, (yet another story); however in the past I had the opportunity to head Arnolds security team whilst he was staying in London but if I was to talk about it I might have to shred a few people.