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THE MR. OLYMPIA PREJUDGING: 9/26/08 8:30 pm
A BATTLE TO SEE WHICH BB KNOWS THE ABCs IN THE IFBB
The Mr. Olympia Prejudging opened with a moment of silence for Steve Stone, who passed on Friday, September 26. Stone was the co-host of Fox Sports' "MuscleSport USA" TV program, as well as the Chief Expediter for the Olympia and at many NPC contests.
The Orleans Arena was the meeting place of rivals, rookies and returning warriors ready to settle scores and snatch statuettes. After the crowning of Iris Kyle as Ms. Olympia for the fifth time and Jen Hendershott Ms. Fitness Olympia, the big boys came to do battle.
The Mr. Olympia competitors were introduced individually. Entering to the most enthusiastic cheers were Jay Cutler, Toney Freeman, Phil Heath, Dexter Jackson, and Dennis Wolf. So, it seemed the crowd had already conducting its own prejudging prior to this night and had selected its Top 5 picks.
Following are my general impressions of the Olympians. Note my coining of the phrase ABC (Aesthetic Bodybuilders Club) as a reference to those whose shape closely resembles the ideal bodybuilder physique (an "X" shape denoted by broad shoulders, a narrow waist, flaring quads and overall symmetrical, balanced musculature):
USA's Jay Cutler, 5'9", 270 lbs., returns to the arena, chasing a third Sandow trophy and Olympia title. While his conditioning improved from last year's controversial contest, some doubt if he can ever recapture the noteworthy physique he possessed in the early 2000s. He did some homework, too. The muscles of his massive back and tree-trunk legs show some detectable separation; however, his lower back did not completely dry out. While his abs are cut, they sit atop a visually wide waistline. No doubt, onstage alone, Cutler is a striking vision of muscular girth, but, when standing next to the other front-runners, the comparison yields an unavoidable shape or silhouette issue '" some have described it as less of an "X" and more of an "H." For the rest of the pack, psychologically, if not physically, he's still the man to beat.
Toney "X-Man" Freeman
USA's Toney "X-Man" Freeman stepped on stage at 6'2" and about 290 lbs. with his signature symmetry and the sort of stage presence and presentation worthy of a bodybuilding ambassador. Freeman is a representative of what I refer to as the ABC (Aesthetic Bodybuilders Club) because his shape hits the ideal marks '" big shoulders, small waist, developed legs. He's tall and imposing in an awe-inspiring way, and point blank, the guy knows how to present muscle in a beautiful manner. Pec tear aside, he had conditioning, shape, everything!
Germany's Dennis Wolf, 5'11", 270 lbs., visits the Olympia for a third time. The Russian-born gladiator is another tall ABC rep, who is wide where it counts '" the shoulders '" and narrow where it counts '" the waist. There were deep grooves in his flaring quads and splits in his hamstrings attached to compact striated glutes. A thick, billboard back helps him dominates in a Rear Double Biceps pose, but his Side Chest shot is also blinding.
USA's Dexter Jackson, 5'5" 230 lbs., is an ABC veteran who has "been there and done that" all over the Olympia stage. Will the ninth time be the charm? Although Phil gave Dexter a run for his money, Dexter brings one of the most distinct and recognizable sets of carved-up, puzzle-piece abs on the planet. Flaring lats spread from his torso up into cannonball delts. His thick traps jut forward like football shoulder pads in the crab-style Most Muscular pose. His Side Chest pose is equally awesome. While his calves don't overwhelm, his glutes, quads and hamstrings have notable lines. Ultimately, Jackson's selling point is his overall shape, comprised of orbs of sculpted muscle fused together like an armor suit.
USA's Phil Heath, 5'9", 240 lbs., is a favorite among new generation muscleheads who view him as the future of the sport at the Olympia level. Even though he bypassed the Olympia Stage, thereby making him a default rookie, he packs the kind of bursting muscle bellies that titillate the Olympia judges. This is "beef and nails." Dry, sliced hams on your sandwich, anyone? Addressing the "narrow" issue, over the course of five months, Heath got "wider" up top. Bodacious triceps and delts make for a nasty Most Muscular pose. His peeled conditioning on top of a solid structure are advantages enhanced by an insanely intense posing style. The madman facial expressions '" priceless!
Vying with Heath for the title of most bombastic Most Muscular pose and exaggerated facial expressions while posing is USA's David Henry. Henry does the Joker's wicked grin, while Phil does teeth-gnashing madman '" both are fun to watch. Henry, 5'5", 202 lbs., delivered a frame full of cut-up muscle, billowing off his spine and femurs. In other words sliced and diced legs and back. The delts explode when fired, but will stature still be an issue for the Giant Killer?
USA's Kevin English, 5'4", 202 lbs., is another rookie who wants to walk the path laid by David Henry and also be known as a smaller man that bigger men should fear. His grainy quality on an overall balanced body and barely-there waist are plusses for this East Coast scrapper. For now, unless standards change, this top contender in the 202 Showdown might just lack the mass to be competitive in this Olympia Open Division.
USA's Melvin Anthony, 5'8", 242 lbs. loves the spotlight and returned to it in Vegas for the sixth time. He exhibits remarkable shape coupled with stellar posing ability. Addressing the previous grumblings about his hamstrings, Anthony grinded in greater detail in his hamstring-glute tie-ins. In addition, quad separation finished off his lower half. Something '" lighting or skin texture '" doesn't make him appear as bone dry as needed to blow the viewer away. But nobody hits an "arm over head with face in profile while flexing a single bicep" pose quite like Anthony.
Spain's Silvio Samuel, 5'7", 225 lbs., is an ABC member and walking anatomy chart, clearly exhibiting where every human muscle is located on the body '" in 3-D! With A-game level conditioning, he wears striations like stylish clothes '" in his quads, glutes, delts and low back. In fact, he whipped out one of the sickest lower-back "Christmas trees" ever seen. At one point, as he prepared to flare his lats over his pinched waist, it appeared there were two trees, one stacked on top of the other! Fullness and skin stretched over bursting muscle bellies are evident on Samuel including his standout abs, which literally pop and stand out from the walls in an impressive way.
Gustavo Badell, 5'8", 245 lbs. The Venezuelan-born bull is known for solid yet stocky build. He brings a massive look without the elegant lines of the ABC fellows. The pronounced muscle bellies he totes are offset by his actual "belly," well, more accurately a semi-blocky waist that, at certain angles, detracts from an otherwise mighty physique. He showed up sporting good color on his skin and new color in his hair '" blonde streaks that were hard to miss.
Trinidad and Tobago's Darrem Charles, 5'9", 235 lbs., appeared onstage with good conditioning and muscle separation on display and awesome bicep peaks. At 40, he still represents the Aesthetic Bodybuilders Club well. He had lines and cross striations etched in the right places, such as the lower back "Christmas tree" and quad "teardrop." Charles moves and conducts himself with a sort of quiet power that does not seem to get him the attention a veteran may deserve, especially in the face of louder and/or larger bodybuilders who demand to be noticed.
USA's Craig Richardson, 5'7", 225 lbs., has made Olympia appearances twice before. While some stacked traps and a little lat and chest expansion wouldn't hurt his horizon, something about this guy screams potential! Good conditioning gave him a sheet of rippling abs, pec striations, glute cuts and wood-carving-like detail in the Rear Double Biceps pose. On top of great leg shape from quads to calves, he's got a marketable look that will hopefully get him some more face time onstage and offstage.
New Zealand's Moe Elmoussaoui, 5'9", 240 lbs. is new to the Big Stage. The Lebanese-born athlete brings very balanced physique to the arena. While his chest would not suffer from a little added development, the rest of him flows nicely. His tan could have been a tad darker to best show what he's got which include muscle hardness and rear-side striations.
Canada's Fouad Abiad, 5'10", 245 lbs. made his Olympia debut in his signature Mohawk and looking good on all accounts '" good shape, proper build and decent conditioning, though not as bone dry as he's been in the past, which may be attributed to the fact that this is his fourth contest this year. Abiad needs to work on creating the illusion of a smaller waist on stage and to add a tad more thickness in the quads and back to move up in placings.
Germany's Dennis James, 5'8", 240 lbs., appeared relatively sharp! On the upside, his conditioning prompted some vascularity to pop in the biceps and quads and James packs a mean upright Most Muscular pose. However, the inability to vacuum in, rein in or simply pull in tortoise-shell abs in certain poses lends itself to a bloated appearance. James is powerfully built but the lacking v-taper and x-frame does not make his super-wide back appear as impressive as it could/should with a smaller waist.
Russia's Sergey Shelestov, 5'11", 272 lbs., took to the Olympia stage for the second time, showing improvements. His height gives him a bit of presence but he must make greater adjustments to harness the full potential he looks to have hidden in that big body. Bigger forearms and traps and wider lats would add dimension. He needs greater conditioning to etch out some finer details throughout. When hitting certain poses, muscle separation appears in the quads and upper back, but the trick is to look like "beef and nails" just standing there.
USA's Leo Ingram 5'9" 255lbs. walked on to the Olympia stage for the first time on bulging quads full of cuts; however, those same legs were not nearly as impressive upon turning around. Ingram needed more detail in his hamstrings to complete the "wow" of his wheels. He did reveal a heavily muscled upper back, but he needed a compressed stomach to display more complete ab detail. To a degree, Ingram maintained his grainy texture, but he didn't appears as crispy and grainy as he customarily does.
USA's Johnnie Jackson, 5'8", 240 lbs., has been called "The World's Strongest Bodybuilder" and verified this by setting a record-breaking lift at a powerlifting meet in June. He borrows from the physical requirements of the powerlifting world and brings a solid muscular physique to the bodybuilding arena. However, the way those muscles are arranged don't automatically lump him into the ABC. Jackson suffers from genetically small calves. The quads lacked flare. The lower back was not thoroughly dehydrated and, when not completely flexed, the hamstrings and glutes took on a slightly smooth appearance. Did he peak at his qualifying show, the Atlantic City Pro?
Germany's Ronny Rockel, 5'6", 225 lbs., is giving the Olympia a fourth go. A nice, safe package, all the items on the basic checklist are there: good shape, symmetry, conditioning, musculature, balance, etc. He was stone hard and improved from his qualifying contest, the New York Pro. Detail was visible in the lower back and hamstrings. Full, round pecs and delts. Separated, brick-wall abs. A stellar physique. So, what's the problem? Nothing. But without the pre-contest hype of a rivalry or a special attribute, it's easy for one to look at Rockel, be momentarily impressed and quickly move on, waiting for controversy to hit the stage.
The first Call Out included front-runners Toney Freeman, Dexter Jackson, Jay Cutler and Phil Heath, but not Dennis Wolf, who was summoned in the second Call Out, and, eventually, got his long-awaited comparison to Cutler in the third Call Out.
The judges did an excellent job of mixing and matching the Call Out formations with enough variety to give the crowd in attendance and the athletes on stage the sense that the right competitors were being fairly compared to others on their level.
Following a series of about 10 Call Out comparison rounds, that ended, again, with Freeman, Jackson, Cutler, Heath and Wolf, spectators were left in suspense. Who would emerge as the man at the pinnacle of the sport? The next day would answer the mystery.