It's that time of year again already, Olympia week
! Since competing in the Mr. Olympia was the focal point of my entire year for a while, this always brings back plenty of memories. There were years when I would only do the Mr. Olympia and then a couple grand prix events in Europe right after, and in 1990 it was the only contest I competed in. So I can totally relate to how some of the top guys this year who haven't competed since last fall feel: Phil Heath, Kai Greene, Branch Warren, Dennis Wolf, and Shawn Rhoden. All the hard training and dieting is coming down to that one critical moment on the most important stage of our sport.
For me, the off-season was all about doing everything I could to beat Lee Haney. That meant bringing up weaker bodyparts and then honing in on my diet starting at 10-12 weeks out. By the time I was a week out from the O, I was pretty much ready. The first part of the week was spent depleting carbs (though I never went to zero), followed by three days of increasing my carbs and reducing my protein. Since the prep put me in a state of overtraining, I would cut back on training and cardio that week to fill out.
At that point, any competitor who has done his homework during the prep phase should be fairly relaxed. If you're behind, of course, you never get a chance to relax because you're doing more cardio and eating less in an effort to catch up and be in shape. Since I was always in shape by then, the final few days were spent mainly working on my posing and presentation. As I said, I would gradually increase my carbohydrates and continue drinking plenty of low-sodium water until 24 hours before the show when I would cut it out to allow the subcutaneous water to flush out of my system. The final few days were always fun because I got harder and more ripped every few hours. My metabolism was running very fast. Flex Lewis has an even faster metabolism toward the very end of his prep. If he misses just one meal, he can lose as much as two pounds! That's actually not uncommon, which is why it's so key to eat up those last few days to stay big and full.
I also remember the excitement of traveling to the contest and arriving at the hotel. Most competitors arrive anywhere from a week out to a minimum of three days before the show to acclimate to the area and get yourself situated. I would bring all the food I needed along with a hot plate and microwave. Usually once I got there, I preferred to be a recluse in my hotel room, just working on my posing, carbing up, and relaxing. You definitely didn't want to be walking around a lot, as that would tend to make you retain fluid in your legs and blur out the deep cuts. Stress of any type was to be avoided at all costs. Stress signals your body to secrete more of the 'fight or flight' hormone cortisol, which also results in holding water.
Still, this was the first time most of us had seen each other in months if not since the last Mr. Olympia. Of course, everyone would be covered up in sweats and track suits, so figuring out who was in shape was tricky. We would study each other's faces to see whose looked drawn. Another sneaky thing we did was to hug each other and try to judge how lean the other guy was by feeling his back! It sounds silly now saying it, but this competition was a very big deal to us. Just like guys like Phil and Kai are no doubt cordial to each other when they meet at the show, so were we. But this is war and we were warriors, so all that was on our minds was 'you're going down!' My goal was to win the Mr. Olympia title, and I felt it was within my reach if Lee Haney slipped up even the tiniest bit. We're talking about human beings here and not machines, so you never know what might happen. Guys get sick at the last minute - that happened to Heath in 2009 when he placed fifth. And even when you're being careful, injuries can happen to. Jay Cutler tore his biceps a week out from the 2011 O, and that was all it took for Phil to finally get past him and win. This is why predictions are never anything to really put much stock in. They're based on every competitor being his all-time best, which never pans out in reality. Someone is always going to be a bit of a letdown, and someone else is always going to be a real surprise.
I'm very excited for my athlete and good friend Flex Lewis, who will be defending his 212 Showdown title. We talk at least once a week about how he's doing and how he feels. At a week out, he planned on coasting into the show and trying not to stress out at all. At this point it's all about little details like getting a haircut, shaving, and posing practice. I was teasing him the other day and told him David Henry really brought his legs up and is ready to take him on for the title. Flex is exactly how I was, extremely competitive. He's very happy that three-time champ Kevin English is coming back and is supposedly looking great. Many felt that Flex should have beaten Kevin in 2011, and Flex never had the chance to return the favor last year since Kevin sat the show out. He just wants to beat him to prove he is the worthy champion of the 212 division. I foresee a tight battle between Flex, David, and Kevin - with Flex coming out on top!
I also have to say that this is the first Mr. Olympia in a while that I'm really excited about. Phil Heath is ready to try to win his third Mr. O title in a row, and he isn't about to let anyone else take his Sandow trophy away. He's supremely confident that no one will. But then you have Kai Greene, who very nearly had Phil last year. After the Friday night judging, he was just one point behind the reigning champ. You know he has been training like a beast since then! Jay Cutler is coming back after a full year of rest to try and get his title back for a fifth win. There were plenty of doubts as to whether or not he had a legitimate chance, but he's been training harder and seems to be more focused than ever. He made history by winning back his title from Dexter in 2009 - now he could possibly do it again and reclaim the Mr. O title from his friend and former protégé, The Gift. If he can repeat that incredible condition from 2009, anything could happen.
And what about this new guy, Big Ramy? I was at the New York Pro and saw him blow away his first pro show, and I was very impressed. The guy is a monster overall, with some of the best shoulders and quads in the sport right now. He probably won't win his first Mr. Olympia, but his future definitely includes that title at least once if not several times, in my opinion. Branch Warren has been runner-up at the O before and could be a serious top five threat if he nails his condition. Shawn Rhoden was a huge surprise last year in third place, with fantastic shape and symmetry. Big Dennis Wolf is supposedly going to show up in tremendous condition yet still massive and full. You can't forget about Victor Martinez, who was shredded in the spring but smaller than usual. He's up almost 30 pounds since then. And last but certainly not least, you have former Mr. O and four-time Arnold Classic champ Dexter Jackson. This man has been a pro for 15 years now, and he looked his all-time best last year when he won the Masters Mr. Olympia. The Blade is always dangerous!
As you can see, this is going to be an action-packed weekend. I can honestly say I can't wait to see this year's Olympia!