So I guess a new Mr. Olympia was crowned over the weekend. LA Mary sent me a picture, impishly noting that her governor is a former title-holder. I don’t know this guy’s name; it might be Jay Cutler, the 2007 winner, but the official website hasn’t been updated yet, and I’m too lazy to do a full Google. Anyway, here’s a 2007 contestant:
His head looks Photoshopped, doesn’t it? And yet, if you were going to digitally manipulate any part of that picture, wouldn’t it be the guy’s basket? Have you ever seen anything more pathetic? Oh, well — life is a series of choices, and I’d say he gave up one thing in return for another. Nice lats.
As things do so often these days, it send me into a [swimmy screen effects and harp glissandos] reverie of my salad days. I covered a Mr. Olympia contest once; for many years it was held in Columbus, Ohio. From Wikipedia’s table of results, I guess that would have been 1979. Sounds about right. Although nowadays the contest is held in, where else, Vegas, at the time bodybuilding was still pretty obscure, and having it in Columbus was solely the doing of one man, who worked at Nationwide Insurance, and his good friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was as green as a greenhorn could be, working in what was then still called the Columbus Dispatch women’s department. How did the department that handled weddings, engagements, ladies’ club news and “society” end up with Mr. Olympia? Through a time-honored practice at American newspapers — dumping an undesirable assignment on another department.
It was Sports, of course, that did the dumping. Sports departments are famous for jettisoning coverage of any non-traditional sport, of which sports editors are deeply suspicious. They’re the most conservative journalists in any newsroom, believing anything not played with a ball or puck isn’t really a sport at all. They only cover the Olympics because it involves international travel and pictures of women’s beach volleyball victory celebrations. I exaggerate, but not much.
Anyway, they shopped the Mr. Olympia assignment around until they found a sap (my editor), who found her own sap (me). Because this was the women’s department, and because my editor had no imagination at all, the original assignment was to write about defending champion Frank Zane’s wife, who was advocating the then-shocking idea that women should work out with weights, too. I went to their suite at the Sheraton for the interview. Frank popped a bicep for me to squeeze; it was, quite literally, like a rock. But they weren’t the story, not the whole story. The story was that my hometown was hosting an event that brought in dozens of competitors and thousands of spectators from all over the world, truly an international event, and it was doing so with virtually no local media attention, except my little inside-page women’s-department lameness.
After the story ran, I went to the competition. I was young and fairly naive at the time, but at the first posedown, it became clear why Sports didn’t want it and Metro was just embarrassed by it and only a sap like me would even think of wandering into Vet’s Memorial to watch: The body builders stood and flexed, and thousands of muscle queens howled with approval. I mean: Howled. I don’t know what I was expecting — maybe enthusiastic applause with a few woo-hoos thrown in. But this was like being stuck in the bonobo exhibit. If strip clubs tend to be dour, downbeat places, all those men sitting quietly at their tables for one, nursing Cokes and distributing their salaries in $1 and $5 denominations, this was its polar opposite — raw man-lust, foot-stomping, seat-pounding gimme-gimme-some-o’-that carrying on. It turned out that the Village People didn’t have all the gay erotic archetypes covered.
It occurred to me that now would be a good time to interview Frank Zane’s wife, but she was somewhere else.
The next day, the photo editor approached me in a panic; the AP was desperate for a picture, any picture; clients around the world were clamoring and the paper had nothin’. I turned over a roll of film I’d shot with my own camera, and suddenly we had somethin’, my first and only photo contribution to the Associated Press.
This was the very dawning of the fitness boom; “Pumping Iron” was still a cult documentary. Within a few years, “Conan the Barbarian” and “Terminator” would make the future governor of California a star, and the roots of Mr. Olympia in Columbus would become the Arnold Sports Festival — my goodness, but that man has had some work done, and not on his biceps, no? — and it gets a great deal of respectful media coverage.
I bet not by the Sports department, though.
Before we leave bodybuilding entirely, however, here is a terrifying picture. What’s in his wallet?
Ever since Lynn Johnston started letting daily life — the funny and unfunny — affect her comic strip, “For Better or For Worse,” everyone is getting in the game. If Johnston was an original, Tom Batiuk and “Funky Winkerbean” is an imitator. He tries pretty hard, though, and I was willing to forgive him as long as he didn’t get too…unfunny.
That lasted until this morning, when Lisa, dying of breast cancer, apparently went blind. Jeez, what’s next? Coughing up blood? Her death is timed to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but this is too much.
The MGM Grand invested $800 million in their new Motown casino, opening today. For some reason, no one likes my slogan: “What happens in Detroit, stays in Detroit.” I think it brings a note of menace the wussy Vegas original doesn’t have, but what do I know?
Have a great day. I’ll be workin’.