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Getting classic with Arnold: the new generation of bodybuilders is as fired up about fitness as physique.

The "art" of bodybuilding has come a long way since Charles Atlas beckoned 90-pound weaklings in the back of dime magazines. And nowhere is the "building" interest more apparent than at the annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic in Columbus, Ohio, one of professional bodybuilding's premier events.

Sellout crowds of 4,000 avid fans paid up to $250 a ticket this spring to size up the best bodybuilders in the world as they competed for record purses. Thousands also flocked next door to preview state-of-the-art muscle building and fitness gear at the 1993 World Gym Fitness Expo.

Young and old, brawny and lean, male and female, dedicated aficionados of the sport converged on Columbus, packing into the spotlighted auditorium to glimpse bodybuildings' superstars--like 27-year-old ex-police officer Flex Wheeler, the 1993 overall winner who pocketed $80,000, and perennial crowd-pleaser 41-year-old Ron Love.

Backstage, the pros pumped up in a roped-off area, doing dips, bench presses, curls, squats, and chin-ups-- straining massive muscles to the limit before greeting the critical eyes of the judges and fans. When the competitors hit the stage, the crowd let loose and the champions responded, gliding into well-rehearsed muscular poses. Quads, delts, traps, pecs, bi's and tri's--all body parts must be artfully sculpted into a well-proportioned whole. This takes years of daily workouts, physical and mental discipline, and a strict diet regimen--all part and parcel of the sport of bodybuilding.

The Schwarzenegger Classic brings together the past and future of professional bodybuilding, cashing in on the marquee value of the legend himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger--the man who brought a personable manner, quick one-liners, and gigantic muscles to bodybuilding in the late 1960s, and who almost single-handedly propelled bodybuilding out of obscurity.

Piles of muscles have always attracted attention. Physique shows were common in turn-of-the-century America. In the 1930 and '40s, bodybuilders such as John Grimek, Frank Leight, and the still-trim Steve Reeves, known to millions of moviegoers as Hercules, ruled the annual competitions for the Mr. America title. In the 1950s, Bill Pearl, now 62 and still pumping iron, dominated a sport that drew thousands to top events but paid only about $1,000 to its victors. "It was just a very small group, almost as if it were a cult, and it wasn't accepted in society as it is today," Pearl remembers.

Schwarzenegger arrived in 1967, and by the time he left for cinema stardom in 1975, bodybuilding had gained unprecendented exposure. Still, when Schwarzenegger won his final competition, Mr. Olympia 1976, he took a top prize of only $1,500. Prize purses jumped to $50,000 in 1986, as Schwarzenegger and his partner, Jim Lorimer, began promoting the show. Lorimer remains his partner for the Arnold Classic production.

Bodybuilding today is the product largely of marketing efforts by two of the sport's godfathers, brothers Joe and Ben Weider. They rounded the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) in 1946, which today sanctions all contests like the Schwarzenegger Classic. Ben Weider remains IFBB president. Joe publishes the largest publications on the sport, Muscle and Fitness and Flex magazines. Both Weiders attended the Schwarzenegger Classic and took pride in the crowds. "That's what the sport is all about," quips a fit Joe Weider, 71.

During the past decade, a new dimension to the sport has emerged-- women. Although present in the sport for years, female bodybuilders sat on the sidelines until the '80s when they gained their own competitive arena. In 1986, Schwarzenegger and Lorimer started the Ms. International. Today, female bodybuilding stars like former Ms. Olympias Cory Everson and Tanya Knight draw crowds of fans and bodybuilding hopefuls intent on pocketing titles and cash.

This year, rookie professionals won both the men's and women's division of the Classic. Kim Chizevsky, 24, a former aerobics instructor from Decatur, Ill., took first place in the Ms. International event, winning $20,000. Not bad for a pro in only her third year of serious training. "I've always been athletic and involved in a lot of sports," she said.

The men's champion, Flex Wheeler, trained off and on for a decade before devoting himself to the sport he hopes will lead to greater things. "Five more years, then 1'11 quit and try acting," he says. Wheeler trains six days a week on a diet that highlights plain rice, oatmeal, skinless chicken breasts, protein drinks, raisins, and bananas when preparing for a meet--the typical competition lifestyle for a pro.

The winners are picked during the preliminary rounds as competitors stand side by side on stage. Posing competitions, which bring cheers (and crowds) to the evening events, have little effect on the judges' decisions, although they are the high point for competitors who finally get to parade the results of endless hours of solitary work in gyms. "There's no fun about being in a gym and training," says Wheeler with a grin. "The fun part is being on stage and getting cheers when I hit the post."

Today's mountains of muscles make yesterday's look like molehills. Veteran bodybuilder Bill Pearl watched the Classic in awe. "It's hard for me to believe that the sport has progressed to the degree that it has. The guy who will place last today probably would have won the contest I was winning 20-30 years ago," Pearl says. "If I got on stage, I'd be blown away. I'm smart enough to keep my shirt on."

The Battle for Respectability

Schwarzenegger thinks bodybuilding will continue to thrive if it keeps its roots in chiseled shapes of those like winners Kim Chizevsky and Flex Wheeler and if it is promoted as a recreational sport just like swimming, basketball, or tennis. "Since they've been doing that," he says, "the sport has been growing, and now you will see in every home in America some form of gym equipment that deals with fitness or weight training or weight resistance or cardiovascular training."

Promoter Joe Weider hopes someday that bodybuilding will be viewed as a legitimate sport and receive Olympic recognition. Steroids, though, have cast a shadow over further respectability. Athletes in the Schwarzenegger Classic were tested for steroids using standards set by the International Olympic Committee. Some athletes, however, are able to avoid detection, so the cloud remains, even among the athletes. Shelly Beattie, one of the 10 finalists in the women's division, doubted she could win after the prejudging because, she says, "It looks like (judges) were working the bigger girls. I'm not going to compromise my body by using drugs."

Joe Weider is philosophical about the drugs, saying "Steroids are always in competition. It's part of all sports. If a guy wants to win and reach the top, he's going to do whatever he possibly can. We're fighting it, we're educating people, and we're doing the best we can."

Bodybuilding no doubt would benefit from another titleholder like Schwarzenegger, honored at this year's Classic as "The Greatest Bodybuilder of the 20th Century." Lee Haney, 33 and already retired, broke Schwarzenegger's record for wins at the Mr. Olympia contest. He now produces fitness books and videos and is developing a gymnasium franchise. The eight-time Mr. Olympia believes the sport will grow without a marquee athlete, but muscles alone cannot do the whole job.

"Physique is very important," Haney says. "That's what wins the competition. But what draws attention to it is the person who holds the title. Arnold was unique: He had a presence. He's always had that. I'd like to feel that my continued success with Mr. Olympia is because I have been able to maintain a good relationship with the public. I'm not just an athlete. I'm also a family man. I'm a Christian. Those are the things that are very important to society as a whole. Society embraces a champion who shows those concerns."

Past and Future

In the crowd were familiar faces from decades past: legends who dispel the myth that "all that muscle turns to flab."

Fifty-four-year-old Larry Scott, for example, winner of the first two Mr. Olympia contests in 1965 and 1966, is still youthful and trim. His mighty upper arms attest to his current regimen of working out four or five times each week. He and others are working to move the sport beyond simply building massive muscles. They preach to young and old alike that good nutrition and regular exercise--with weight training as only one of many possible activities-- are crucial for a long and healthy life. "Most people say, 'I just want a balance in life,' Scott says. 'I realize I'm living inside this house called my body and that I want to keep my house in shape. I have other interests in life.'"

Scott, Frank Zane, Bill Pearl, and eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney mingled with and inspired the crowd. In a separate room, hundreds of autograph hunters mobbed the legend himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who patiently posed for photos with fans and bodybuilding hopefuls.

In the exposition hall next door to the Schwarzenegger Classic, a dizzying display of fitness gear for every conceivable body part was assembled. One manufacturer pitched a Butt Blaster. A competitor hawked a Bun Burner. Seven machines alone simulated running up stairs, price tags ranging upwards of $3,500.

For all the complicated-looking machinery and the highly toned professional bodies, however, many gym owners came with the health of average folks in mind. Schwarzenegger urged them in seminars to open their facilities to seniors, children, inner-city youth, and Native Americans, the primary targets during his three-year tenure as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports.

"We have made tremendous progress," he said. "The American people are getting fitter, more people are working out, more people are going to health clubs. But the older adults have been left behind." He encouraged gym owners to start classes where groups of seniors could exercise together, be guided through stretching and exercises, and learn nutrition information.

Forty-eight-year-old Mike Katz, a former Mr. Universe and football player for the New York Jets during the Joe Namath era, owns two gymnasiums where seniors can get advice on specific exercises. "I have people in our World Gyms in Connecticut in their 70s and 80s who are weight training and conditioning. They look like they're in their 50s and act like they're in their 20s," he says. "One of the things I like so much is exercise relieves a lot of stress."

Some of Scott's older clients have started very out of shape, become healthier over time, then, often to their own surprise, competed at master bodybuilding competitions. "If you told them when they first came in that they were going to end up being in a master's competition," Scott says, "they'd laugh you to scorn."

Fitness always foremost on his mind, Schwarzenegger also pushed for people at the other end of life's calendar. Young or old, male or female, bodybuilding is a sport that athletes of all ages can enjoy. "There's something really strange in the way children and adults are separated in this country," he has noticed. "When I was a child in Germany, when my father went out to play soccer, we went with him. If he went swimming, we went swimming. If he went biking, we went biking. Parents in this country may exercise, but most leave their children at home. So you see these guys in great shape talking about working out two hours a day and their kids are sitting at home in front of the TV becoming dumplings."

That's a situation that will change if Arnold has anything to say about it--and he does.

Steroids: Getting the Message Out

Steroids in powerlifting, football, bodybuilding, and other team sports have received a great deal of press recently. Professional bodybuilders, wrestlers, and football players have spoken out about the widespread use of anabolic steroids.

Using anabolic steroids can cause significant health hazards. Cardiac irregularities, strokes, hypertension, gynocomastia, acne, acromegaly, liver disorders. cancer, and reproductive dysfunction top the list of dangers. Unfortunately, the short-term benefits of steroids--increased muscle mass and endurance--continue to attract young athletes looking for a shortcut to the winner's circle. The pressure to get better, bigger, and faster often overshadows the risks.

At least today's youth are better informed by celebrities who have experienced the negative effects of steroid use. Lyle Alzado, the former football star who died last year of cancer. attributed his illness to years of hard-core steroid use. "There is no one who has ever gone the long haul relying on drugs," says Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also has gone public about his use of prescribed steroids. "That extra 20 pounds that you may lift from using those steroids is not going to be worth it. But you will know when you get sick and when the side effects come out. I think it is very important that someone like myself who has been there gets that message out."

Sophisticated tests can detect steroids in the system, and the penalties for possession and use are severe. But the epidemic continues to spread. It may be the ultimate irony: In their quest for physical perfection, athletes are willing to risk life itself.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on steroid use; Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic contest
Author:Bebbington, Jim
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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