The sport of bodybuilding is in dire straits. Even the most ardent proponents of bodybuilding constantly complain that what’s going on today pales in comparison to what most consider the Golden Age, somewhere from the late ‘60s to the mid-‘70s, which is when Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the roost, and even the ‘80s, when it was probably at its most popular.
Part of the problem today, compared to the ‘60s and ‘70s, is that there is no one competing who has the confidence and, more important, the charisma of Schwarzenegger, which is why even 33 years after he last stepped on the stage (1980 Mr. Olympia after originally retiring in 1975), he is still featured on more bodybuilding-magazine covers than any other competitor who came before or after him. In comparison to him, ever other competitor has the charisma of a brick. Likewise, that’s why the film Pumping Iron, which was released in 1977 and starred Schwarzenegger, is still watched and talked about today, while the modern-day version, Generation Iron, which was just released a few months ago, will likely be forgotten by this time next year.
But it’s more than just a lack of someone with confidence and charisma that plagues today’s bodybuilding scene. Unlike in Arnold’s day, the public can’t see anything or anyone to respect or admire simply because of the way they look. Arnold was said to be 6’2” tall and he weighed anywhere from 225-240 pounds, depending which competition he was in. As a result, he simply looked like a tall, muscular, athletic guy. Sure he was pretty big and he probably looked freakish to some people back then, but he didn’t even come close to the way guys look nowadays. Today he’d have to weigh about 300 pounds to be competitive in the non-drug-tested events because there are guys 5’6” who weigh 250 pounds or more competing in them! And while some might think bigger is better, it’s pretty obvious to most that those who are considered to be the top pros in the non-tested competitions don’t look nearly as good as the guys of yesteryear. While they might be massive beyond belief, and this might inspire some youngster who simply wants to be huge at all costs, they look cartoonish in terms of their freakish size, bloated when they're on the stage, and downright fat to the point of being silly when they’re dressed in clothes. All told, they look like anything but athletes.
Whether or not you think what’s happening today is impressive is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, but I can assure that the public doesn’t find that look, or the methods used to get there, impressive at all. Whereas you could find bodybuilding competitions on television quite regularly 30 years ago, you won’t find them anywhere on the tube today unless it’s an exposé about drug abuse, which is primarily what fuels this size-above-all-else mindset that’s taken over, or when some bodybuilder gets caught in a sordid tale of crime, which seems to be more often than ever before. People just aren't interested in the mess that it's become.
In my opinion, if bodybuilding continues on this path, it won’t die completely because there will always be some hardcore followers willing to stick with it, but its popularity will continue to decline to the point that it can never hope to recover and gain the respect of the public to make it in the mainstream again. In other words, it’ll become an even smaller freak show than it is right now.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe bodybuilding can be rebuilt, basically from the ground up, and regain at least some of the respect it's lost, which is where Physique Canada steps in. From the get-go, Physique Canada has employed stringent drug-testing, which not only keeps things safer and healthier for its competitors, it also gains respect in the eyes of the public who have become jaded by the rash of drug scandals, not necessarily just in bodybuilding (where it’s simply assumed to be the norm), but in sports like cycling, track and field, baseball, etc. And don’t kid yourself about the public perception of it: no matter what anyone wants to believe, such as the excuse that “everyone is doing it,” the public doesn’t like it when they find out their favorite stars use drugs to perform better. In fact, I’ve talked to many drug-using bodybuilders who have expressed the disappointment they felt when they learned that the bodybuilding heroes they looked up to used drugs. Unfortunately, they then followed the same path as their heroes, and in many cases probably disappointed those who looked up to them; but maybe it’s because they felt they had no other choice, because no other organization before Physique Canada has taken testing seriously – at least not in this country.
Denis Pedneault and Rob DeLuca
Then there’s the look of Physique Canada’s winners, which I believe will make a significant change. Rob DeLuca, Alexis Brien-Fontain, and Denis Pedneault have all won Physiqeu Canada Tier 1 Elite men’s bodybuilding competitions and have looks that harken back to Arnold’s day – muscular, athletic, and healthy, which is the way it should be. If Simon Proteau wins a Physique Canada show (he’s been a runner-up three times), I’ll add him to the same crew. None of these guys has a bloated gut, bad skin, or weird growths sticking out here and there like you see on the drugged-up guys. They also don't exhibit that freakish, cartoonish size. Furthermore, they have all been able to show that they could get to where they are today without risking their lives, because none of them used drugs to get there.
Simon Proteau and Alexis Brien-Fontaine
While I can’t say that any one of the four I mentioned has the charisma that Arnold had, and still does – does anyone? – I can say that they’re all professional-acting, well-spoken representatives for the sport. I know this because at Physique Canada competitions, the Tier 1 Elite competitors are introduced to the audience before they compete and asked to say a few words. All of them acquit themselves well in front of the public, which, too, is vital if rebuilding is to become a reality.
I’m not a dreamer who thinks that bodybuilding can be rebuilt to the levels it was at in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which were decades when it was really gaining steam and they had Arnold to fuel it, but I do believe it can be resuscitated and rebuilt to the point where it has credibility and respect again, and can also be considered a real sport. I also believe that with the right kind of champions on the stage – Denis, Rob, Alexis, and Simon, for example – and with an organization such as Physique Canada behind them, bodybuilding can get back in the mainstream, and maybe on TV, not because of some sordid goings on, but because it’s a credible, inspiring, motivating sport involving people that someone would truly want to watch and be associated with. Let’s hope it happens.
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