Wedding of the Year

/ Posted 07.09.2012


Hany Rambod and Farinaz Tavakoli

I figured it would be a blast, and wasn’t dissapointed. The wedding pairing of Hany Rambod and Farinaz Tavakoli as one took place on Saturday, July 7, in Pleasanton, CA, and a great time was had by all.

I flew into Oakland from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank on Saturday morning, where I met up with promoter Jon Lindsay, coming in about an half an hour later, from LAX. Allan Donnelly, the former Editor-in-Chief at Flex Magazine who is now running the NPC News online site, arrived shortly after, and the three of us took the road in Jag’s rental for our hotel in Livermore, about a 45-minute trek.


Arde, LT and Allen

We had lunch at a local sports bar, right dab in the middle of a golf course, then cleaned up and headed towards the Casa Real at Ruby Hill Winery, where the wedding and reception would take place. And, who are the first two people I run in to? “Sting” Ray Arde and Matt Allen, that’s who. Doesn’t ring a bell? Let me share some history. Arde won the overall the open category, Allen did likewise in the novice, at the very first NPC contest I ever promoted. That was back in 1999, when the event was held at Pasadena City College. And Hany Rambod was the guy who trained, and put, both cats into the show, giving this brand new venture instant credibility. I only had 27 competitors in that show, which only had bodybuilding divisions and was limited to those currently enrolled in a California college. As the saying goes, we’ve come a long way, baby.

For those hiding under a rock the past few years, Arde eventually went on to earn his pro card, while Allen became a standout NPC competitor who may not have earned a trip into the IFBB, but married somebody who did, former USA overall figure winner and current competitor Wendy Fortino. Oh, and Rambod has gone on to become one of the most recognized “gurus” in the sport.

As expected, it was a Who’s Who in the industry, starting off with the best built wedding party member in the country in Mr. Olympia Phil Heath (a Rambod disciple). Along with, of course, Lindsay and Donnelly, Pistol Pete Ciccone and Meritza DeGuzman-Ciccone were in the house; so were Ted and Sandy Williamson, IFBB stars Steve Kucko and Allison Frahn, Kim Oddo and wife Tracy. Muscular Developement owner Steve Blechman and wife Elyse flew in from their “vacation” home in Aspen, CO to share in the couple’s joy, and shake a leg on the dance floor. I was impressed with Blechman’s slick moves–especially since many of them mirrored mine :) . Pro figure standout (and soon to be a mommy) Krissy Chin and husband Troy Johnson were there to honor Hany and Farinaz, so were Brian Kahn of Bodybuilding.com and pro bikini competitor Anca Marcus. Too many more to name, but you get my drift. .

What a night…thanks for the invite!

Filed Under: News, News-and-Views
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“Experts” Divided on 2012 ASC: Wolf, Warren and Jackson Get Top Votes

/ Posted 02.24.2012

On paper, the 2012 version of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic could be among the most balanced in the 24-year history of the Schwarzenegger/Jim Lorimer produced event. Four of last season’s top five return to Vets Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio on March 3; one of them is the 2011 champ, Branch Warren, who would have entered the show as the pre-contest favorite under “normal” circumstances. But, for those who even remotely follow the industry, you know that Warren tore a quad a month out from last year’s Mr. Olympia, and had to pass on the chance to chase the Sandow eventually won by Phil Heath.

How will Warren, the 5’6 1/2″, 245 pounder–a five-time winner of the “Most Muscular” award in Columbus–bounce back from the accident? When I talked to Branch a couple of months ago he assured me he would be as good as new. And Yogi Avidan believes it, because that’s who Avidan is picking to walk away with the $130,000 grand prize.

“I think Branch is going to dominate again!,” says Yogi, who then added that “none of us are talking about Evan Centopani, who is the dark horse. My five-year-old son, Adam, is predicting Evan will win!”  Hold on Yogi–a lot of us feel Centopani, fourth last year, is definitely in the hunt for the title. The 5’11″, 265-pounder is a great bodybuilder, and I have the 2007 NPC Nationals champion actually nipping Warren for second. Not a popular pick, according to many.

So, who am I going with as the name I will announce from the podium as the latest ASC winner? Big, bad Dennis Wolf, the 6’0″, 262-pounder from Germany (now living in Las Vegas), who gave Branch a good run  for the top slot last year, then followed that up with a strong fifth place showing at the Olympia–a single digit behind fourth place finisher Victor Martinez. With Branch an unknown factor due to the August surgery, this is a great opportunity for Wolf to finally jump into the winner’s circle. Dennis combines size and shape, and, even though he has a couple of flaws (calves, lower back), should have enough of the total package to win the show…..IF he shows up in his all-time best shape. As Elvis once sang, “It’s Now or Never”, big guy.

The bravest pick of the group? Isaac Hinds, who is giving his props to the Blade. Yup, Lifter is going with Dexter Jackson, fifth last year, to move up four places this time around and earn his fourth ASC victory, which would tie him with Flex Wheeler as the all-time record holder. Dex, coming off that 100 grand win at the Masters Pro World in December, is still going strong at 42-years old. “Dexter is a wiley vet,” counters Hinds. “He’s been there before, and his showing at the Masters proves the Blade is far from rusty…in fact, I’d say he was at his sharpest ever.”

Another cat I think can cause some trouible is Brandon Curry, who will be stepping on the Vets stage for the first time. After a slow start in 2011, Curry put his name back in the headlines with an impressive eighth place finish at the Olympia. If the  former NPC USA overall champ, who carries about 235-240 pounds or so on his 5’8″ frame, can continue to improve, Curry will be in a hurry to land in the top five.

Lionel Beyeke opened the new season with a victory at the FLEX Pro on February 18; can Beyeke challenge for the title in Columbus? I say not yet, although he does have great shape and looks awesome from the front. Lionel needs more calves and back crispness to battle the big boys at the ASC, but I think he can challenge for a top six finish.

I’m also interested to see how Matthias Botthof fares. Matthias dominated the Arnold Amateur last year, and has the muscle to be in the tussle at the next level.  Also aiming for top six finishes–and it won’t be easy–are Ben Pakulski and Fouad Abiad, who finished behind Beyeke in second and third, respectively,  at the FLEX Pro. And, both guys had their fans who felt they could easily have won the show. Pakulski is a freak, with the best calves in the game, and Abiad has a nicely balanced body who can hang with the top fella’s when he’s in prime time condition.

Ditto for Shawn Rhoden, the modern day Flex Wheeler, who was not at his best at the FLEX Pro, but has another two weeks to dial things in. Now, how about Eduardo Correa? The 5’7″, 217-pounder was so detailed at the FLEX show he could have been placed the cover of a “Shredded Wheat” cereal box. I felt he could have actually won the contest…but finished a surprising fifth. My only guess is Correa was considered too “small”. Well, he ain’t that small, and he was the best conditioned man in the line-up. Okay, he needs more size on his quads, and his color was off at prejudging, but who doesn’t have a weakness here or there? Seeing where Eduardo finished in Santa Monica doesn’t portend well for his chances in Columbus, with a vastly tougher line-up, but you never know. One thing I will predict–the fans will go nuts over the peeled  Brazilian physique star.

Perhaps the most interesting competitor is veteran Gustavo Badell, at one time of the sport’s shining stars, who is making a “comeback” at the ASC after not taking the stage for three years. At 39, does Badell still have what it takes to be a top contender? Ask me March 3.

Make sure to check out the Arnold Classic prediction video I did with Dave Palumbo last month at the LA FitExpo. It’s tough picking the top folks even if you see them the week of the show. Not seeing any of them, and going on record, a month out, is even more difficult. But, it’s fun, and it helps promote the show. So, right or wrong, let’s get ready to rumble.

The “Experts” Pick the 2012 ASC

Lonnie (“The Swami”) Teper
1. Dennis Wolf
2. Evan Centopani
3. Branch Warren
4. Dexter Jackson
5. Brandon Curry
6. Lionel Beyeke

Isaac (“Lifter”) Hinds
1. Dexter Jackson
2. Branch Warren
3. Evan Centopani
4. Dennis Wolf
5. Lionel Beyeke
6. Brandon Curry

Ron (“Yogi”) Avidan
1. Branch Warren
2. Evan Centopani
3. Dennis Wolf
4. Dexter Jackson
5. Brandon Curry
6. Gustavo Badell

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The Great Debate: “Experts” Agree to Disagree on Mr. O Predictions

/ Posted 09.10.2011

The moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. The “Experts” have put their Mr. Olympia predictions on the line. And, as usual, it’s not a party line vote. The most acclaimed “Expert”, the Swami, is again going with Jay Cutler to make it five Sandows this coming weekend at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, NV. Hardbody Hinds is, per usual, shouting that nobody will touch Phil Heath this year, and says The Gift should have been unwrapped in 2010. Yogi Avidan insists Kai Greene, coming off his easy win at the New York Pro in May, will be mean and lean en route to his first Olympia crown. All three had Branch Warren in the top five; Branch will sit this one out after tearing a quad on August 20 at a guest posing appearance.
Drum roll, please:

SWAMI
1. Jay Cutler
2. Phil Heath
3. Kai Greene
4. Dennis Wolf
5. Dexter Jackson
6. Victor Martinez

 

HARDBODY HINDS

1. Phil Heath
2. Jay Cutler
3. Kai Greene
4. Dennis Wolf
5. Dexter Jackson
6. Victor Martinez

 

YOGI AVIDAN

1. Kai Greene
2. Jay Cutler
3. Phil Heath
4. Dexter Jackson
5. Dennis Wolf
6. Ronny Rockel

 

Although the “Experts” agree to disagree on the Mr. O, all three are going with Kevin English to make it three wins in the 202 and Under Challenge.

We’re out.

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Kuclo Makes Swami Proud at USA

/ Posted 07.31.2011

Yes, Steve “Kid” Kuclo finally became the man at the USA Championships over the weekend, winning the Superheavyweight and Overall titles a couple of weeks before his 26th birthday. And, making me look good in the process, since I picked the Plano, TX firefighter to come out on top at the annual event held on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

To refute what Dave “Jumbo” Palumbo said about my selection in our wrap-up video (which can be seen at both this site and Rx-Muscle.com), I did NOT pick the favorite when Kuclo’s 6’0′, 260-pound bod showed up in my crystal ball. Shoot, the guy didn’t even get to pose last year at the finals after finishing sixth! Didn’t win at the Nationals, either, landing in third last October in Atlanta, GA, so this wasn’t an “automatic” as Jumbo claimed.

Anyway, the Jon Lindsay promoted bodyfest produced a record 691 contestants–nearly 200 more than last year! Of course, there were two new additions to the game, men’s and women’s physique. I hosted the show for the 19th year; thanks to the tremendous backstage assistance I always receive, another record was also set–the show ended at 10:05 pm, something I thought was as likely as Charlie Sheen giving a “no comment” to the media.

On the subject of receiving, three other class winners also get to receive their initial IFBB card: Jonathan Delarosa (HW); Tamer El Guindy (LHW) and Luis Santa (MW). Congrats to the remaining class winners, Victor Del Campo (WW); Ori Atkins (LW) and Heath Warren.

I haven’t seen the scoring for the Overall yet, but some, including Jumbo and fellow wrap-up commentator Chris Cormier, felt Santa got an early Christmas gift with the fourth pro card; they deemed Del Campo as the rightful recipient. But, as I say on camera, I think the decisions were just. Even though Victor did remind me of a mini-Dorian Yates! On second thought….

Back to men’s physique. Frankly Shredded (yes, that’s the name listed, and that’s the name I called out!), won Class A. It wasn’t the first time I saw Shredded; he won the Overall at the NPC San Jose Championships that I emceed two weeks earlier. Deniz (pronounced “Dennis”) took Class B, with Nick Garton topping Class C. When all three did their turns in front of the judges, Deniz was the menace for his two opponents, and walked off with the first-ever USA MP crown.

Check out all of Roland Balik’s contest photos from Sin City and let me know if you agree, or disagree, with how things turned out.

‘Til then, I’m out.

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Jack LaLanne, RIP

/ Posted 01.24.2011

At Jack LaLanne’s 90th birthday party, held at the Casa Del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica, the fitness guru who promoted the benefits of pumping iron decades before it became fashionable,  told me “I can’t die, it wouldn’t be good for my image.” Jack held on another six years before he succumbed to respiratory failure due to pneumonia Sunday afternoon at his Morro Bay home on California’s central coast, according to his agent, Rick Hersh.

LaLanne, who said he exercised every day, swore he didn’t eat sugar since he was 15 years old. He opened what is believed to be the nation’s first health club in Oakland, CA, in 1936, and in the 1950s starred in what was the first ever television exercise program.

Jack was full of energy every time I saw him, and never left without rattling off a few of his long list of witty lines. When I asked him at the birthday party, which was co-produced by IRON MAN Magazine, how he was going to top towing a boat across the San Francisco Bay with his teeth (for his 70th), he snapped, “I’m going to tow Elaine (his wife of 51 years) across the bathtub tonight.” Check out the video interview I did with Jack at Muscle Beach in 2007 to get my drift.

Jack, you may be gone, but I wouldn’t have to tell you you’ll never be forgotten. Thank you for what you brought to this world.

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Excalibur Set for Saturday

/ Posted 12.01.2010

The competitive year will end, as always, with a bang at the Excalibur on Saturday at the Vets Auditorium in Culver City. Promoter Jon Lindsay told me Tuesday night he had 240 competitors on hand (not counting crossovers); that means the line-up should swell to 260 or more by game time.

Speaking of game time, former Whittier College football standout Anthony (Kid Kong) Pomponio will be making his first appearance since winning three classes at my Junior Cal (now West Coast Classic) in 2009. Pomponio played pro football in Europe last year, and is also an Olympia Games powerlifting hopeful. He weighed in at 172 at the Junior Cal; Kid Kong told me a couple of weeks ago he’ll be around the 185 mark as he jumps up to the light heavyweight class.

Pomponio will be one of a slew of standout bodybuilding, figure and bikini competitors showing up; Texas stand-out Brian Barth, coming off a sixth-place finish in the Heavyweight class at the Nationals in October, told me a while back he’s jumping into the show, and has to be considered one of the pre-contest favorites.

I’m sure the auditorium will be filled, as always, with many top luminaries of the industry. I’m going to the event, natch, but not sure if it will be the pre-judging, the finals, or both.

Check back next week for a follow up report on the night, er, contest before Christmas.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Attitude Ladies, Attitude!

/ Posted 10.24.2010

As we all know, J.M. Manion wears many rugs, er, hats: Chief Photographer/Senior Writer for the NPC News since 1986; manager of many of the top ladies in the industry and the creator of Iron Siren Comics (www.ironsirencomics.com). Over the weekend of the Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia, the father teen sensations Tyler and Cassie took on yet another role. Posing instructor.

A few hours prior to the Friday prejudging, I saw a glimpse of J.M. adjacent to the hotel pool area. There he was, personally giving posing instructions to a variety of figure and bikini competitors. I was stunned to see how fluid his moves were. A real natural at this, which should be expected after 25+ years in the business.

On Sunday morn’, at the obligatory NPC News photo shoot by the pool with the champions, J.M. were really in a groove. Since everyone was pretty ragged after the long, hard weekend, Manion had to fire up the troops, So, in the best Jay Manuel imitation I’ve seen yet, J.M. shouted to the gals, “ATTITUDE, ladies, ATTITUDE!”. His hands-on-hip gesture, with eyes fluttering, was classic. Speaking of classic, note pro bodybuilder PD Devers in the background of my photo. Did J.M. get PD excited, or what, with Manions instructions?

Then, a wired J.M. suddenly leaped into my lap as “The Experts” (me, “Yogi” Avidan and Isaac “Hardbody” Hinds) were trying to film our wrap-up videos on the lounge chairs. IRON MAN videographer Roland Balik was there to get all the action on film.

Now, J.M., did we have “ATTITUDE” or what?

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Jersey Shore Audition; Mandy Tanny, R.I.P.

/ Posted 08.17.2010

2010 New Jersey State ChampionshipsFor the first time in several years, will be heading to the Big Apple this weekend. Or at least close to it. Have an audition on the reality smash, “Jersey Shore” as “The Situation’s” uncle Lenny. I was guaranteed by the producers of the show I would NOT have to show my abs at any point during the try-out. Not ever being arrested will probably hurt my chances, but it’s worth a shot none the less. Can’t wait to show Snooki my dance moves. Just hope someone doesn’t belt her at the bar if we get a chance to party a bit.

Okay, am sure you know I’m joshin’, but I AM taking the big bird from LAX to Newark, New Jersey on Friday. Dwayne McDaniel, who purchased the legendary Diamond Gym in Maplewood from John Kemper a while back, hired me to emcee his inagural production of the New Jersey State Championships.

Although I’m not scheduled to arrive in Newark until around 8:30 pm Friday, hopefully I’ll get a chance to get into New York city for at least a couple of hours. Haven’t been there since 2003 or 2004, if my memory serves me well. Which is a big “if.”

The contest is being held at the Wilkins Theater on the campus of Kean University in Union. Hope to see a lot of fans show up to support the contest. The featured guest poser is Cedric McMillan (others guest performers are Vince Galanti, Drew Jemmott and Guy Cisterino), the cat I picked to win the Europa Super Show in Dallas last weekend. As we all know by now, Big Mac was relegated to a fourth place finish. I wasn’t there, but from the pictures I saw on line, Ced was not conditioned enough, but still should have landed a top three slot. Now, the guy I picked seventh in the upcoming Mr. Olympia (see “Experts” video at the site soon) doesn’t even qualify. Will have to give him the Swami pep talk to ensure a tremendous comeback in 2011.

Sadly, have to conclude this blog on a unfortunate note. Mandy Tanny, daughter of the late Armand Tanny, died last Saturday morning at a Southern California hospital after losing her five-year battle with breast cancer. She was 60. I met Mandy on a couple of occasions, and thought she was a class act. Just like her Dad.

Mandy was a huge pioneer in the women’s fitness movement, managing several Holiday Health Spas while promoting women’s bodybuilding and lecturing on exercise and nutrition. Mandy also was a writer for Muscle & Fitness for nearly 10 years before penning two health food cook books.

She married George Naum and together, developed their own chain of gyms called “Tanny’s Personal Fitness” between 1990 and 2003. She is survived by George, son Mario and beloved pooch, Nutmeg.

Condolances to the Tanny family and friends.

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Brignole, Whelan: The Incredible Journey

/ Posted 06.13.2010

In every contest, there’s a story behind the story, if someone would at least try and look for it. Who doesn’t have an incredible, or at the least, compelling tale to spin. With regards to my upcoming West Coast Classic on June 26, Doug Brignole and Brian Whelan are just two of those accounts.

I’ve known Doug for 27 years; for those who read my 10-page interview with Brignole in the October, 2009 issue of IRON MAN, you’re aware of the incredible ups and downs of Doug’s life (if you never saw the piece, you can check with the magazine to see if there are any back issues available).

The former Mr. Universe retired from the game back in 1991, but nine years later returned to the stage as he won Light-heavyweight class at the Los Angeles Championships in his NPC debut. He was finally, at 40, officially hanging up the posing trunks.

Or at least he thought. Enter a pushy reporter who met Doug in May, 2009 at the Cheesecake Factory in Old Town Pasadena to conduct the interview (a city where Doug was raised, and but a block away from the original Brignole Fitness, a first-of-its-kind workout facility that folded 15 years ago). I strongly encouraged the now 49-year-old to consider two things. Start writing a blog for ironmanmagazine.com, concentrating on his love of the biomechanical aspect of training, and to getting back on stage again. He liked the first idea, wasn’t so keen on the latter.

But, I thought Brignole could show the world how great a 50-year-old can still look, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt the business aspects of his life (writer, personal trainer, television host, etc). He agreed to make the West Coast Classic his first appearance at a sanctioned show in 10 years (as a tune-up, Doug eventually decided to compete in the Memorial Day event at Muscle Beach, winning the 50 and over class).

Brignole was surprised at the excitement the news of his return brought with it. Tom Touchstone, a former NPC star, said he’s coming all the way down from Bakersfield to watch Brignole work his magic on the El Monte High School stage. Rory Leidelmeyer may be joining Tom in the audience, rooting Doug on. Perhaps Jon Aranita, too. How great would that be, the gathering of all these former standouts, in support of one of their former colleagues?

On the topic of support, can’t even guess how many fans will show up to pay tribute to Brian Whelan, who’s story is right out of the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” mold.

On October 4, 2000 Brian was training legs at his Foothill Gym in Monrovia (15 minutes east of Pasadena). Then, all hell broke lose. His right quad tore, and the left leg pushed out while at the bottom of a rep on the leg press. Suddenly, Whelan had the horrific experience of having 1,200 pounds land on him, crushing his legs to the thud of 21 breaks of every type.

“It sounded like popcorn in the microwave,” Whelan said when I revealed the story in my News and Views column in the magazine nearly a decade back. “The Fire Department said it was the worst they had ever seen.

At the hospital Emergency Room, doctors wanted to amputate his right leg; at the last minute, they decided against it. “I woke up the next day with two logs, plus 16 plates, rods, and screws in both legs. All the nerves had been severed, so I had no feeling below the knees; fluid had entered my lungs via the torn arteries and I had lost 25% of my lung capacity.”

Twelve days later Whelan was released from Methodist Hospital in Arcadia; less than a year later Brian rolled up in his wheelchair and was on stage at the Orange County Muscle Classic and Venice Beach. “I competed in both while in the wheelchair in the men’s unlimited and won the HW at Venice. What a great moment!”

Brian said he wanted to compete again, this time standing, to show people his accident was just a “bump in the road.

“You had written an article about the accident, so it seemed right that your show be the one I do standing up again. Sort of full circle.”

He won’t be the only one standing when he returns to the stage sans his wheelchair for the first time in 9 years. I imagine every fan will be out of their seat in appreciation on this man’s implausible journey. And, Brian’s wife, Jennifer, will be close by; along with several other members of Foothill Gym (202 S. Myrtle Ave., Monrovia), Jennifer will be on stage in posing attire as well.

Brignole and Whelan: surviving, very well thank you, the rollercoaster of life.

Welcome back.

Filed Under: News-and-Views, People
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Upset In The Big Apple; Winklaar, Yamagishi go 1-2 in New York Pro

/ Posted 05.09.2010

Most of the pre-contest hype regarding the New York Pro centered around the comeback of Dennis Wolf. I even tabbed the 6’0′” 250-pounder from Germany as the probable victor, although I did point out in my pre-contest blog that I liked the physique of Roelly Winklaar. The 2009 Arnold Amateur champ made his pro debut in March with a disputed 7th place finish at the Arnold Classic, followed that up with a third place landing at the Australia Pro, and showed me enough that I felt he could definitely hold his own in this line-up.

Most of the chatter on the net during the prejudging made it seem like a battle between Wolf, ageless Toney Freeman and Hidetada Yamagishi. Ruthless Ruth Silverman, in viewing the posts, emailed me with her viewpoint: “Hide looks good, but not his best. Arguably, he’s better than Toney, who is about 85-90 per cent in my opinion. Wolf needs to fill out the places where there there are weaknesses…he appears gangly. Winklaar appears to be above and beyond in the best shape of them all. Is he missing bodyparts I’m not aware of?”

No, Ruthless, he is not. You were right on the money, honey. In taking a closer view at the slew of photos on line, Winklaar easily deserved this victory. He was shredded, and showed off much more than those great guns I wrote about in my blog.

Yamagishi has been Mr. Consistency this season. He was coming off a victory at the Europa, Orlando following an eighth place landing at the ASC and a runner-up slot to Melvin Anthony in the season opener at the Phoenix Pro. I’m amazed this cat can stay in such great condition show after show. Wolf finished a disappointing third and does, and definitely lacks in key area’s to be a legit Olympia title contender once again. Like his back and calves. And, he needs to be fuller, and harder. Freeman, approaching his 44th birthday, finished fourth, with Erik Fankhouser garnering the final ‘Olympia qualifying spot with a fifth place medal.

I said before the NY Pro that I wished Kevin English would tackle the main event after besting David Henry in last year’s Olympia 202 and Under Challenge. After seeing photos of Kevin’s dominating win in the 202 and under in New York (Jose Raymond was second, Jason Arnzt third), I’m even more disappointed that battle didn’t take place. He would have battled Hide for second. Winklaar was too sliced and diced for anyone to truly pose a threat.

More on the show in my News and Views column in the July issue.

I’m out.

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