COLUMBUS, Ohio’Ronnie Coleman can definitely relate to Rod Tidewell, the high-voltage football player portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 1996 hit ‘Jerry Maguire,’ who uttered the flick’s signature line, ‘Show me the money.’ Although Coleman told me at last season’s NPC Nationals he would not compete at the ’01 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, an added incentive proved critical in changing the three-time Mr. Olympia’s mind. A new Hummer, valued at $105,000 when fully loaded, on top the $100,000 first-place prize money was just too much for the Big Nasty to pass up. Even if his boss, Joe Weider, made it very clear he preferred Coleman to be occupying his regular post at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium’in the audience’rather than flexing onstage. The only other time Coleman competed in this show was 1997, when he was under contract to another company and only had dreams of making the top six at the Olympia.
Coleman had another reason to take part in the renowned Arnold Schwarzenegger/Jim Lorimer production: With a victory, he would put his name in the record books as the first person ever to win both the Mr. Olympia and Arnold Classic titles. The two previous Mr. Os, Lee Haney and Dorian Yates, never competed in Columbus.
Ronnie left nothing to chance as he prepared to battle his 14 opponents. He’s a wise enough man to have listened to those who told him he’d been about 10 pounds too heavy at his third Mr. O conquest last October (Coleman said he weighed 263 in 2000). As a result, he presented perhaps his all-time-best overall package. At the judging, Coleman said his weight was around the 250 mark, more than the 247 he tipped the scales at in his inaugural Olympia win in ’98 and several pounds lighter than the 257 he checked in at in ’99. Did he nail it? Can Ray Lewis play linebacker?
As Coleman moved to his familiar spot, center stage, in the first callout at the noon judging on March 3, it took only seconds to see who the top dog would be. His biceps peaks were as large and detailed as ever. His massive chest was thick, full and vascular. His back was wide enough to fly some of us back to the Doubletree, the event hotel located about a half mile from the venue. His thighs were enormous and continued to show the deep separation he had been lacking prior to the ’99 Olympia. The glutes? Do I really have to tell ya about the glutes? Okay, you could have hung your garments from them, they were so deeply etched. And his tummy, which nearly reached out and touched some of the spectators in the first row at the Mandalay Bay (site of the Olympia), was vastly reduced. Coleman made this one easy on the judges in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,000 agog fans.
The magistrates also had an easy time deciding who would follow Ronnie in the placings. Chris Cormier, coming off victories at the IRONMAN Pro and the San Francisco Grand Prix, joined Coleman and Dennis James in the initial callouts of both the symmetry and muscularity rounds. With his beautiful overall balance, matched by his imposing size (even though I have always said athletes fib about their weight, I saw Chris weigh in at 263 the night before) and good conditioning, Cormier was a slam dunk for second. In fact, he and Coleman only had to show their stuff once, then spent the rest of the judging following the action as they remained in their required positions in the lineup. Cormier entered this fray full of confidence. He was second to Flex Wheeler at the Arnold last season and felt he’d improved enough to move up a notch this year’even with Coleman onstage.
Despite all that, the Real Deal was a tad flat at the judging, and that lack of eye-popping detail prevented any anticipated battle with Coleman for the crown. Still, the man many now refer to as the second-best bodybuilder in the world was good enough to record a unanimous second-place finish, which landed him a $50,000 check. (The evening provided a double defeat for Chris, as John Ruiz scored a unanimous victory over Cormier’s favorite pugilist’and look-alike’Evander Holyfield, in Las Vegas, ironically at the Mandalay Bay.)
James, fourth at the Arnold a year earlier, was huge and thick, albeit not separated enough to give Cormier a real run for his money. The 5’9′ Thai gym owner said he was carrying about 258 pounds of beef when he hit the stage. With his dominating third-place finish, Dennis the Menace has given fair warning to those who plan to battle for a top-six placing at this year’s Olympia. If he can improve on his conditioning (I’d say drop five to seven pounds), the seasoned pros who normally end up in those slots may have something to worry about.
Controversial rookie Shari ‘King’ Kamali opened more than a few eyes at the IRONMAN when he backed up his I’m-gonna-dominate-the-scene predictions with a solid third-place finish. The Vienna, Virginia, showman proved it wasn’t a fluke as he swept to a fourth-place finish in Ohio. Kamali is one of the most entertaining performers to step onstage in years, and he had the Columbus crowd in a frenzy with his dynamic posing routine. I admit I wondered if the ’99 NPC National Heavyweight champ could be an outstanding pro. I wonder no longer.
Florida’s Dexter ‘Action’ Jackson has one of the prettiest physiques in all of bodybuilding, a smaller version of Kenneth Wheeler, if you will. He showed up at the judging in perhaps his best shape ever. I thought Jackson might finish behind only Coleman and James, but in the end the Jacksonville Jaguar was placed in the fifth slot, which resulted in a loud chorus of jeers that rang throughout the auditorium. Maybe the judges mistook his posing routine for an instant cure for insomnia. Spice it up, Dexter, and you may move up in the standings.
According to the score sheets, the top-five placings were clear-cut. The struggle for sixth was another story. Marvelous Melvin Anthony and Craig Titus battled for the right to be the last man called out onstage for the final posedown, which, obviously, is quite a prestigious spot. Melvin looked better than he did when he took second at the IRONMAN two weeks earlier to earn his first Mr. O qualifying berth. He had dropped water and was much tighter, particularly in the ham and glute areas, and it had cost him in the size department.
Titus has about 10 pounds on Melvin at the same height and thus has the bigger and thicker body. Anthony has the much more aesthetic physique, set off by his 27 1/2-inch waist. Titus jumped to a 10-point lead over Anthony after the first two rounds; Melvin’s sensational performance in the posing round got the night show off to a rousing beginning. Even the normally reserved Lorimer was seen movin’ to the music in the press pit while Marvelous was showing off his slithering moves onstage. The effort paid off as Anthony topped Titus by eight points in round 3. Still, the Teflon Man, continuing his remarkable comeback after competing for the first time in four years in 2000, was able to squeak into the sixth spot by a two-point margin. This was the rubber match between the two: Melvin was second to Craig’s fifth at the IRONMAN, but Titus reversed things at the San Francisco Grand Prix a week later with a second-place finish to Anthony’s third. And it ain’t over this season: Melvin gets to show Craig just how marvelous he really is when the two tangle once more at the Olympia.
Darrem Charles and J.D. Dawodu, along with first-time Arnold Classic competitor Garrett Downing, finished eighth through 10th, respectively. Another crowd pleaser was Oleg Zhur of Prague, Czech Republic. The smallest man in the field, Zhur packed 200 pounds of muscle on his 5’5′ frame and was much improved over his shape at last year’s Mr. Olympia. If the fans had a vote, Oleg would have cracked the top 10. Zhur was close, with an 11th-place finish. Aaron Maddron, the ’99 NPC National Overall champ, placed 12th in his first try at the Classic, while New Jersey veteran Jason Arntz, not at his best, followed in 13th. Atlanta’s Stan McCrary, the ’95 IFBB North American winner, was making his debut in Columbus and placed 14th, while his fellow Atlanta resident Jeff Long finished 15th.
Although Wheeler and Lee Priest had to pull out of the contest for medical reasons, the competition was a major success, as always, providing a great combination of outstanding veterans and exciting newcomers.
Prior to the final results being announced, Coleman received his first honor of the night when Schwarzenegger presented him with the Most Muscular Award. What a stunning decision! Later, the fans got another up-close-and-personal view of the world’s best physiques as the top six filed into the stands after the posedown. Last year’s finalists started the tradition, and it looks as if it’s here to stay. It’s fun, and it certainly gives the ticket buyers a bonus. The only problem was that Coleman was having such a good time mingling with his admirers, it took him a few minutes to find his way back onstage for the results.
Another classic moment came when Arnold presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Reg Park. Schwarzenegger told the audience that seeing Park in a Hercules movie when he was a kid inspired him to take up bodybuilding and that he has used Park as a role model throughout his life. Joe Weider, who couldn’t attend the event this year, was the initial recipient of the honor, in 2000. (Arnold told the crowd that Weider was having hand surgery, for injuries causes by ‘counting his money.’)
Lorimer, who travels the world each year searching out award-winning acts for the show, produced world-class gymnasts Svetlana Khorkina, the ’96 and ’00 Olympic champion on the uneven bars; Yulia Barsukova, a human pretzel who took the gold in rhythmic gymnastics at the Sydney Games in 2000; and Elena Produnova, known as the strongest gymnast in the world, who performed a floor-exercise routine.
As another surprise, WWF superstar Chyna got involved in the festivities. The most famous female in wrestling history posed down Lou Ferrigno, with the two going pec to pec in a side-chest shot. Then Chyna came onstage and officiated in the annual drawing to win a trip to California and spend the day on the set of Schwarzenegger’s next movie.
After Coleman was named the winner, Schwarzenegger told him he knew Ronnie had been pressured not to enter the event and wanted to know if he’d return to Columbus to defend his title in 2002. In his best Arnold imitation, Coleman answered, ‘I’ll be back.
‘This is the best contest I’ve ever been in,’ he continued to the crowd. ‘Jim Lorimer is the best promoter in the world.’ Hey, the man has 205,000 reasons to feel that way, right? IM ’01 IFBB Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic
1) Ronnie Coleman*
2) Chris Cormier*
3) Dennis James*
4) Shari ‘King’ Kamali*
5) Dexter Jackson*
6) Craig Titus
7) Melvin Anthony
8) Darrem Charles
9) J.D. Dawodu
10) Garrett Downing
*Qualified for the Mr. Olympia.