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What Happened in Vegas

Olympia reflections continue to reverberate a couple of weeks after the physique-season finale. As I shift through my notes and photos, as well as the Olympia galleries here, looking for material for the January issue, the memories play like movie clips over and over in my mind – Webisodes, if you will, about the Olympia experience 2008. So much happened onstage – the crowning of a trio of new champions, the resurgence of Ms. Olympia Iris Kyle, the fall from grace of Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler – but the bittersweet scenes surrounding the sudden death of chief expediter Steve Stone are the ones that that replay the most.

The passing of Stone, a really good guy who ran the backstage production at all the big competitions, took place during the women’s judging on Friday afternoon. It left everyone shocked and shaken, especially his friends of decades in the NPC/IFBB New York Metro contingent and surrounding districts and in the highest offices of the organization. Stunned beyond belief was the immediate reaction as word of the tragic events playing out backstage spread down the judging table like a spilled drink. That the panel managed to judge the 90-second fitness routines while waiting for the outcome is a testament to the human propensity for plowing ahead. The show must go on, and it’s certainly what he would have wanted.

On Friday night there was a tribute read by emcee Bob Cicherillo and a huge picture of Steve projected on the stage. On Saturday the presentation was more elaborate, with Steve’s wife Andrea, another familiar member of the backstage team, and New York Metro chair Steve Weinberger at the podium. Afterward, I went backstage in search of score sheets and found a weird reality playing out – the familiar postcontest hubbub but with things just a little off – and somber.

“Well, we got through it,” declared one bodybuilding icon and member of the panel, her eyes almost quivering. Elsewhere, the person who’d been sent to have the scores copied had disappeared, which, along with other details gone wild, had left people who usually take action at a loss for what to do. A few feet away Jay and Kerry Cutler were having their own somber moment, totally unrelated, but it added to the surreal ambiance.

Later, after the banquet, we passed on the after parties in favor of consoling one old friend of Steve’s—we meaning Debbie Kruck, Mandy Blank, Debbie’s honey Mike Z and L.T. The darling duo, Debbie and Mandy, decided that shots of Patron were in order. Our friend, who is not much of a drinker, had two, something he’d never have done under ordinary circumstances. The girls ordered fuzzy navels for Lonnie, wine for me, and multiple toasts to Steve were made.

Here’s to the memory of a wonderful guy – and another Olympia down the hatch

Captions (from top):

Steve Stone and IFBB Pro League head Jim Manion in a last-minute consultation as the women’s bodybuilding, fitness and figure judging got under way. Photo by Jerry Fredrick ©

Andrea Stone and Steve Weinberger onstage at the finals. Weinberger noted that Steve had been his vice chair in the NPC New York Metro district for 18 years

Kenny Kassel, Debbie Kruck, Mandy Blank and yours truly toast a wonderful guy.

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