This year, the press conference was held at the Mandalay Bay Theater, an impressive place where over 1,000 people could come to see their favorite competitor, ask an question they want, and listen to the wisdom and insight of the elite in our small world of bodybuilding and fitness. Over 600 people came to the conference, which was quite incredible considering this was Thursday at 12pm. Anyone who asked for a press pass, whether you were a reporter, photographer or an editor, needed to be there, otherwise you would not receive your press credentials. The reason for this is that the IFBB only holds one major press conference a year, and since this is the biggest and the best bodybuilding and fitness contest in the world, the press should be there.
The competitors were all lined up in two rows, with the men's bodybuilding in the first row, the women's fitness in the second row left side, and the women's bodybuilding in the second row, right side. Wayne DeMilia, president of the IFBB, was at the podium in the second row smack in the middle, and it was an awesome sight, for nowhere in the world could you see the top athletes in all three sports in one place. The best of the best were there on stage. Of the other great athletes who were not competing this year, but could, Chris Cormier, Milos Sarcev, Paul Dillett, Kim Chivesky; they were in the audience listening and supporting their fellow pros. All who came were truly amazed.
In the lineup, starting from the first row were 13 competitors as follows, Orville Burke, Jay Cutler, Nasser El Sonbaty, Dexter Jackson, Dennis James, Kevin Levrone, Ronnie Coleman, Lee Priest, Shawn Ray, Markus Ruhl , Gunter Schlierkamp Ken 'Flex' Wheler and Oleg Zhur (along with his interpreter).
In the second row, starting with the fitness competitors, there were 13 competitors as follows, Susan Curry, Shena Forkner, Melissa Fabbriele, Jennifer Hendershott, Lena Johannesen, Klaudia Kinka, Lisa Lowe, Timea Majorova, Shannon Metereud, Kelly Ryan, Stacy Simons, Jennifer Worth and Adalina Friedmansky.
In the second row, ending with the women's bodybuilding, were Brenda Raganot, Cathy LeFrancois Priest, Yaxeni Oriquen, Jennifer McVicar, Denise Hosher, Vickie Gates, Valentina Chepiga, Rene Casella, Th-Resa Bostick, Andrulla Blanchette, Lesa Lewis and Iris Kyle.
A little after 12pm, the press conference started. Wayne DeMilia introduced all of the competitors, then opened the questioning to the audience. This was your chance to ask the competitors any question you wanted, or to praise your favorite competitor. At first, no one wanted to go up, to be the first, but gradually, fans came up and asked lots of questions or praised their favorite competitors. Most of the questions were directed towards the bodybuilding competitors.
- A question was asked regarding the drug Synthol and its abuse by the bodybuilding competitors, and what can be done about it. Synthol is a very popular drug which is a 'side injection shot' into your muscle which makes your muscle inflamed, and thus look quite big. Shawn Ray replied that Synthol is not tested by the IFBB, that it is very hard for it to be tested, and while there are no sanctions against it in the year 2000, the IFBB is looking into testing for it in the year 2001 given that one bodybuilder almost died this year by injecting into his blood system, and not the muscle.
- A question was asked if there a void with no Chris Cormier in the contest, considering Chris came third last year, and was gunning for the title this year? Shawn Ray answered that by saying that your health is the most important thing, and if your doctor says that it is not safe to compete, then you wait instead of dangering your life. Flex Wheeler answered that he is unhappy that Chris is not there, because it is some sort of a letdown when one of the top competitor is not there, and Flex was relishing to beat Chris after losing to him at the Pro Ironman during the first show of the year.
- A question was asked to Shawn Ray about how he feels about the judging. Many of us know that Shawn Ray is one of the most outspoken critics of the way the IFBB uses its judges. Shawn replied that in this sport, the IFBB does not rotate the judges every year, and he wishes that they would, thus brining in different opinions. If there is a pool of 50 judges, use 12 of them this year for the Mr. Olympia, then 12 different judges the following year, and so on. He says that there is a problem with consecutive judges each year. Why not try a different way? This answer drew a lot of applause from the audience. He did clarify that he never said that these judges were not qualified. He also said that all of the past three Mr. Olympia winners were 5'11", about 260 pounds (Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman). He wishes more accurate judging for shorter athletes, and some fans also piped in that this view should also be for the over 6 foot athletes too. Afterwards, many people agreed with Shawn Ray's vision of the judging format, but the IFBB did not have a comment on this, but said they would look into it.
- A question was asked to Ronnie Coleman, in, as the current Mr. Olympia, how can he help make the sport more mainstream, as apart from the main bodybuilding audience, most people cannot recognize Ronnie on the street. Ronnie Coleman replied that most likely, this sport is shunned from society because of the drugs (steroids) associated with it. It's just not good. For Ronnie Coleman, going to the gym and lifting weights is like a hobby for him, just like some other people go to fish at the lake. Bodybuilding is a niche sport. Another person in the audience asked everyone, regarding the mainstream issue and bodybuilding's popularity, how many people can give us a name of a person who won an Olympic gold medal in Kayaking, Equestrian, Archery, etc. (I tried, but could not). Not too many could at all. He then went on to explain that every sport has their own niche in the world, and do not single out bodybuilding.
- When a fan asked Ronnie Coleman if he does anything differently psychologically and physically, he said not really, and gave us a quote like 'If you always do what you always done, you always get what you always got'. Ronnie has a heavy Texas slang and his own sense of interesting humor and quotes that kept the crowd chuckling. When asked about Vickie Gates, and their breakup, he kind of evaded the question, but replied 'God gave me everything that I have. I am here because of God. Whatever happens in my life is because of God. It is made to be.' Ronnie prides himself on being a person who represents bodybuilding, and will take his time to meet and take pictures with his fans at any time.
- A question asked about 'Pay-per-view', and why the Mr. Olympia is not on it. Wayne DeMilia said is because none of them want to take a chance on bodybuilding, because they tried it once in 1991, and it was a money losing disaster for them.
- There were a lot of fans praising their favorite competitor, but one fan who praised Kevin Levrone, went so far as to say 'Hey man, you're so great, I'll take a bullet for you baby!' creating much laughter from the audience.
- Regarding the Ms. Olympia, a question was asked how the competitors feel that this year there will be no overall winner. Vickie Gates responded by saying that she personally is not happy with the decision, because one person should represent the Ms. Olympia in a overall form. She is happy with the weight classes though, but she does not feel that it is right that if she wins, she has to share the title. There should be a final comparison between the two weight classes. But this year, there will be two Ms. Olympias.
- A question was asked about female bodybuilding and if the competitors think it will get better after last years problems. Vickie answered by saying that she feels that it will get better, but that the competitors do not have much of a choice. They have to put their trust in the fans. Vickie herself has been a bodybuilder for 17 years, and has her own business, and a daughter to take care of. While some bodybuilders are here for the money, most are here because they love bodybuilding.
Wayne DeMilia then spoke up and talked about why there is not a lot of money for women's bodybuilding. He went into a history of the sport, which when they were together, men's bodybuilding attendance was up, while women's was down, and the men's were covering the women's tab. Eventually, in order to cut costs down, and to raise the prize money for the men's competition, women's bodybuilding was moved to their own stage, but that did not work out (especially when only 144 tickets were sold last year, and only $5,000 in sponsorship money in committed). Even this year, with 4,300 tickets sold for the men's show (not including comps or sponsored tickets), and 1,400 tickets sold for the women's show (again, not including comped tickets), that is the same as last year, even with the additional of women's bodybuilding this year. Wayne went on to say that we all have the same frustrations. Even ESPN Sportszone will not broadcast the scores on their telecast. Where we are now as a sport, Wayne is not happy either. The promoters try, but even they have certain limitations to work with. Wayne added 'The IFBB is lucky that ESPN agrees to videotape and telecast the show at a later date'.
Jan Tana then got up, and spoke about the promoters problems with the sport. It is very hard to raise money for sponsorships. The men definitely draw more support than the women do, and the sport needs more women bodybuilding fans to support the sport. Every year, she puts her money and her heart in the sport for the love of it, and each year, she does lose money on the event.
- A question was asked why then does the Mr. Olympia promoters spend money on entertainment like 'Sinbad' the comedian and other attraction when the money can be given to the competitors in raising the prize money. Wayne answered that by saying that all contest revenue goes to the prizes and that these entertainment talent are actually paid by sponsoring organizations, like Weider, who pays them themselves because it does draw more mainstream news and attention. Weider in exchange gets some comped tickets and booth space in the Olympia Expo hall.
- Another question was asked regarding Chad Nichols, and his role with Ronnie Coleman, Flex Wheeler and Nasser El Sonbaty. (He is the nutritionist and advisor for all three of them this year). Ronnie Coleman replied that Chad is the best nutritionist in the world. Chad does not provide training, structure or symmetry help, but for nutrition, Chad is one of the best.
The press conference ended after an hour or so, and afterwards, many of the competitors stayed to meet their fans and have their pictures taken. In the audience was a number of bodybuilders, including the three who earned the right to compete, but did not due to injury. Chris Cormier, Paul Dillett and Milos Sarcev were all there, and after the press conference ended, happily posed for pictures along with fans who waited patiently for their chance.
This was a press conference, but you could definitely tell which competitors came and met there fans and which competitors conviently disappeared without coming down and saying hello. For the sport of bodybuilding and fitness to become more stronger, these competitors need to come and spend some time with the people who actually came and attended the press conference.
Rico McClinton was there, and he said he definitely did not retire, he was just taking a break from competing for a while. He was kind of surprised to hear that the rumor was going around. His friends gave me a new nickname 'Tiny Bubbles', and when asked how he got that, he said some Hawaiian person called him that.
Kevin Levrone talked all about his new CD Infidelity, and his band 'Fulblown'. His famous band bus was left at home (he flew out here) but rumors of this being his last Mr. Olympia and Kevin retiring was left answered by Kevin, although he will figure it out a few weeks after this show. He almost did not enter into this show because he had a disc in his back which caused him enough pain.
Ericca Kern was at the press conference. Ericca is still the nice wonderful person she always was, and although she was not in makeup nor her hair was done, she still looked quite good and definitely in shape.
Kim Chivesky's remarkable retirement of women's bodybuilding only superseeds it by her amazing revelation that she plans to compete in fitness at the 2001 Fitness International in Columbus, Ohio. All of us are quite interested to see if she can make it as a fitness competitor after being the queen of women's bodybuilding for 4 years running undefeated.
Mike Matarazzo was his wild and crazy self, speaking up one liners when we could after the press conference, and working with Weider on their special Internet broadcast of the Olympia. Mike was in excellent shape, and it was nice to see him again.