The trip to Las Vegas this year was especially enjoyable. I arrived to Burbank airport (near Los Angeles) around 6:15am, in fear of having to endure long lines and high security before our scheduled flight out at 7:50am. My fears were not justified, as it actually went quite smoothly, going through the process of check in and then security in just over a half hour. However, just as soon as we reached the gate, the flight was delayed. For some reason, on this day, fog had settled over Burbank, and the plane which would take us to Las Vegas could not land, and thus, was circling over us. This lasted for a good hour and a half, until finally, the fog lifted around 9:30am, and everyone clapped as we saw the first plane to land that day actually land. By 10am, a two hour delay, we were on our way. There were lots of people from the Los Angeles area on the flight, including a full staff of Muscle & Fitness Magazine. By 11am, the plane landed at Las Vegas, and by 11:30, we were at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, just in time for the press conference, which started at 12. It was a long trip.
The crowd this year for the press conference was a little lighter than last year, most likely the reason was the fears from the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the current fighting around the world having kept some people from flying to the Olympia. It was being held at the Mandalay Bay Theater, where the showcase the show 'Storm' during the evening hours. Nevertheless, little did we know that this Olympia Press Conference would be one of the most animated press conferences that I have been too.
There were a lot of competitors this year at the press conference. Twelve competitors from Fitness, seventeen competitors from women's bodybuilding, and twenty one competitors from men's bodybuilding. With 50 people on stage, not including Wayne DeMilia, the promoter and IFBB president, there almost was not enough room up there. In fact, they brought out another table to accommodate Shawn Ray and Chris Cormier, who initially sat at the edges of tables. After a flurry of photographers (myself included) took lots of pictures, things settled down, and the press conference began
- The first question started off with a bang and immediate controversy. Why at the 2001 Pittsburgh Pro (the last pro fitness show before the Fitness Olympia) did the IFBB allow the top 7 to qualify for the Fitness Olympia, as this was unfair to other athletes in other pro Fitness events before that. The answer was that because the IFBB felt they needed a minimum of 12 competitors of the Fitness Olympia, and they only had eight qualified, they need more. Since the top three at the Pro Pittsburgh Fitness show had already qualified, the next four were chosen. The question then came up as to why at the Fitness Olympia only the top 5 can come back next year, compared with the top 10 in men's bodybuilding. The answer was because that is the way the rules are. However, the IFBB is open for flexibility, and they will look into that this year.
- The next controversial question came about Flex Wheeler. Some people, who came from out of the country, who were mad that Flex had not showed up, asked what was going on. Wayne DeMilia responded by saying "Flex Wheeler has retired... again!"
- What really fired up the competitors and the crowd was the next question, which one fan wanted to know what Craig Titus really thought of Shari 'King' Kamali. If anyone thought that Craig Titus was going to back down from his earlier comments, they were sadly mistaken. Craig pounded on the King. He does not like him. He has a big mouth. He shows no respect to the veterans of the sport. But Craig also admitted that he used the hype as a tool to promote himself, get some attention. It most definitely was worked. Craig also talked about Dorian Yates, who was a significant help in getting his waistline into a great physique. Craig said that he is in the best shape of his life.
King Kamali did respond to Craig Titus (C.T.), although in a more diplomatic way. He started by saying that it is a dream come true, to be able to sit here with all of these competitors. He also said that he is seven pound heavier than he was at the Arnold Classic, and about 10 percent sharper. On Craig, he said that he was gone way beyond to ruin what King was worked so hard to get. And in competition, King said that 'I beat him twice already, and I will beat with again and again and again.'
- Anther question that came up was on Synthol, and why, if the IFBB banned it, they are not testing for it. Wayne DeMilia responded that the IFFB and the labs are having a tough time making a test for Synthol that can be conducted via the urine. But they are working on it. There was a respond that an ultrasound can show Synthol use, but it would be extremely hard to conduct one at a competition.
- By far the most explosive topic of the evening was judging and the accountability by the judges in the IFBB. The first question was if the judging is fixed. In the IFBB, there are 53 pro judges, 22 of them here at the Olympia Weekend. In each contest this weekend, there are 12 judges. In each round, one of the judges scoring is not counted randomly. With the 11 remaining judges, 6 are taken out, 3 of the highest scores, and 3 of the lowest scores. Thus, only the main 5 judges scores are counted. It is extremely hard to fix a contest, and you need a lot of judges to do that, which cannot happen in such an event. Judges are not biased, and they select an athlete on who they feel is the best at the moment of the day. Yes, it can changes from morning to evening. Athletes do change. And there is always be controversy in the judging because it is a subjective, opinionated sport.
- What really set off the room was a question that asked: Are the judges accountable for the scoring, as we had never seen a judges scorecard. In the NPC, we can see this information, but in the IFBB, we have never seen it. Why is it that way?
When Wayne DeMilia replied that when they had it that way a long time ago, some of the athletes attacked a judges, and each athlete could come to Wayne DeMilia's room later to check out the individual scores. And that comment set Shawn Ray off!
Shawn Ray has never been one not to speak his mind. A lot of the younger bodybuilders will not say much, for fear of the backlash of the judges, but Shawn Ray, being 13 years in the Mr. Olympia, was not afraid this time, as he also spoke out last year. But this time, he went into a speech that resembles a rallying cry for the bodybuilders of the IFBB, on what he thought would be the idle situation in bringing up the quality and accountability of the IFBB.
Shawn speech basically entailed three items that he wanted changed in the IFBB. One, at the Mr. Olympia, with 21 athletes competing, 11 athletes go home with nothing. He would like that changed, to see most of the athletes go away with something. Two, Shawn would like to see a fresh panel of judges every year at the Mr. Olympia, meaning that if you judged the Mr. Olympia last year, you won't be able to judge it this year. That should be easy to do with an assortment of 53 IFBB judges. And third, Shawn wants accountability of the judges, meaning that he would like the judges scoring of the athletes made public to ensure fairness and accountability of the sport. Thus, the public would not think that some contests or placings was fixed.
'What does it matter?' someone asked. 'It matter's to the athletes', replied Shawn. 'It gives us some peace of mind after working our butts off for months preparing for a contest. We want to see how the judges really do their jobs'. In the accountability of the judges, Shawn said that he had never seen a judges score card from any IFBB show. Come to think of it, neither had many people when asked. Why is it secret? What was going on? After much discussion, Wayne DeMilia said that this year, the judges scorecards will be included with the final results, so everyone can see that the contests are judged fairly and accurately.
The fans seem to agree with Shawn's comments, as they acknowledge via their clapping in the comment that 'there are problems when you hear a lot of boos from the audience when they think there favorite competitor is being judges unfairly, and no accountability.'.
Paul Dillett came to the microphone and agreed with Shawn, as did a number of other athletes who were courageous to speak up, like Kevin Levrone.
But when DeShay Ebert, an IFBB judge and NPC promoter from Texas, came to the microphone, the argument between Shawn Ray and Deshay began. But DeShay, who was supposed to judge the Mr. Olympia this year, got a little emotional, and yelled to Shawn 'You don't change! You have not changed in 12 years!', a stir went through the room. Shawn politely replied 'That is exactly what I am talking about; why the judges need to be changed each year, because of preconceived conditions'. (Note: The following day, DeShay Ebert excused herself from judging the Mr. Olympia this year, because she wanted to make sure their was no controversy or bias on her part.)
- Ronnie Coleman, who had been quietly sitting through all of this, had enough. Ronnie always comes up with these strange stories and today was no different. Ronnie started by saying that some people do not like ice cream; some people do not like apples; and some people do not like oranges, and thus, someone will always not like something. Ronnie Coleman did not complain in 1992, 1993, 1994, when he was at the bottom of the rankings. He just worked hard each year until he reached the top. If you have a problem with this sport, just don't compete. Ronnie said that he worked hard, and in the end, he beat all of them!
Which stirred Kevin Levrone up. Kevin starting arguing with Ronnie over everything, saying that you can talk now since you are the reigning Mr. Olympia, but you forget how hard it was when you were not at the top. And Ronnie started to argue back, and things got heated, with the final word from Ronnie saying to Kevin 'What have you done for us lately?' The audience was clearly amused at this exchange of words between two top bodybuilders.
- Milos Sarcev, another IFBB bodybuilder, also agreed with Shawn, but also wanted to ask questions on stage towards some judges. 'Let's see who the judges are and lets question them. We would like to know what they want in a bodybuilder. Next year, should I be like Ronnie Coleman's physique or like Shawn Ray's physiqe.' Wayne DeMilia agreed and said that next year, they will have the judges on stage too. Wow, that will be a long press conference. Next year, lets also have name plates so that many of the fans know who all the athletes are, and where they came from.
- Other questions included one on 'Why doesn't the IFBB have weight classes in the Men's Bodybuilding contest?'. The answer was that they once did, but it did not work out well. And one of the smaller bodybuilders at the press conference responded that he did not want to be in a special class; he wants to compete with the best of the best. Sarcastically, he said, instead of weight classes, should we also have height classes in the Men's Pros?
- Jenny Hendershott was asked 'what she did differently as she rose in the ranks of pro fitness greatly this year?' She replaid that she worked hard, was persistant with herself in finding a financial contract (with Prolab), and try to consistantly better myself.
- Vickie Gates was asked 'What have you done differently since the Arnold Weekend? She replied that she concentrated on her diet and legs more, and she did it the way she wanted to do it instead of pleasing others.
- Kevin Levrone was asked 'What our oyur future plans?' He replaied that he is promoting Fulblown, his band and the new cd, and that his promoter is here at the show, and for more questions of the worldwide distribution of the CD, the video and more, talk to him after the press conference.
- Velentina Chepiga was asked 'Did you change your physique since last time? She replied that she concentrated more on her back, lats and shoulders. She is the same size this year, and more shaped.
- Dayana Cadeau was asked 'How do you feel being a good bodybuilder with the least amount of press coverage? She replied that she did her homework so she thinkgs she will look much better at this Olympia, and she will stay feminine.
- Vince Taylor was asked 'How do you like cats?' He replied laughingly that he does not like them much at the moment because a few months ago he tore a tendon chasing a stray cat in his backyard,
- Wayne DeMilia also talked about the Master's Olympia and if it qualifies for the Mr. Olympia. Yes it does. If you win the Master's Olympia, you automatically qualify for the Mr. Olympia.
- Ronnie Coleman was asked 'Do you have any competition at this show at all?' Ronnie replied quite gracefully that first of all, we give praise to the Lord. Then he talked about that everybody is competition, because in 1997, Ronnie placed 9th at the Mr. Olympia, and the year later, he won the show. You can never predict who will come in great. If it is going to be a good show, I make no predictions.
- Adela Freidmansky was asked 'On her role on influencing America?' She replied to all the fitness competitors try to promote a healthy lifestyle.
- Markus Ruhl was asked by Tim Wilkins, the emcee of the night show, 'At your size on the offseason, how much to you chafe? The crowd laughed wholeheartedly at this obvious joke, since Ruhl is about 345 pounds in the offseason.
- J.D. Dawodu was asked 'How do you feel and how will you take the competition out?' J.D. answered that it is an honor and priveledge to be at the Mr. Olympia, and he is in the best shape of his life. He feels that this show is part of the fireworks of the weekend, and he is very glad to be here.
- Jay Cutler was asked 'About ISS Research and his role as the spokesman there?' Jay was very cordial, but said he was absoultely nothing again the Weider organization, but that it was a better business oppurtunity for him.
- Jenny Hendershott was asked 'Why she does not have breast enhancements?. She replied that she has never been pressured by any one to have them. They accept what she has to offer, and it is a personal preference. Jenny's is a schoolteacher, and once her career as a pro fitness competitor is done, she would like to go back to being a schoolteacher.
- Others came to the microphone just to praise their favorite competitors, including ones for Susie Curry, Kelly Ryan, and many more. It was nice to see them come and give them praise, but I wanted more questions.
- The press conference was cut with people still waiting for a chance to ask questions, but since some of the competitors had television interviews to do, and with all of the discussions from other long questions, time had run out. All in all, it was one of the best press conferences I had been to in the last five years. The only problem is that in these press conferences, the male bodybuilders get the most attention and questions, while the women bodybuilders and fitness competitors just sit there, with the exception of a few. Can this be fixed? Not unless the have separate press conferences for the groups.