Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.
2012 Mr. Olympia press conference/Richard Corey
The 23 competitors of the Mr. Olympia competition shift and tug at their clothes. Suit seams and jacket zippers strain against their heaving torsos, ready to burst as if the afternoon were a casting call for the next “Hulk” movie rather than a news conference for an athletic competition. Unlike their rage-fueled comic book counterpart, however, these men are all business.
“If you ain’t winning, there’s something wrong with your body,” one top competitor said. “So stop complaining and go back to the gym.”
The assertions of greatness and commitment uttered by the competitors were more than just posturing and show for the crowd; they were part of the Spartan mentality necessary to win the competition.
“They take the sport so seriously. It’s been incredible to see how much of a lifestyle it is as opposed to just being a sport,” filmmaker Vlad Yudin said.
That lifestyle is just one part of the world Yudin is trying to capture in “Generation Iron,” a docudrama following the lives of four professional bodybuilders in the months leading to the 2012 Mr. Olympia competition.
The film, which began shooting in July and wraps at this weekend’s competition, is an update of “Pumping Iron,” the 1977 documentary starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno that introduced the world of competitive bodybuilding to the mainstream. Scheduled for national release in summer 2013, “Generation Iron” profiles newcomers, middlemen and top-tier champions to give an in-depth look at the sport’s challenges and misconceptions and how it has evolved since the 1970s.
“The biggest misunderstanding is that they’re just a bunch of really rough meatheads who just lift weights all day long, but really, bodybuilding is an art form,” Yudin said. “Like Arnold said back in the day, it’s like being a sculptor. But you’re not doing it with clay; you’re doing it with muscles.”
Dennis Wolf, a Las Vegas-based professional bodybuilder featured in the film, drops more than 30 pounds from his natural body weight each training season to achieve the leanest frame possible for the competition. He wears a large gold crucifix that dangles not so much on but into his chest, which bulges out into his shoulders and arms with the knotted, undulating texture of sycamore branches. Even his face is taught and striated, due in part to his ascetic training diet.
In the weeks leading to the competition, he’s cut out virtually all food that isn’t a lean protein or carbohydrate — think plain chicken breasts and boiled pasta — eating on a strict time schedule throughout the day. In the 24 hours before this weekend’s competition, he planned to completely abstain from liquids to get what he calls “that dried, cut look,” coveted for maximum muscle display.
“People don’t even know what it’s all about. It’s not just a sport, it’s a 24/7 job. My whole family is involved,” he said, noting that his wife cooks his meals in addition to assisting with other aspects of training. “We’re normal people with real lives. It’s a lot of sacrifice.”
Wolf and Yudin describe Las Vegas as today’s mecca of bodybuilding thanks to its culture of spectacle, the burgeoning mixed martial arts and extreme sports scene and its 24/7 lifestyle that’s ideally suited for Wolf’s kind of training.
“Bodybuilding always attracts attention, so it fits in with the whole culture of Vegas,” Yudin says. “We’re shooting a scene with Dennis just walking down the Strip, and all the tourists were gathering around like, ‘Who is that? Who is that?’ — looking at him like he’s an attraction.”
Wolf enjoys the attention and comfortable lifestyle that being a top bodybuilder affords him, but that also means the pressure to constantly improve. Asked about placing second for the second year in a row at this year’s Arnold Classic — another elite international bodybuilding competition — Wolf said he was upset that he didn’t win.
The pressure at Mr. Olympia has peaked this year as four-time champion and last year’s runner-up Las Vegan Jay Cutler is out due to an injury, while Phil Heath is back to defend his title and, win or lose, host an after-party at XS in the Encore tonight post-Mr. Olympia.
Wolf placed fifth at last year’s Mr. Olympia (his highest ranking was fourth in 2008), and there’s little doubt that with his top ranking and local status, many eyes will be on him. Yudin will be by his side capturing it all on film, but if Wolf is nervous, he doesn’t show it.
“There’s always talk before the show, guys saying, ‘I’ll be the best,’" Wolf said. "But in the end, we’ll see that (today).”
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