It’s two weeks before the 2005 Olympia and for the several hours it takes Jay Cutler to wind down from a workout, he sits in his living room, his muscles still pumped, his mind racing. He’s consumed with the image of standing in the spotlight, holding the Sandow trophy.

He imagines blasting his final pose against Ronnie Coleman and finally hearing the judges say something he’s believed for years: Jay Cutler is the best bodybuilder on the planet. "I dream about it every day," Jay says. "If any year is going to be the year, this will be it."

Dream Weaver
He worked hard to make the fantasy a reality. Jay theorized that by attempting to hit his peak condition only once a year -- as Ronnie has done for the past several years -- he would level the playing field. And so, after winning the Arnold Classic three consecutive times, he took 2005 off to concentrate solely on preparing for the Mr. Olympia. Fighting the conventional logic that to beat Ronnie you need overwhelming size, Jay went in the opposite direction, opting for a classic physique. Shawn Ray, a former Arnold Classic champion, understands Jay’s logic. "If you’re going to beat Ronnie, you’re not going to out-muscle him," he says. "You have to come with a totally different package."

To obtain that ideal package, Jay lengthened his precontest diet by four weeks -- up to a full 16 weeks -- allowing him to more slowly approach his contest weight of 264 pounds. "I torture myself," he says when discussing his diet. "I cut down to 150 [grams of] carbohydrates a day and no fluid for three days [before the contest]." It was torture Jay hoped would pay off at the Olympia, where he sought to expose what he sees as Ronnie’s Achilles heel: a bulging midsection. Ronnie, however, showed up harder and lighter than in 2004, and at 275 pounds tied Lee Haney’s record of eight consecutive Olympia wins. It was a victory that left Jay in second place and clearly distraught.

Playing Monopoly in an on-camera interview, Jay cast doubts on his competitive future and verbalized his disgust with the Mr. Olympia competition, something he sees as being monopolized by a returning champion. "I thought I won tonight along with a lot of people in that audience, but they don’t want it to change, I guess," he said. "What’s the point?"

It’s easy to understand his frustration. Only 10 competitors have won a Sandow in the contest’s 40 years. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney and Dorian Yates, who account for 21 victories, were undefeated in the contest once they earned their first title, bowing out only when they decided it was time. Retirement, it seems, is the only real challenger to the reigning Mr. Olympia. And Ronnie, who has hinted at going for 10 straight titles, may haunt the field for several more years. And perhaps he should. Muscle (at least Ronnie’s muscle) seems to just get better with time. So if Jay is considering early retirement, the best reason not to may be the very man who presents his biggest obstacle.

Age Before Beauty
Jay will be 33 when the 2006 Olympia comes around -- two years past the age he once set as retirement. That means he’s got some soul-searching to do in the coming months. If he lets his mind drift into dreamland again, he’ll be at the next Mr. O. You see, Jay’s daydreams go far beyond the glory of thousands chanting his name. He doesn’t simply dream of being the greatest bodybuilder, but the greatest ambassador the sport has ever known. "This sport needs a new champion," he says. "This sport needs to grow and reach out to all the people it can help. And we can’t do that without a new champion." And what if Jay doesn’t turn out to be that champion? "My life would be fine," he says. "I’ve dominated the bodybuilding world, changed lives and become a role model for kids. And if you’ve never had it, you’ll never miss it." M&F