The blood finally dried. What he had now wasn't so much a scab as it was a series of dark scales that covered his body, splitting and cracking whenever he moved. Despite the pain, he still didn't know which was worse — the wounds reopening every single day or the memory of the fall that caused them in the first place. Yet a bigger problem loomed: The countdown to Kris Dim's first Mr. Olympia wouldn't pause for injury.

The fall that nearly cost him a chance at competing in the '04 Olympia took place in Hawaii some 10 weeks before the show. The Cambodian-born Kris, 31, had climbed a small cliff overlooking the Pacific. He bent low to the ground, trying to get a closer look at a school of fish in the clear water below. At that moment, the rocks beneath his feet gave way, sending him down the 10-foot cliff. Sharp lava rocks dug into him the whole way, opening his skin and peppering his wounds with black sand. Lying at the bottom, only the pain was on Kris' mind. How that particular moment stood as a perfect metaphor to athletes everywhere didn't occur to him until later.

Read all about Kris Dim's quest to overthrow bodybuilding's top ranks in the May issue, on sale now!