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If ever there was a perfect weekend to gain an hour via the end of daylight-saving time (at least where bodybuilders are concerned), Oct. 28-31, aka Joe Weider's Olympia Weekend, is it. Clocks won't be the only things changing — the O is getting a makeover, too. Consider the attractions:

>> The Olympia falls on Halloween weekend this year. And let's just say Halloween in Las Vegas makes Mardi Gras in New Orleans look like a retirement home. Five words: Fetish and Fantasy Halloween Ball. It's among the weekend's most unusual gatherings and was named one of the world's "Top 10 Party Spots" by the Travel Channel. But back to the bodybuilding.

>> Bodybuilding's version of the three-point line in basketball: Rule changes this year promise to give fans a more entertaining show and down-to-the-wire competition, thanks to AMI/Weider Publications' and the new IFBB management structure strategic production role in this year's Mr. Olympia. This means the pressure is on for Ronnie — the six-time champ wouldn't want to lose the contest on the equivalent of a last-second shot.

The Usual Suspects

The question asked skeptically every year around this time remains as legitimate as ever: Does anybody truly have a shot at beating Ronnie? It'll be tough. But no one had a realistic shot at beating Smarty Jones at the Belmont Stakes this year, either, and still the sugar cube went to a different horse. Although the aesthetics of Ron's abs have been the cause of much negative comment, no one can match the enormity and freaky detail of his legs, arms and back. Like a great closer in baseball, Ronnie hits a back double-biceps pose, and it's game over.

But if anyone has a chance of dethroning Big Ron, you'd have to think it's either Jay, Dexter Jackson or Chris Cormier. Plus Dennis James after his breakthrough fourth place of last year is making serious noises to better that showing. Throw a revamped Gunter Schlierkamp, who has overcome the injury and domestic problems of last year, into the mix and the Olympia starts to shape up as pier 6 brawl.

Jay's prospects look promising after a second-place finish at last year's Olympia and a third consecutive Arnold Classic victory, despite both beating Chris by just one controversial point and the chorus of critical voices saying Dexter got robbed as well. Jay came to the Arnold more conditioned than normal, but also noticeably flatter and smaller, which likely cost him a few points. He's now declaring the streamline experiment is behind him and his game plan is to take Ronnie on for mass — ushers, please clear the first three rows.

Dexter brings momentum to the table, not to mention unparalleled conditioning and shape that's sure to be dialed in for the O. He was a workhorse early in the '04 season, winning the San Francisco Pro and Australian Grand Prix contests after his loss at the Arnold. Dexter has proven to be the most consistent bodybuilder in the world — no doubt he'll be in the hunt to challenge Ronnie.

One of bodybuilding's most notorious conundrums is that you just never know which Chris Cormier will land onstage. The genetic shape has always been there, as has the potential to consistently be one of the world's top two or three bodybuilders. But will we see his dry, hard form from the Arnold or a last-ditch Olympia effort that barely lands him in the top six? Either could show.

Others face longer odds, but each has won on a pro stage before and could steal the Sandow. The most likely candidates are Markus Ruhl (2002 Night of Champions victor) and Darrem Charles (winner of the Florida Pro Xtreme in March). The inimitable Aussie Lee Priest is always a threat, too, despite a disappointing 15th-place finish in Vegas last year. One figure looming as a top six threat is Troy Alves who judging by the way he looked during a recent visit to Weider HQ, has the momentum of a freight train. And if that's not enough, how about rookies Richard Jones, Kris Dim and Craig Richardson who will be intent on bringing the old guard down.

Hear Them Roar

No, we haven't forgotten about the ladies. Though no new rule changes are likely to be implemented on their side, at least for now, the intrigue remains.

After Susie Curry's four-year reign, the Fitness Olympia is finally up for grabs. Vying for the title looks to be Kelly Ryan (runner-up at last year's Fitness O) and Adela Garcia-Friedmansky (Arnold Fitness International champ in '04, beating out Kelly).

And, unless one of the three backs out of competition, there's no reason to believe the Figure O crown won't come down to Davana Medina, Jenny Lynn and Monica Brant. Question is, what does a girl — Monica, let's say — have to do to win a show around here? It's hard to find any flaw in Monica's physique, but still no first prize. She's gone muscular, she's gone leaner; about the only thing left is for her to dye her hair bright red and compete under a different name. Would that even help?

As with fitness, the Ms. O tiara is up for the taking after the departure of a legend, in this case Lenda Murray. Yaxeni Oriquen, Dayana Cadeau and Iris Kyle are the likely threesome with the best shot. Iris has finished runner-up to Lenda in the heavyweight division the last two years, arguing that she should have placed first in both. This may finally be her year.

All in all, even if the final Olympia placings aren't turned upside down — Ronnie winning, for instance — this will by no means be the same old O. A head-to-head challenge round and a live scoreboard? Make your travel plans today … whether you're a hardcore bodybuilding zealot or just a casual fan of muscle, you don't want to miss this.


All Bets Off

The world's best bodybuilders will be represented on the Olympia stage. Here are your qualifiers, as of press time.

Ronnie Coleman USA
Jay Cutler USA
Dexter Jackson USA
Dennis James USA
Gunter Schlierkamp Germany
Kevin Levrone USA
Troy Alves USA
Ernie Taylor England
Mustafa Mohammad Jordan
Lee Priest Australia
Gustavo Badell Puerto Rico
Chris Cormier USA
Markus Ruhl Germany
Kris Dim USA
Darrem Charles Trinidad
Ahmad Haidar Lebanon
Craig Richardson USA
Melvin Anthony USA
Richard Jones USA
Pavel Jablonicky Czech Republic
Jaroslav Horvath Slovakia
Johnnie Jackson USA
Claude Groulx Canada