Inside the numbers with Phil Heath heading into the 2008 Mr. Olympia

by Allan Donnelly

September 19, 2008


Absent from the Olympia stage after qualifying in each of his first two years as a pro, Phil Heath is finally on the verge of making his debut. By all accounts, it promises to be a successful one.

WIth all his accolades, it’s easy to forget that Heath – who won the first two professional contests of his career in 2006 after going undefeated in four contests as an amateur – hasn’t been around the game that long. Six years, to be exact. In less than two weeks, Heath will finally set foot on bodybuilding’s grandest stage, and his performance there is expected to be one for the ages. Not since 1991, when a quietly confident Brit named Dorian Yates crossed the Atlantic and announced his presence as The Next Big Thing by finishing as the runner-up to eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, has an Olympia rookie been saddled with such high expectations. But when you’re given the nickname “The Gift” and called The Future of Bodybuilding and a Mr. Olympia in waiting by a reigning Mr. Olympia, expectations tend to be higher than normal.


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6 … Months, since Heath’s last competition. It is the quickest turnaround between contests since Heath won the 2005 NPC Junior Nationals – Heath’s first national-level contest – then won his pro card six weeks later by winning the overall at the NPC USAs.

232 … Pounds, Heath’s weight when winning the 2008 Ironman Pro.

240 … Pounds, what Heath expects to weigh at the 2008 Olympia. “If it goes the way that we plan,” Heath says. “A week and a half ago, I did 300 grams of carbs one day and I was like 252. Will I be over 240? Probably not. Could I easily be five pounds heavier? Yeah. At least. My weight right now is where it was three weeks out from the Ironman, but with the same conditioning I had at the Ironman. I could step on stage right now. I know I’m gonna be better than I was at the Ironman and at the Arnold. We’re trying to keep everything quiet, but I’m coming man. I feel like I’m gonna shock people again. “

3 …Times Heath has qualified for the Mr. Olympia, in each of his three years as a pro.

0 …Times Heath has competed in the Mr. Olympia. This will be his first. “Now I think people realize that taking a step back, doing the Ironman and shocking a lot of people … I was 16 pounds heavier at the Arnold this year from where I was in 2006. That gave me the confidence to know that now I belong on that stage.”

1 … Place, where Heath is usually accustomed to hearing his name mentioned during the precontest buildup. Even in 2007, for his debut at the Arnold Classic, Heath was mentioned as a legitimate threat to defeat Victor Martinez and dethrone reigning champ Dexter Jackson in the months leading up to the contest. Heath eventually finished fifth.

3-4 … Place, where most prognosticators have Heath placing at this year’s Olympia. “That gives me something to shoot for,” Heath says. “Just because there isn’t a lot of talk doesn’t mean I’m not capable of winning it. I feel like I’m that one guy out of the top four who is capable of taking a lot of those guys down, even if they come in the way they’re supposed to. I’m a lot more relaxed, primarily because there’s not as much pressure on me to win the whole thing. But if I go into a fight knowing that I’m 20 points down, I’m gonna fight even harder. I’m treating it as if I’m in that second group and I gotta train hard and prepare as if I’m starting all over again. The last thing a fellow competitor wants me to do is take that approach. This is definitely the show of my life and it’s starting to get pretty intense now as I get closer.”

4 …Competitors – Melvin Anthony, Silvio Samuel, Toney Freeman and Gustavo Badell – who are expected to be leading the charge for a spot in final posedown and potentially spoiling a top-four placing for Heath in his Olympia debut. “One thing I will not do is slack off and let anybody else come up. Uh-uh. That aint gonna happen. Hell no. No disrespect to these guys because I do admire their physiques, but in so many ways I’ve already surpassed them. If I beats you and that was your best and I improves – even a percentage – I still beat you. Even if you improve I still beat you. I’m trying really hard not to sound arrogant but I just don’t see it. I keep looking forward at the people who have beaten me. I’d be really ignorant if wasn’t keeping that in my rear view but I’m looking ahead.”

0… Times Heath has competed against Dennis Wolf. It is perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the contest. “My goal is to beat Dennis Wolf,” Heath says. “No question. Thats a showdown everybody wants to talk about. I gotta beat Dennis Wolf. I have to. That’s what I’m going after and that’s the way it is.”

Jackson and Heath finished 1-2 at the 2007 Arnold Classic

1 … Year separating the 28-year-old Heath and 29-year-old Dennis Wolf, who are both expected to place in the top four at this year’s event. Whoever does will gain the upper hand as being the best of the new breed and, if it doesn’t happen this year, will be crowned the next Mr. Olympia in waiting. “I feel I win it,” Heath says of the matchup. Not by 10 out of 10 but I would say by a big margin. Dennis is a good competitor but his weaknesses are a lot bigger than mine. When people criticize me, they say I don’t have enough weight or the width. But I’m not missing any body parts. They can’t say that I have no back any more. But you can say Dennis Wolf doesn’t have calves and he doesn’t have conditioning. You can say he has to bring up his hamstrings. Dexter Jackson at the ’07 Olympia does not beat the Dexter Jackson we saw at the ’08 Arnold. Not even close. Where did Dex place last year? He placed third. Dennis placed fifth. Even if you take Ronnie out of the equation Dexter still beat him. If I’m kind of a bigger version of Dexter, why shouldn’t I beat Dennis Wolf? Because he’s wide? Big deal. I have fuller muscle bellies and I come in more striated and more separated than him. By far. That’s the gavel right there. Case closed.”

2 … Times Heath has competed against Dexter Jackson, the competitor with whom Heath has been most compared since turning pro. What was once a heated rivalry has developed into one of mutual respect.

2 …Times Heath has lost to Dexter Jackson, placing fifth to Jackson’s second at the 2007 Arnold Classic and runner-up to Jackson at this year’s Arnold. “I’m only about six months away from not just beating him, but dominating him,” Heath says. “I know I’m pretty close to kicking his ass. I’m pretty excited about this whole thing. Do I feel like he has one of the most ideal physiques ever? Absolutely. But as long as I continue to improve, my improvements are gonna stand out more than his one percent improvement. If Dexter doesn’t handle his business … if he comes in bigger, I don’t think that helps him. If he comes in bigger than he was at the Arnold, but a little less sharp, I’ll be the most conditioned guy on stage. Easily. And if I beat Dexter, I feel like I hold the title of not only most conditioned but most complete athlete. Right now, he’s got it. If I can catch him now that puts me ahead of all the guys that are coming up too.”

Mr. Olympia in waiting? Heath and Wolf are the best of the new breed

2003 … Year, when Heath first met reigning Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, backstage while competing in his first contest, the NPC Colorado State Championships. Heath won that contest. Shortly thereafter, Cutler sent an email to FLEX Group Editorial Director Peter McGough saying he’d just met a future Mr. Olympia. Five years later, Heath and Cutler are both expected to be in the first callout of the 2008 Mr. Olympia. “April of 2003,” Heath says. “I don’t think people realize how close we are as friends. He’s one of my best friends. I try not to put too much emphasis on it because it’s something that is bound to happen. But, if it happens, not only am I just here, I am standing next to one of the guys I idolized as an amateur. But it’s gonna be a trip, man. Especially if they call it by first name instead of by number. I’m just gonna be like Holy smokes, man. Five years ago if you told me I’d be next to him in a callout at the Mr. Olympia I’d probably be like Get the hell out of here, kid. But you now what? The cool part of the story is that when I took that photo with him, if I had asked him if I had the potential he would have said Yeah. But still, I try to really focus on what I have to do once that time comes and basically battle. It will still be nice, but it will be competitive. Because he wants me to be competitive with him.”

Friendly rivals: Heath and Cutler are expected to be compared to each other at some point in time

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32 … Years, the age at which Heath predicted he would win his first Olympia in an interview with FLEX magazine in December of 2007.

30 …Years, the age at which Heath now predicts he will win his first Olympia. “Hany [Rambod] is my toughest critic,” Heath says. “He said after seeing the improvements I’ve made in three months of training, I might be able to win that thing next year, regardless of how anybody else comes in. I’m starting to realize that it’s not about if, it’s about when.”

2 …Place, where Heath sees himself finishing at the 2008 Olympia. “I really do,” Heath says. “I really do. I don’t feel like I carry enough right now to beat Jay. But I’ve already visualized it. I’m seeing myself surpassing Dexter and placing second. I haven’t had that dream of actually winning it yet. But that could change after tonight’s workout. But I know right now that I’ll be very competitive with Jay. Everyone’s stepping their game up. Whoever wins, or whoever places where, you can’t bitch and you can’t moan. Because that person beat you.”