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The breaking news that seven-time Sandow winner Phil Heath will enter this year’s Olympia in December, and attempt to win back the crown he lost in 2018, brought to mind my first interaction with the former basketball player back in 2005.
It was early June 2005 when I saw a couple of shots of a then-unknown Phil Heath, who would be entering the NPC Junior Nationals, on the Get Big website. I was gobsmacked (British slang that translates to “utterly astounded”), as I had never seen such dense and rounded fibrous muscle tissue combined with such heaven-given insertions on anyone before in my 40 years in this industry.
My next task as editor-in-chief of FLEX was to track this guy down and sign him. I had his name and the fact he was from Denver. As I began the search I, by some form of serendipity, got a call from Jay Cutler (15 months away from winning his first Olympia) who told me, “There’s a kid in Colorado who’s gonna be great.” The kid was Phil Heath.
I contacted Heath, who was working as the manager of the nutrition store at Bally’s Fitness in Denver. Having heard stories of older gravelly voiced men trying to contact young bodybuilders, he was somewhat baffled by my interest at first. In such a scenario, having an English accent didn’t lessen the creepiness.
Finally, he accepted that I was kosher and over the next 48 hours I had a couple of long conversations with him — during which I became convinced that he had the mental muscle to back up his genetics.
Cut to the chase: I offered him a contract, which he agreed to. It’s the only time I gave a contract on the basis of two photos. Every other signee I had seen onstage in the flesh with my own peepers before offering anything.
At the NPC Junior Nationals (which I didn’t attend), Heath took the heavyweight and overall titles and he was the talk of the town. Several luminaries called me from the Windy City telling me I should check him out. I told them the deal had already been done.
A year later Cutler would tell me, “I know this kid will beat me and be unbeatable one day.” That day came on Sept. 17, 2011, when Heath relegated Cutler to second at that year’s Mr. Olympia showdown and began a seven year-winning streak.
Fifteen years after first hearing about Heath, I now wait to see if he can takes his eighth Mr. Olympia title — I wouldn’t bet against him.
Peter McGough is a legendary bodybuilding journalist, and former editor-in-chief of FLEX Magazine.