Olympia Legend: Jay Cutler

For a span of 11 years and 25 shows, 4X Mr. O Jay Cutler always finished in the top two.



Jason Cutler was a phenom—the sort of genetic mutant who comes along once in a generation. At 18, he gained 50 pounds within four months of joining a gym. Even as a teenage competitor in his native Massachusetts, he pursued muscle with an obsessive passion.

“I never cheated on my diet once,” he says. “I wouldn’t even have ketchup. I wouldn’t have anything that didn’t make me a better bodybuilder. We can talk all we want about training or genetics, but bodybuilding is mostly about eating.” Once he began eating 30–40 egg whites, three chicken breasts, and a steak daily, he ballooned. At age 19, the 5'9" Cutler weighed 260 pounds in the off-season.

Shortly after turning

 22, he journeyed cross-country to Southern California in hopes of getting noticed—and did he ever.

When he won a regional show at 241 pounds, he looked like the future. The hallmarks of his physique were already established—the ultrawide shoulders, the monster-truck wheels, the surplus of muscle everywhere. The next year, 1996, he took the heavyweight class of the NPC Nationals, his first and last pro qualifier.

In buttery conditioning at his pro debut, the 1998 Night Of Champions, Cutler placed a distant 12th. Similarly, he landed next to last in his first Olympia the following year. (Ronnie Coleman won both shows, establishing a narrative for Cutler’s career.)

But at a contest between those two, the phenom proved he wasn’t just hype: His fourth-place finish at the 1999 Arnold Classic hinted at just how high he could go with more polish.


At the beginning of the

new millennium, Cutler’s future was cloudy. Would he forever remain unfulfilled potential, the sort of almost-contender who can squeeze into the occasional Olympia posedown and triumph in lesser pro shows but never vie for a Sandow? Or would he eclipse previous plateaus and reach for the summit? In 2000, he won the Night Of Champions, the very show he had flopped in two years prior. Then, he was eighth in that year’s Mr. Olympia, a mildly disappointing finish behind two competitors he had bested at the N.O.C. It was Oct. 21, 2000—so long ago Bill Clinton was still president. It would be another 13 years before Jay Cutler again finished lower than second.

Seven and then eight days after the Olympia, he racked up his first two of 25 consecutive top-two finishes when he was runner-up to Coleman in a pair of Euro Tour contests. The lineups were weak. Coleman was the only member of the Olympia posedown to compete. Nevertheless, unlike the Olympia, where Cutler was compared with only also-rans, the 27-year-old went mano-a-mano with the reigning Mr. O. It didn’t seem significant then, but the greatest rivalry in bodybuilding history had begun.

So that happened. Still, everyone assumed the bodybuilding rankings would return to their natural order once the perennial posedown participants gathered at the next Olympia.

If Cutler— who sat out all of 2001 until the ultimate contest—joined in the O posedown, it would surely be in the fifth or sixth spot, a consolation prize that never seems to signify much. Then came the greatest shock in Olympia history.

The upstart didn’t only challenge Coleman for the Sandow in 2001, he rolled to a seemingly insurmountable six-point lead after prejudging. At only five pounds lighter than Coleman’s 265 but two inches shorter, the challenger had enough mass to hang with the champ, pose after pose. Cutler had better ab and quad separation; Coleman sported better arm and glute definition. Coleman, 37, roared back at the finals to win his fourth-straight Olympia in a controversial decision. Cutler was stung by the reversal of fortune, but it didn’t change the fact that he, at 28, was suddenly the biggest story in the bodybuilding world. He was the future. The future was his.

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