Olympia Legend: Jay Cutler

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



Just as Cutler

was denied the ultimate bodybuilding title in 2001, he denied us all the rematch we clamored for the following year. He likely would’ve won the O in 2002, when Coleman was at his worst. Instead, he took the Arnold Classic with straight firsts and then sat on the sidelines. He won the next Arnold, too, with ease. Then, in 2004, he came into the Arnold Classic much lighter (and sharper) and eked out a controversial one point victory. His shape—the result of an unorthodox training, eating, and sleeping routine that had him doing all three at odd hours day and night—was a conscious plan to, as he said, “give the judges a different look.”

It was an admission

that he was growing too content with his annual victories in Columbus each March, and he was wary of boring observers. That was his final A.C. He had nothing left to prove by winning it a fourth time, though doing so would’ve tied the record for most Arnold titles (now held by Flex Wheeler and Dexter Jackson). Afterward, he targeted only bodybuilding’s ultimate prize.

But before we journey again to the Olympia stage, let’s look back at 2003. Not only did Cutler compete in the Arnold and Olympia that year, but he did six more shows. That was an anomaly. In nine of his other 15 pro years, he competed only once. But in 2003, he did so eight times (twice as many as his second busiest year). He won five and was second in the other three—to Coleman twice and Jackson once. One amazing fact about his streak is the fact that the three men who finished above him during that 11-year span—Coleman, Jackson, and Phil Heath—are all fellow Mr. Olympias. (He also defeated all of them during that time.) He could only be beaten by a legend who is now, like him, a member of bodybuilding’s most exclusive club, the Sandow Society.


And, damn, did he fight hard to claw his way into that club. It seemed like a lock in 2003. Nothing in bodybuilding’s rankings had changed since his oh-so-close call two years prior. If anything, Cutler’s status had grown. He was the “uncrowned champ.” He won three out of three shows, including the Arnold, in the spring of 2003. Meanwhile, Coleman looked immensely beatable at the 2002 Olympia. And then it happened. He got punked, losing to Günter Schlierkamp at a contest after the O. And—poof—just like that, the king’s aura of invincibility popped. He turned 39 in May 2003. It was time for a change. Everything was set for Cutler’s coronation in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas.

Then 300 happened. Coleman showed up at the 2003 Olympia weighing nearly three bills (with spaghetti-striated glutes!), and no one could stand next to him without being consumed in his cartoonish shadow. The same story repeated in 2004. Cutler received two straight runnerups to Coleman’s victories. The outcomes were never in doubt. Cutler was indisputably the planet’s No. 2 bodybuilder, and with his consistent conditioning he seemed at little risk of slipping out of that position. The problem was that No. 1 was equally secure, too huge to lose. So the challenger went about reinventing himself. He adopted the same free-weight basics that Coleman favored but Cutler had eschewed in recent years.

“I preach the heavy core movements now,” Cutler said then. “It’s about sweat and pain, and that’s why Coleman’s the best. He never got away from hardcore training.” In 2005, a broader Cutler narrowed the gap, taking points from the champ. But it wasn’t enough, as No. 1 took home his record-tying eighth Sandow. Cutler had to settle for a record-tying fourth silver medal. Cutler was still only 32, but it was his eighth year in the Pro League. And by the time of the next Olympia he’d effectively spent five years as the heir apparent. Would he remain stranded on some high plateau, unable to find a route to the summit?

The four seconds were torturous, but they forged Cutler’s reputation as one of us. He was no longer merely a DNA anomaly, a phenom who could grow muscle at will. We could relate to him now. He was an oversized everyman, graciously accepting his runner-up check each Olympia and then returning to the gym with a vengeance, striving to overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. His popularity soared. He finished second in the O two more times—to Dexter Jackson in 2008 and then Phil Heath in 2011. But by then he had his own Sandow collection. Two months before the 2006 Mr. Olympia, FLEX was there when he trained with Heath for the first time. “I got to get at least one,” Cutler said of the Sandow. “I got to get that thing before someone catches up to me.”

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