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Facebook, Sept. 29, 2013: Killin em ohhhh killin em here at @xslasvegas for my @mrolympiallc Victory Party. We have endured a ton of hardship this year but now it is time for my family and friends to celebrate a great win. #3peathttp

Just a scant few hours before that late-night Facebook status update, Phil Heath etched his name in the bodybuilding record books with a third-straight Mr. Olympia title, blowing away the field in Las Vegas on Sept. 28.

Historically speaking, only five men have laid claim to more Mr. Olympia crowns—Jay Cutler with four, Dorian Yates with six, Arnold Schwarzenegger with seven, and at the top, Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman with eight apiece.

Such rarefied air and at such a relatively young age. Now 34, Heath has ascended quickly and confidently, with a resounding résumé of success. In 15 pro contests since 2006, he’s never finished outside the top five, with nine wins to his credit thus far, including those three O’s that have put him squarely at the peak of the pro ranks.

As he put it in the pages of FLEX in March, “A lot of guys have been touted as the future of the sport—I was the only one who was able to follow through. I smashed all the critics and justified the hype.”

Titles are one thing, but Heath has done something else rather groundbreaking in professional bodybuilding. He’s opened a window into the mind of one of its elite participants. Not simply sharing the well- rehearsed dictums of training, diet, and motivational tactics that made him the 5'9", 250-pound wrecking machine he is today, we’re also there for everything from the fender benders (Nov. 21) to a Jay-Z concert (Dec. 3) to the attempted rescue of a dog who had just been hit by a car (Jan. 18), among other adventures great and small.

Wonder what makes Phil Heath tick? What he’s doing, what he’s thinking at this very moment? It’s all online, in real time.

Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, Facebook forever altered the realm of sports in the decade since its inception. Joined in 2006 by Twitter, the revolution has proved unstoppable. Never before have we had such raw, unfettered access to athletes. Today, instead of seeking the chance encounter with your favorite pro at an autograph signing or a contest, an endeavor that often required plenty of advance planning, one can instantly engage with two thumbs and an iPhone.

Online, we now peer into the grinding, lonely months of training and diet leading up to the events that define their legacies. We share, in a small way, those moments away from the limelight, alone with nothing but doubts and their own ambitions to alternately drive and haunt them.

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Fans are now witnessing a grand social experiment, as Heath has taken to Facebook and Twitter with a fervent desire to grant access to his life. The interesting, the uplifting, the trivial and banal…it’s all there.

And it’s by design, sure enough. Heath has been outspoken in his desire to extend the popularity of his chosen profession in any way he can.

“When I first got into it, I told my wife [Jen]…I want to change the perception of bodybuilding,” Heath recalls. “I want to change it to where people will never feel inadequate. Guys in a group setting who are clearly bodybuilders are asked about their body, and they’ll say, ‘I played football,’ or ‘I’m into MMA.’ Why do they do that? It’s because they’re embarrassed about the negative stereotypes that come along with bodybuilding today. But back in the ’70s and early ’80s, everyone wanted to be a bodybuilder. Guys like Arnold and Haney made bodybuilding look cool.”

To that end, Heath has barnstormed across the globe, meeting fans who could never dream of showing up in person at Orleans Arena, but who are still awed by the sight of a real-live Mr. Olympia. After his late-September victory, Heath jetted out to Europe and China, leaving a telltale imprint across his social media accounts, from a stop at Hosa Gym in Beijing to a tour of Greece. In the midst of it all, he even landed an interview on ESPN2’s Highly Questionable with Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones on Oct. 31.

From Heath’s perspective, it’s all in a day’s work for a reigning Mr. O—one that needs to be taken seriously if bodybuilding is ever to approach anything resembling a “heyday” again.

“I think there are a lot of athletes who don’t impact other people’s lives that much,” he says. “They don’t put themselves out there. You know how some of them are—they just want the paycheck. They train and that’s it. They’ll hide like a hermit and don’t appear until contest day. I don’t mind doing interviews or being in the public eye. It’s not just about me anymore. My goal is to change the negative perceptions of bodybuilding.”

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Facebook, Oct. 6: Does this ever happen to you? My dogs know when it’s time to eat so they speak to me until I feed them. I’m like damn, guys, can I finish my meal lol. They run my ass bcuz they know I love them so much. So happy to have boxers.

Eight days after winning the biggest contest of his life, Heath was back home in Arvada, CO, doing what any average pet owner would attend to. That shiny new trophy on his mantel may have earned him heaps of recognition and a sweet $250,000 payday, but the chores still needed doing.

“I think living in Colorado, without that much hype here locally, what I’ve achieved isn’t always top of mind,” he says. “I train by myself, I don’t get a lot of attention. It’s only every once in a while that someone says something, congratulates me, and it comes back—‘Oh, yeah, I just won the Olympia.’ When I walk into the house and see three Sandows, I’m sometimes like, ‘Is this really my life?’”

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Of course, as his ode to his pups proves, not everything shared online is a deep-rooted revelation. Perhaps we can envision a Schwarzenegger tweet dated Sept. 10, 1973, two days after his fourth Olympia victory: “Took out the garbage, sat down for a plate of egg whites.”

Many would argue that such tedious details have destroyed a delicate, innocent part of fandom. The social media and reality-TV culture that can make any one of us instant celebs is the same one that has torn down that mythical wall between our heroes and us. But is that a good thing? Do we really want to know that the people we put on pedestals pump their own gas, mow their own lawns, and put their pants on one leg at a time, just as we do?

Still, though, the debate is moot—from this point in time, there is no path of clear retreat. And should the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram collapse, they’ll certainly be more invasive options to swarm into their places. Celebs like Phil Heath, however, have no fear of the wide-open, interconnected world to come.

Of course, social media has its dark side

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as well. It’s dangerous. Whether home alone in the late hours or in an airport waiting on a delayed fight or in your car wolfing down your Tupperware fare after a workout, it’s easy to forget what you’re about to text will be broadcast worldwide instantly.

Plenty of athletes have typed faster than the speed of thought. We’ve seen NBAer Gilbert Arenas making light of bringing a gun into the locker room, running back Reggie Bush lazily tossing around the word Nazi, and baseball pariah Jose Canseco freely inviting people into the vacuous world between his ears, among many other notorious examples.

Heath hasn’t flirted with such epic missteps. Leaving the Twitter meltdowns for others, his record of late is dotted with only a couple of glancing jabs at the man who’s finished second at the last two Olympias, Kai Greene, calling a comparison between the two “filet mignon against hamburger,” followed quickly by, “Yes, [Kai’s] a great bodybuilder and will be a Hall of Famer someday.”

Hard feelings stem from Olympia Weekend, when Greene added “2013 Mr. Olympia” to his signature on the official Mr. Olympia poster at the athlete’s meeting and reportedly continued the wishful thinking while doling out autographs in the expo hall.

To Heath, the intent of disrespect was clear. “When did I ever come after him? Never,” Heath said in an exclusive FLEX online interview. “He always came after me and said I was gifted, as if I didn’t have to work to be Mr. Olympia. He should know that I worked my ass of just like him. And I’m just better than him, and he can’t accept it.”

Respect is a touchstone theme for Heath, who has taken more than his fair share of criticism—from those who say his road to the O was too easy. Of course, a ridiculous assumption if there ever was one. He still bristles when reminded of the constant, critical narrative that’s dogged him.

“If someone were to say I have a limitation now, he’s an idiot,” Heath says, recalling the media and message board attacks he’s absorbed. “They’ve said these things for years…‘He’s going to be maxed out.’ ‘He’ll never grow a back.’ ‘Oh, his chest is overpowered by arms.’ Today, not one competitor could call me out on a body part. They can’t.”

It’s a raw nerve, one that stings enough to earn a rebuttal. “People call me arrogant and cocky, but that’s a fallacy. I never say anyone else sucks,” he says. “I always give them their respect. I just back what I say I’m going to do, which you should. If you say you’re you’d better win. And I win.”

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Facebook, Oct. 12: So excited!!!!! I won the Arnold Classic Europe and chatting with Arnold was a dream come true. I always wanted to win his show and get the handshake from Arnold who in my eyes is a true LEGEND!!! I’m so excited u guys have no idea as this year was filled with ups and downs but now I can truly say its #2013TheYearOfTheGift thank u for all who have supported me and my family.

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In professional bodybuilding, only one king reigns over all. The Olympia title came of humble roots—cavalierly named after a brand of beer by the late godfather of the sport, Joe Weider, his original goal back in 1965 was simply to keep Larry Scott in the game by providing a new bauble to pursue.

Since then, thanks in no small part to the tireless promotion of the contest by Weider over the years, as well as a certain seven-time champion who came to Los Angeles by way of Austria and crossed spectacularly into the cultural mainstream, it became the defining pinnacle of the iron sport. Earn it, and your place in history is secure.

Yet, for a competitor who hadn’t snared the Arnold Classic Stateside, finishing runner-up twice and in fifth once between 2007 and 2010 before turning his full concentration to the Olympia, the Arnold Classic Europe this past October was a defining moment. When it comes to bodybuilding, there is Joe Weider, but there will also always be Arnold Schwarzenegger, two larger-than-life figures whose legacies will forever intertwine.

The Arnold Classic Europe was essentially a rematch of the same top names Heath faced down just weeks before in Las Vegas—the aforementioned Greene, Dennis Wolf, and Shawn Rhoden, among others—and capped a turbulent year of shocking personal upheavals juxtaposed with his greatest professional triumphs to date.

“My wife battling breast cancer, all the family stuff we’ve gone through this year, to be able to overcome all of that and still be at my all-time best was very special,” Heath says, taking one last look back at 2013. “Every major title I’ve won has been meaningful, but this year, especially so, considering where we’ve been.” FLEX