Seven Storylines for the Ironman Pro

by Allan Donnelly

February 15, 2008


We're two days away from kicking off the 2008 season with the Ironman Pro in Los Angeles, California. With 32 athletes slated to compete - including some of the top names in the sport - we can't imagine a better way to get things started. As is usually the case with such a large field, the story lines are many. Here's a breakdown of the seven most intriguing ones heading into Saturday's prejudging, and an early prediction on how we see each story developing.

TITLE: Miller Time
INTRODUCTION:Desmond Miller, a second-year pro and the overall champ at the 2006 NPC Nationals, is competing in just his third pro contest. Miller fared well in his first two in 2007, placing fourth at the New York Pro and second behind eventual winner Dennis Wolf at the Keystone Classic.
PLOT: After skipping the 2007 Olympia, Miller hasn’t competed since May of last year, reportedly taking the time off to work on improving his back. Miller can stand next to anybody in the pro ranks in terms of leg development, but a sub-par back and a wide waist could hurt him in what will be the toughest lineup he has faced to date.
CONCLUSION: If he has improved his back, Miller could contend for a spot in the top five.

TITLE: Swan Song
INTRODUCTION: The name Troy Alves has long been synonymous with aesthetics, as he has consistently displayed one of the more balanced and visually pleasing physiques in the IFBB since turning pro in 2002. A popular athlete and a seasoned pro, Alves – who some believe never gets the credit he fully deserves because of a seeming inability to display shredded hams and glutes - had consistently been a threat to crack the top five at shows like the Ironman.
PLOT: Alves placed seventh at the 2007 Montreal Pro and 10th at the Atlantic City Classic after taking much of the season off with hoping to win the first professional contest of his career, and neither of those contests were anywhere near as competitive as the Ironman Pro is going to be. After a disappointing 2007, the question surrounding the 41-year-old Alves is, Are his best days behind him?
CONCLUSION: Unless he has made considerable improvements, it is going to be very difficult for Alves to crack the top five, let alone the top 10, against this stacked lineup.

TITLE:Take Your Pick
INTRODUCTION: Meet Johnnie Jackson, David Henry and Will Harris – two of whom broke into the top-10 at last year's Olympia (Jackson 9th, Henry 10th) and one (Harris 15th) whom many believed should have. Jackson, the 2006 and 2007 Atlantic City Pro champ, has proven he can win shows. Henry turned up shredded at last year's Atlantic City Pro and at the Olympia after missing the mark early in '07. Harris, who will likely possess the best back in the lineup, truly believes he will win the Ironman.
CONCLUSION: This lineup is stacked at the top. None of the above are complete enough (Jackson, Harris) or big enough (Henry) to crack the top three. But it is very likely that one – or two – could crack the top five and earn an Olympia qualification.

TITLE: Sil's Ascent
INTRODUCTION: 2007 was the year Silvio Samuel – last year's FLEX Athlete of the Year winner - burst onto the scene. Samuel competed in an amazing eight contests, placing in the top five in all but two (Olympia and the Arnold Classic) and winning one (the Europa Super Show).
PLOT: Samuel, who displays full, round muscle bellies and always comes in shredded, has a track record of hanging with the big boys despite standing only 5-foot-6. After an offseason of working with Charles Glass and spending time with Jay Cutler, Samuel should once again be a formidable opponent.
CONCLUSION: If he has improved his back width and has added some size - as we hear he has – Samuel could crack the top three here.

TITLE: Walk the Walk
INTRODUCTION: In 2005, Gustavo Badell served notice that he had arrived by winning the Ironman and placing third at both the Arnold Classic and the Olympia. Since then, Badell got caught up in playing the size game and, as a result, his placing suffered. Badell claimed to have corrected his recent missteps at last year's Olympia, but a lack of size in his legs and subpar conditioning lowered him to 8th in the lineup.
PLOT: Badell has been the most vocal of the competitors heading into the Ironman, calling out nearly every big name in the lineup in trademark Gustavo style. He has made no friends in the process, but his antics – combined with weekly photo updates on his conditioning – have made Badell one of the more talked about competitors heading into the show.
CONCLUSION: Aside from Harris, Badell will likely have the best back in the contest. And, at 5-foot-7 and around 250 pounds, Badell will be one of the thickest. However, a lack of hamstring development in recent outings could prove to be his downfall in terms of repeating his winning performance from 2005. Still, Badell will contend for a spot in the top three.

TITLE: X-Factor
INTRODUCTION: Meet the X-Man, Toney Freeman, the defending Ironman Pro champion. Freeman finally put it all together in early 2007, winning the Ironman and the Sacramento Pro, and placing third at the Arnold Classic. With those performances, Freeman emerged as a realistic threat to crack the top three at last year’s Olympia. However, Freeman became ill in the days leading up to the show, and it showed in his physique, as the X-Man plummeted to 13th in the final placings.
PLOT: Freeman is now on a mission. He is aware that many of the same people who jumped on his bandwagon in early ’07 wrote him off after the Olympia, and he is eager to get back onstage and once again prove the doubters wrong. One of the biggest men in the contest at 6-foot-1 and around 285 pounds, Freeman will be able to stand next to anyone and compare favorably provided he reaches the form he displayed in early 2007.
CONCLUSION: Provided he regains that form, Freeman is likely the only one in the lineup who can make a run at winning the show other than …

TITLE: Heath Hype
INTRODUCTION: When you are called the Future of Bodybuilding before you even turn pro, expectations tend to be higher than usual. That has been the case with Phil Heath ever since he burst onto the scene at the 2005 NPC Junior Nationals. At the time, none other than the reigning Mr. Olympia was one of the first to claim that Heath had the tools to one day ascend to the top of the sport. Cutler looked like Nostradamus when Heath won the Colorado Pro and the New York Pro, the first two shows of his pro career, in 2006. By the time Heath competed in the 2007 Arnold Classic – after skipping the ’06 Olympia – the hype machine was at an all-time high. As it turned out, Heath wasn’t ready, and he finished fifth at the Arnold. Standing with the elite, it was clear that the then-27-year-old Heath needed more size – especially from the back – more width and more time before being mentioned among the sport’s best.
PLOT: Heath kept a low profile for most of 2007 after skipping the Olympia once again. Now, after leaking a couple of pictures online five weeks out from the show, it looks like The Gift may be ready to make The Leap.
CONCLUSION: Word is that Heath will take the stage somewhere in the low 230s, which would be around 15 pounds heavier than he was at the Arnold Classic last year, without sacrificing any of his aesthetics or his trademark razor-sharp conditioning. If that is the case, the future is now, and the Ironman is his.