Thursday, May 12, 10:15 pm Alexander Fedorov’s heavy brow furrows as he scans the face on the magazine clenched between his carrot-thick fingers. He is transfixed by the image, his deep-set eyes remaining focused even as our waitress places a family portion of assorted sushi onto the table in front of him. Clearly, the man is intrigued.

“Alexander does not know this person. He wants to know who is he,” translates Mikhail Gouliayev, Fedorov’s best friend, manager and, when in the presence of unilingual Anglos like myself, translator.

What does he mean? I wonder. Surely Fedorov had to recognize the guy, this guy, of all people. It’s not like we’re talking about some third-string bench warmer. The man is as vaunted a prospect as, well, Fedorov himself. If bodybuilding has celebrities, then this is our Leonardo DiCaprio.

Maybe I’d misheard him, I reasoned. The way I was feeling, frankly, I was lucky to have heard him at all. Not 45 minutes earlier, I’d completed a 10-time-zone-spanning 17-hour journey from Los Angeles, California, to Saint Petersburg, Russia, which left me feeling a little — no, make that completely — fucked up. But while Saint Petersburg’s canals could never be mistaken for those of Venice, California, I figured that even here, thousands of miles from bodybuilding’s epicenter, the best pro to come out of Eastern Europe would recognize one of the West’s top young guns.

“His name is Chris Cook,” I reply. “He won the Nationals last year, which qualified him to turn pro.”

Gouliayev processes my answer back to his friend, who is now leafing through the rest of the Chris Cook article featured in the June 2005 issue of FLEX. Fedorov remains fixated on its pages as he issues a follow-up question.

“Alexander wants to know what is he like.”

Sizing up Cook in my head, I hit Gouliayev with the essentials.

“He’s about 5’10” and weighs a little over 250 pounds in contest shape. He has huge shoulders, and his arms and calves are great. . . ”

As my response is translated to Fedorov, he shakes his head in disapproval. I can make out “Nyet, nyet,” but nothing more.

Gouliayev pauses for a brief moment, considers his phrasing, then turns to face me.

“Alexander does not care how big he is. He only wants to know what kind of person Chris Cook is. Is he a good person?”

“Is he a good person? Well. . . yes, definitely. Chris is a very nice guy.”

Fedorov nods his head approvingly as he receives my assurance and mutters a response, never once diverting his eyes from the magazine.

“Then Alexander is very much looking forward to meeting him,” Gouliayev translates. “No matter how big he is.”

To find out more about what happens in this up close and personal look into the life of Russian superstar Alex Fedorov as seen by FLEX senior writer Shawn Perine, pick up a copy of October FLEX available on newsstands now!