FLEX: What effect does the IFBB advisory, which in part states that distended stomachs — something you’ve been criticized for in the past — will be penalized, have on your Olympia game plan and mindset?

RONNIE COLEMAN: It doesn’t affect me in any way. I am symmetrical, I am aesthetic, I am balanced. Everything about me is big and conditioned and muscular. I don’t have a 28″ waist — who does? — but I have a 60″ chest and my waist is in proportion to that. Advisory or no advisory, my focus is on bringing my best package to the stage.

But we’ve seen photos of you onstage with your stomach distended.

Everybody tries to make a big thing of my stomach. But if you look at all the pictures of me hitting a front lat spread or a front double biceps, my stomach’s sucked in. That goes for pretty much everybody, but when we relax — when we’re not posing — the stomach extends; but it ain’t being judged then. Just about everybody has an extended gut because there’s no way you could be competitive on a pro stage if you don’t put away a whole load of food. All the training in the world ain’t gonna make you 290 pounds if you don’t eat all the nutrients — and that’s a lot of food — to back it up. With practice I am able to keep my stomach in. People want to make a big thing of it, but it don’t affect me.

At the 2003 Olympia, you were 287 pounds and were spectacular. Last year, you won at 295 pounds but in my opinion were not as sharp. Do you agree?

I agree totally. I wasn’t as sharp. This year, I’m aiming to repeat the sharpness I had in 2003. To do that, I started my diet earlier. Last year, I started my diet nine weeks out, this year I started it 12 weeks out. Every year, you have to try to be better, be different. This year I will be different again.

As we do this interview, you’re 10 weeks out. What do you weigh now and what do you aim to weigh on the day of the Olympia?

Right now, I’m 305 pounds — which is about what I was when I started my diet last year. I want to get the hardness and condition I had in 2003, and I will be lighter than at that show, maybe 10 pounds lighter — maybe as much as 15 pounds lighter. Being real hard and full at 280 pounds will make me look real big.

We’ve said before that the 245 pounds or so physique with which you won the 2001 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic is the best ever — unbeatable. Any thoughts about returning to that weight and look?

I can’t return to it. I tried to do it at the 2001 and 2002 Olympias and got in a heap of trouble. [In 2001 Jay Cutler was leading Coleman after the prejudging, and in 2002 Kevin Levrone nearly overcame a fading Coleman.] At that bodyweight, things went wrong with depleting and carbing up, so that physique is now part of history. I can’t go back to that. I been and gone and done it. You have to move on. Things change — what was the perfect car in 2001 is not the perfect car four years later.

If you win an eighth Olympia, will you go for nine?

Before I get to nine I have to get to eight. That’s what I’m focused on right now. I’ll take it one year at a time.

If you had to pick one guy who may succeed you, who would it be?

I’d say Victor Martinez. He has the right stuff physically — the shape and the mass. Lost his way a little bit this year, but that happens — it took me a few years before I won the Olympia. Out of all the guys out there I’d say he is the one with Mr. Olympia credentials. The one I’d say is the next Mr. Olympia, but not until after I’m done, you understand.

Will Ronnie Coleman win an eighth Olympia title or will a new Mr. Olympia be crowned on October 15? Book your place in history to find out. Go to 2005olympia.com, flexonline.com or muscleandfitness.com for full details about Joe Weider’s 2005 Olympia Weekend.