The biggest wild card at this year’s Olympia is athlete I believe to be the sole threat to current champion Jay Cutler – Cutler’s own protégé Phil Heath. The two first met when Cutler was a guest poser at Heath’s first bodybuilding competition, the 2003 NPC Northern Colorado Bodybuilding, Fitness & Figure Championships. In 2005 the two were guest posers at the same contest & hit it off immediately. Cutler is credited by Heath himself as being instrumental in his signing with Weider Fitness in 2005 as well as helping him maintain the focus necessary to win his pro card at the ’05 NPC USAs.
Born in Seattle, Washington in 1979, Heath’s athletic career began with the Rainier Beach High School basketball team as a starting point guard. Like many high school athletes Heath’s ambition was to turn pro and after receiving a full student-athletic scholarship to the University of Denver it seemed as though he was on his way. His career as a starting/point guard for the University of Denver Pioneers was, by Heath’s own admission, not as successful as his time with Rainier Beach and by the time of his graduation in 2002 his dreams of joining the NBA were laid to rest.
Heath continued to train but, in his own words, “now with new guys who…were into bodybuilding.” Always more muscular than the average basketball player, Heath’s body grew quickly when he applied to bodybuilding the same dedication and discipline he had learned on the court. Heath began Training for his first contest on October 8, 2002, using a newly-purchased digital camera to document his progress. Beginning at 185lbs, the almost immediately visible results of Heath’s training encouraged him to train harder and he eventually topped out at 215lbs with 6% body fat. By the time of the competition, the 2003 NPC Northern Colorado where he met Cutler, Heath had managed to cut down to 192lbs and came away with first in both the Men’s Novice & Overall categories.
His next major victory came at the 2004 NPC Colorado State competition where, as a 200lb heavyweight, he won the Mr. Colorado title. 2005 was a banner year for Heath as he won the men’s heavyweight & overall categories at the 2005 NPC Junior Nationals followed by his signing with Weider Fitness and the aforementioned victory at the NPC USAs which landed Heath his pro card.
Since turning pro, Heath has taken first in both the 2006 New York & the 2008 Iron Man Pros along with strong second place showings in the 2008 & 2010 Arnold Classics. One of his most impressive feats has been a third place showing in the 2008 Mr. Olympia, his first time at the competition.
Felled by a stomach bug the night before 2009’s Olympia, Heath dropped to 5th place but came back strong in 2010 with a second place showing and headed into the 2011 competition he is, as I’ve said, Cutler’s only real competition, if not in terms of physique then marketability.
On camera Heath comes across as being about as wholesome as you can expect a bodybuilder to be – in response to an interview question about whether or not he was unfairly judged at the 2008 Olympia he replied, “The fan response was that I could have won or taken second. That’s awesome to know, but at the end of the day it’s the judges that control all those decisions.” He stops short of saying “Aw, shucks.”
That said he is quicker than most to comment unflatteringly on other competitors. Of 2008 Olympia winner Dexter Jackson he says, “I know I spooked him last year at the Olympia…You can see the heart of a man by looking at him…and he was nervous.” In the same interview he said of Kai Greene, “I don’t consider him to be an aesthetic physique any more. I consider him more on the mass side.” Such statements make it seem like there is arrogance to the man although I tend to think it is more the passive arrogance of one who has always been good at most things and so feels qualified to have an opinion. There’s a bright career ahead of Heath in sports writing once he’s done with bodybuilding.
Now that a torn quad tendon has sidelined 2011 Arnold Classic winner Branch Warren, the checkered pasts of at least two of the remaining heavy hitters– Kai Greene’s infamous nude pics and grapefruit video, Victor Martinez’s 2004 arrest for selling steroids to an undercover New York City police officer – may give the IFBB pause in considering them for the crown no matter what conditioning they bring to the stage at the Orleans. On the other hand, Jay Cutler & Phil Heath present as the perfect king and prince-in-waiting of the bodybuilding world not only for their Olympian physiques but for the simple reason that both couldn’t be more apple pie if they walked around with slices of cheddar cheese on their heads.
Heath’s wild card status at the 2011 Olympia is due to the fact that he has not competed in a single event this year, choosing instead to focus all his energy on winning the Sandow.
September 17th at the Orleans Hotel & Casino we’ll find out whether or not Heath’s wild card will trump Cutler.
Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth