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The 2011 Joe Weider Olympia Weekend officially kicked off this morning with the opening press conference, emceed by bodybuilder and audience favorite Bob Cicherillo.  Fans lined up two hours in advance for choice seats at the Showroom in the Orleans Hotel & Casino, the line snaking out towards the outside door.  Former Olympia competitors Dennis James & Flex Wheeler were among the crowd.

Dennis James being interviewed

Philip, a 23-year-old welder/fabricator from Vancouver, Canada, was in line behind me and became my guide to the event.  A committed fan of the sport, 2011 marks Philip’s fourth trip to the Olympia, his first coming before he was even legal to book a room on the strip (Strip hotels the forbid renting of rooms to anyone under legal gambling age).  “My first Olympia I had to stay at a hotel way off strip because I was under 21,” he says.  “I spent nearly $300 on taxis…because I didn’t know how far it was.”

Philip turned out to be invaluable at pointing out the who’s who of the bodybuilding world – people like Steve Blechman, owner of magazine Muscular Development who I previously could not have picked out of a lineup of one.  As good as he was, he wasn’t able to prevent me from putting my foot in my mouth during a conversation with “Mr. Canada”, Eric Dilauro.  I asked him who was his favorite to win the 2011 Sandow, not realizing that he was part of Team Cutler.  Dilauro’s initial reaction as “Who do you think” but he softened when he realized I had no idea who he was or, for the most part, what I was doing.

I'm sorry sir, we can't hear you over my suit

Cicherillo, whose suit he had joked before the show was “from the Huggy Bear Collection” introduced the Olympians one by one and, in a surprise treat at the end, called out 2011 Arnold Classic winner Branch Warren.  Warren was a favorite to upset Cutler this weekend until tearing a quad tendon last month in Atlanta.  Warren hobbled to his seat and answered questions as graciously as possible for a man who has had his dream ripped from him.

Little new ground was struck in the “Question and Answer” session although the athletes personalities were allowed space to emerge:  Cutler came across as friendly but business-like, Victor Martinez, despite assuring the audience that his 3rd place showing at the Arnold Classic “wasn’t Victor Martinez” sounded defeated already and 2008 Olympia winner Dexter Jackson cracked everyone up with jokes about a twin brother being responsible for a poor performance at last year’s Olympia.

Kai Greene’s appearance on stage was staggering – he looked like an absolute monster and when asked whether it was true that his powerful display at May’s New York Pro only represented 90% of what he was bringing to the Olympia he would only say, “Yes.”

We’ll know Saturday whether that extra 10% will be enough to finally win him his first Sandow.

Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth