Kai Greene will be walking on stage at the 2011 Mr. Olympia with a lot to prove. After twice taking the top spot at the Arnold Classic in 09-10 and placing 4th in the 2009 Olympia – his first, something even current Mr. O Jay Cutler was not able to accomplish (Cutler placed 14th in his first Olympia) Greene came in a disappointing 7th place in the 2010 competition. Greene’s (now former) trainer, Oscar Ardon, attributes the loss to a “film of water” that crept into Greene’s physique in the weeks leading up to the big night. Pictures of Greene posted on Twitter several weeks before the competition show a dry hardness in his physique that was lacking on the night of the Olympia. In a video interview commisioned by MuscleMeds, one of Greene’s sponsors, Ardon muses that Greene’s conditioning may have peaked too early, resulting in the disappointing finish that has him coming into the 2011 Mr. Olympia competition as the underdog.
The role of underdog is a familiar one to Greene – his path to Olympia has been as winding as reigning champ Jay Cutler’s has been direct. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1975 Greene became a ward of the state at age 6 because of an unstable home environment and spent the next decade being shuttled from home to home within the foster care system. It was during this period, around the age of 12, that Greene claims he turned to bodybuilding as a way to sublimate his rage at the the world. Judging from statements made by Greene in a MuscleMeds video diary not much has changed: “[bodybuilding has been] medication to sooth my soul, my beaten spirit when other experiences in my life let me down…betrayed me.”
Even after finding an outlet in the gym Greene often felt that he didn’t belong and compensated by training hard and becoming, in his words, a “portrait of barely-controlled fury.” Greene’s 7th grade English teacher noticed not only the young man’s burgeoning size but his difficulty in keeping up with coursework and helped introduce him to teen bodybuilding competitions. After two first-place teen title showings Greene decided to take a break from competition to pack on more muscle and it was around this time that he came to Brooklyn’s 5th Avenue Gym which he claims became his “home and institute for competitive education.”
Competing first as a “natural” bodybuilder, meaning he used no steroids, human growth hormone or diuretics (a claim verified by strict drug testing) Greene turned professional with the World National Bodybuilding Federation and in 1996 won their Pro Natural World competition.
In 1997 he set his sights on IFBB membership and began competing as an amateur with the National Physique Committee to qualify. Encouraged by a number of first and second place wins in 1997 at competitions like Team Universe, Greene made it as far as the NPC World Amateur Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia, where he placed 4th. Disheartened, Greene took a four-year hiatus to work on both his physique and his education and it was while pursuing his artistic muse (his paintings had their first public show this past August 26) that Kai Greene made decisions that may have hurt his chances at winning a Sandow (the Olympia trophy, named & modelled after Eugen Sandow, a turn-of-the-century strongman & bodybuilding pioneer).
Like many students Greene found himself desperately casting about for ways to pay the bills and his physique opened doors that would be closed to many. Greene became an exotic dancer and posed for a number of pornographic sites catering to gay men. I have seen some of these photos – I did not realize gay men were attracted to human beings who looked like the endoskeleton from Terminator swathed in bubble wrap. There is also a video – now infamous in bodybuilding circles – in which Kai engages in vigorous lower congress with a grapefruit. Yes, a grapefruit. Enjoy your breakfast.
Greene returned from hiatus in 2004 and promptly earned his pro card by winning both Heavyweight & Overall Winner spots at the NPC Team Universe competition. Since then he’s competed in well over a dozen competitions with mixed results – winning some (like the Arnold Classics) and failing to place in others (2006 Iron Man & New York Pro) – but whether victorious or not Greene is never boring. His posing routines, a mixture of classical posing and exotic dance, show the man has incredible agility, particularly given his size and musculature. Not everyone is on board with Greene’s on-stage headstands and thrusting but even his critics agree that there’s nothing else quite like it in bodybuilding today.
Another thing that stands out about Kai Greene is that he doesn’t seem driven by a desire for celebrity and wealth so much as a very personal pain. In interviews he comes across as a deeply hurt man who is, at some basic level, still the 6-year-old boy who was taken from his home and put under the protection of a deeply impersonal system that did him no favours. It is this drive that I believe pushes him to the furthest limits of training and to finish either first or last. Kai Greene is a man of extremes.
He has bravely owned up to the photos (and the soul-destroying video) but I wonder if that’s enough, even if he brings to Olympia the fearsome bulk that won this year’s New York Pro. Mr. Olympia, quite aside from being the biggest and baddest body on the stage, is an ambassador for the sport. How do Joe Weider & the IFBB feel about the premiere statesmen for their spot being a former model for MuscleHunks.com and the man who gave a chilling new meaning to “fruit cocktail”?
We’ll know in two weeks time.
Kai Greene at the 2011 Mr. Olympia:
Thursday Afternoon Press Conference Gallery
Friday Night Prejudging Gallery
Saturday Night Final Gallery
Phil Heath is the New Mr. Olympia
Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth