by Christian Duque
With the announcement that the Arnold Classic had a tough date (9/25/2021) and would be staying in Columbus, OH, fans couldn’t hold back from the excitement. This is really huge because, unlike The Olympia, which will be held in Orlando, FL for the second time, The Arnold will take place in 2021 and will not leave Columbus. If you remember – I mean, how could you not – it all started with Arnold. Who can forget that Arnold’s poor amateur contestants will go to bed in 2020 without knowing if they have a show to attend the next day. The expo was canceled, lockdowns began and within days of the event the world as we knew it just stopped.
Now, on the other side of the pandemic, the Arnold – at home – is bringing back a certain level of normalcy that we all long for. After all, this is the second most prestigious competition on the pro circuit. Not only does this competition give its name to the most famous bodybuilder in the history of the sport, its winners have always brought home great victories in the sport. That being said, there are some nuances about this particular event that make it stand out and that’s why I decided to write this article. Unlike all the other Arnolds before that, the Arnold 2021 will only be about two weeks before the Mr. Olympia 2021. This is important because this year’s event will not be an Olympic qualifier. Those who take part will receive qualifications and points for the 2022 Olympics.
The Arnold Classic 2022 is scheduled to be in Columbus, OH next year on the normal date in early March. It seems, at least to me, that both the Arnold Classics 2021 and 2022 will have a direct impact on the 2022 Olympics. That means we could see two different Arnold champions crowned before an Olympics. That’s going to be interesting. As for the Arnold 2021, it’s uncertain who will run, but I do think we’ll see Phil Heath on stage and here’s why.
The Arnold Classic would be the perfect place for Phil to officially retire. I don’t think he was ready for that at the 2020 Olympics; In fact, if you remember, a documentary was made about the comeback of The Gift. There was also talk of Phil doing Athleticon, although this never happened due to the pandemic. In addition, the 7x Mr. Olympia was under a lot of pressure and I suspect that his preparation was like no other. While he’s been the favorite of every competition he competed in, especially since his first Olympic win, that changed when he was pissed off by Shawn “Flexatron” Rhoden at the 2018 Mr. Olympia. From there, he largely skipped the 2019 season, as he had announced. This year made people forget how great Phil had been.
There were years when Kai could legitimately have won – even though he didn’t – and in 2016 Rhoden looked very promising, but no one could take Phil’s many achievements and how high he set the bar. However, between his loss in 2018 and his break from the stage in 2019, the sport has changed. After Rhoden’s legal troubles and the coronation of a new Mr. Olympia, the idea of Heath returning seemed similar to Kai Greene’s comebacks. It was discussed but not taken seriously. Even when the 7-time 212 champion James “Flex” Lewis announced that he would be competing in the open category for the 2020 Olympics, no one really thought Heath would follow suit. Dan Solomon, Chief Olympia Officer, met with Phil and started promoting the idea of 4 Mr. Olympias on the same stage. For a lot of people there were better chances of Rhoden up there than Phil.
Bodybuilding is really quite unique in this regard. There are guys who haven’t competed in 20 years that fans think they can just jump on stage like nothing. In the meantime, a guy could be off the stage for 1-2 years and the mere suggestion that he should return is received with varying degrees of skepticism and downright gunned down by those addressed.
When Phil announced that he was going to run, no one had any major doubts. He had changed his modus operandi, humbled himself a little, but in the end his bravery came out. He didn’t do this show like Cutler did in 2013, he wanted to win and looked really good. It wasn’t as good as it was in its prime, but it has made and kept many great promises. Even so, he didn’t win, and with Dexter Jackson retiring and his whole family on stage, I don’t think Phil wanted to steal his thunder. I also don’t think Phil was ready to retire at this point; and who knows, maybe he’s not ready to retire in 2021 either. That being said, if he wanted to end his career with a happy ending, I think the Arnold Classic 2021 would be the way to go.
I have to disagree with Nick Miller (aka Nick Strength & Power) who has the impression that the Arnold will draw a who’s who of top Olympians in 2021. What NSP may not want to admit is that the high point at the Arnold is not much different than at the Olympia. While the guys doing the big dance will be in shape, I don’t think they want their bodies going through the grueling tip weakening process twice.
It is not so much the diet as the diuretics that can be used. I can’t imagine a top guy would want to go through all of this just to do it all over again in two weeks. Aside from the stress on the body, I think it would be too risky to prepare for two competitions instead of one. This is an achievement that very few coaches / competitors can achieve. It has nothing to do with hard work, so much so that it’s something that has never really been done before.
Imagine if a top Olympic gold medalist brings his best to Columbus, but easily looks down on Orlando. Then what? What is a win in the second biggest competition if you lose in the bodybuilding superbowl? I would be absolutely shocked to see Hadi Choopan, Brandon Curry or much less Big Ramy compete in the Arnold Classic 2021. I think it would be absolutely amazing. I also cannot imagine that top contenders like Roelly Winklaar, William Bonac or the rising star Akim Williams would leave their preparation for the Olympic Games to chance.
I mean look at Akim. After a career in which he paid his dues, he eventually breaks into the top 6 of the best. Why on earth would he play his luck and try to get twice as close to the summit? His best plan is to win in Chicago (which I think he will) and then settle down for the Olympics, where he could be placed higher than 2020. If you’re 6th in a year, every climb is huge. He could be 5th, 4th or very big and move into the top 3. I just can’t imagine anyone in the top 6 in 2020 risking a win at the Olympics just to make some money at the Arnold Classic.
If the Arnold takes place, Olympic qualification will be over and if I’m correct most of the top guys won’t be competing. What we’re going to see, I think, are second and third tier pros, maybe a couple of masters and maybe Phil Heath. I’m not saying Phil can’t beat the top Olympians, but if I’m right and he competes at this level he could enjoy himself preparing, he could give the fans a lot for their money, and he could win you a lot of money . After all, the organizers are offering over 400,000 US dollars in prize money even without the fair. That is mighty big of them. Phil could win the lion’s share of the pot, completely dominate the competition, and deliver a moving retirement speech that would be seen by the whole world. I could totally see him announcing that he wanted to run and that he got the invitation right away. That’s the other thing that Arnold is an invitation, but unlike in previous years, I could see that many invitations were not accepted. The stakes are just too high, but they can be perfect for others.
I really, really think Phil is probably looking closely at this competition. The question is, will he try to get on that stage (for all of the reasons mentioned) – or – will he do another run at the Olympics? The other possibility is that he just doesn’t compete anymore. Maybe he likes Kai Greene – or – maybe he’s doing something completely different. The truth is, the possibilities are endless.
Do you think Phil will take part in the Arnold Classic in 2021? Why or why not?