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The Gift Unwrapped: Phil Heath

The Gift Unwrapped: Phil Heath

Looking for back-to-back Olympia wins this September, MMI looks back at how Phil Heath became the world’s best bodybuilder in just nine years.

By Lonnie Teper/Photos by Garry Bartlett

Phil Heath’s genetic gifts and work ethic helped him win the Olympia crown. Such accolades haven’t come out of the Windy City since the ’90s when some cat named Jordan soared through the air, leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in an eight-year span.

It was June 2005 when I got a call from noted photographer Bill Comstock, singing the praises of a relative newcomer who had just dominated the NPC Junior Nationals stage the way Air Jordan conquered a 94- by 50-foot basketball court. His name was Phil Heath.

“Heath is the best amateur bodybuilder I’ve ever seen,” said Comstock. “He’s the next big thing in the sport … a definite Mr. Olympia in the making.”

Comstock wasn’t the only person wowed by the 5´9˝, 214-pounder from Arvada, CO. Soon after, I learned that Peter McGough, then editor-in-chief at Flex magazine, was completely enamored with a couple of Heath’s pictures (taken by fellow Colorado resident/photojournalist Isaac Hinds), which had appeared on the website GetBig.com. McGough acted quickly, signing Heath to a Weider Publications athlete contract — one of the few amateurs in history to ink a deal with the company. And that was two weeks before he dominated the field in Chicago.

Six weeks hence I got my first live look at the 25-year-old wunderkind at the USA Championships prejudging, held annually on the University of Nevada campus. Oh my, what full, round muscle bellies. Spectacular guns. Tiny waist. Great wheels. Terrific calves. Okay, his chest needed more thickness, his clavicles were a bit narrow, and his back width was lacking, but it was easy to see why McGough, Comstock and a slew of other folks (including NPC president Jim Manion and future Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler) were so captivated by this fella’s future.

A perfect city for such a bright new luminary to sparkle; about 24 hours later, at the finals, I called his name out as the champion of both the heavyweight class and the overall titles. He’d already won, actually; he told me after the conquest he was going to be on the cover of the next issue of Flex.

So, I now wondered, what was the story behind the story of this amazing chap? A young man sprinting up the bodybuilding ladder of success with the same speed that was matched only by Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, who’d set a new world record in the 100-meter dash that year, clocking 9.77 seconds.

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