UP UNTIL a few minutes ago, I had not the slightest intention or expectation of writing this article. Since my return from Europe, my mail has been flooded with letters asking my why I entered the contest. “How good are the European bodybuilders compared to our boys?” asked one reader. “What were your experiences, and how was the show conducted and organized?” inquired another. I read a score of letters and as the pile of mail slowly grew higher and higher before me, I realized the futility of answering separately each piece of correspondence. So after a few minutes consideration, I decided to make an article take the place of a letter to those many fellow enthusiasts who have congratulated me, and have expressed pleasure and surprise that the editor of a physique culture magazine had the courage to show the world he practised what he preached.
There was another editor some years ago, who advised his readers to walk to work every morning and eat nothing but fruit and vegetables. He travelled to his daily tasks in a Rolls-Royce and ate considerable quantities of steak. We have another editor with us today who never tires of telling us how good he is, without making any attempts to show what he looks like, or reply to challenges to engage in a lifting and physical intelligence contest. I can only regret the attitude of “Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you,” and say that one of the reasons for my entry in the Mr. Universe contest was to let bodybuilders see that I took my own medicine.
Back in the good old days, when mud slinging was reaching its peak and the inhabitants of “Muscle-head town” were conducting a campaign of slander against me, most bodybuilders and weightlifters had the impression that physical culture was foreign to my nature. They had been told I was fat, that I never lifted weights, in fact I had never even touched a barbell, I was only in the game for what I could get out of it, and all I was concerned with was making money. If you are an enthusiastic bodybuilder…as I am…and if you watch your diet and train hard…as I do, you naturally get more than a little annoyed to have to bear the brunt of such ill considered remarks. At first you try and brush them off, like bothersome insects. But before long, the irritation becomes too great to suffer and you do as I did…I challenge the man who was belittling me, to a contest.
His reply made it obvious that he would never enter a contest against me, and I had to seek some other way of showing all the bodybuilders that I was in good shape and practiced what i was constantly preaching. I was encouraged in my resolve by Dietrich Wortmann, National Chairman of the Weightlifitng Committee.
“You have a good physique” said Mr. Wortmann, “and you belong up there with the top flight bodybuilders…why don’t you enter a Physical Excellence contest?” Looking around for a show to enter, I knew I was naturally barred from amateur events because of my professional status. It was obvious that I couldn’t compete in any show run by my brother in Canada. To do so would have been in the worst possible taste, as well as generating sour reactions if I happened to win.
Since I was leaving for Europe, the though occurred to me that I might enter the Mr. Universe contest. I would be matched against the best amateurs and professionals in the world and judged by officials from an international panel, men who I had never seen and knew only remotely and by reputation. So I started training for the event.
Many of my associates tried to dissuade me. Both George Jowett and Earle Liedermann advised me against the entry. Others prominent in the Weightlifting world pointed out that the show was sponsored by a rival magazine, that I was a controversial figure and had everything to lose and nothing to gain. They told me that personal feelings would enter, that others had gone on record against me because of the slanders spread about me. The photos I printed in the magazines were rejected stupidly, as retouched, but after thinking it over, I decided to enter the show. I have always believed since I first started weight lifting that the muscle men were the swellest bunch of fellows, and I knew that I would be treated fairly.
In the days that followed, everything worked against me. A month before we left on the Queen Mary, pressure of work and new enterprises became so great that I was forced to drop training. You cannot run an efficient publishing business by neglecting it, and so I just had to give first consideration to the most important undertaking…giving you a good and information packed magazine. Charles A Smith who was making the trip with me said, “Don’t worry too much. They have a gym on board ship with some light weights so you’ll be able to get plenty of exercise, rest and good food.” His reassuring words made me feel good.
But the trip over to England proved to be the roughest since the Queen Mary started her trans-Atlantic runs! Thirty-five people were injured, 13 of them being taken to hospital when the Queen Mary docked at Southampton. The giant liner rolled so much we couldn’t sleep at night. In order to combat sea sickness, I ate three large meals daily, and naturally this quickly got rid of my muscular definition and my fairly trim waist line. With 5 days to go before the contest, thought I could get back into shape with five or six hours hard work each day!
Unfortunately I was unable to find suitable training quarters in London but I was lucky to have my friends, Josh Joshua and Russ Allen, who both trained in Russ’s kitchen. I managed to get in two workouts with them but was unable to handle any heavy weights! However, I had to do the best I could and I very soon realized how much the rough trip had taken out of me. Ten repetitions in the bench press with 235 was as much as I could handle, and I usually use 265-275 for the same amount of reps! Since I had already committed myself, I could not withdraw my entry, and indeed I had no desire to do so.
I had never felt weaker in all my career than I did just before entering the event, and I am sure that the pictures taken of the contest will show that I had lost much of my definition as was not in good condition, as I usually am. But I was well satisfied with my position in the contest and I consider myself extremely fortunate to place where I did. The standard of physiques was very high and I was pleasantly surprised at the advances made in one short year by British and European bodybuilders. It will come as no cause for astonishment, when in a year or so, the weight trainers of England and the Continent will be challenging the best America has.
British bodybuilders have much to be thankful for, insofar as the direction and organization of the sport in England is concerned. Mr. D. G. Johnson of Health and Strength magazine has done much to place bodybuilding on a firm and efficient organized basis, and in Al Murray, the British National Weightlifting and Bodybuilding coach, our fellow weight trainers in the United Kingdom have one of the finest instructors in the world. There are few men who approach him. George Greenwood, Ken Webster, George Kirkley and others on Mr. Johnson’s staff are hard workers and great enthusiasts, they all have me a fine reception and I feel my life is richer because of their friendship.
I am not trying to make excuses for failing to place higher. In fact I hardly expected to place where I did. There were so many fine men in my division…Arnold Dyson, Hubert Thomas, and of course Mr. Universe himself, Reg Park, that I had already put myself at the bottom of the list before the contest took place. What I want to make clear is that entered the Mr. Universe contest not to see how high I would place, but to let an impartial audience judge for themselves that not only could I teach, but I could also DO, that I didn’t intend to hide behind the pages of a magazine, and I wasn’t afraid to show myself.
I believe that the game itself is more important than winning for the sake of winning. It isn’t enough to win or place. The most important thing is that you COMPETE and do so as a sportsman. Before a British audience and judges from Egypt, Belgium, France, India and England, I did my best, and the reception the audience gave me has erased all memories of the mud slinging, the ill feeling, the bickering and the back biting that has been directed against me. It has left in my heart, a feeling of warmth and friendliness towards the fine English bodybuilders and people, and I intend to visit England twice each year to keep our friendship growing. perhaps next year I will be in better shape for the contest and until then I hope our friendship will be kept alive through my magazine.