Tucson Daily Citizen from Tucson, Arizona on February 7, 1976 · Page 27
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Tucson Daily Citizen from Tucson, Arizona · Page 27

Tucson, Arizona
Issue Date:
Saturday, February 7, 1976
Page 27
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'$!}, 'f -* I ^ '-A v***^* · # In deten/e of dumbbell/ By Kenneth Turan WASHINGTON, D.C. Mike Mentzer is flat on his back. His feet firmly planted, his face red with enormous strain, grunting and wheezing like Attila the Hun on a bad day, he lifts and lifts again a huge barbell complex weighing close to 400 pounds, his oversize muscles threatening to pop right through his skin. "It hurts," he says of the experience. "There definitely is an element of pain. Sweet pain." As Kate Smith used to say, there must be an easier way to make a living. The signs at the Spartan Health Club, out behind the auto parts warehouses in surburban Temple Hills, Md., are of the hand-lettered "Return All Dumbbells To Proper Place On Rack" and "Do NOT Drag Weights On Mat" variety. The club itself, with one big mirror-lined room for weights and a smaller one brimming with miniature torture chambers called Nautilus exercise machines, has the homey atmosphere of a neighborhood bar where 25 cents will get you nothing stronger than some Vita-Pro Wheat Germ Oil. It is a place to work, a place to build the human body. Mike Mentzer's body does not look as if it needs much work. With a 49-inch chest and biceps the size of cantaloupes, he could probably get away with kicking sand in Charles Atlas' face. Age 23, he has been everything from Mr. Pennsylvania to Junior Mr. America, placing third in the 1974 Mr. America contest and second in last year's Mr. U.S.A. Still, he is out at the Spartan Health Club three or four days a week, working out a couple of hours each time, doing his chest and legs one day, his back, shoulders and arms the next. Because Mike Mentzer, you might say, has a dream. That dream is personified by a 27-year-old Austrian named Arnold Schwarzeneg- ger, the muscular piece de resistance of a current bodybuilding revival. Five times Mr. Universe, four times Mr. Olympia, a contest so high- powered only the greatest of the great are even allowed to compete, "The Austrian Oak" overflows muscle magazine ad copy boasting "Ever See Such Mindblowing Biceps?" while promoting "Arnold's Shortcuts To Massive Muscularity." He is the featured player in an oversized paperback called "Pumping Iron" which is selling beyond anyone's expectations and calls him "The best bodybuilder alive, and very possibly the most perfectly developed man in the history of the world." Arnold even has a part in a new film about bodybuilders called "Stay Hungry" starring Jeff Bridges and directed by Bob Rafelson, who did "Five Easy Pieces." All in all, he is one of the two or three men whose bodies have captivated the muscle world to such an extent that they can make a living bodybuilding and nothing else. Mike Mentzer wants to join the team. "You see guys setting standards, making $100,000, going around the world, that's what I,-want," he says in his soft, articulate voice. "I wouldn't be training as hard as I am if I didn't think I could make money on it." · First came the Greeks. They may not have had a word for it, but they had a lot of respect for muscular male bodies. Then came the professional strongmen, people like Thomas Topham, an 18th century Londoner, who once found a nightwatchman asleep in his box and moved them both to a nearby cemetery, causing the fellow nearly to expire of fright when he awoke. The famous strongman of the 19th and early 20th centuries has Eugene Sandow, who got his start breaking all the "Try Your Strength" machines in the city of Amsterdam and progressed to wrestling bare-handed with a lion. The lion lost. Gradually, promoted by men like the redoubtable Charles Atlas, a difference began to appear between weight-lifters, who stress the major muscles like the back and thighs so they can lift an inhuman amount of poundage, and bodybuilders, who stress the show areas, trying to sculpture the body, working from an aesthetic as well as athletic point of view. The body should have a V- shape, for instance, with a 20- inch differential between chest and waist, and men like Steve Reeves, a bodybuilder before Joseph "E. Levine turned him into Hercules, Mike Mentzer drilling his muscles. soon began to be looked upon as the ideal. Which is where Mike Mentzer comes in. At age 11 in his hometown of Ephrata, Pa., Mike Mentzer became entranced wilh Steve Reeves. "It's the old story," he says, "being influenced by masculine stereotypes." His father bought him some weights and he attacked them with a fury typified by 12-below-zero winter mornings working out in an unheated garage with "two or three sweatshirts and a half bottle of linament," days so cold "my nostrils froze shut when I did squats." His idols changed. A picture of Bill Pearl, one of the old pros of bodybuilding, replaced Steve Reeves, and the working went on. "1 just wanted to look like those guys," says Mentzer. "I was a very innocent kid." Mike Mentzer is not a kid anymore. He is, in fact, a premed student at Prince George's (Md.) Community College who holds two part- 'time jobs to support himself and his bodybuilding habit. Perceptive enough to complain about the inanities of bodybuilding competitions, about the politics and toadying involved in the judging, he is also genuinely puzzled about the enormous amounts of mistrust and downright hostility builders encounter out in the real world. A man who is as un self conscious about his abilities as is possible under the circumstances, who avoids giving knuckle-cracking handshakes because he can see that "Don't break it" look in the other fellow's eye, Mike Mentzer is constantly being confronted by the yahoos of the world demanding to know if he can touch his toes or comb his hair without cracking into a thousand million pieces like a dainty china egg. "What's wrong with men wanting to look better?" he asks, a bit frustrated despite himself. "Taking pride in yourself, taking care of your body, what could be a more noble end? If people practicing the piano seven hours a day is a noble end, what's wrong with seven hours weighUifting?" Mike Mentzer knows, of course, why bodybuilders are looked upon as "a weird, isolated group of nuts." For one thing, overtones of homosexu- Contlnued on page 4 SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 1976 TUCSON DAILY CITIZEN PAGE 3

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