A nice read for those old enough to remember the '70's bodybuilding scene.
Some things just are better the way they were. Take bodybuilding, for instance. Back in the ‘Golden Age’ and era, which spawned the sport into the mainstream, the scene in California became the face and personality of the fledgling way of life. In particular, two places in the state – Gold’s Gym and Muscle Beach, both out of which several men became household names.
One of those men was Bill Grant, who still looks back on those days as something extremely special.
“Those days at Gold’s Gym,” Grant remembered, “they were the best days of my life. It was like living your dream. I wanted to go to Muscle Beach and work out there. Little did I know, Arnold was thinking the same thing in Austria.”
Arnold, of course, is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became and still is the most popular bodybuilder of all time. When ‘The Austrian Oak’ came over from Europe, his unique accent and personality became a big attraction, and can easily be seen in the major motion picture, “Pumping Iron.”
Grant recalled traveling to Pretoria, South Africa back in 1975 during the filming of the movie.
“This was during Apartheid. I was the only black guy on the plane (from France on South African Airways). Reg Park himself picked me up at the airport. I stayed at his house.”
The famous cult documentary had many parts of it that now the people in it admit were staged, to add to the suspense and drama. Grant spoke about the roles that Ken Waller and Mike Katz had as they went head-to-head for the Mr. Universe title.
“The thing with the t-shirt (was staged),” he said. “Ken liked being the bad guy. What bothered me was when Waller was booed (at subsequent contests). He was one of the nicest guys in the world.”
Back home, the people in California began to take even more notice of this group of muscular men than before the film. “People would come up to us on the beach,” he said. “They would be five, six deep when we were working out in ‘The Pit’ (outdoor gym on Muscle Beach).”
It wasn’t only the beach bums that took notice, but also the film industry. “We were the darling people of Hollywood,” Grant recalled. “’Pumping Iron’ put us on the map.”
Grant’s many credits include movies, including an ABC Friday Night Movie of the Week entitled, “Hustler of Muscle Beach,” television shows (“Runaway Train,” “Smokey Robinson Review”), numerous television commercials and on all the major network’s news programs.
Although these are major accomplishments, Grant views two contest wins as more gratifying than any. “The 1972 Mr. America when I beat ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ Lou Ferrigno,” he said, “and in 1974 for the Mr. World at Madison Square Garden. 5,000 screaming fans. Arnold won the Mr. O, Bob Birdsong won Mr. America. It was a Muscle Beach sweep.”
Now long retired from the stage, Grant – who will turn 62 on September 27 – has become a formidable force once again as the president and owner of Bill Grant Nutrition (www.billgrant.net). He also runs the annual Bill Grant Classic outdoor bodybuilding event in Pennsylvania and has been able to bring some of his knowledge to the modern day athlete with “Bill Grant’s Old School Bodybuilding Series.”
“This is the way it really started,” Grant said about the videos. “Emanated from the ‘old school’ style. Training hasn’t changed, the wheel hasn’t been broken. It boils down to the same thing – barbells and dumbbells.”
Another aspect of bodybuilding throughout the eras has been the use of performance-enhancing drugs, a subject that someone with the integrity of Grant had no problem addressing.
“We did it back in the day,” he said. “I make no bones about it. It was legal and we didn’t have that information [that] they have today."
“You can’t put the onus on the athletes,” he continued. “There’s a lot of pressure on them to perform. There’s a limit we can perform naturally. Just because someone takes a performance-enhancing drug, it doesn’t mean he’ll be a champion because of that extra boost. You’re pushed into it. By the media, the fans.”
When broached with the question if he would make the decision to use steroids if he were competing today, Grant answered, “I would have to think about that. Sometimes less info is better.”
An honest answer from an honest man.
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