The muscle and the madness

2010-10-23 17:34

Fake tans, muscle pumping and bulky men marching about in ­impossibly tiny briefs. If you’ve ­ever wondered what happens ­backstage at a body building ­competition, well, there you have it.

Followers of this extreme sport gather in mid-October for the South African Muscle Evolution Grand Prix at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town.

The International Federation of Body Building South Africa organises this yearly event for amateur body builders. And the ­muscle community delivers a spectacle of prowess.

The judging of the bulging, larger-than­imaginable bodies is held in the morning. In the evening, R10?000 cash prizes are awarded to first-place winners in 12 body building ­categories.

It is a surreal showcase of bodies going beyond the norm, with contestants ­appearing on stage to music reminiscent of a heavy rave party.

The remixed, fast-paced mind-numbing beats continue during breaks when big screens advertise supplements to bulk up the body while lifting iron at the gym.

The overwhelming set of the famed opera ­Lucia di Lammermoor, which opened to ecstatic applause the night before the body builders took to the stage, ensures a dramatic scene.

There are also some laugh-out-loud ­moments. One of the body builders prances on stage in neon-pink briefs.

Another does his ­posing to the lullaby of an unfamiliar gospel song. And when the ladies come on stage, their permanent smiles seem surreal and ­somewhat scary.

Nina Richter, one of the female participants, appears in a red and glittery silver bikini. Her muscled physique would embarrass most men on Cape Town’s beaches, where the human form goes on show uninhibited for extended summer months.

Richter is from Pretoria, in her 40s and has competed as a body builder for only two years. However, she says she’s been a regular at the gym “for the past 20 years”.

“I did 15 years of gymnastics and also did cross-country running.

I wanted a new ­challenge and wanted to do something about this sagging body. I wanted to look good,” says Richter.

She says body building is a “very harsh and extreme sport”.

“The diet is extreme and so is the training. You have to watch what you eat and you must plan your routine every day. You pack your lunch boxes and drink lots of water. Eating properly is 90% of looking good.”

Richter says she meets the demands of the sport with support from her husband. ­Meanwhile, her two sons aged 12 and 15 “don’t mess with me”, she jokes.
There’s not much financial support from sponsors, so Richter has to fund every aspect of her sport.

South Africa doesn’t have the big money required to host an international body building contest. Body building simply doesn’t enjoy the ­sponsorship of more popular physical games. But that doesn’t stand in the way of the ­astounding passion of the faithful worshippers.

Later this year Richter will travel to Budapest for an international competition.

Apart from the financial costs, body building takes up a lot of time, says Richter.

“I do posing half-an-hour every day. You have to flex and hold. It’s also time consuming to work on your tan. You lie in the sun a little bit, but I don’t have time to waste,” she smiles.
So she slaps on some tanning cream when it’s competition time. It’s all worth it, she says.

“Body building is expensive, but it’s rewarding when you look good in the mirror.”

Like Richter, Mervyn Hannie started body building as a way to deal with his body issues.

“I started to train because I was a fat child. I started running to lose weight.

Then I lifted weights and saw results,” says the staffer at ­Telkom’s IT support centre in Cape Town.

Hannie has been South Africa’s best ­lightweight body builder three times since he started working out nine years ago.

While applying his faux tan, he says that he’s off to an international competition in Azerbaijan soon. He explains the necessity of having a tan.

“My real skin colour is light brown. This ­tanning cream makes me darker. Contestants put this on so that when you walk under the lights you can show more muscle definition,” he says.

Hannie says that he doesn’t use steroids, but add that it’s a “personal choice”.

“We are tested at the world champs for ­steroids because it’s now allowed. My body looks like this just from working out.”

Most of the body builders embody the ­competition organiser’s slogan: “Go big or go home.” Contestants travel from small towns and big cities to compete.

Health consultant Terence Pillay journeyed by road from KwaZulu-Natal.

 He’s been a body builder for the past 20 years and is heading for an international competition in France after the Cape Town show.

He says he has competed in France, Brazil and London.

Oarabile Botshelo caught a flight from the North West to Cape Town to compete in his ­seventh body-building competition.

And ­Bulelani Jola came from Port Elizabeth to get the “exposure you can’t afford to miss out on”.

“Body building is not funded, so we look ­forward to the money shows like this have to offer. There are competitions where you win no money,” says Jola.

However, he maintains that his passion for body building is not driven by the money.

“I want to be a role model for others. I want to change people’s lives. I want to touch ­people’s lives by being more than just one of the best,” he says.

Each body builder’s story gets closer to the human factor that drives us all. Whether we’re lawyers or selling hot dogs, we’re all trying to stand out and do something great.

Others, like former Mr Universe Federico Focherini from Italy, are a bit less philosophical about it all.

“It’s just passion and insanity,” he says of the sport.

Focherini has competed as a body builder for 25 years and won the master’s category – for those older than 40 – in Cape Town.

“This is my 65th competition. Winning Mr Universe was my biggest body-building achievement. Arnold Schwarzenegger won that competition as well.

We have the same ­trophy. I became famous and went on Italian TV.

Back then I was a small Californian actor for TV, but only for a year,” says Focherini.

“Every year I say that I’m going to stop, but I like it. This is my life,” he says.

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