Evolution of Bodybuilding

Gary Strydom

strydom 4

Disciplined, focused, hard-working and determined – four words that capture the essence of Gary Strydom, one of bodybuilding’s icons whose career spans three decades. Between 1983 and 1992, Gary reigned supreme, claiming titles such as the US Championships, the Nationals and the Night of Champions. After over 12 years in retirement, in 2006 and at 46 years old he made a much publicised comeback in undoubtedly his best form ever, placing 7th at the Colorado Pro. With most of his competition some twenty years younger, Gary set the bodybuilding world abuzz with his dynamic new look and proved that bodybuilding is an Ageless sport.

Gary’s life as a professional athlete began on the school sports fields back in his home country of South Africa. Highly competitive and determined by nature, Gary not only excelled in swimming, running track and rugby, his ability to lead others and his comfort in a competitive environment was clearly evident as he invariably turned up as team captain.
Things were no different when it came time for Gary to perform his mandatory two year service in the South African Defence Force. He quickly advanced through the ranks from Private to Corporal and on to Sergeant, always leading his troops by example and constantly pushing the envelope by virtue of his natural ability to lead others. After finishing his two year service and at a point when most others were relieved to have completed their national service, Gary opted to take up the challenge of a further two years with the army and qualified as a radar technician.

The 2006 NPC Orange County Muscle ClassicLife in the army was not one of comfort and ease and it was these years that Gary says strengthened his character, taught him the meaning of discipline and toughened him up for some of the greatest tests that were to face him in life.

Towards the end of his army service Gary developed a serious interest in bodybuilding. Reading about his idols in magazines like Muscle and Fitness, he realised that most of them were based in the USA so the determined 20 year old decided that if he wanted to see them in person, train beside them and become a pro bodybuilder himself, he’d need to head for the US. When he informed his family of his decision his mother, knowing her son’s appetite, replied “You’ll be home when you’re hungry son.” She underestimated his determination however and shortly after, Gary packed his bags and left South Africa, bound for New York with just $1000 and a plane ticket. He also carried a bonus ticket to any destination on the East Coast if so desired. Once on board the flight, it did not take the charming South African long to make friends and begin conducting some quick research on US cities.

As the plane took off, Gary Strydom, just twenty years old, was starting his epic journey to international success.

strydom 1However, while success was his end goal, his first priority was to decide if New York was to be his final stop or should he use the courtesy ticket and travel on. The decision came easy. Touching down in a snow-covered New York and having heard fellow passengers’ opinions on where to continue on to, Strydom decided Miami and its warm climate much like South Africa’s, stood out above the others. With no idea what to expect, Gary carried on to Miami. With his only knowledge about Miami being gleaned from a travel brochure, he had only one destination in mind once he arrived. When the shaven haired South African asked his taxi driver in a dead pan accent to “take me to Liberty City” he was greeted with a startled reaction. The cab driver attempted to inform Gary that Liberty City was, and still is, one of the most dangerous parts of Miami but Gary insisted. After one night in a dingy rundown hotel, he made his way to a nearby diner for one of his high protein breakfasts only to find a popular southern food called “grits” not cream of wheat as he was used to back home. While Gary was eating, he again made friends with some locals and explained his plans to take a Greyhound bus to California to find the bodybuilders he was looking to compete against. When his fellow diners informed him he’d have to take far more than one bus ride to reach California Gary opted to head further south to Key West.

He arrived in Key West on February 14, 1983, (a bad time for the average tourist), to find a far different culture of men than he was familiar with and one that in no way reflected his way of life back home or his lifestyle. His first night in Key West was spent on a park bench due to all the hotels being booked for this very famous date in Key West culture. He managed to find a place to stay the following day and worked odd jobs over the next few months to get himself started. Those were tough days for Gary who although fuelled by his dream, often missed the support structure of friends and family who were thousands of miles away.

With a membership at a small gym in Key West and a job working with troubled kids (his first love) he slowly started to get busy with training and laying the foundations for his career as one of the greatest bodybuilders of his time. His first competition was the 1983 Junior Florida where his great form made it clear to those who saw him that they were witnessing the emergence of a star. In 1984, he again stunned spectators and judges at the USA Championships, winning his weight class next to an impressive Jon Lloyd.

And then the wheels nearly came off. As Gary turned his attention to competing at the American Nationals that same year, IFBB officials informed him he would need to be a US citizen to enter. Gary remembers asking the officials “What’s the difference, USA or Nationals?” since he had just won the USA Championship without being a citizen, nevertheless it appeared the door was closed.

Realizing the seriousness of the situation and not prepared to walk away from the chance to compete at the Nationals, Gary applied for citizenship and resigned himself to sitting by and waiting for the process to take its course. He didn’t wait idly though, he got back in the gym and carried on training, fully focussed on being ready to compete as soon as his citizenship was granted. In 1986 his attorneys informed him that while they would do all they could, they could make no guarantees. Ever the optimist, Gary continued his contest preparation, training and dieting with the same commitment as any guy who didn’t have the dark cloud of ineligibility looming over his head.

At virtually the 11th hour, just a week before the 1986 Nationals in Atlanta, Gary received his citizenship! He now realized that he would have to be more than ready as he would be going up against his magazine idols, names like Matt Mendanhall and Rory Leidermeyer. Despite the events leading up to the Nationals, Gary remained confident he had his competition beat. Having overcome all the hurdles placed in front of him, his gut instinct now told him that Atlanta would be his best day as an amateur. Sure enough, he was named victorious in Atlanta, walking away with something he had dreamt of for years…. his IFBB Pro Card!

His career immediately exploded into a massive whirlwind of magazine covers, worldwide guest appearances and the chance to stand next to Lee Haney in a photo shoot taken at Gold’s Gym in Los Angeles, California.

Gary now realized that it would be a just a matter of time before he would have to take the stage in the Mr. Olympia. In 1987, he went to New York and was victorious in his first pro showing – ‘The Night of Champions 1987’ was now his title.

The Night of Champions was one of many pro competitions that Gary would go on to win. In 1988, he made his Mr. Olympia debut, ripped to shreds and took a well-deserved fifth place. Over-dieted and knowing that he was not at his best he went on to mix it up at the 1989 Arnold Classic taking 3rd and followed that one week later with his second pro win, backing it up with three additional pro victories in Europe.

Gary Strydom had arrived and he was being closely watched as he advanced his career by someone with an eye for talent. Rumors began to circulate about a new federation in the works (much like the current PDI) with talk of Vince McMahon, the famous wrestling tycoon, venturing into bodybuilding and creating a new federation of superstars, with none other than Gary Strydom at the top of his list.

In 1990, Vince McMahon launched Bodybuilding Lifestyles magazine followed by the WBF (World Bodybuilding Federation), a new bodybuilding federation with a focus on talent and entertainment. Tom Platz, one of Gary’s boyhood idols, was appointed the WBF’s director of talent development and approached Gary to sign up. In Gary’s mind it was the best business deal that would come his way in bodybuilding and he still beams when he speaks about this period of his life as he cherishes being the only WBF Champion in the history of bodybuilding.

When asked recently about this controversial decision Gary remarked: “I have no regrets, it was a business move. What would you do if a work opportunity was proposed that would pay you 12 times as much money with one-tenth the workload? It was a three year deal with guarantees!” Bodybuilding had never seen that kind of money before. The wrestling czar Vince McMahon had made an offer to Gary that no bodybuilder would have refused, and Gary was the only bodybuilder offered the deal he received. There are rumours of first class plane tickets and VIP treatment, all true according to Gary. “The athletes were well treated, well paid, and happy to have the opportunity and the exposure that Vince was able to provide them.”

strydom 2He recalls the great show they put on in Atlantic City, “You Can’t Touch This”. “Everyone involved with bodybuilding at that time remembers the show, it was that impressive”. Gary won both shows and Atlantic City was Gary at his best. To this day people reminisce at how they would have liked to have seen Gary and Haney on the same stage that year. In 1992, the WBF show in Long beach was devastated by an extremely poor showing by many of the athletes due to strict drug testing. Gary still gave the crowd a great showing in Long Beach. He says, “If a deal that lucrative came along again, watch others do exactly the same.”

Gary still catches some flack for taking the WBF deal, but simply brushes it off as an opportunity of a lifetime that he alone was offered and took, and hopes that anyone offered a similar deal would be smart enough to take as well. So if there is any confusion about why Gary is back in the IFFB, he’ll be quick to tell you he is a professional bodybuilder and loves to be on stage entertaining the fans and bringing talent to the sport that is his life.

In 1992, fans around the world were disappointed when Gary announced his retirement to focus on his burgeoning California Crazee-Wear clothing business. Many believed they had still not seen the best of Gary and that his exit was premature. But even though he was out of competition and off the stage, Gary was by no means finished with bodybuilding.

Fast forward to May 2006 when, now 46 years of age, Gary pulled off the finest move of his career to date making a mind-blowing comeback at the Colorado Pro, placing 7th and stunning fans and media alike with probably the best form of his life. Gary was back, bigger and better than ever and the bodybuilding world sat up and took notice.

Gary Strydom has reinvented himself unlike any other athlete in the sport of professional bodybuilding. In the twenty years since he first turned pro, countless others have come and gone and faded from memory. How many bodybuilders can claim to display their best form 20 years after turning pro?

Gary feels that bodybuilding has taken a down turn in recent years with athletes not considering lines and conditioning. “You cannot just pack on muscle. It has to be accommodated by what frame you have.” With his 6’ 2” frame, he has the height, the mass looks right on him and he continues to maintain his waistline, “Crazy Coconut” deltoids, and long thick quadriceps. “Today its all about long muscle bellies, nobody looks like me up there,” he continues “Look at the physiques on stage today (especially Denver) so many of them look the same. I am 46 years of age on stage with 26 year old athletes, how many other sports do you see athletes doing this?” He has a point.

It is rare to find a comeback athlete who generates the kind of international frenzy that Gary Strydom’s 2006 appearance made. Denver placed Gary firmly back in the spotlight and once again he was on international magazine covers and inundated with requests to undertake guest appearances and seminars around the globe. It seemed the world had been waiting for a comeback of this calibre and what better man for the job than one of bodybuilding’s most popular and down to earth athletes who ascribes his success to nothing more than hard work, discipline and a focussed approach to achieving his goals.

gary strydom 6So massive was the reaction to his return, that Gary had to forego plans to compete again later in 2006 and early 2007 in order to meet international appearance commitments. “Denver was no ‘one night stand’,” he says. “When I said I was back, I meant I was back. I didn’t go to Denver as a once off attempt, just to see how I would do. I am a bodybuilder, it’s my passion and it’s my life. In the years since I retired I’ve never stopped living that lifestyle or training. The comeback was more like the beginning of a new competitive career for me. I had planned to do a couple more shows last year but that didn’t work out. But this year I’ll be back up there on stage again and maybe for good couple of years to come too.”

His competitive plans, combined with managing his two sports clothing businesses – CrazeeWear and Strydom Wear – as well as his recently launched SPS Strydom Professional Series range of supplements spell out a busy year for Gary but judging by Denver, there is no doubt he’ll make an impressive showing wherever he enters this year. While he may be older and wiser, inside still beats the heart of the ambitious 20 year old who boarded a plane in Africa, determined and focussed on becoming one of the world’s best bodybuilders. He did it once, now Gary Strydom is back for round two.

Disciplined, focussed, hard-working and determined – four words that capture the essence of Gary Strydom, one of bodybuilding’s icons whose career spans three decades. Between 1983 and 1992, Gary reigned supreme, claiming titles such as the US Championships, the Nationals and the Night of Champions. After over 12 years in retirement, in 2006 and at 46 years old he made a much publicised comeback in undoubtedly his best form ever, placing 7th at the Colorado Pro. With most of his competition some twenty years younger, Gary set the bodybuilding world abuzz with his dynamic new look and proved that bodybuilding is an Ageless sport.

Gary’s life as a professional athlete began on the school sports fields back in his home country of South Africa. Highly competitive and determined by nature, Gary not only excelled in swimming, running track and rugby, his ability to lead others and his comfort in a competitive environment was clearly evident as he invariably turned up as team captain.
Things were no different when it came time for Gary to perform his mandatory two year service in the South African Defence Force. He quickly advanced through the ranks from Private to Corporal and on to Sergeant, always leading his troops by example and constantly pushing the envelope by virtue of his natural ability to lead others. After finishing his two year service and at a point when most others were relieved to have completed their national service, Gary opted to take up the challenge of a further two years with the army and qualified as a radar technician.

Life in the army was not one of comfort and ease and it was these years that Gary says strengthened his character, taught him the meaning of discipline and toughened him up for some of the greatest tests that were to face him in life.

Towards the end of his army service Gary developed a serious interest in bodybuilding. Reading about his idols in magazines like Muscle and Fitness, he realised that most of them were based in the USA so the determined 20 year old decided that if he wanted to see them in person, train beside them and become a pro bodybuilder himself, he’d need to head for the US. When he informed his family of his decision his mother, knowing her son’s appetite, replied “You’ll be home when you’re hungry son.” She underestimated his determination however and shortly after, Gary packed his bags and left South Africa, bound for New York with just $1000 and a plane ticket. He also carried a bonus ticket to any destination on the East Coast if so desired. Once on board the flight, it did not take the charming South African long to make friends and begin conducting some quick research on US cities.

As the plane took off, Gary Strydom, just twenty years old, was starting his epic journey to international success.

However, while success was his end goal, his first priority was to decide if New York was to be his final stop or should he use the courtesy ticket and travel on. The decision came easy. Touching down in a snow-covered New York and having heard fellow passengers’ opinions on where to continue on to, Strydom decided Miami and its warm climate much like South Africa’s, stood out above the others. With no idea what to expect, Gary carried on to Miami. With his only knowledge about Miami being gleaned from a travel brochure, he had only one destination in mind once he arrived. When the shaven haired South African asked his taxi driver in a dead pan accent to “take me to Liberty City” he was greeted with a startled reaction. The cab driver attempted to inform Gary that Liberty City was, and still is, one of the most dangerous parts of Miami but Gary insisted. After one night in a dingy rundown hotel, he made his way to a nearby diner for one of his high protein breakfasts only to find a popular southern food called “grits” not cream of wheat as he was used to back home. While Gary was eating, he again made friends with some locals and explained his plans to take a Greyhound bus to California to find the bodybuilders he was looking to compete against. When his fellow diners informed him he’d have to take far more than one bus ride to reach California Gary opted to head further south to Key West.

He arrived in Key West on February 14, 1983, (a bad time for the average tourist), to find a far different culture of men than he was familiar with and one that in no way reflected his way of life back home or his lifestyle. His first night in Key West was spent on a park bench due to all the hotels being booked for this very famous date in Key West culture. He managed to find a place to stay the following day and worked odd jobs over the next few months to get himself started. Those were tough days for Gary who although fuelled by his dream, often missed the support structure of friends and family who were thousands of miles away.

With a membership at a small gym in Key West and a job working with troubled kids (his first love) he slowly started to get busy with training and laying the foundations for his career as one of the greatest bodybuilders of his time. His first competition was the 1983 Junior Florida where his great form made it clear to those who saw him that they were witnessing the emergence of a star. In 1984, he again stunned spectators and judges at the USA Championships, winning his weight class next to an impressive Jon Lloyd.

And then the wheels nearly came off. As Gary turned his attention to competing at the American Nationals that same year, IFBB officials informed him he would need to be a US citizen to enter. Gary remembers asking the officials “What’s the difference, USA or Nationals?” since he had just won the USA Championship without being a citizen, nevertheless it appeared the door was closed.

Realizing the seriousness of the situation and not prepared to walk away from the chance to compete at the Nationals, Gary applied for citizenship and resigned himself to sitting by and waiting for the process to take its course. He didn’t wait idly though, he got back in the gym and carried on training, fully focussed on being ready to compete as soon as his citizenship was granted. In 1986 his attorneys informed him that while they would do all they could, they could make no guarantees. Ever the optimist, Gary continued his contest preparation, training and dieting with the same commitment as any guy who didn’t have the dark cloud of ineligibility looming over his head.

At virtually the 11th hour, just a week before the 1986 Nationals in Atlanta, Gary received his citizenship! He now realized that he would have to be more than ready as he would be going up against his magazine idols, names like Matt Mendanhall and Rory Leidermeyer. Despite the events leading up to the Nationals, Gary remained confident he had his competition beat. Having overcome all the hurdles placed in front of him, his gut instinct now told him that Atlanta would be his best day as an amateur. Sure enough, he was named victorious in Atlanta, walking away with something he had dreamt of for years…. his IFBB Pro Card!

His career immediately exploded into a massive whirlwind of magazine covers, worldwide guest appearances and the chance to stand next to Lee Haney in a photo shoot taken at Gold’s Gym in Los Angeles, California.

Gary now realized that it would be a just a matter of time before he would have to take the stage in the Mr. Olympia. In 1987, he went to New York and was victorious in his first pro showing – ‘The Night of Champions 1987’ was now his title.

The Night of Champions was one of many pro competitions that Gary would go on to win. In 1988, he made his Mr. Olympia debut, ripped to shreds and took a well-deserved fifth place. Over-dieted and knowing that he was not at his best he went on to mix it up at the 1989 Arnold Classic taking 3rd and followed that one week later with his second pro win, backing it up with three additional pro victories in Europe.

Gary Strydom had arrived and he was being closely watched as he advanced his career by someone with an eye for talent. Rumors began to circulate about a new federation in the works (much like the current PDI) with talk of Vince McMahon, the famous wrestling tycoon, venturing into bodybuilding and creating a new federation of superstars, with none other than Gary Strydom at the top of his list.

In 1990, Vince McMahon launched Bodybuilding Lifestyles magazine followed by the WBF (World Bodybuilding Federation), a new bodybuilding federation with a focus on talent and entertainment. Tom Platz, one of Gary’s boyhood idols, was appointed the WBF’s director of talent development and approached Gary to sign up. In Gary’s mind it was the best business deal that would come his way in bodybuilding and he still beams when he speaks about this period of his life as he cherishes being the only WBF Champion in the history of bodybuilding.

When asked recently about this controversial decision Gary remarked: “I have no regrets, it was a business move. What would you do if a work opportunity was proposed that would pay you 12 times as much money with one-tenth the workload? It was a three year deal with guarantees!” Bodybuilding had never seen that kind of money before. The wrestling czar Vince McMahon had made an offer to Gary that no bodybuilder would have refused, and Gary was the only bodybuilder offered the deal he received. There are rumours of first class plane tickets and VIP treatment, all true according to Gary. “The athletes were well treated, well paid, and happy to have the opportunity and the exposure that Vince was able to provide them.”

He recalls the great show they put on in Atlantic City, “You Can’t Touch This”. “Everyone involved with bodybuilding at that time remembers the show, it was that impressive”. Gary won both shows and Atlantic City was Gary at his best. To this day people reminisce at how they would have liked to have seen Gary and Haney on the same stage that year. In 1992, the WBF show in Long beach was devastated by an extremely poor showing by many of the athletes due to strict drug testing. Gary still gave the crowd a great showing in Long Beach. He says, “If a deal that lucrative came along again, watch others do exactly the same.”

Gary still catches some flack for taking the WBF deal, but simply brushes it off as an opportunity of a lifetime that he alone was offered and took, and hopes that anyone offered a similar deal would be smart enough to take as well. So if there is any confusion about why Gary is back in the IFFB, he’ll be quick to tell you he is a professional bodybuilder and loves to be on stage entertaining the fans and bringing talent to the sport that is his life.

In 1992, fans around the world were disappointed when Gary announced his retirement to focus on his burgeoning California Crazee-Wear clothing business. Many believed they had still not seen the best of Gary and that his exit was premature. But even though he was out of competition and off the stage, Gary was by no means finished with bodybuilding.

Fast forward to May 2006 when, now 46 years of age, Gary pulled off the finest move of his career to date making a mind-blowing comeback at the Colorado Pro, placing 7th and stunning fans and media alike with probably the best form of his life. Gary was back, bigger and better than ever and the bodybuilding world sat up and took notice.

Gary Strydom has reinvented himself unlike any other athlete in the sport of professional bodybuilding. In the twenty years since he first turned pro, countless others have come and gone and faded from memory. How many bodybuilders can claim to display their best form 20 years after turning pro?

Gary feels that bodybuilding has taken a down turn in recent years with athletes not considering lines and conditioning. “You cannot just pack on muscle. It has to be accommodated by what frame you have.” With his 6’ 2” frame, he has the height, the mass looks right on him and he continues to maintain his waistline, “Crazy Coconut” deltoids, and long thick quadriceps. “Today its all about long muscle bellies, nobody looks like me up there,” he continues “Look at the physiques on stage today (especially Denver) so many of them look the same. I am 46 years of age on stage with 26 year old athletes, how many other sports do you see athletes doing this?” He has a point.

It is rare to find a comeback athlete who generates the kind of international frenzy that Gary Strydom’s 2006 appearance made. Denver placed Gary firmly back in the spotlight and once again he was on international magazine covers and inundated with requests to undertake guest appearances and seminars around the globe. It seemed the world had been waiting for a comeback of this calibre and what better man for the job than one of bodybuilding’s most popular and down to earth athletes who ascribes his success to nothing more than hard work, discipline and a focussed approach to achieving his goals.

So massive was the reaction to his return, that Gary had to forego plans to compete again later in 2006 and early 2007 in order to meet international appearance commitments. “Denver was no ‘one night stand’,” he says. “When I said I was back, I meant I was back. I didn’t go to Denver as a once off attempt, just to see how I would do. I am a bodybuilder, it’s my passion and it’s my life. In the years since I retired I’ve never stopped living that lifestyle or training. The comeback was more like the beginning of a new competitive career for me. I had planned to do a couple more shows last year but that didn’t work out. But this year I’ll be back up there on stage again and maybe for good couple of years to come too.”

His competitive plans, combined with managing his two sports clothing businesses – CrazeeWear and Strydom Wear – as well as his recently launched SPS Strydom Professional Series range of supplements spell out a busy year for Gary but judging by Denver, there is no doubt he’ll make an impressive showing wherever he enters this year. While he may be older and wiser, inside still beats the heart of the ambitious 20 year old who boarded a plane in Africa, determined and focussed on becoming one of the world’s best bodybuilders. He did it once, now Gary Strydom is back for round two.

Boddybuilding titles
1983 NPC Florida Championships, Junior – Heavyweight, 1st and Overall
1984 NPC USA Championships, HeavyWeight, 1st
1986 NPC Nationals, HeavyWeight, 1st and Overall
1987 Night of Champions, Winner
1988 Chicago Pro Invitational, 2nd
1988 Mr. Olympia, 5th
1989 Arnold Classic, 3rd
1989 Grand Prix France, 1st
1989 Grand Prix Germany, 2nd
1989 Grand Prix Melbourne, 1st
1989 Grand Prix Spain (2), 2nd
1989 Grand Prix Spain, 2nd
1989 Grand Prix Sweden, 1st
1989 World Pro Championships, 2nd
1990 Grand Prix England, 2nd
1990 Grand Prix Finland, 3rd
1990 Grand Prix France, 2nd
1990 Grand Prix Germany, 4th
1990 Grand Prix Italy, 3rd
1990 Houston Pro Invitational, 2nd
1990 Ironman Pro Invitational, 4th
1991 Night of the Champions
1991 WBF Championships, 1st
1992 WBF Championships, 1st
1996 Night of Champions, 12th
2006 Colorado Pro Championships, 7th

Official website: garystrydom.com

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