It’s always the legs that go first. Standing on the Mr. Olympia stage after a 13-year absence on Saturday night, 52-year-old International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness legend Kevin Levrone proved that hackneyed, but actually quite accurate, phrase to be true. “Most muscular,” called judge Steve Weinberger, and Levrone duly obliged. The chest popped, the deltoids bulged and the arms curled into an utterly ferocious crab-like form, the skin so thin it clung like clingfilm to the muscles and the veins so protruded you could see the blood squirming through them. Even as the oldest competitor on stage, genetic-freak Levrone was doing battle with the big boys.
In bodybuilding, your eyes are always drawn to the best bits. If you don’t notice the back, chances are it’s not worth looking at. Aiming and expecting to claim his sixth consecutive Sandow, five-time Mr. Olympia champion Phil Heath hit a back double-biceps and it was lights out. The triceps hung like icicles from his biceps, the lats seemed to pull back and then spit out like a cobra and a deep canyon shaped like a Christmas tree formed between the bulges that piled so perfectly on top of one another. But without the peeled glutes and shredded hamstrings propping him up, first place would have been impossible for the Seattleite. There wasn’t a muscle on him that went unnoticed.
Sadly for Levrone, the legs had gone. There was nothing there. Just two blunt, underdeveloped slabs of meat weathered by age. There’s nothing Levrone could have done to reverse the process, and there’s nothing 36-year-old Heath will be able to do when age eventually begins to creep up on him. The mind may still be there pushing you into the most gruesome, full-blooded workouts you’ve ever completed, but when the body is done it’s done. Phil Heath finished 1st in the 2016 Mr. Olympia. Kevin Levrone placed 16th.
For four years now, the Mr. Olympia competition has been such a one-way affair that the return of a legend, regardless of the shape they were in, was what it needed to keep attracting an audience. Heath would no doubt win again, but it would be fascinating to see how Levrone fared as a 52-year-old on a stage he used to share with perhaps the best bodybuilder of all time Ronnie Coleman. Preparing for a Champions League semi-final clash with Real Madrid in April, Manchester City needed the returning Vincent Kompany to stand any chance of reaching the final in Milan.
Before last night, Kompany had not played a minute of football for City since limping off in that 0-0 draw with Madrid after just nine minutes. The captain had already suffered four calf injuries in the 2015/2016 campaign before leaving Nicolás Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala to fend for themselves against the 10-time European Champions and the harrowing feeling was that Vinnie had played his last game for the club with the ruthless Pep Guardiola set to take charge and send him on his way.
Not even Guardiola is completely immune to sentiment, however. For all that Kompany has done for this club, for all the times his agent has kept his trap shut and, more crucially, the ability he has when fit, Pep felt the 30-year-old deserved one final chance to prove the injury troubles were behind him and he got it in City’s 2-1 EFL Cup win over Swansea City on Wednesday night. Kompany looked himself again, sniffing out attacks, muscling out his opponents and even drilling a 40-yard pearler into the feet of Leroy Sané from just outside our own area. This was a breeze for, when fit, the best central defender in the Premier League.
But what happens when the breeze turns into a gale force wind? What happens when Kompany is forced into exerting himself more strenuously? When a last-ditch lunge is required to prevent a goal or a 50-yard sprint is needed to track down a free man, what will Kompany do? I don’t mean to patronise but these are legitimate questions that Guardiola will have asked this summer. He got a definitive answer in the 89th minute of this game as the skipper headed straight for the tunnel after over-stretching for Gylfi Sigurðsson’s consolation goal. City are yet to announce the full extent of Kompany’s latest set-back but it feels like we’re all waiting for the inevitable here. And even if it’s good news, the likelihood is that it’s going to happen again further down the line.
There has been criticism for Guardiola after deciding to give Kompany a full 90 minutes. For me, the manager’s decision was telling. If Kompany could not see out 90 minutes in a relatively gentle League Cup fixture then would he be of use to Guardiola in more challenging fixtures over the course of the season? If Kompany is going to be used this term, he’s not going to be used as a bit part player if he’s in peak physical condition. Thirty minutes at the end of the game therefore would give the manager no real indication of whether the defender was ready. Ninety minutes would, and unfortunately, Kompany only confirmed Guardiola’s fears to be true.
Guardiola was aware of Kompany’s situation before he arrived in Manchester and ensured City would not be left mourning the Belgian’s absence for the umpteenth time by bringing in John Stones and almost securing the signing of Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte. The Kompany injury saga, although distressing for the supporter, had become farcical and Pellegrini’s team were in no position to cope without him. One of Guardiola’s priorities this season has been to ensure that City no longer need Kompany to succeed, and with Stones, Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov playing so well in the heart of the defence, there was no guarantee that Kompany would slot straight back into the side even if he had managed to flush out his injury problems once and for all. The big man will certainly hope he can return to regular football, otherwise he may have to rely on a casino promo code or two for future earnings after football.
Mr. Olympia 2017 will yet again rely on the comeback of a legend to attract viewing figures, but Manchester City are now suitably prepared for life without Vincent Kompany. Like Levrone, the mind is there, but the legs have gone.