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The Real Story of Tom Platz at the 1981 Mr Olympia

Strength Oldschool

By Joe Brindley

Tom Platz - 1981 Mr Olympia

Muscle & Fitness, November 1986

I met Tom Platz in 1978, just after he had won the Mr. Universe in Acapulco and was beginning his pro career. We became close friends and even though I moved from one region of the country to another, we always kept in touch. During the summer of 1980 I moved back to Los Angeles and resumed my training and association with Tom. He had long been noted for his leg development, and now he had brought his upper region up to match them. Sought by many promoters around the globe and running a prosperous mailorder business, Torn was becoming a successful businessman. He was even wanted by companies for motivational speeches aimed at their employees. These factors, along with a charming girlfriend and some close friends, made Tom Platz a very happy man.

In May of ‘81 my friendship with Tom turned from a close one to a certain brotherhood. He and his girlfriend had just broken up, and the feeling of emptiness inside him was extreme as I visited him the next day.

Tom’s first impulse was to forget about everything except getting back with her, even the Mr. Olympia. If he couldn’t, then he would go back to Pittsburgh and train there. But these thoughts lasted only a short time be- fore reality set it. This was his world. He couldn’t leave it any more than a lion could leave his beloved veld.

I began visiting him each night after work and we would talk for hours about what he was to do and which way his life would turn. The turning point came in Oakland that following week where Tom gave a seminar. At the seminar the energy his fans exuded gave Tom the self-confidence and courage to carry on, no matter what the obstacles. From that day he has proclaimed his fans the major factor in his success.

On his return from Oakland, his apartment was converted into a training camp – no furniture, no television or radio, nothing but food, Weider supplements, Ben-Gay and thoughts of the Mr. Olympia. Oh, yes, one more added accessory – me.

I guess you could say I became Tom’s professional spotter as well as chief motivator. He became such a machine of intensity, just spotting him was harder than any workout I’d ever had. Even though his ex-girlfriend and her new beau worked out at the same time and place as he did, he would not be deterred.

He used his personal hurt to fuel an engine that didn’t know what quitting was. Veterans and beginners alike at Gold’s and World Gym would stare in amazement at this young man who was actually transforming himself into a bodybuilding machine right before their eyes. It was then I heard him make the statement that would be- come his trademark: “Joe, I’m gonna win the Mr. Olympia or die trying.”

Win Olympia or Die Trying - Tom Platz

He had many choices in life. He could have a 9-to-5 job, a raise here and there, a boss barking orders at him. Instead of living for the weekends as far too many of us do, he chose to live for a solitary moment, the moment he would win the Mr. Olympia. His philosophy centered around Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a tale of a seagull who knew there was more to life than just existing, who reached out and found that inside himself was the key to his meaning in life, a key we all have.

As for myself at this time, training with Tom I felt like Don Knotts attempting the seven labors of Hercules. Every morning we arose at 5 a.m., ate our bananas and honey, drank our coffee, cracked his back, taped his ankle, which was severely sprained, and then headed for the gym. After a three- hour workout (Platz-style), Tom felt the positive energy that the session had given him. I felt like I had just returned from Iwo Jima.

During the evenings, while I was at work, Tom would do his aerobic work with our good friend Tom Dunn, whom we call Tee for identification purposes. With Tee doing the business managing and myself the spotting, we became what Tom called “the team; he to carry the ball and we to be the interference.

Roy Callender

Tom wasn’t the only machine in the area, though. Over at World there were two men with the same goal as Tom: Canada’s superb Roy Callender, whose smoldering silence and gut-wrenching workouts had everyone wondering if he wasn’t to be crowned the next Mr. Olympia, and Franco Columbu, who after a five-year layoff was trying to duplicate Arnold’s comeback performance of a year ago. Both men are superb athletes and forces to be reckoned with in any contest.

1981 Mr Olympia - Franco Columbu Vs Tom Platz and Danny Padilla

Any worries we had about Franco ended about three weeks before the show, when Tom and the former Mr. Olympia had a playful posedown at World Gym. It was evident and agreed by all present that Platz possessed the superior physique. Only Roy Callender had been quiet during the posing, and one could see a faint grin on his ebony face as he strode back to the weights in preparation for the battle to come. What a battle that would be.

Soon the word was out that the new champion of physique would be the young man from Michigan. Even Arnold was amazed by Tom, and soon became very helpful to Tee and myself on backstage preparations, since we would be helping Tom there.

Tom Platz backstage at the 1981 Olympia

As the contest grew closer, Tom’s diet became stricter and his injuries worse. Along with his back and ankle problems he had developed a soreness in one knee that forced him to wear a knee wrap while squatting (it was the first time he had ever worn one). His ankle required half a roll of medical tape before it was stable enough for support. As for the pain, well, he could live with that. Tom would strain so hard that red circles would form around his eyes from closing them so tight. But it was all paying off, as he became more chiseled each day. Gym Members were beginning to wonder if he was really human.

He never thought any more of his competition. Now he was competing against the only foe he ever had, the only one we all have, ourselves. Tom was in fantastic shape on the day of our departure for Columbus. His last week of special dieting had added the final touches to his physique, so he resembled what he had only dreamed of years before. He proved that dreams do come true!

1981 Mr Olympia

The day of the contest, Tom had the heat in his hotel room as high as possible to keep his body warm and the water away.

His only visitors were his folks, Tee and myself. When it was time to leave for the auditorium, Tom, dressed in a yellow World Gym suit, was extremely confident and relaxed. Upon our arrival we were welcomed by a thousand screaming fans. They followed him everywhere, some wishing him luck, others shouting their loyalty and support. Backstage we secured a private dressing room and began our plan of action. Life backstage was one of excitement, confusion and 17 of the best bodies in the world. While Zane, Mentzer and Coe had decided to stay out of this year’s competition, the audience was not cheated.

Chris Dickerson, Samir Bannout, Tom Platz and the other stars present were enough to quench any farts appetite. Arnold prowled backstage, cool and efficient. Though he was busy with the technical staging and order of events, he was always available to help.

In the dressing room Tom oiled up and began doing push-ups, awaiting his moment. Tee and I took turns running out to see what was happening with the contest. Over the P.A. system we heard Johnny Fuller introduced, and we realized that the battle had begun.

1981 Mr Olympia - Danny Padilla

I went out to watch the next competitor and was shocked. Before me was an unreal Danny Padilla. Never had I seen him in such shape. I began to worry now. He was going to give Tom quite a fight. I returned to the room saying that Padilla looked “okay”; what an understatement!

Samir Bannout, Steve Davis and a cast of other stars followed Padilla, but none matched the quality of the Giant Killer. Not until an extraordinary giant appeared. Silent but deadly, Roy Callender sauntered onstage brimming with confidence. Then, as he began his routine, the tape of his music broke. The theater staff tried to fix it, but to no avail. Roy decided to pose in silence, but silence wasn’t what he received. A thousand fans showed their appreciation by screaming his name as he posed. Where I was worried before about Padilla, I was doubly worried now.

Franco was number 11 and his classical music seemed to have everyone a little befuddled. it just didn’t seem to fit him. That, along with his obvious lack of leg muscularity, made him seem destined for fifth or sixth place.

Franco Columbu - Posing at 1981 Mr Olympia

Any worries I had at this point were soon eliminated. It was Tom’s turn to come on. Tom, Tee and myself were more than ready when they called out Tom’s number. Since we “happened” to have a couple bottles of wine at our disposal and three glasses, we promptly toasted each other and drank down the crisp liquid. As we walked out of the dressing room I picked up a contestant’s number off the floor. It was number one; I gave it to Tom, for if anyone was first today it was he.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Platz!” The crowd greeted him with a thunderous ovation, the all-American boy, one of their own. From the Midwest he had come to the land of sunshine and movie stars to become the best in bodybuilding . He had started out with no money. He had actually fed himself by breaking open packages of food in the grocery stores and munching on the sneak. Now he was flexing his body for all the world to see.

Tom Platz Posing at 1981 Mr Olympia

As he posed, the crowd began chanting his name so loud that you could not even hear his posing music. Not since the days of Larry Scott had an audience ever given themselves to one contestant, and he gave them just as much in return.

During the contest one could tell who the top six would be. To say what order was a question only the judges could answer. Soon the six were brought out: Chris Dickerson, Padilla, Callender, Jusup Wilkosz, Columbu, and Tom. It seemed obvious that they were the six best. What we weren’t prepared for is what happened next. The proud German Wilkosz was declared sixth, which seemed appropriate. He was not in his best shape; that was evident. The first boos were heard when fifth place went to none other but the Giant Killer himself, Padilla. With a disgruntled shake of his head and the sound of his fans booing his placement, he left the Mr. Olympia stage and disappeared into the darkness.

This was only the beginning, as we all were to realize. Next to go was Callender. Boos turned to shouts and curses. Only three men were left. Tee and I watched them from the wings as third place was announced: “Tom Platz! ” No! I couldn’t move. How could this be possible? Platz and Callender were by far the best individuals on the stage. I watched as Tom raised Franco’s hand as he was announced the winner. Dickerson walked stoically past me, mumbling, “This is terrible.” Out in the audience it was bedlam, as coins and other objects were thrown on the stage. Joe Weider left the theater as Franco Columbu jumped into the air joyfully.

Arnold and Franco Columbu at 1981 Mr Olympia

Franco Columbu and Wife Anita - 1981 Mr Olympia

I followed my friend back into the dressing room. Once inside, both Tee and I cursed the judging. Only Tom was quiet. “I wanted this so badly,” he kept saying softly. Then he looked up at us and made a statement that showed he was truly a champion that day.

“All right, it’s over, I lost. Now we’re gonna leave this place with our heads high! Let’s go and keep smiling. It’s not the end of the world!”

Outside, hundreds of people were chanting Tom’s name, and when they saw him they rushed toward him to once more show their loyalty. They knew he had lost the contest, but they were also aware that, win or lose, he was a champion, their champion. I watched my friend being engulfed by his fans as if they were sort of protecting him, and in a way they were, Where only moments before he had felt defeat, now he felt victory. His fans are more than just fans to him. They are his friends.

Tom Platz - Thank You to All My Fans

* If you're a huge fan of Tom Platz and want some bodybuilding motivation, check out this video...



Keep training hard folks!

Strength Oldschool

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