Pumping Iron

I have long been a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, ever since seeing his massive biceps and front tooth gap on promotional posters for the Presidential Physical Fitness award back in elementary school. Here was this gigantor dude telling me that if I only did enough pull ups and got to 20 centimeters on the sit-and-reach that I could get a little patch and the President himself would personally come and congratulate me.

I never got the medal. But, many years later, my admiration for Arnold only increased when I saw Terminator 2 in my friend’s basement, and ever since I have had somewhat of an odd admiration for not only the man’s charming ability to anchor a movie but to be a positive influence in the world of physical fitness (a decade of steroid usage in his youth notwithstanding).

However, until recently, I had not seen the movie that launched him from Austrian obscurity to international superstardom: Hercules in New York Pumping Iron. It’s the story of the 1975 My Olympia contestants, one of whom is the five-time defending champion, Mr. Schwarzenegger himself. The documentary follows the paths of a handful of contestants as they rise through the ranks of lower competitions only to end up together in South Africa for the final championship. While I’m no weight lifter, I was very interested in these men who spent hours upon hours every day lifting weights at the gym, with the one goal of winning the bodybuilding competitions. Arnold’s cockiness throughout the film was diffused by his natural charm, and by the end I grew to have a much greater appreciation for the entire bodybuilding scene, but also for the man behind the T-800 makeup.

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