2003 Masters Olympia Gallery & Report

Photos courtesy Mike Emery and used with permission.

2003 Masters Olympia Videos

The Ninth Annual Joe Weider’s Masters Mr. Olympia

Held in Charlotte, North Carolina with the 2003 Jan Tana Classic
August 15, 2003 (Prejudging)
August 16, 2003 (Evening Show)

The annual summer showcase for IFBB men over age 40 was part of a three-day series of competitions for professional and amateur bodybuilders.  The Masters Olympia is the last show of the year offering a contest winner the chance to compete in the upcoming Mr. Olympia, so it’s a desirable show to appear in.  Twenty-seven men travelled around the globe to be in the Masters O this year; ten had done the 2002 show, so plenty of new competitors were on display.  This show lets foreign pros little known in the US appear before an American crowd, and it’s exciting to see them.  (Some of the foreign BB’s have moved to the US, and were listed as “US” even though they’re not American citizens.)

Jan Tana always puts on a fun show.  This year’s theme was “Go Beach’n.”  The stage in the beautiful Belk Theatre — part of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Centre — had palm trees and a cabana on it, with a few beach chairs strewn about.  The decor created a “sun and sand” mood without dominating the proceedings.  The addition of a new IFBB pro figure division for women this year caused the promoters to split the pro competition into two parts for both the prejudging and evening show; the Masters Olympia was paired with the pro fitness women, while the pro women’s bodybuilding and pro figure shows were a separate event.  Few fans care equally about both men’s and women’s shows, so half the attendees were bored while the part of the show they hadn’t come to see went on.  That’s the way it has to be, though.  The Masters Olympia can’t support a separate show, and its affiliation with the Jan Tana Classic makes it possible to stage.


Judging on Friday evening started about 15 minutes late at 8:20, but was efficient and businesslike after that.  The 28 fitness women went first, and men’s judging began at 9:06.  There were two rounds in the prejudging, with several activities in round one.  The masters men were first brought out in groups of four or five, in the order matching the numbered tags on their posing suits, till all 27 men had appeared.  The most difficult foreign names the head judge (Jim Rockell) didn’t even try to pronounce, using first names for those men.  Quarter turns established who they would later be compared with: those at the front, middle or rear of the pack.  Initial impressions are hard to shake, even if someone comes back the next night in better condition (as a few did).  The audience hunkered down to get a good look at the competition, with fans shouting out instructions and support to their guys in the lineup.

The first round continued as all competitors came out and spread across two long tiered risers.  With 27 beefed-out men onstage, it looked full.  Orchestra members bring their instruments onto this stage in concert season, but their bodies were these men’s instruments.  Some were in the best shape of their lives.

Call-outs for quarter-turn comparisons began, with early rounds going to the men the judges took most seriously.  Often the men called out were asked to change positions, so each could be judged in relation to the others.  In some callouts, one or two were replaced while the others stayed in front; other times, a new slate of names were announced, or one was added.  Here are the ten callouts in this round (far fewer than the 22 used at last year’s show):

1) Groulx, Hawk, Stewart, Stafford
2) Hawk, Stafford, Stewart, Bistocchi, Turmon
3) Hawk, Bistocchi, Turmon, Marquez, Menig
4) Baccianini, Audi, Palumbo, Marshall, Dwyer
5) Giurgi, Apperson, Grosso, Samimy
6) Rac, Brown, Mihailescu, Pedone
7) Delczeg, Frydrych, Jones, Diaz, Leonard, Cironte
8) Groulx, Stafford, Stewart
9) Stafford, Stewart, Turmon
10) Stafford, Stewart, Turmon, Hawk

 Mandatory poses completed the first round.  Here, the men came out in twos (except for the first group, which had three) and did a series of set poses: front lat spread, front double bicep, side chest, back double bicep, back lat spread, side tricep, abs/thighs (with hands behind the head). Their original  order determined the groups (1/2/3, 4/5, 6/7, etc.).  It was easier to notice differences of build by going two at a time.  I got my best sense of the competitors during this part of the prejudging.  While they’re not supposed to be doing posedowns here, sometimes one started trying to show up the other, who would react in turn.  The last pair to go was Marquez and Stewart, who bounced around each other till the judge asked, “You guys dancing or what?”


The evening show started Saturday about half an hour late, at 8:05, to a reggae rendition of “Under the Boardwalk.”  Jan Tana began a night of frequent remembrances with a tribute to “a special friend of bodybuilding” who had just passed away: Gregory Hines.  

Then MC Tim Wilkins took over, dapper and silver-tongued as ever, announcing the women’s fitness routines for the next hour.  Wilkins was unobtrusive till the judges needed him to buy them time, and then he came alive.  His jokes are like a fitness routine themselves, bouncing off the walls and cracking everyone up. 

At one point he stopped and said, “I love this gig,” and being a BB himself, he matched the crowd in the room.  Unlike the judges, he had no problem with the exotic names, nailing them exactly.  He said he’d practiced one name for two days.

Last year, all competitors were ranked from 1st to 26th; this year, the rankings went from 1st to 17th, with everyone after that being given an unranked 18th place.  I will indicate the rankings as I go.


Alberto Bistocchi (Varese) went first with a graceful, old-fashioned routine directed strictly at the judges.  Not huge, Bistocchi (“Bee-STO-key”) had balance and hit shots well. He was noticed, taking 7th.

The music for the second competitor, Josef Rac, wouldn’t play, so he was shifted to the end of the list.

Next was Lawrence Marshall (Trinidad), a monster who’s big in all key body-parts. Never still, he posed sharply and quickly to heavy metal music.  He projected what he had well, and was ranked 13th.

Leon Brown (US) followed with a brief routine. A veteran BB who “trained with Arnold at Venice Beach,” as Wilkins noted, Brown has some beef and is still living his dream.  He earned 17th place, well up from last year. 

Mauro Grosso (Italy) had a bald android look, with sinuous moves and a tight build, strong in the abs.  He’s a masters champ in his native Italy, and was an unranked 18th here.

Joe Palumbo (US) returned after a top-ten showing at this contest last year.  Always playing on his New York SWAT-team work, Palumbo did an extended routine complete with sirens, whistles and policeman’s band radio bulletins.

His thick back is his main virtue, but he’s too stationary onstage.  He took 9th, just like last year.

Cristian-Ovidiu Mihailescu (Romania) was the best new bodybuilder I saw at this show.  Not big, he had a strong build and a great look. He posed in geometric patterns, playing to the crowd.  I think he has potential in the over-50 category at this show.  He was unranked at 18th.

Behnam Samimy (US, but previously in Iran, Denmark and Canada) returned with improved legs.  A natural in front of a crowd, Samimy has timing and flexibility, always bringing the roof down by performing the splits.  He went up to 16th this year, the most improved of anyone who carried over from last year’s show.

Dayo Audi (UK) followed, another monster with excellent legs, arms, and waist.  He was exciting to watch as he played to the crowd, and is a serious contender for BB awards. Here he took 11th, but I would have said higher.

Jim Pedone (Australia) returned after last year’s debut at this show, looking even leaner than before. He offered a straightforward routine, projecting a fitness build to the crowd.  He was unranked at 18th.

William Leonard (Australia) looks like a munchkin who found the Wicked Witch’s whey protein stash.  Shorter than Flavio, Leonard still packs on the muscle and has tight abs shown off with slow, smooth moves.  He was unranked at 18th.  

Flavio Baccianini (US, previously in Italy) is a crowd favourite.  His routine was new this year, but he brought the house down with his usual striptease moves.  While very short, he has no distortion of body parts; he just looks reduced, like a “Fantastic Voyage” experiment stopped in progress. He’s gone as high as 2nd in this show two times, but managed 10th this year (with a posing award noted below).

Honore Cironte (Spain/Canary Islands) is a trademark over-60 figure at this show. As he came out, Wilkins quipped, “The man started lifting at the Flintstones gym.” As usual he had a solid upper body (with striated pecs), but his legs suffered.  The pounding music he used was headache inducing.  He was unranked at 18th.

Roy Menig (Holland) was an exciting new competitor at this show.  With the sharpest shoulder-to-waist dimensions onstage, he also had fantastic arms and abs, hitting poses hard and getting the crowd to support him. He was worth flying in to see, and took 8th. With more size, he could be top five in this show.  

Greg Dwyer (Australia) was new to the show this year, with a dramatic and highly choreographed routine.  A middleweight, he was outsized by others, but had solid shape.  He took 12th. 

Nicolae Giurgi (Hungary) took 6th in this show in 2000, and 16th last year.  He didn’t look good during prejudging, but had his shape by the evening show and, as always, offered a terrific routine.  He enjoys being onstage as much as anyone I’ve seen up there, never losing his smile and always playing to the audience.  Instead of bouncing his pecs like last year, this time he dusted off his quads. He took 14th place.

Lee Apperson (US) looked like he’d just walked out of a “Men’s Fitness” magazine cover photo shoot.  He posed well, but his toothpaste smile and model looks lost him any distinctiveness.  He took 8th in this show two years ago, falling to 15th this year.

Darryl Stafford (US) was great to see in a dramatic routine.  Clearly a contender from the moment he hit the stage, the question was only how high he would go. With great shape and dramatic posing, he easily placed in the top five.  I liked him a lot.

Dave Hawk (US) returned after taking 4th in this show last year.  He brought with him a large red-T-shirted cheering squad that screamed whenever he moved.  He dedicated his routine to his father, who died eight years ago to the day.  His routine was somewhat flat, mainly projecting some very good abs. I thought he looked a bit sharper last year. He was in the top five.

Emeric Delczeg (US, previously in Romania)has been in this show several times, going as high as 7th in previous years.  He was one of my favourites in last year’s show, but he didn’t peak this year and we had to be satisfied with his excellent routine.  He was unranked at 18th. 

Stan Frydrych (now a US citizen, previously in Poland) took the over-50 award last year, and looks like an overgrown kid having the time of his life onstage.  He uses poses that show off his huge torso, hiding his relatively weaker legs by kneeling a lot.  He was unranked at 18th.            

George Turmon (US) was a late entrant, having just won the NPC Masters Nationals a month before this show and so qualifying as an IFBB pro.  Turmon has transparent skin, great lines, huge shoulders and legs, tight abs, and beautiful posing.  He needs to balance his body parts, but considering he had a hip replaced last year, he’s doing incredible work onstage.  He was easily in the top five, and has a shot at winning this show when he can train specifically for it.

Claude Groulx (US, previously in Canada) caused a sensation at this show.  People laughed when he

walked out — not at him, but at the notion that anyone could beat him.  A unreconstructed BB monster,

Groulx looked ready to blast off, working the crowd with a professional routine well beyond what

anyone else brought to the table.  He aced the top five without breaking a sweat.                      

From the sublime to . . . Ken Jones (US), who dedicated his routine to Darrem Charles’s mother, tragically

killed last year.  He began by imitating a piano player, then went into stunts reminiscent of a trained seal.

After an eternity of that, he refused to stop.  Getting a hat for a prop, he did an elaborate dance to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean.”  Even the judges couldn’t keep straight faces.  He was unranked at 18th.

Rafael Vera Diaz (Spain) was a pleasant surprise. Unknown in the US, he brought a strong compact build to the show.  A superb poser, he needs more size to be competitive in the overall division, but might knock fellow Spaniard Cironte out of the over-60 award in a couple years.  I liked him a lot. He was unranked at 18th.

Juan Marquez (US, previously in Spain), was a late entrant, not even in the program. He’d left the show last year due to injury, so it was great to see him in such excellent shape, with a great torso and terrific posing. The judges noticed him, giving him 6th place. (In a side note, Marquez won the first amateur show Jan Tana promoted in 1988.)          

Johnny Stewart (US, and from Charlotte) had a huge fan base cheering his every move.  In his pro debut, Stewart showed what he had: abs, shoulders, unbelievable legs, and a wide back.  Posing dynamically, he won over people in the audience who had come to support someone else.  He easily made the top five.

Josef Rac (Czech Republic) now had working music (Queen’s “We Are the Champions”) and went last.  He posed well, showing off his tight build to good advantage.  He just didn’t have the size to be competitive here.  He was unranked at 18th.

While the fitness women were rejudged, some of the masters men came back into the audience to wait for the men’s awards.  When the men’s part started up again, the awards for over 50 and 60 went first.  Those in that age range came back out — Brown, Mihailescu, Delczeg, Frydrych, Cironte, and Diaz — and they did mandatories and then a posedown.  Diaz, who speaks no English, had to be herded around — and he watched others to see what the judges wanted.  For the over-60 award, brand new IFBB pro Richard Jones gave it to Honore Cironte.  Then Shawn Ray gave the over-50 award to Rafael Vera Diaz, which justified a long flight across the Atlantic.

At this point Jan Tana received the IFBB Silver Medal for her many contributions to the bodybuilding and fitness industry.  Rob Wilkins, special assistant for the IFBB and the stage manager for the prejudging and evening show, handed her the well-deserved award.

Before the show, Shawn Ray announced that he would put up a special $1000 prize for best posing routine by a pro masters competitor.  He now gave the posing award to Flavio Baccianini, a popular choice.  Baccianini couldn’t resist going down into the audience to celebrate his prize with us.  Everyone hooted, of course. 

After the pro women’s fitness award was given out (won by Tracey Greenwood), the top five masters men were brought back out: Stafford, Hawk, Turmon, Groulx, and Stewart.  They were rejudged in quarter turns, with a lot of yelling from the crowd.  Then a posedown was requested, which gave the audience something to scream about while the judges crunched numbers.

It was an exciting moment when the final rankings were announced: George Turmon got 5th (with a lot of booing for that placing), David Hawk got 4th (the same ranking as last year), Darryl Stafford got 3rd (which also got boos, as some had him higher), Johnny Stewart got 2nd (a popular win for the local favourite), and Claude Groulx decisively took 1st place.  Since he had already qualified for the Mr. Olympia earlier this year, this win didn’t add anyone to the Olympia lineup.  It should next year, with newly tightened IFBB Olympia qualifying rules.

It was great to see Groulx in person.  Like the Grand Canyon, no photo can do justice to a build like his — or anyone else’s in a show of this quality.  Get to a pro bodybuilding show in person if you can; there’s nothing like it.

Mike Emery, September 2003