Bronze-Dipped Flash Gordons
The 30th Emerald Cup Bodybuilding Finals
Elaine and Brad Craig met in 1982. Elaine, a glamorous blonde cast from the Vanna White mold, was a bodybuilder. Brad was a novice bodybuilding-event producer. Both owned gyms. In March of 1983, they coproduced their first Emerald Cup. (The following month, they were married in an outdoor ceremony on Maui.) Ever since, Elaine and Brad have been turning their corner of the Pacific Northwest into a big, gloomy muscle beach.
Last Saturday, for the 30th time, Brad and Elaine stepped onstage to introduce the Emerald Cup bodybuilding finals, the culmination of a two-day program at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center. Over four hours, a steady flow of around 200 contestants posed for judges and the crowd in front of a giant LED screen with cartoon flames, pulsing organic shapes, and other computer-generated graphics. At the introduction of each weight class, fresh waves of friends and family bum-rushed the stage, holding babies in their arms or stretching to record shaky cell-phone footage, mothers calling out pet names—"Bubba!"—for their 200-pound sons.
There was also a selection of crowd-pleasing guest posers, including pros from the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness, heavyweights whose thighs I could have zipped open and easily crawled inside of. Also performing was renowned physique artist Russ Testo, who posed, popped-and-locked, and lip- synched his way through Christian soft rock. (Check out his video "Lazarus" online.)
Each Emerald Cup contestant choreographs a 60-second routine, typically to a pop, classic rock, or R&B song. The routines must incorporate required competition poses, including the iconic double-bicep flex and my favorite, the lat spread, which involves opening your back, fanlike, until it resembles the Chevron logo. The posers' faces contorted—teeth grinding, eyes reduced to tiny slits—while they strained with all of their considerable might to get the best possible muscle definition. The occasional contestant beamed a generous smile, showing no strain at all.
Most of the contestants had glossy, borderline- orange skin, which improves the appearance of their muscles under the stage lights. If contestants aren't dark and shiny enough, the judges can't see what they've got. The dark, younger blondes looked like bronze-dipped Flash Gordons, complete with wigs. For a $100 fee, the Emerald Cup offers a backstage tan service, a tan tonic that is a bit closer to stage makeup than a salon spray tan. And it's unstable—orange and brown dewdrops lined the restroom sinks.
Judges also look for "vascularity," the term for those famous bulging veins. (They show that a contestant's body is mostly muscle and doesn't have a cozy layer of subcutaneous fat blanketing the veins.) Cindy Goodrich, who won last year's masters women overall, told me in a phone interview that some bodybuilders swallow a little sugar before walking onstage, to make their veins pop.
Serious competitors must work out every day, typically twice a day. They don't drink or smoke. They eat a very limited diet—lean protein, high-fiber vegetables, lots of sweet potatoes—augmented by supplements and high-density protein sources: bars, powders, four-pound pump bottles of liquid egg whites. Competitor Kurt Hynes told me about putting fish and chicken breasts in his grocery basket, then wandering the snack and beer aisles to gaze at the things he wasn't allowed to touch—food porn.
Four winners in the "overall" competitions on Saturday night went home with "Excalibur" swords that they held in classic Conan poses for photo ops. These real swords looked just right in the hands of individuals who were actually powerful enough to wield them. Goodrich said that swords have been known to nick the toes of the occasional thrilled and momentarily undercautious new owner.