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Acting Like His Idol - From Bodybuilding to the Movies, Gunter Schlierkamp Style
“Arnold will always be the best, but maybe I can become the first Gunter Schlierkamp.”
When you are following in your idol’s footsteps, it is an attitude like that which will get you places. Called the “Gentle Giant,” bodybuilder Gunter Schlierkamp has taken a break from the stage to give the silver screen a try.
To do so, he had to get down from his competition weight of over 300 pounds to around 275. After being in a few commercials and small television parts, Schlierkamp was cast in “Beerfest,” a successful 2006 comedy, and the soon-to-be-released “Sex, Blood and Fights” from Lions Gate.
“The producer actually saw me in the gym and asked me if I can play a villain,” said Schlierkamp. “I was like, ‘Of course.’ I filmed a good fight scene that took about eight hours. I was so sore, more than I’ve ever been in my life.”
If Schlierkamp ever longs for his old contest days, they are not that far behind him, last competing in the 2006 Mr. Olympia. Heading into the 2005 Olympia, Schlierkamp felt that he was ready to become a force to be reckoned with.
“I was dieting and looked proportioned and had good symmetry,” he said about a show that he would place fourth in. “Even Ronnie (Coleman) and Jay (Cutler) said to me following the show that I looked really good and they thought that I would come after them. My idol Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the show and came backstage and said to me, ‘I can’t believe that they didn’t put you second or third.’
“(I thought) it was a little bit of a smack down because I felt that I could have done at least two placings better.”
Schlierkamp views second or fourth as “bad placings.” “If you’re fourth, you’re not in the top three and if you’re second, you’re the runner-up and not winning. It seemed at the Olympia they never let me enter the top three.”
Schlierkamp felt that even if he continued to compete for a number of years that he would never receive a legitimate shot at the Mr. Olympia title and thus would be wasting his time. That is when he made a decision to give Hollywood a try.
“For me, I always wanted to get into acting,” he said. “Finally I came down (in weight) and looked more athletic, which they actually ask of if you want to do movies. I think I’ll go this route for a while because I don’t want to go on bodybuilding for another 10 years then try to do the transition then because it will be too late.
“In bodybuilding, I was kind of up (there) and people knew me, at least in the industry,” Schlierkamp went on. “And now you start acting and the acting world is a little different. People say, ‘Who are you?’”
That has never been a problem for Schierkamp in his native Germany, where he has legendary status. He began competing at the age of 18 and “won every show you can think of.”
He still finds it amazing the way he is revered in the ‘Father Land.’ “It’s funny. As a kid you always dream that you want to be the best and then all of a sudden people call you the most successful German bodybuilder of all time,” Schlierkamp remarked. “That is just an amazing achievement to hear that people appreciate what you do and they see the hard work you put in.”
He took the top spot in the 1990 German Championships, 1992 European Amateur Championship, 1992 German Championship and 1993 World Amateur Championship, which earned him his pro card.
“After that show in Seoul, South Korea, I’m thinking that I must be in the right sport,” said Schlierkamp.
After a disappointing 19th place finish in the 1994 Mr. Olympia, Schlierkamp finished as the runner-up to “King” Coleman at the 1995 Canada Pro Cup. “That was a great experience,” he said. “And then once I started competing here in the states, I had a little bit of a harder time, but it all worked out in the end.”
His initial contest in America was the 1996 Arnold Classic, in which Schlierkamp finished in 11th place. A year later, he moved to America and was living in a factory building in New Jersey, but “It was too cold,” he remembered and made his way to California. “Everybody told me that if you want to make it in bodybuilding, you have to move here.”
Besides the perfect weather, Schlierkamp had his vision set on the west coast for another reason. “I also wanted to be near (Joe) Weider and Weider publications, too.” His strategy of choosing a home state apparently worked for him. “When I came over here to California, Joe saw my potential and saw the marketability and since then I’m actually a Weider athlete,” Schlierkamp proudly recalled. “For me, that’s a great company and kind of a family to me. I think that Weider made a lot happen for me.
“Joe put me in the magazines and that’s why I got the coverage. It helped me get into (television) commercials and stuff like that. I have to thank Joe for a lot of that.”
Schlierkamp continued to compete in numerous shows each year both in the United States and abroad, such as the Mr. Olympia, Night of the Champions, Ironman Pro Invitational, San Jose Pro Invitational, Grand Prix Finland, Grand Prix Germany and others. His highest placing as a professional in that nine-year period came when he took fifth in the 2002 Mr. Olympia. Before the year was out, Schlierkamp made a name for himself in grand fashion.
Going against a field that included Coleman (who was the reigning Mr. Olympia), current Mr. O Dexter Jackson, Lee Priest, Johnnie Jackson (making his pro debut) and Chris Cormier at the inaugural GNC “Show of Strength” in New Orleans, the young German had perhaps his finest moment on the stage.
It was obvious from the crowd reaction and posedown call-outs that the championship would be between Schlierkamp and Coleman. Once the announcement was made that Schlierkamp had in fact defeated one of the greatest bodybuilders in history, his emotions overcame him and the 305-pound behemoth shed tears of joy.
This may not have been possible without the help of one of the most respected trainers in the business. “The name Charles Glass, I knew that already in Germany from the magazines,” he recalled. “He was training Flex Wheeler and he worked with so many professional athletes and they all have done really well. I always wanted to train with him.
“Up until then, I was pretty much training on my own,” continued Schlierkamp. To me I had to prove myself to Charles. I was with him for a while and one time at the Arnold Classic people were coming up to me and saying, ‘How did you get in this condition? You should have been up there,’ meaning on stage with the other competitors.”
In his next two Olympias, Schlierkamp once again cracked the top six, repeating his fifth place finish from the previous year and then dropping back one spot in 2004. Then he set his sights on training a full year for the 2005 Olympia, where he finished in the aforementioned disappointing fourth slot.
Schlierkamp admitted that frustration set in from that show and that affected his preparation for the next Mr. Olympia. “In 2006, my motivation was kind of gone a little bit and it messed with my head,” he said. “And on top of that, I had an injury that I had to deal with. I still went to the show. I know if other people had to deal with what I had (to), they probably would have said, ‘Hey, I’m not doing it.’ Because some people did before and I still managed to go on stage.
“I wasn’t quite as sharp from the front, but I still don’t think that I deserved 10th place. That kind of showed me that if I slip a little bit, I always got thrown so far back it was hard to really move up again. It kind of felt that I got pushed really far away. I always got sympathy from the crowd but I guess the crowd is not judging.”
Even if he does not compete again, Schlierkamp seems to be content with that and to move on with the acting portion of his life. He is happily married to Kim Lyons, a personal trainer who was on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Even with no contest diets to worry about in the near future, it is a far cry from cheating with junk food in the couple’s Hermosa Beach home.
“You have no idea,” Schlierkamp said with a laugh. “I’m the kind of guy that has a little stash of M&Ms or Gummy Bears somewhere in the house. She’ll ask me why I eat those type of things, so I’ll lift up my shirt and show her my abs. Then she tells me that I would look so much better if I didn’t eat that.
“She’s always on me but I tell you what, she’s the love of my life.”
He may have one love of his life, but Gunter Schlierkamp is doing a good job of following in his idol’s footsteps.
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