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Good Things Come in Small Packages
5’4” Kevin English Stands Tall in Competition
Most athletes have the luxury of something called an ‘offseason.’ You know, the winter in baseball and the spring for football. A time of the year to recover from all the hard work that you put in. That is the case in most sports.
Not in bodybuilding, which is a 12 month, seven day a week commitment. To prepare for a competition, especially one with the magnitude of Mr. Olympia, there isn’t a day to waste. There has to be a meticulous plan in place to look right, and that consists of not only proper training, but diet and rest, as well.
This is something that the 34-year-old Kevin English is well aware of.
THE ENGLISH CHANNEL
English carries a lot of mass when bulking up for a competition and has to get down approximately 70 pounds to his contest weight of what he describes as “a little over 200.” Not a small feat, by any stretch of the imagination.
“Usually when people see me on stage they think that I’m about 20 pounds heavier,” the 5’4” Great Neck, New York native said. No wonder with the mass that he possesses. Using more than just his body, English can take it to another level psychologically. “I’m always mentally focused,” he said. “[I] have a positive mental mindset and never let anything negative enter my head.”
11 YEARS AND COUNTING
Last year made it a full decade of competing for English. He was victorious in his first two tries in 1998 as a middleweight at both the Junior Nationals and National Bodybuilding and Fitness Championships, the latter earning him his Pro Card. English then finished in 14th place at the 2000 IFBB Night of the Champions in his maiden voyage in professional waters. He did not make another appearance on the stage until six years later when he once again finished out of the money at number 17 in the 2006 New York Pro.
ACCENTING THE ‘POWER’ IN POWERHOUSE
English trains at Bev Francis’ Powerhouse Gym in Syosset. The former female bodybuilder and powerlifter runs a place that local lifters are honored to work out at, and she is also a promoter for the New York Pro, the contest in which English finished second overall (first in the Under 202), giving him his Olympia qualifier.
Over the years, the Long Island gym has been frequented by names such as Victor Martinez, Branch Warren, current Mr. Olympia Dexter Jackson, former Mr. Olympias Dorian Yates, Ron Coleman and Jay Cutler, Triple H of the WWE, NFL stars Jumbo Elliot, Kerry Jenkins and Shannon Sharpe as well as countless others.
“Bev’s gym is the best gym on the planet,” English stated in his testimonial on Bev Francis’ website. “I would never train anywhere else.”
Francis put herself on the map back in the mid-1980s and was recognized as the first female bodybuilder that was able to take it to the next level by possessing more mass than previously seen on a woman. During that period, the judges rewarded what was deemed to be a more feminine look and the early contest results showed that with Rachel McLish being crowned the inaugural Ms. Olympia in 1980. Cory Everson appeared more muscular than McLish, but still had a lean look to her. She was able to run off six consecutive championships between 1984 and 1989.
Francis finished 10th in her first Ms. O in 1986 but made some changes in her physique and moved up over the years as far as the 1991 runner-up to Lenda Murray in a controversial decision. Francis has always been revered for being the pioneer in a sport that eventually morphed into what she was doing two decades ago.
MORE THAN AN INDIVIDUAL SPORT
English started to take off and his decision to drop a significant amount of bodyweight may have been the key in his success. Instead of trying to stay with the taller bodybuilders by bulking up, he toned down and still was able to maintain a wide physique that was able to stay symmetrical.
Earlier in 2008, English took first place at the Shawn Ray IFBB Men’s 202 and Under Pro, which was a great accomplishment for him. In earning his first pro victory, English backed up his word that he was “going to bring it.”
Realizing that even an individual sport such as bodybuilding requires a ‘team’ concept, English said, “If you look at any sport, teams have coaches and a staff. I got myself a phenomenal trainer named Dr. Michael Camp and a nutritionalist. We came up with a great plan about a year ago to get ready for (the Mr. Olympia).”
QUEST FOR SANDOW
In September of 2008, he was on bodybuilding’s largest stage at the 44th Mr. Olympia contest, which took place at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. It was English’s rookie ‘O,’ and he finished 16th out of 19 competitors. Earlier in the day, he was the first runner-up in the 202 Showdown, which pitted the smaller bodybuilders against one another.
“It gives a lot of opportunities to guys to become pro at a lighter weight, to be able to compete and get some kind of recognition,” English told reporters before the contest. He further commented on the fact that the 202 Showdown was held at the Olympia Expo as opposed to the Orleans Arena, where the main contest took place.
“I’m a little disappointed about that, but I know the 202 is going to have a huge turnout,” he said. “And with the great athletes that we have – myself David Henry and Flex Lewis, who’s an incredible nice guy with a phenomenal build – I think we’re going to take this sport to the next level.”
Two days prior to the show, English felt confident that he was going to do well. “Me being a newcomer, I sat back for many years and observed,” he said. “It took much to get here so I’m not here just to compete. I’m definitely here to place well.”
Being the only competitor of the 19 from Gotham City, English knew he had a big responsibility to his hometown. “New York pride means everything,” he said. “I have to come in here and I have to represent at the same time.”
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
Being one of the shorter men on the stage does not bother English. In fact, he views it as an advantage. “I feel that me having small joints and a tiny waist, I think that whole illusion is going to make the appearance of me looking a lot bigger than what I actually am.”
English has good company from past and present bodybuilders that are not in the tall category. Franco Columbo is perhaps the most decorated short bodybuilder and succeeded his close friend Arnold Schwarzenegger as the overall Mr. Olympia winner in 1976, although the 5’5”, 185-pound Italian had previously won the Lightweight class (under 200 pounds) in 1974 and 1975. Columbo followed that up with another Olympia championship in 1981, once again following Schwarzenegger. Earlier in his career, his achievements included the Mr. Universe, Mr. Europe and Mr. World titles, in addition to winning three powerlifitng championships (Italy, Germany and Europe) and being an amateur boxing champion.
Danny Padilla was nicknamed “The Giant Killer,” and used his 5’2” frame to its capacity. A former Mr. USA, World and Universe, he also finished in the top six in three of his first four Olympias (1978, 1979 and 1981).
In today’s game, competitors such as 5’5” David Henry have been overshadowed by the taller and wider physiques that have taken center stage. When classed within the lighter category, Henry has shined. Since last year in Under 202 competition, he has won the Tampa Pro and Olympia Showdown and finished second in the New York Pro.
Perhaps some friendly competition brings out the best in these two men. After finishing as the runner-up to English in Manhattan in May, Henry turned the tables with his win in Las Vegas four months later.
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
Known for his fantastic leg development, English has appeared on stage throughout all of these shows in top-notch condition. In some of his poses, his hamstrings look as if they are ready to explode. He has been criticized for his mid-section, but it appears to be genetics the way his abdominals look and not the result of training them improperly.
Being bigger is the name of the game, and height is not really an issue. Of the 19 men who competed at the most recent Mr. Olympia, only one was six feet or taller. Toney Freeman at 6’2” was followed by Dennis Wolf and Sergey Shelestov, both who stand at 5’11”. In fact, the eventual winner, Dexter Jackson, is only 5’6”. Standing tall in bodybuilding holds a different meaning. One that English has done extremely well in a short period of time.
“When I go out there, I don’t just want to walk on the stage,” he said of contest time. “I want to do damage and place well.”
So far, so good.
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