Will Kai Greene flex on the Olympia stage again in October? When not tweeting about cryptocurrency, he’s certainly been hinting that he will in recent weeks, posting physique update photos on Instagram and Twitter and taunting his old nemesis, 7-time Mr. O Phil Heath. In March, he met with Olympia promoter Dan Solomon, who made no secret of the fact he wants Greene in this year’s Mr. O. (Greene isn’t qualified, but, as three-time runner-up and one of the world’s most popular bodybuilders, no doubt a special invite would be extended.) But Kai has teased us before. He last competed in the Olympia seven years ago. He turns 46 on July 12. How realistic is it that he’ll actually be in the lineup this year? And if he is, can he win?
KAI GREENE NEVER RETIRED
After finishing second behind Phil Heath in three straight Olympias (2012-14), he was set to challenge the Gift for bodybuilding’s ultimate title yet again in 2015. But a dispute about booth space at the expo kept him from signing the Olympia contract, and, even though the invitation was extended until the final days, he opted to steer clear of bodybuilding’s Super Bowl. Many believed he simply didn’t want to face the possibility of a fourth straight second to his arch-rival Heath. The next year, he easily won three Arnold Classics, at 40, but again dodged the Olympia. And that’s it. Ever since, he’s continued to train and protein-up, maintaining a body that resembles the one we last saw on a stage, regularly posting to social media and sometimes appearing at bodybuilding events. But the birthdays have ticked by, relentlessly: 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46…
HOW MUCH WOULD KAI GREENE’S AGE HURT HIM?
And could the lengthy hiatus help him?
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu both won their Olympia comebacks (in 1980 and 1981, respectively) after five years away, but not without major controversies. And Arnold was only 33, and Franco only 40. The oldest Mr. Olympia winner was Shawn Rhoden at 43 in 2018. Dexter Jackson was third at 46, and second at 45, and fourth at 47 and fourth again at 49. But, until his recent retirement, the Blade never stopped competing—22 straight years as a pro. Also, the Blade was sui generis, maintaining a world-class physique as he approached the big 5-0, and even he was at his best in his 30s; he won the Mr. Olympia at 38.
Greene has no major injuries, and if you’ve ever witnessed how meticulously he warms up, you would know how carefully he preps for heavy weights. You don’t see any torn muscles, scarred flesh, or other distractions that can mar the bodies of other 40-somethings. In his June 28 photo (seen partially above), he claimed to be 317 (we doubt it), and his shoulders looked thicker even as his arms looked slightly downsized; and you could see some “melting”—evident in the lower pec line—that is inevitable in middle age. Can he bring more cuts at 46 than he could at 39 or 38 or 37? Doubtful. Metabolisms only grow slower past 40. (As our survey shows, the average age of Mr. O winners since 2000 is 36.) But if he dialed all that mass in just right, he could contend for the Sandow. And, win or lose, maybe he could finally best Heath, who was third last year at 40. “PHIL VS KAI” he tweeted on June 30. At this writing, Heath has also not announced his plans for the Olympia in October.
SO, WILL KAI GREENE BE BACK?
Promoters want to know the top competitors early enough to drum up ticket sales, but this year’s show will have no trouble selling out (the Orlando venue is 50% smaller than the Orleans Arena), and indeed the VIP packages are already gone. So, if Greene and/or Heath commit later in the summer, it’ll simply stir up a buzz to sell more pay-per-views. That said, we may pick up clues to their prepping. It’s harder to keep a secret in the Instagram age.
Kai Greene is an enigma, and I mean that as a compliment. I wrote his FLEX column for years, based on interviews I conducted with him. While others could be frustrated by his divergent answers, I found them refreshing. You never knew where he would go, in the same way his workouts could sometimes find a new path to get from point A to point Z. He followed his own logic, and it clearly has worked for him in maximizing muscle. All of which is to say: I don’t know what he’ll decide, or if he’s decided, or when he’ll decide. He’s teased comebacks in previous years, too, only to disappoint his many fans. Maybe he doesn’t know yet. Maybe he wants to see how his body responds to the first stages of contest prep. Maybe he’ll be more likely to compete if Heath does too. Maybe he’ll change his mind more than once as the summer progresses. Or maybe he never intended to return but only wanted to stir up publicity and maintain his status as the shadow contender for yet another year.
But I hope we do see Kai Greene in the lineup again, and this year sort of feels like the last, best chance. Wherever they are on scoresheets, it’d be electrifying to have just him and Heath in a callout, two warriors dueling once again, just like old times, maybe each of them competing for the final time. And it’d be great for a new generation of fans to witness bodybuilding’s most unique poser cast a spell with muscles and music as only he can, just like old times, maybe for the last time.
2022 Update: Kai Greene did not compete in the 2021 Mr. Olympia, neither did Phil Heath, who turned 42 in December. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see either of them in competition again, despite the fact that the Olympia competition is not particularly strong now. But hope springs eternal. And as spring turns to summer and Greene approaches his 47th birthday, it’s likely we’ll once again hear the question: Is Kai coming back?