Phil Heath prepares for 2020 Mr. Olympia. / Instagram
Phil Heath is coming back. But does that mean he’ll be posing on the Mr. Olympia stage in 2023? Heath won the Mr. Olympia seven straight times from 2011 to 2017, tying Arnold Schwarzenegger for the second most Mr. O titles and just one behind the record of eight, held jointly by Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman. But Heath finished second behind the late Shawn Rhoden in 2018, sat out 2019, and returned to finish third in 2020 behind Big Ramy and Brandon Curry. That final appearance was the worst he had looked since at least 2009. And he’s now 43.
If he was to win the 2023 Mr. Olympia on November 3-4, he would be the oldest winner of bodybuilding’s ultimate title (Rhoden won at 43 years and 5 months; Heath would be six weeks shy of 44), and, at six years, it would be the longest stretch between Mr. Olympia victories (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu both won after five years away).
The Mr. Olympia sported an impressively deep field in 2022 (so deep that Michal Krizo finished 12th) but, frankly, the posedown didn’t compare to the quality of a decade ago. (2013 Mr. Olympia: 1st Phil Heath, 2nd Kai Greene, 3rd Dennis Wolf, 4th Shawn Rhoden, 5th Dexter Jackson, 6th Jay Cutler, 7th Roelly Winklaar, 8th Big Ramy, 9th Branch Warren.) No one is dominating year after year now. Instead, we’ve had five different Mr. Olympia champs over the last six years. The current field must look tempting to Phil Heath.
Could he come back and win record-tying Mr. Olympia number eight?
PHIL HEATH SAYS HE’S COMING BACK
Appearing on Cutler Cast today with 4-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, the two mused about returning to the stage. Cutler turns 50 in August and last competed way back in 2013, and Heath asked him how much it would cost to get him to return to the Mr. Olympia stage. Cutler answered with a smile: “I think a million bucks. I would come back and compete right now for a million, I think, because I’m doing my ‘Fit for 50’ [program].”
Phil Heath put no price on returning, but he said, “I was at Planet Hollywood [during the 2022 Olympia weekend], and a lot of people were just taking pictures and stuff. It does get old. It feels good though. This is different for me….You’re right, I’m going to get questions about a comeback, and I am going to come back. Hey look, all I gotta do is train for three months and see what happens. If I like what I see, then I like what I see.”
It sounds as if Heath’s comeback will initially be a few months of serious training and eating. If he can regain something near his Mr. Olympia form, he’ll decide then whether or not to go for Sandow #8 in November.
HANY RAMBOD ON PHIL HEATH RETURNING TO MR. OLYMPIA
While Phil Heath only teased an Olympia comeback, his longtime coach Hany Rambod contemplated the possibility at length on The Menace Podcast with Dennis James in August. (Rambod currently coaches new Mr. Olympia, Hadi Choopan and runner-up Derek Lunsford, among others.)
Hany Rambod said: “Could he come back? Absolutely. Could he win? I think the hardest thing is that he would I don’t think he would end up looking at it like, Can Phil beat this guy or this guy? It’s can he beat his best? Because when you do this and you come back like with Jay Cutler in ’09, you have to come back and be your best ever to be able to win again after losing. There’s only one bodybuilder who has ever done it so far, and that’s Jay in 09. No other open [Mr. Olympia] bodybuilder has ever lost and won again, not to this day. I think that [Cutler] was just so impressive. For Phil, what I would do, if we ever had that conversation, it would be, ‘Could we get you to look like you did at your best?’”
“I think Phil obviously is a phenomenal athlete, but, do I think he can be as good as he ever was? That’s really difficult to do. I mean I never say anything is impossible, but I think it’s very, very difficult. I’m just speaking being honest here because, you know, look at how many years he went on that run. This is what [the judges] are going to do. You’re always going after that one person that is not standing next to you. It’s the first person they’ll compare you to—your other prior versions of yourself.”
“That’s what you have to do. It’s just a matter of what you said: Is Phil willing to do those things [training and dieting]? If he is 100%, because he’s got the mindset, the genetics, the hard work; he knows how to execute a game plan, because that’s what he’s done his whole life. He became a bodybuilder, and he was a person that knew exactly what we needed to do. When to turn it off, when to back off. He was a machine. He was like Terminator. He would go into that assassin mode and wanted to go out there and do it.”
SHOULD PHIL HEATH RETURN TO THE MR. OLYMPIA?
In November, it will be three years since Phil Heath last competed and six since he won the Mr. Olympia. And he’ll be nearly 44. Hany Rambod said in the interview above that Heath was at his best in 2013, a decade ago. After hernia surgery in 2017, Heath’s abs were nearly absent in 2018 and 2020. Do we want to see him return in middle age? Is it better to just remember the Gift at his peak? Or, with the field wide open, can he regain something like his Olympia-winning form to contend for record-tying number eight?
It’s up to Phil Heath, of course, as he makes his “comeback.” We’re certainly curious to see how this goes as this new year progresses. Stay tuned.
See also: Phil Heath’s Top 10 Training Tips