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Before Arnold Schwarzenegger There Was John Grimek

May 10, 2017 by  
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Written by Bodybuilding Historian Dennis B Weis, Edited by Chris Wilson

By no means is he a household name but let me give you some insight into the legacy of the late John Carroll Grimek.

Baseball has had its Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, basketball it’s Michael Jordan and Lebron James and boxing its Mohammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.

But if you had to choose the two most legendary men in the world of bodybuilding, who would you choose?

I’m not talking about just overall titles either. I’m talking about impact on the culture of the sport and how these men changed or transformed the sport just by their very presence. Without them, the sport would not be where it is today.

Arnold Schwarzenegger would of course be the overwhelming favorite for the world of bodybuilding but who comes in second place?

I can tell you it’s not Ronnie Coleman, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates or Jay Cutler. If you said Steve Reeves or Vince Gironda you’re getting much warmer.

In the muscle world, there has only been two of that colossal stature – Arnold Schwarzenegger from the mid ‘60s and beyond and – John Grimek (1910-1998) previous to that!

This New Jersey native was known as “The Monarch of Muscledom” and “The Glow.”

I’ve read old issues of Strength & Health and Muscular Development magazines articles by or about him and his Q & A columns which spanned decades. I also saw all of his old-school photos.

Back then I was a bit cynical about most of the bodybuilding champions and was sure the great JCG was over-rated. What a surprise he was to me when I finally met him! That first impression was so great that today I can recall each detail of his appearance, as if it were yesterday.

Unlike many bodybuilding champions, John’s tremendous physique looked much better in the flesh than in a photo. Judging only from photos, those who have never seen him, find flaws in his body – those who gazed on him in person found those same ‘flaws’ erased, as though by a magic brush.

My personal admiration for JCG was inspired by his versatility. His physique was one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen, but what he could DO with his body was just as amazing as its appearance. He could hold up his end in any form of lifting, at any time, though he never did practice to fine tune his lifting techniques.

In tests of power, moving a huge weight in a short movement, dead lifts, squats, supports in any position – all were easy for him. Bending iron, breaking chains, grip tests, rope climbing or wrist wrestling…. these were simple too. With unusual powers of endurance, he was also a fine hand-balancer and so flexible that he could do a contortion act.

Under the posing lights is where he dominated, he was supreme!

His on-stage achievements: Mr. America 1940-41, Mr. Universe 1948 and Mr. USA in1949. He also represented the United States in weightlifting in the 1936 Olympic games.

He was eventually inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 1999.

An absolute master of muscle control and posing, his routines were flawless studies in muscular beauty, grace and rhythm. No wonder spectators were spellbound when he performed!

He was the ONLY undefeated bodybuilder in all of the iron game! Every contest he entered, he won.

It’s interesting to note that back stage at the 1948 Pro NABBA Mr. Universe (which he won of course by beating Steve Reeves) he was observed backstage casually doing barbell curls with a 190-pounds and in fairly good style! Truly a legend in his own time.

The late BOB HOFFMAN of York Barbell fame once summed up the magnitude of John C. Grimek, when he answered a question in the presence of my bodybuilding mentor Donne Hale.

A young bodybuilder had been training at Donne’s Sandy Surf hotel in Miami, Florida, where tales of JCG were regular conversation pieces in the gym (Donne had a gym on the roof top of the hotel). The young bodybuilder asked Hoffman, “Was John C. Grimek really as great as they say?” Bob Hoffman wasn’t often short of words but this time he paused a long moment, then very seriously, he said, “Son, let me put it this way, in YOUR lifetime, I’m sure you’ll never see another Grimek.” I agree. There is no doubt that the iron game was made richer by his existence.

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