Bodybuilding is different from many other sports. Winning a competition is a self-gratifying accomplishment, one that differs from team sports. There are no other players, coaching staff or front office to thank. But there are special people behind the scenes that are there with the athletes every step of the way, from that first workout in preparation to the night of the contest.
Chris Dickerson had someone that fit that description, and then some.
â€œMy parents divorced when I was just a kid,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m one of triplets, so I never had an older brother. Bill Pearl was like a father, older brother and coach to me.â€
Pearl, the legendary bodybuilder from the 1950s and â€˜60s, was a mentor to a young Dickerson, who began training at the age of 23. â€œI emulated [Pearl] even with the big plaid shorts he wore,â€ said Dickerson. â€œHe influenced me in many ways.
â€œWinning was for myself, but also to please him.â€
One of those victories came in 1970 when Dickerson won the Mr. America title, which he still views as his most gratifying win during his illustrious career. â€œThat one broke the color barrier,â€ he proudly stated.
12 years later, Dickerson won the biggest trophy the sport holds, the Mr. Olympia crown, at 43 years of age. The contest in London pitted Dickerson against greats like Frank Zane, Tom Platz, Bertil Fox and Samir Bannout. Defeating names such as those â€“ especially in his forties â€“ was a statement for Dickerson, and the moment that his mentor Pearl suggested be his last competition.
â€œIt was a bad decision to compete again,â€ Dickerson recalls. â€œI did it on my own without Bill. You never outgrow your coach.â€
Sitting out the 1983 Mr. Olympia won by Bannout, Dickerson trained for the following yearâ€™s show, and felt confident going in. â€œWith Samir winning, I thought Iâ€™ve always beat him before,â€ he remembered. â€œWhen I look back on it, it was a mistake, the low point of my career.â€
Dickerson, 69, finished in 11th place in 1984, which was the first of eight consecutive titles won by Lee Haney. Dickerson later went on to compete in couples competitions and the Masters class, finishing in fourth place in his last contest in 1994.
Many people attribute Dickersonâ€™s strong posing routine to his Olympia win, and that is something that he feels todayâ€™s bodybuilders lack. â€œI watch these guys and theyâ€™re huffing and puffing after two poses,â€ he said. â€œWe were in better shape. I think we made more of a sport of it.
â€œWe didnâ€™t have the human growth hormone, we werenâ€™t doing insulin, balancing this and thatâ€ he continued. â€œNowadays, you have to practically be a chemist.â€
Dickerson has been recognized time and time again since hanging up the posing trunks. He has been inducted into the NABBA Hall of Fame, IFBB Hall of Fame and, most recently, the Ben Weider Hall of Fame. Even with all of these accolades and awards, there is still one old little trophy from 43 years ago that means the most to Dickerson.
â€œItâ€™s an ugly little thing. Wooden with a brass Adonis on top,â€ Dickerson described his 1965 Mr. Long Beach 3rd Place piece. â€œThat little trophy just triggered it.â€
And whom, of course, do you think pushed him into entering? â€œBill (Pearl) encouraged me to go in.â€
Who else? Thatâ€™s what mentors are for.
For more information on the great Chris Dickerson, visit his official website, www.chrisdickerson.net.