'Generation Iron' film featuring bodybuilding's 'godfather' hopes to pump up sport

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In a small gym on the third floor of a building in Carnegie, Mr. Olympia sought advice from the godfather of bodybuilding.

That, at least, is how director, producer and writer Vlad Yudin envisioned the scene will appear in his film, "Generation Iron." He described the documentary, due in theaters next summer, as a sequel of sorts to the 1977 film "Pumping Iron," which introduced bodybuilding -- and bodybuilder turned movie star turned California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- to the culture at large.

"It's been 30 years, and the sport of bodybuilding changed tremendously of course, but what makes this film especially are the characters," Mr. Yudin said Wednesday afternoon during a break in filming.

The main characters are the seven bodybuilders the film follows, but during filming Tuesday and Wednesday, the focus was on the godfather and the champion.

The champion is Phil Heath, 32, of Denver. He's the two-time winner and defending champion of the Mr. Olympia professional bodybuilding competition, and he was in Pittsburgh to meet with Jim Manion.

Mr. Manion, 68, is a Mt. Lebanon resident who owns the gym -- with the requisite posters on the walls of Mr. Schwarzenegger and other famous bodybuilders -- where Mr. Yudin was filming.

He was named Mr. Pittsburgh for his bodybuilding feats in 1971 and he now serves as chairman of the International Federation of Bodybuilders professional league and as president of the National Physique Committee, a group with headquarters Downtown that Mr. Manion described as "the NCAA of bodybuilding."

Mr. Heath is one of many professional bodybuilders who got his start in the NPC, which organizes competitions, including one held each May in Pittsburgh that usually has 250 to 300 participants.

The sport has come a long way since the days before "Pumping Iron," Mr. Manion said, recalling competitions that took place in dimly lit basketball courts in Lawrenceville.

"Now, we spend thousands of dollars to make sure the stage is lit right," he said. "It's completely changed. It was really kind of in the dark ages back then."

In some ways, even though gym membership has surged and fitness magazines and nutritional supplements have grown in popularity, the sport remains in the dark. Indeed, there are still many who dispute that bodybuilding is a sport.

Bodybuilders get on stage to show off what they've done in the gym, Mr. Manion said. And Mr. Yudin said that intent of "Generation Iron" is to show what goes into getting to the stage.

"These guys, they are probably some of the most hard-working athletes in the world, and a lot of people don't know about it," Mr. Yudin said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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