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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

GYM GROUP PHOTOS


Geraint Thomas recently became the third Briton and first Welshman to win the Tour de France. 

C’est Magnifique Geraint!!  As a keen cyclist, and being half Welsh myself, I was very pleased for him.

As Geraint is essentially an unknown quantity to the British public, all the papers were scrambling about, interviewing old school friends etc., finding out more about the story of his life. And amongst all the photos of his glorious Tour de France victory, were some from his early competitive years  —  and one of these in particular put a huge smile on my face.  We see a very young Geraint and a ragtag group of boys and girls smiling into the camera, the grainy quality and “Kodak colour” of the photo only adding to its charm.

This evocative shot of the “Maindy Flyers Youth Cycling Club” contains so much for us to enjoy. In fact if you look closely at the pic you can see by the shiny reflection that it is a photo of a photo. Even better! 

So who were these enthusiastic kids . . . where are they now . . . did their dreams come true, and are they still in touch? Whole lifetimes right there in that six-by-four inch space. Every sport in the world has this type of team photo, containing old memories and hopes, aspirations and dreams. And by the time we, the general public, get to see them for the first time, for at least one of the participants, their whole lives will have narrowed right down, pushing deep into the total focus and dedication that is required to be a world-class competitor. And our world, the world of bodybuilding, is no different. We all recognise the iconic Gold’s Gym group photos taken in the 70’s. Arnold, Franco, Robbie et al, all the greats, just hanging out, one happy gang living the bodybuilding life.  

With the bodybuilding group photos there are a few differences. Generally bodybuilding is not a team sport, so most of these photos are of a gym community- either a few guys who have trained together for a while, or who have just competed in a bodybuilding show. As bodybuilding is an adult endeavour, we seldom see youth group photos, only individual young men who have started bodybuilding at a young age. I would like to look at two examples of bodybuilding group photos that I am in and tell you what I see.  

I am very fond of this photo. Taken in 1991 a few days after we had all competed in the Mr Capital City. None of us had trained together, nor were we particularly friendly with one another, but we were all members of Physique Gym, in London, and had all entered this same contest. Thus, the classic gym contest photo, taken to showcase the gym’s bodybuilding credentials. (Depending on the quality of the contestants in the pic, however, this was not always a winning strategy!) This shot qualifies on a few levels as a classic old skool photo. Look at that pushdown machine! Straight out of the 70’s! A huge amount of my formative bodybuilding training in South Africa was done on that type of equipment, as was Arnold’s and all the original Gold’s Gym guys’. That type of equipment represents a strong connection to that era of bodybuilding that men of my age all feel. Also, I am doing an old-style side chest pose - and furthermore . . . I still had hair!! A last personal detail that amuses me is that I’m still wearing my khaki army socks from my days as a conscript in the South African Defence Force. Stylish! My second typical group photo is the sort of pic that has been taken a thousand times before, in a thousand different gyms. I can’t remember the exact circumstances in which it was taken, but it so perfectly captures the sort of gym communities that exist the world over. In those days gyms were full of “individuals” and characters, as gym life was still quite unusual. This photo illustrates that perfectly.  

I am on the left. One of the gym big boys! Look at my tiny head! This again, is a photo taken at Physique Gym. Physique, a north London gym (now a CrossFit gym) owned at the time by Clive Manley, was one of London’s original bodybuilding gyms, and the first place I worked at when I came to London in 1989 to seek my bodybuilding fame and fortune! On my left is Keith. I don’t know much about him at all. He must have been in his 40’s or 50’s at that time. A typical guy from that sort of gym and era. He, like the rest of us, trained mid morning, which meant that he did not have a 9-5 job. Keith was a bouncer, and had been one for many years. He probably did a few dodgy bits and pieces on the side too! Through bodybuilding I have met loads of guys just like him, the sort who could never really conform to a “Yes Sir, No Sir” sort of job. He was a really friendly, likeable man, but you sensed that if you got on the wrong side of him it was going to become difficult very quickly. The tall, older man with the goatee was a real character. Bill Bailey. A big, loud, confident American, his booming voice always preceding him. His sense of humour required him to be as noxious and rude as possible whilst never actually meaning a word of his insults. He was more into strength training than bodybuilding and rode a massive Harley. Pretty sure he was an actor. Perhaps a writer. Anyhow, a real character and gym presence. The guy in the top right of the photo was called Glen, and he was the smoothest guy around. And the coolest cat. And the most immaculate! I only ever saw him in training gear, but he could have walked into a posh club, one that had the most stringent dress code, in trainers and tracksuit, he looked so perfect in them. How white and spotless is his T-shirt in the photo? Glen had an eye for the ladies and a chat-up line for every situation. He was a BT engineer who took a redundancy package (with the benefit of hindsight I suppose he had a bit of a midlife crisis) and started working in Physique to follow his training passion. He loved a catchphrase and I remember two in particular that he said often - “One time!”, and “Righteous!” - both said in the definitive style of a southern American preacher. I can still hear him saying them now. Now to the bit players. Bottom left was a foreign guy who arrived in the UK without knowing a word of English. I think he was Turkish, or perhaps Syrian. Anyhow, he loved training, and slowly he became one of the mid-morning gang despite being essentially mute! I’m not sure who was teaching him English but his only word (of greeting ) was, “Safe Man”, and he did the surfer’s hand sign as he said it. Of course we never knew his real name and “Safe Man” was all he was ever known as. It was very satisfying to me that the bodybuilding bond overrode the language and culture barriers to make him one of the group. Bottom right was Steve, a lovely bloke. He was a tube driver for London Underground. Such a nice man. On a holiday in Thailand he fell in love with a Thai lady, had a child with her and left his job to live in Thailand. Unfortunately within a year or so he was back in England. Heart, and financially, broken. Steve’s life was a bit like that. My wife Suzy called him “Sponges”, as he used to use bath sponges to help him grip the weights bars. (Actually quite common in those days before the advent of training gloves.) Lastly, the guy in the middle. I have no clue who he was but now that I think of it the photo was probably organised by him. I think he was only at Physique for a short time and wanted a photo to remind him of those days. I hope that my own two photos help explain what I see when I look at those famous group pics, epitomised by the 70’s and 80’s Gold’s and World’s Gym photos. Although the guys in those photos were famous bodybuilders, I look at them, and in them, I see the unknown bodybuilders, in similar photos, all round the world, who toil away, in old-style, basic gyms, pumping iron, loving the camaraderie, and revelling in being part of the brotherhood of iron. “Righteous!!” 


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