OPINION: Does Shawn Rhoden’s Absence Make Olympia 2019 More Or Less Exciting?

Does the lack of Shawn Rhoden leave an open field for excitement or disappointment?

Now that we are well underway into the Olympia 2019 with all of the prejudging and some of the finals behind us. We only have the final night containing the Bikini, Men’s Physique, Classic Physique, and of course – the Men’s Open finals. Of course, the story of this year’s Men’s Open Olympia has been known to all at this point. There’s no Phil Heath as he is taking a year (or more?) off, Big Ramy didn’t qualify most likely due to an injury, and Shawn Rhoden was banned due to sexual assault allegations against him.

While Phil Heath chosing not to come back for vengeance certainly affects things – we want to focus on Shawn Rhoden’s absence as he was meant to be the returning champion at the Olympia this year. For the purposes of this argument, we are putting political and moral aspects of Rhoden’s situation to the side. This write up will focus solely on how Shawn’s absence affects the Olympia, the battle on stage, and the entertainment for the fans.

*You can also watch the life story and journy towards Olympia success in our feature film documentary, Flexatron: Becoming Shawn Rhoden available on all digital platforms*

One takeaway for this year is that Shawn Rhoden no longer competing leaves a big vacuum for the other athletes to fill. After many years of fans complaining of a lack of excitement due to obvious frontrunners in the form of Phil Heath – now we have an opportunity for a more even fight where there is more chance as to who can win. This should make the competition exciting, right?

Yet here we are on Saturday evening just before the finals and something certainly seems off. The build up this year was filled with more fans feeling that there aren’t enough “big names” and there were even reports that Olympia was having trouble selling out all of the tickets. Not to mention that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson announcing his new bodybuilding and fitness event has sparked murmurs throughout the industry – could the Olympia’s excellence be waning? Could this be the beginning of a new era with a new competition that will stand as the most exciting bodybuilding event in the world?

It’s still too early to tell – but if we focus solely on Olympia 2019, there seems to be a double edged sword as to what the fans want. Some seem to be showing genuine excitement at moments such as Hadi Choopan potentially placing in the top 4 of the Men’s Open. A true shake up that is just the kind of spontaneous shocks that fans want out of a live competition.

Yet on the other hand, fans seem not able to shake off the shadow of the truth. That even if the event has potential for more shocks and upsets and a more spirited battle between competitors… it’s not including every single best of the best athlete. We can’t shake off the fact that some people who are supposed to be here (based on their talent alone) are not present.

In a way, we got what we always wanted – a different kind of Olympia with no absolutely clear frontrunner – but not in the way that is satisfying. Fans don’t want people dropping out due to circumstances outside of the sport. They don’t want it to be a fluke or an asterisk hanging over the head of this year’s Olympia. They want it to all play out organically. They want no competitors banned but at the same time they want a truly open playing field at the Olympia. They want the open playing field to be earned and not a random accident.

That’s why at the end of the day – while we were listening to the announcers talk about the Men’s Open prejudging last night, we heard over and over from Shawn Ray the same basic idea. A lot of these competitors are not carrying the best physiques we have ever seen on stage. Maybe none of them are. And that knowledge mixed with certain individuals, Shawn Rhoden specifically, not being on stage makes it hard to enjoy this competition in the same way we have in years past.

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Yes, this is still one of the biggest and best competitions of the year – but it’s not going to give us a big triumphant surprise like last year when Phil Heath was finally defeated. We aren’t going to have an epic face off like in years past when Kai and Phil brought the world to its knees with their rivalry. We are simply getting a totally acceptable and exciting competition. Just not one for the history books.

Every single competitor on stage tonight deserves to be up there and each of them will certainly deserve the accolades they earn from their placing. Whoever wins will be a true champion and this isn’t meant to take away from what they fought for. But the shadow of Shawn Ray will be felt and it will always be a part of the discussion when Olympia 2019 is brought up looking back.

Do you find this year’s Olympia to be more or less entertaining without the returning champion Shawn Rhoden? Let us know in the comments!

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