The first-ever contest for the best-built Cambodian male takes place Sunday in Phnom Penh.
Mr Cambodia, organized by the three-month-old Cambodian Body Building Federation, will feature 51 muscular men at Chaktomuk Theater all vying for the big trophy, a gold medal, and a case of ABC Stout Beer from one of the event’s sponsors.
Organizers and competitors are here for the fun but also credit bodybuilding with everything from increased intelligence to a more developed nation.
“When we work out a lot, we have good health and intelligence,” said Kong Phalla, a board member of the Cambodian Body Building Federation and co-host of the event along with television star Koy. “That’s why bodybuilding is very important.”
At the rehearsal on Sunday at the house of Nils Ringdal, a Norwegian writer and historian who is an adviser to the organization, the entrants practiced their poses for their coaches who pushed and pulled them into correct form. Later they lined up in front of judges who were also, because several of them have never judged a body-building competition before, having their own rehearsal.
Posing was awkward because of lack of experience and exposure to the sport. The usual Speedos seen in competitions elsewhere were substituted by a wide variety of shorts, underwear and swimsuits. “I’ve discovered a lot more brands of underwear than I ever knew existed,” said Eric Putzig, first-time judge and legal adviser with the University of San Francisco’s Phnom Penh campus.
Madonna was on the stereo. Cokes, bottles of water, American muscle magazines, razors, and baby oil were piled up on a table in the center of the courtyard.
“I think it’s fun,” said Ringdal, who has previous experience as a competitor, judge and coach. “It’s development work on another level….To quote Bob Weider [an American body-building guru] ‘body-building is nation-building.’”
Row after row of guys line past the judges, six at a time. “Lat spread,” yells one of the coaches and the Mr Cambodia-wannabees grasp their waists and expand and contract their chest and back muscles in an attempt to get the perfect “V” torso shape.
“Abs and thighs,” yells the coach and the men place both arms behind the head and push one leg forward. The stomach muscles—the abs—are crunched. The thigh muscles are squeezed.
“I am very excited to be able to compete,” Dom Sarom, a 21-year-old health club instructor said during a break in rehearsals, “It is a great opportunity.”
He has been working out for two years to acquire his washboard stomach and hour-glass muscular figure and is frequently pointed out as a favorite.
Many of the competitors, however, are top-heavy with built shoulders, arms and chest but neglected stomachs and legs.
“A lot of them don’t work out their abdominal section,” said Putzig. “They don’t think of it. They think of the main body parts. They think of their chest. They think of their arms. They think of their shoulders….When you look at them, there are three guys who have good stomachs out of 51 of them. Look at their legs, there are maybe four guys who have decent legs.”
The judges are looking for size, proportion and density, according to Putzig. Density refers to muscle definition, the “cut,” how muscles look against other muscles. That’s what the razors are for. Smooth hairless skin increases muscle definition, although several of the participants appear to be holding onto their chest hair until the last minute. That should be gone by Sunday’s competition.
Darker skin is also an added bonus. Muscles look more defined, and despite the fact that many competitors appear to be ahead in this department, concoctions are being cooked up in order to make them even darker.
“A lot of them, because we don’t have the proper tanning creams, are experimenting with things like baby oil and shoe polish,” said Putzig during a break in Sunday’s rehearsal. “They’re coming up with a lot of clever innovations.” (Doors open at 2 pm for Sunday’s featured session. Tickets are $10 for VIP seats, $5 for foreigners and 1,500 riel for Cambodians. A preliminary session opens at 8 am, with tickets costing $2 for foreigners and 500 riel for Cambodians.)