Tom Platz The Bodybuilder Interview, original from 1988
IRONMAN April 1988 - Tom Platz: The One and Only - by Steve Holman
Somehow I've managed to swing an interview with the always-busy Golden Eagle himself, Tom Platz. I'm sitting in the man's living room with him and his wife Cheryl, ready to hit him up with every intricate question I can come up with, no holds barred.
Tom is "clean" now, and he has some interesting comments on drugs, competition, training and his future. Cheryl's by his side, ready with her honest, straight-from-the-hip comments.
IM: How long have you been natural now?
TP: About two months. I did very small dosages for three or four months. I tapered down purposely for psychological reasons.
IM: Are you going to compete without drugs?
TP: Well, I can't say right now. I don't want to announce retirement, although I do have quite a few things I want to explore.
IM: Do you think you could compete without drugs?
TP: I'm weighing about 195 right now, and I weighed around 212 when I was competing, going as high as 240 in the off season. It's possible to compete without drugs, but to have the look-the skin quality-I don't think I could do it (as successfully) without drugs. It's like waxing a car. When you wax your car - when I wax my Corvette - it looks much better. In a car show, the wax job make wouldn't give the Corvette sexy lines, but would make it look better. It wouldn't create the inherent car.
The same with steroids. Steroids don't create champions. They're not responsible for my success or anyone else's. But they do help. They do finish the product. That little bit of finish is important in winning or losing.
IM: Did you ever get out of hand as far as dosage levels go?
TP: At one time, I was using about 130mg a day. That was way too much for me. I've had my greatest success on less than 30 mg per day.
IM: How did you know when you were taking too much?
TP: Extreme irritability, fluctuations in water weight, sleepless nights. I don't want to make any big statements. I don't want to say I'm anti-drugs; this isn't a new religion here. That's not what I'm saying. If I had to do it all over again, I'm sure I would do it in a very similar way. I want to be honest. Someone said to me the other day, "You know Tom, you're a rebel. You do whatever you want, you pose however you want, you say whatever you want. You don't win the show, but we all love you anyway." I never thought of myself as a rebel.
IM: So, you feel a lot better now that you're off the drugs?
TP: I never really would accept the fact that drugs changed my mood. Even now it's difficult to say how much it affected my moods.
IM: What do you think Cheryl?
CP: He's much easier to live with now that he's off drugs. He's not the same person. He's more rational. He thinks things through. He's just plain nice now.
TP: The first time I noticed it was then I came back from Europe. I started taking more after being on a very low dosage over there. I noticed a change in mood. Cheryl, being around me a lot, noticed it immediately.
CP: He won't tell me he's doing more drugs, but I'll confront him. I'll say, "Are you taking more shit?" And he'll go, "Yeah, why?" And I'll go, "Because you're acting like an asshole, that's why."
IM: So when you went off, did you drop a lot of mass?
TP: Not really, no. I don't think there's a tremendous loss of muscle mass. In fact I haven't trained legs for
eight months and they're more cut and more vascular now.
But when I take steroids, I don't need as much sleep, I can eat next to nothing and train four hours a day.
IM: It's almost like speed.
TP: Yes. Now, I find myself functioning on a normal level. I'm able to understand concepts. I'm able to look at Cheryl and deal with her in a rational way. I don't get crazy and sparks don't go off. When I go to the gym, I don't have that gut-level inert power to press on.
IM: You're still training now but just not as long, right?
TP: Right. My priorities are on my acting at this point. That may change. I'm still training very seriously, but the poundages aren't the same and my focus is a little different.
IM: Do you still push to failure?
TP: Oh yeah. I still function in that red line zone. I was training with this kid from Nigeria and we were doing bent-over rows. I'd do 30 and he'd do 30, and he'd just barely be getting there. I said, "You know, I'm training in this area and you're not even there yet, and you lie on the floor gasping for air." It was fun because I realized I still have it in me. It's the ability to give it everything you've got-to realize you can be the best you can be if you want to give it that much. That's a winner. That's a champion. Granted, I would love the Sandow trophy in my office.
CP: Maybe we can order you one (laughter).
TP: It's what the trophy represents. To me, I have that. I have the love of the sport. I have the relationship with the people. The mental/spiritual aspects. But there's this little kid in me that says the trophy is important. He's saying, "What the hell is wrong with you, Tom? Get in there and get nuts - get crazy. Devote your life to this like you always have." The other side of me wants to put more into acting.
IM: You've been natural for over two months now. Do you have any suggestions for those training without drugs?
TP: Proper nutrition is very important. One of the things steroids helps is glycogen storage. You've got to be sure to get enough carbohydrates when you're off.
IM: You mentioned that your training intensity is close to the same, but have you had to reduce the number of sets you do?
TP: I'm not into counting sets and reps. I go by feel. But taking chest as an example, while on drugs, I would work pecs for an hour; off drugs, I would work them only about 30 to 40 minutes. There was a time, before the Olympia, when I would do the incline dumbbell press with the 150s for 10 to 12 sets back to back, with forced reps to failure and I would start out with 15 reps. Now, if I can use the 150s, I'm lucky. If I can push out three or four reps for two sets, that's great.
IM: How do you feel about women's bodybuilding? There is so much controversy with drug testing at the moment. Do you feel the women who are passing are natural?
CP: They're not natural. If they're going to use them - and all athletes use them-they might as well make them legal and have doctors, who know what they're doing, administering them rather than these quacks. That's my opinion.
TP: Drug testing is a joke. It causes more abuse. I think people in my position should be honest and take stands. This way, we can improve the aspect of drug abuse. I think we should approach
it from the standpoint of abusive problems. By being honest and providing education in seminars, we can help do away with these problems of abuse. Maybe we can get to the point where there is no use at all, but I doubt it. Avoiding abuse is a better solution.
Every athlete I know who tested clean, was on drugs. There are other drugs which counteract the situation. This creates more abuse. By having drug testing, we're promoting the sport in the eyes of the media and the sport will probably grow, but we are doing this at the expense of the athletes themselves. More problems are created. In fact, the guys in Europe told me, "Tom, if you're ever tested for drugs, we'll help you." Look at Poland. Poland has no food, but they have tremendous laboratories. It's unbelievable.
IM: I think the crux of the matter is that if an athlete is going to use steroids, he should do so under medical supervision. Of course, then the question of whether a healthy person should be using drug therapy comes up. And of course the more is better syndrome is always present.
TP: The best I ever looked was in '81 according to many; I don't think so, but everyone else does. In '81, I was on 10 Winstrol tablets a day (three mg each) and a shot of deca durabolin once a
week. That was it.
IM: I see your point. If drugs were the answer, where are all the Sergios and Arnolds?
TP: Exactly. Why are there so many people that look like garbage that take steroids?
IM: Steroids are the polish on the genetic make up; they're not the entire ball game. Have you ever had any experience with growth hormone?
TP: No. I've never taken it.
IM: Do you know anyone who has or is taking it?
TP: Almost everyone takes it. Research indicates it doesn't work. I think most of the people who take growth hormone take it because they think it might help. The top guys would do just as well without it.
The way I feel, and the way most competitors feel, is an obsession. The way I have felt since I was 10 years old is that I was put on this earth for a reason. My sole reason for breathing on a daily basis is to be the best I can be. And if there is a drug that comes along that will help me get closer to that goal, I don't want to commit suicide, but I'll take that slight risk. This is my God-given purpose.
The reason I quit is I wanted to get to know Cheryl without steroids being in the middle. Steroids did interfere with my life. Anyone who has done steroids knows what I'm talking about.
In Europe, it's accepted that athletes do steroids. Americans are oblivious to this. The Europeans find ways to do it with less risk, but in the U.S., it's hidden. People who watch the Super Bowl don't want to believe that most of those athletes are on steroids. All the athletes I have ever known, including archers, have taken or do take steroids. Golfers may be an exception. In fact, I learned about steroids from swimmers.
IM: Bodybuilders are more singled out because they look so different-almost unbelievable. People can't believe the way they look so there must be a secret. Let me ask you this: If you could be guaranteed that all competitors were drug-free, would you train and compete drug-free?
TP: Sure, but I also think if there weren't any contests, bodybuilders would still take steroids. There's a certain feeling you have in the gym.
IM: There is a certain amount of ego involved because they act as a mild amphetamine allowing the user to move big weights, train for longer periods, etc.
TP: The fact remains that steroids do not create the essence of what sport is although they are actively involved in all sports.
IM: To switch gears a bit, you didn't qualify for the Mr. Olympia
this year. Did this effect you at all?
TP: When! didn't qualify, it had a big effect on my career direction. The fact that I didn't requalify raises some questions which I proposed to the executive committee. I'm not saying they're wrong;! just like to punch them once in a while. We can look at the United States government in the same light-sometimes it's terrible and sometimes it's great. I've raised the point that we should have some type of grace situation where if an athlete has placed in the top 10 for six years in a row they should have a grace year-or if they get injured or if they're going to be in a film one year. Albert Beckles has been in the Olympia longer than I have-he shouldn't have to requalify.
IM: It is a silly rule. In fact if you make it into that top 10 ever, you shouldn't have to requalify. I mean, Sergio's going to come back and have to requalify?
TP: But nevertheless, it was a gift for me; it was a gift not to do well in Detroit; it was a gift to have this requalification thing arise in my mind because it made me think about other things besides sets and reps.
CP: Thank God!
TP: See what I mean? But forget about me. If we're going to have strict rules in the IFBB, I'm all for it. Wayne Demilia is correct in trying to achieve this. I'm totally behind him. But I think we should have some implementation behind these rules, not just for me, but for anyone like me.
IM: Anyway, so what's going on with Tom Platz now and in the immediate future?
TP: I just finished this film-a low budget film with about a $2 million budget. It's called "Flex." I saw another screening last week, and! really like it. It's a good film. I'm pleased with it at this point.
My next film, which is a higher budget, will be filmed under better conditions on location. I play this under cover cop. One of the conditions is I must get leaner. I can't look too overpowering because I have to get beat up but win.
Acting is sort of like bodybuilding. When I came to California in 1977, it was the same thing-I was watching, wondering and figuring things out-the same things I'm doing now (with acting). In fact Arnold said, "Tom, remember how it was back then? That's how it is now. Same way you figured it out then, do it now."
I was on the set with Arnold. After watching him, I said to myself, "God, that's what I want to do." He is a mentor figure to me - not a mentor, but a mentor figure. I want to go in that direction. For this reason, I will begin studying acting three times a week. But I'm still actively a pro bodybuilder. By no means is my income solely generated from film work.
I'm not saying I won't compete next year; I'm not sure yet. But I have to pursue this acting thing. It's a need like breathing. It's primal force.
IM: So, in a sense, you've put bodybuilding on the back burner for acting.
TP: Back burner yes, but it's a light that will never go out. Bodybuilding's my home - it's my first love. But I want to be an actor also. I want to be a good actor.
IM: I don't want to bring back bad memories, but can I ask you about the '81 Olympia?
TP: Actually, it's a very good memory.
IM: You don't feel ripped off?
TP: No. If I would've won the trophy, I'd be just another winner. Being the person that "should have won" has been more rewarding financially. People have been saying, "You know, he didn't win and he should have. Pay him what he wants and bring him to our country." I'm probably the only bodybuilder who has built a career on losing (the Olympia) rather that winning. Attitude has a lot to do with that.
I think attitude has a lot to do with acting as well. It's as if I've been able to
reach into Arnold, pull out his energy and put it in me. Everybody has it. This will enable me to become an actor as well. I have to do this before I die. I have this need to be the best I can be. People see this. That's what bodybuilding is all about, and that's what life is all about.
IM: Why do you think you've done more seminars than any other bodybuilder? What makes you such a great draw?
TP: I've looked at myself and my career as a business. I've been schooled in business. I've always felt that I am a product and I must be marketed properly.
CP: And you work your butt off!
TP: Right. I work my butt off. I've got the ball and it's up to me to run with it. No one can run the ball for me. I have to see the holes.
Also, I'm part of the common man. I'm one of them. Since I was portrayed in Iron Man in the early '70s as a "would be" or whatever, I have grown in attitude. I bodybuild because it's me, and I'm me no matter what. That's the reason I go to failure and beyond in the gym because that's me. That's that center of me coming forth.
I come from the working class people in Ohio. I was some young kid who went out to California to make it. Now I go back and say ''Hi ya'll. I haven't changed. I'm just up here (on the stage) instead of down there (in the audience)." They feel something special about themselves when I go on stage. That's one of my goals-to enable people to live through me. It's not just me, it's us being elevated together.
I remember watching Arnold pose. You were him up there. It's like watching a movie and becoming Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds or Clint Eastwood.
IM: Speaking of Arnold, what do you think makes him such a success?
TP: There are three things that determine success, one being instincts - knowing what to do in the gym and with people; genetics-they determine how far you can go-you've got to make the best with what you have; lastly, there's understanding the data - nutritional data, training data, whatever. Instincts, genetics and education (data). Very few athletes have all three. Arnold was one.
IM: It appears as if Tom Platz is another.