Catching up with Mark Henry

Mark Henry
Getty Images
0 Comments

Mark Henry‘s future was set before his final Olympic lift in 1996. He had inked a 10-year contract with the WWF.

Henry competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics in super heavyweight weightlifting, finishing 10th at age 21 in Barcelona and 14th in Atlanta.

He weighed 411 pounds in 1996, making him then the second-heaviest Olympian in history (since a judoka from Guam weighed 462 pounds in 2008 and 481 in 2012, shattering the record), according to Olympic historians.

He’s snatched 402 pounds, clean and jerked 501, squatted 985, bench pressed 585 and deadlifted 903.

Henry transitioned into pro wrestling entertainment following the 1996 Olympics and has been plying that trade for the last 18 years.

Henry, once self-dubbed “Sexual Chocolate” in the ring, is better known by his title during his Olympic-style weightlifting days: The World’s Strongest Man. Even now at 42 years old.

He reached pro wrestling’s pinnacle in 2011, holding the World Heavyweight Championship, punctuating a career that’s included a broken ankle, torn rotator cuff, torn meniscus, broken kneecap and, currently, a torn hip flexor.

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Henry before he embarked on a four-day trip to Saudi Arabia.

OlympicTalk: You were a pro wrestling fan before you were an Olympic weightlifter and met Andre the Giant as a child. What was that like?

Henry: My grandmother used to take me to the Beaumont (Texas) Civic Center to watch wrestling on Saturdays. One time Andre the Giant was wrestling. On his walk to the ring, all the kids would run up toward him to these bicycle rack type barricades.

I’m leaning against the fence to touch Andre, and some kid knocks me over. I’ve got one hand on the barricade and my butt on the floor. Andre sees this, picks me up and puts me on the other side of the barricade. You never know what’s going to move you in life, but that moved me. That moment changed everything.

OlympicTalk: One of your notable headlines during your Olympic career was doing a nude photo shoot. What was that like?

Henry: It was an honor to be able to do an athletic Olympic shoot. When you’re a big guy, people won’t respect your body. They want to see the swimmers’ and track athletes’ bodies. For them to say, “We want to see your body,” I was like, ‘Wow, me?” For big guys, to be able to look at us artistically with a beautiful body, it helped with their confidence. It was very tastefully done.

OlympicTalk: How did you get involved with WWE?

Henry: I did Oprah [Winfrey], Jay Leno, every show you could imagine being a notable Olympian [for the 1996 Olympcs]. I would always get asked what’s the World’s Strongest Man doing. I told them I’m like a giant kid. I play video games. I’m a poet. I like to cook.

Then I told them that on Monday nights and Saturday or Sunday mornings, those are the days I can’t be bothered. Those are the days I watch [pro] wrestling.

The WWE — or WWF at that time — powers that be heard that, and they reached out and contacted me. [CEO] Vince McMahon himself called me. I thought it was one of my buddies playing a joke, so I hung up. He called me back and said, ‘No, Mark, this is Vince McMahon for real. I want to invite you to come out to Connecticut. We would be honored to have the World’s Strongest Man come to our family.’

I’m a wrestling fan, so I said yes. What time and where? I’m on my way to the airport. Here I am, 18 years later, knocking down the door of being a Hall of Famer.

Catching up with: Paul WylieBlaine Wilson | Sasha Cohen | Tim Goebel | Bernard ‘Hollywood’ Williams

OlympicTalk: Was it tough to give up Olympic weightlifting for pro wrestling?

Henry: It was bittersweet that I was going to have to retire, but also during that time I was a little bitter because there were guys that were allowed to compete against me [in weightlifting] that I knew were dirty [not Americans]. They took drugs, performance enhancers.

The [International] Olympic Committee, I wanted them to kick those guys out. It didn’t happen. The U.S. weightlifting team was the best in the world, so it was pitiful to have eighth place and 10th place when it should have been gold, silver or bronze. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m over it now.

There’s going to be a time, if I’m allowed to be a watchdog and work in the Olympic movement, that I’ll work to make sure kids compete on an even playing field so they don’t have to go through what I went through.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, you came out of retirement though.

source:
Mark Henry finished 10th and 14th in two Olympic super heavyweight competitions. (Getty Images)

Henry: People were saying I didn’t deserve to be called the World’s Strongest Man anymore because I wasn’t competing. I was angry about that, and the last thing you want is an angry, focused Mark Henry.

I told Vince [McMahon] these guys are talking bad about me, and what they’re saying and how I’m being portrayed are not real. And I don’t like it. He asked me if I thought I could win. I almost cussed him at him. [Henry won the prestigious Arnold Strongman Classic in 2002, named after Arnold Schwarzenegger.]

In my prime, I was the Michael Jordan of weightlifting. I shut a lot of people up [in 2002].

OlympicTalk: What did your Olympian friends think about your move to the WWF?

Henry: Some people were disappointed. They didn’t respect pro wrestling. They didn’t respect sports entertainment. They were ignorant to the fact that Vince McMahon was changing the business to something that families can watch.

They didn’t realize how intellectually stimulating wrestling really is. We have presidents who are huge wrestling fans. Bill Clinton is one of them. If wrestling is good enough for the president, it should be good enough for everyone else.

OlympicTalk: What’s tougher — Olympic weightlifting or pro wrestling?

Henry: They’re equally difficult. Not everybody gets to make an Olympic team. Not everybody can hold world titles in pro wrestling. So I’ve really, really been blessed.

To be a main-event wrestler at an elite level, you have to be able to do complicated, intricate, strong, athletic movements for 20 to 30 minutes straight all year long. I challenge anybody who doubts what we do as a sport, as a thinking man’s game, to go to our training facility in Orlando and try it out just one day.

OlympicTalk: Pro wrestling has come under scrutiny in recent years and even last week because of wrestler deaths. Does that concern you?

Henry: I don’t think it concerns me. I don’t really know all the facts, so I won’t comment on [The Ultimate] Warrior [who died last week], but what I will say is bug guys don’t live long anyway. And you have to take care of your body and your mind, no matter what you do.

Other sports, marbles, Tiddliwinks, you name it, if you don’t take care of yourself then you have a problem.

Our company has the most diligent drug testing. We have the same as the Olympics — random testing — as well as every six months doing cardio tests as well as blood tests. We are very, very stringent in that area.

OlympicTalk: What about when you first came into the business?

Henry: When I met Vince McMahon for the first time, he told me, “I’ve gone through some things in this business, and I want to let you know right now, if you’re taking any drugs, then it’s not going to work because we don’t have that here.”

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. The only juice I’ve ever had was orange juice.

OlympicTalk: You want to get back into the Olympic movement?

Henry: I want to help the 10 or 15 sports that are suffering the most, the ones that don’t make the money that track and field and basketball and tennis and other sports make.

I want to help weightlifting, of course, but I was very, very offended that wrestling was taken out of the Olympics [though reinstated in September]. [1972 Olympic wrestling champion] Dan Gable did everything to get wrestling back in. I want to help people, like he did. I want to put together a group that fundraises and helps the sports that can’t thrive on their own. I think I can give back, and not having me as an ally is a mistake.

Catching up with: Dara Torres | Jackie Joyner-Kersee | Klete Keller | Toby Dawson | Shawn Johnson

Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

0 Comments

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
Getty
0 Comments

Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!