Mr Olympia bodybuilder ‘Flex’ Lewis targets Arnie’s record

Arnold Schwarzenegger won Mr Olympia six times but now a Welsh bodybuilder is hoping to emulate his success at the competition in Las Vegas.

James ‘Flex’ Lewis from Llanelli has won the 212lb weight category at the contest for the last five years and he hopes to secure his sixth this weekend.

He started bodybuilding as a teenager in a bid to improve his rugby playing.

But it soon turned to his sport of choice and he is now a bodybuilding celebrity in America.

His success in the sport has led to him appearing on magazine covers and television in the US.

Yet, his fame has hardly caused a ripple in his home country.

Flex Lewis

“I get a lot of love around the world. I’m on US television, on the front cover of magazines, but in my own country I get a small column in my local paper, the Llanelli Star,” he said.

Mr Lewis took up bodybuilding when he was a student. He was a keen rugby player and had dreams of playing for Wales at rugby, earning the nickname of Flex after being able to dodge tackles as a winger on the pitch.

In a bid to improve his rugby skills, he started lifting weights.

“It was a fluke really how I got into bodybuilding,” he explained.

“When I was 19, the owner of the local gym said if I entered one competition I’d get free membership.

“I just thought ‘how hard can it be?’ I was just thinking of the money I’d save and getting it over with so I could eat a big bag of chocolates.”

But when he won the competition in Port Talbot and was offered the chance to to represent Wales, his sense of national pride took over.

By 20, he had won junior Mr Wales and junior Mr Great Britain twice, and junior Mr Universe. By 22 he was competing against men in their late 30s in the senior category and had turned professional by 24.


Flex Lewis and coach Neil Hill

Describing it as “a whirlwind”, he said: “Even looking back to my nickname playing rugby, I think I had a path to follow.

“Being a Llanelli boy moulded me as well, being from a hardworking town gave me that focus and determination.”

Mr Lewis settled in America after going on a trip to Muscle Beach in Santa Monica and Gold’s Gym, California and now has a family and several businesses he runs as well as training for the competitions.

He said he has “a love-hate relationship” with the gym, with every training day like “groundhog day” – his motto is “get in and get it done”.

In 2012, he won his first title at the Mr Olympia competition.


A graphic of James Lewis's workout routine and food intake

But it took a trip back to Llanelli for him to realise the significance.

“I had left home at 19, slept on sofas, chased the dream,” he said.

“It was probably not until two weeks later that winning it it sank in.

“I’d gone back to Llanelli; I was walking the dog along the coast and it suddenly hit me and I had tears streaming down my face.”

Five years later and he is preparing for his sixth title and emulating his hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger.


A graphic describing Mr Olympia with a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger

“I used to watch WWF, but then I saw Arnold’s films, and he blew my mind. he looked un-human, like a cartoon,” he explained.

“There is nothing better than meeting someone you idolise. But I already have one up on him apart from the Mr Olympia record.

“We were on stage (at an event) and he tried to pull a joke on me. But I got to the punch line first. So it’s 1-0 to Flex on jokes.”

And he hopes that his success will be shared by his fans, some of who are travelling from Wales.

“There are no better fans in the world than the Welsh – it won’t be a Conor McGregor draw, but I will have an area in Vegas that will be the loudest,” he said.


Flex Lewis

Flex Lewis


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