AUTHOR’S NOTE: When the editor of Muscle Training Illustrated asked Andreas Cahling for an article summarizing the progression of his career as a foreign-born bodybuilder, Andreas asked me to write it. I had known Andreas since the first month he came to the United States from Sweden back in the spring of 1976.
ANDREAS CAHLING: Success Is The Journey!
Irene L. Hause (w. permission)
Muscle Training Illustrated
Volume 18, Number 5
IRENE HAUSE: I’ve heard some top bodybuilders comment on the speed with which many competitors enter and then disappear from the scene, especially those coming to California from elsewhere. Why do you think this happens?
ANDREAS CAHLING: A lot of these guys may have enormous genetic potential, and they come out here, they think it is fun, really go for it, come up fast, but they can’t maintain strong interest. Many expect everybody to bring food and money to them, and when this doesn’t happen, they are disappointed. Or else they think, “If I could only win that title, I’d be happy.” They win the title, and they still aren’t happy! So they get discouraged because they’ve looked at it all as a destination instead of as a journey. There are other things in life that decide whether or not you are going to be happy, though it can be nice to win a title, undoubtedly!
It takes persistence! You can’t be a successful bodybuilder by being in the spotlight for only a year or two. Sticking to it, coming back, better and better, year after year, is the key to real success in this sport. It’s not enough to win the Mr. America or Mr. Universe contest to make it in bodybuilding. It takes several years of dedication to build a career out of it. You need to take care of business aspects, and you need to do it with a long-range plan. This is a promotional business, and unless you are aware of that, you’re not going to get as much out of it as you could either.
IH: How far advanced would you advise foreign-born bodybuilders to be before coming to train at Gold’s Gym or World Gym?
AC: That’s a tricky question. Of course, it’s good if they have substantial knowledge before coming here, but if they don’t have that, this is the fastest place to get it. The most important thing is to be prepared mentally because the toughest thing to handle is the jungle-like atmosphere of a gym like Gold’s. If they’ve been around for a while and have been in some contests, they might be able to handle it better.
IH: When you say jungle-like . . .
AC: Yes, it’s like a jungle. The strongest shall survive! In a place like Gold’s, they’ll see someone like Bertil Fox or Lou Ferrigno pumping iron, and they just might be intimidated! Especially some of these local heroes who have come from the middle of nowhere where they used to be the big gun. Then they come out here, and nobody pays even the least attention. It could be very frustrating to have a photographer standing next to them filming Lou Ferrigno saying, “Could you please move aside while we’re filming here?” Or perhaps somebody may be subtly insulting them with cutting remarks. If they can’t handle things like that, it’s going to be rough! So it is much more important to be mentally prepared than to be physically prepared, much more.
IH: What are they going to get at Gold’s or World that they won’t get anywhere else?
AC: The atmosphere. The equipment can be found elsewhere, but not the atmosphere.
IH: Have you always trained at Gold’s Gym since coming to the United States?
AC: Yes. I took a direct flight from Stockholm to Los Angeles, then rented a car and went from the airport to Santa Monica where I got myself a motel room. Two hours later I was bombing and blitzing at Gold’s Gym for the first time, and I felt very much at home there from the very beginning.
IH: How well did you speak English when you came?
AC: I’d studied English at school in Sweden, so I could get by, but I was far from being fluent. To put it another way, I could not fully enjoy Johnny Carson on television then, but I can now!
IH: What was the most pleasantly surprising aspect of American life?
AC: Experiencing the abundance of individuality and personal freedom. Because the U.S. is a great melting pot of both Western and Eastern cultures, I find it very exciting.
IH: Describe the progression of your career, starting in Sweden.
AC: I never won the Swedish championship, but it didn’t bother me because I never saw it as a personal challenge. I say that at the risk of sounding cocky. But that was not where I identified myself, so I never bothered hanging around long enough to seriously go for the Mr. Sweden title. I’d entered it once, without having trained for bodybuilding, just power training for my judo, and I got fifth. But I could say that the Mr. Venice Beach contest is much harder than the Mr. Sweden contest anyway!
I didn’t do any serious bodybuilding until I was 23, when I came to California. Before then, I knew nothing about diet, and I didn’t know too much about training. It was Mike Armstrong, a former Mr. Alabama who trains at Gold’s, who initially taught me bodybuilding techniques. Mike has won several most symmetrical trophies over the years, so I had a good teacher. We’re still good friends.
IH: When did you start competing in the States?
AC: Almost immediately, I entered some very small local contests, placing second or third in each. After a few months of serious training I entered and won the Mr. Venice Beach in the fall of 1976. Later that year I entered the Gold’s Classic and won my class.
In 1977 I entered three contests. The first one was the Mr. California in which I placed sixth. The second was the Mr. America, and they still can’t figure out how I got into that one! I placed fourth in the short class, which was won by Ron Teufel. Tom Platz was second, and third went to Don Peters. It was good competition, to put it very mildly, with more name bodybuilders in that class than in the other classes put together! After the America, I went to the Mr. World contest in Acapulco and placed second in my class. That was it for 1977.
IH: I’m really impressed with your memory for names and dates!
AC: Well, as a professional bodybuilder, I feel it’s my business to remember! The more details a businessman knows, the better equipped he is to make sound decisions.
I had already decided that I wanted to enter only certain contests, taking each as a step. Only on the international level was I willing to get into the same contest several times. I’d seen guys hanging around local or regional contests for five years, getting second, third, second, third. I felt that if I were going to get second or third, I’d rather do it on an international level! So I entered the Mr. International contest in 1978. I was told it was the hardest amateur contest in the world, an open contest with some professionals in it. I placed sixth. Samir Bannout and Roger Callard were in the contest that year, and Joe Nazario won. Next I went to the Mr. Universe contest in Acapulco, and I got fifth in my class. Those two contests were it for 1978.
In 1979 I first went to the Mr. International, where I was second to Johnny Fuller in my class. Greg DeFerro won the overall. That was a tough contest! At the end of 1979 I was persuaded by my native Sweden to represent them in the Mr. Europe contest, and I did so even though I was very drained and should really not have entered. It was the only contest in the past few years where I felt that I had not peaked. They gave me second place on Saturday and took it back and gave me third place on Sunday!
IH: How did you feel going into a competition, knowing you weren’t at your best?
AC: It was a terrible feeling that I never want to have again! I looked in the mirror and told myself, “You look great!” because you have to think positively, but I knew I was lying to myself.
IH: You have probably never let anyone talk you into entering a contest after that!
AC: That’s right! People try to talk me into last minute things, but I refuse to do that anymore.
In 1980 I said to myself that I was going all out for the Mr. International contest, and I lived solely to win that contest. My confidence had never been stronger, and I never doubted that I could win. I really prepared, very, very meticulously. I won the light-heavyweight trophy, also the overall title. And I was very fortunate to win because some of the other contestants were Renato Bertagna, Ron Teufel, Len Archambault, Billy Arlen, Scott Wilson, Bob Jodkewitz, Pat Stewart, Ulf Bengtsson, and Ali Malla.
After that I went professional. I trained for a full year before entering my first professional contest, the Montreal World Grand Prix contest in December 1981. I took sixth, which pleased me very much, considering the people in the contest. Jusup Wilkosz was fifth, Tony Pearson was fourth, Johnny Fuller third, Al Beckles second, and Boyer Coe first. People like Makkawy and Scott Wilson placed behind me, so I was very happy with my first professional contest. I’m currently aiming for the professional Mr. Universe. So that’s where I’m now.
IH: Where other than the U.S. or Europe have you competed? What is your favorite?
AC: I have also competed and/or guest posed in South America and Mexico, as well as the rest of Europe. I prefer competing on the East Coast of North America because that’s where the best audiences are!
IH: Bill Grant told me the same thing.
AC: An audience on the East Coast gets excited, gets enthusiastic, applauds, hollers encouraging words throughout the entire competition, and that is not as common on the West Coast
IH: I know. I’ve been at terrific contests in Santa Monica and Los Angeles where the audience just sits there. One year I was at a Gold’s Classic that was being filmed for television, and the hardest job the film crew had was to get the audience to appear enthusiastic!
AC: The people out here are more blasé. I saw Muhammad Ali standing at the Los Angeles airport one time with a big limousine, bodyguards and everything. I asked myself if it was really Muhammad Ali. It didn’t fit his image. You’d expect a lot of people hanging around trying to get an autograph. But nobody even cared!
IH: Do you think there is any prejudice against foreign-born bodybuilders in American contests?
AC: I haven’t noticed anything like that at all, none whatsoever.
IH: Why do you now divide your time between the U.S. and Europe?
AC: Because I am involved with seminars and personal appearances in both places. I have literature published both in Europe and the U.S., and I enjoy the change of culture and atmosphere. I get bored being in the same place for too long, so I find it very enjoyable having a market both here and there.
I also have some posing trunks out on the market that are selling very well. Back in Sweden 60% or more of the competitors are now wearing my brand.
IH: What languages do you speak fluently enough to present seminars?
AC: Swedish and English. As far as day-to-day living, I can get by in Japanese, and I could probably cheat myself with a mixture of German, Italian and French when necessary.
IH: Do you prefer living in Sweden or the U.S.?
AC: I like living in either place, but my long-range goal is a rural environment with easy access to a metropolitan area. A convenient distance from Los Angeles would be very nice. I don’t like big cities anymore the way I used to.
IH: How do you handle having living accommodations in both places? Doesn’t it get to be very expensive?
AC: Yes. But on the other hand, when I travel, it’s business, so I make money. When I’m back in Sweden, I sometimes stay with my parents.
IH: Regarding your move to the U.S., if you had anything to do differently, what would it be?
AC: I could have pursued my career more wisely, not wasting time with certain people, certain activities, and spent more time putting forth effort where I knew it would pay off more. But I did not know that then, and if I had not made certain mistakes, I would not have that knowledge. Basically, I’m happy with the way my career has progressed, so I can’t say that I regret anything, even those things that I would have done differently, because I got stronger from them.
IH: It sounds like a normal growth process, as we all get older and wiser.
AC: Exactly! It’s perfectly acceptable to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. If you don’t make any mistakes, it means you aren’t trying anything!
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