South West Wales

Mr Olympia bodybuilder 'Flex' Lewis matches Arnie's record

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Media captionBodybuilder 'Flex' Lewis' targets Schwarzenegger record

A Welsh bodybuilder has followed in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger by winning a sixth consecutive title at Mr Olympia.

James 'Flex' Lewis from Llanelli won the 212lb weight category in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The 33-year-old started bodybuilding as a teenager in a bid to improve his rugby playing.

But it soon turned to his sport of choice and 'Flex' is now a bodybuilding celebrity in the United States

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.

Image copyright Mr Olympia
Image caption Mr Lewis with his Mr Olympia medal
Image copyright Instagtram/ Flex-Lewis
Image caption Flex Lewis goes from an off-season weight of up to 240lb to the 212lb category in competitions

"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.

Image copyright Flex Lewis

"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 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.

Image copyright Instagram/ Flex_Lewis
Image caption Coach Neil Hill spotted Flex Lewis in his first competition and has been with him ever since

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.

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 has claimed a sixth title and emulated his hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won seven titles overall.

"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.

"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."

Before the competition, Mr Lewis hoped his success would be shared by his fans, some of whom travelled to the competition 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.

Image copyright Flex Lewis
Image copyright Instagram/ Flex_Lewis
Image copyright Instagram/ Flex_Lewis

Mr Lewis said afterwards he was "buzzing" to have defended his title for another year.

"My accomplishments are a true testament to what dedication and hard work can get you," he said.

"If you want something bad enough and set your mind to it, it can be achieved."

He added: "To equal Arnie's record of consecutive wins at Olympia is a dream come true for me as I have always been inspired by him.

"I am so thrilled to have made Wales and the people of Great Britain proud".

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