It’s the Biggest Week in Strength History (w/Andrew Gutman)

We’re bringing the podcast in house today, and for good reason. I’m talking to BarBend’s Managing Editor, Andrew Gutman, who’s covered some of the biggest events in strength sports history. But it’s an especially interesting time for the strength community. Late July 2021 includes both the Tokyo Olympic Games AND the CrossFit Games, making it one of the busiest periods ever for BarBend’s newsroom. We discuss the upcoming challenges and thrills with covering multiple international sporting events at the same time, along with some fun stories from the trenches of strength sports coverage over the years.

Andrew Gutman BarBend Podcast

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Andrew Gutman about:

  • Andrew’s background in strength sports journalism, including a long stint at Muscle & Fitness (02:34)
  • The most stressful part of magazine journalism (06:00)
  • Digital publishing vs. print publishing (9:00)
  • Covering the Olympia weekend in true Las Vegas style (12:50)
  • Covering the CrossFit Games for the first time (18:51)
  • The upcoming series of events that could be the most impactful in strength sports history (20:30)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

The taxi cab driver would always be happy to pull in go through the drive-thru, I’d always offer to get him something. Then I’d walk on into the Orleans feeling really insecure, because I was surrounded by champion bodybuilders who were surviving on saltines and water. I’d be holding three double-doubles. I’d be like, “Oh, I’m going to get massacred.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend” podcast where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao. This podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

We’re bringing the podcast in-house today and for good reason. I’m talking to BarBend’s managing editor Andrew Gutman who’s covered some of the biggest events in strength sports history.

 

It’s an especially interesting time for the strength community. Late July 2021, that’s the month this podcast is being recorded and released, includes both the Tokyo Olympic Games and the CrossFit Games, making it one of the busiest periods ever for BarBend’s news writers.

 

We discuss the upcoming challenges and thrills associated with covering multiple international sporting events at the same time, along with some fun stories from the trenches of strength sports coverage over the past few years.

 

Also, we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it.

 

Well, Andrew, we’re talking in a slightly different capacity than normal because we obviously work together very closely a lot of the time.

 

Here we have you on the BarBend podcast for the first time. We’re going to talk about strength sports journalism, covering these events, some of the behind the scenes, and really the quadruple whammy of events that we have coming up here in the next few weeks, one by one by one by one.

 

First, give folks a little bit of your background and how you got involved in strength and strength sports journalism. It’s a strange career path, if I should say so myself.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

It sure is. Let me just say I’m a little offended. I didn’t get a full disclosure from David Tao, but yeah. First off, thanks for having me on. I know I’m a BarBend employee, but it’s still cool to be able to sit down and talk with you on a pod.

 

My background, short story long as I would say, I went to Springfield College in Massachusetts to study strength and conditioning. I figured out pretty quickly that that wasn’t for me at the time. Then I took an intro to journalism class because, frankly, it was an easy A, I was told. I was like, “Oh, this would be better than standard English 101.”

 

I took the class and was not expecting to really just be enamored with the professor, who was so passionate. Actually, his name was Marty Dobrow. He’s still an absolute force in the world of sports journalism. He was just so passionate and really took the time to shepherd every student’s interest in writing stories.

 

Really hammered home the importance of the written word and the power that can have if you tell the right story. I very quickly got involved with the student newspaper. Then, near senior year, found myself confused about what I wanted to do post-college, as I’m sure a lot of people feel. I was in sports journalism major. Did not like traditional sports.

 

Marty Dobrow said, “Well, we have somebody at a magazine called ‘Muscle & Fitness.'”

David TaoDavid Tao

Heard of it. Yeah.

 

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

[laughs] That might be up your alley. I was very into weight lifting. Still am. Not weight lifting the sport, but just lifting weights. Bodybuilding was a particular interest of mine. Landed an internship at Muscle & Fitness. Graduated. Then had a three, four-month period where I had another job I wasn’t crazy about. Then ended up at Muscle for about four years.

 

Now I’m here. That’s it.

David TaoDavid Tao

laughs] I have to say, as far as careers in strength sports journalism, I called it an unconventional career trajectory. That’s probably the most conventional journalism career trajectory one can take in the strength sports realm. It’s not the kind of thing where there are a hundred jobs full-time on the market at any given time, if you want to write about strength sports.

 

There are a handful of places where you can do it. It’s really cool to hear that you had that support from within your educational community to pursue that. I’m pretty sure if this is what I wanted to do in college — if I’d realized that — I would have been maybe given a handshake and a good luck kit. It’s cool, though, that there are support systems.

 

What do you think surprised you most about doing this full-time when you entered the workforce? Did it meet your expectations from what you’d learned from your journalism classes? Was it different in some capacity?

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

My background from college, my journalism background was very traditional, wrote up a lot of heavy stories, myself and my classmates. I guess, getting into muscle journalism or strength, [laughs] muscle journalism…

David TaoDavid Tao

Muscle journalism, I like that.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

The big thing that shocked me, and this is very magazine-specific, not so much industry-specific, but just the amount of money that magazines throw at production. I was very surprised to learn, OK, I pitch a story — training feature, let’s say — and then we hire a model to shoot the images for that photo.

 

We hire photographer, and either I write it or we pay somebody to write it. I would pitch something and then the magazine would spend $6,000 to have it created. I remember being, “Well, that’s kind of cool,” and not something they tell you about. It felt like a big responsibility to have the power to wield pitches around and then spend a lot of money on having them created. It was cool.

David TaoDavid Tao

 It’s also a lot of pressure too. It’s like if I pitch this, and it’s bad, that might be a lot of economics, or economic impetus put behind it, for not a great reason.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

That happened. I’m trying to think there was a story. We’ve had a couple stories where that happened. We had a story where we shot a training feature, was a CrossFit style training feature. The model didn’t show up in shape and that was a problem.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s not something you can fix on the fly, right there.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

No, you can’t be like, “All right, we’re gonna wait here for eight weeks, and you’re gonna shut that body fat off.” No. I was like, “Whoa, you’re not in good shape. [laughs] This is your job.” Yeah, that definitely happens. There have been a couple of stories where, maybe the ankle wasn’t fleshed out enough.

 

Then it goes to, it’s time for the designers to do their work. They’re like, “What are we doing?” You’re like, “Oh, no. Nobody knows what this is going to be.”

David TaoDavid Tao

The ecosystem of traditional print magazines is something that I have experience in, we both have experience in. I’d say you a little bit more directly in this space. At the same time, it’s not necessarily how we do things at BarBend. We’re not spending $6,000 on every pitch that Andrew comes up with, in our editorial meetings.

 

If we did, we’d probably have a very different product. When you transition over to the purely digital side, which BarBend is, we’re not printing magazines on glossy paper, at least these days. I don’t know, future’s long, maybe we will.

 

What was the toughest thing for you to transition to when it came to just digital and working on now like BarBend? By the way, this is a tough question, because I’m a CEO of the company. I’m asking a question that might be a little too personal. Sorry about that, if that’s uncomfortable.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Nothing is hard. The job is perfect. I would say I’m very good at the job. No…

 

That’s a great question. That’s something I’ve thought a lot about, because coming from a magazine to a digital product is very different. It’s also in a lot of ways not different. I would say the pure output. A magazine is a huge burden. There is a lot that goes into it.

 

160-page magazine, but the workload is not constant. At BarBend, on any given day, we’ll have four to five news stories that need to be conceptualized, written, edited and published. We also have contributor content that needs to be edited and published, or scheduled.

 

We also have meetings, strategizing meetings. We have video work that needs to be done. There’s so many moving parts, and it’s constant all the time. I’d say with magazines, there were definitely times where there were walls.

 

Freelancers were off doing the work and you were waiting for that to be done. Then you would grind real hard for two to three weeks to get the product in shape. Definitely, just the output and the consistency of it. There’s definitely a big change.

David TaoDavid Tao

The Internet never sleeps. Let’s change course a little bit. As I ask a question that’s maybe not so terrible of me to ask, [laughs] to put you in the spot. What are some of the most memorable events you covered for Muscle & Fitness when you were there?

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

I always love covering the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition. Muscle & Fitness was owned by American Media Inc., AMI. It no longer is, but it was. The Olympia was also owned by AMI at the time, so the Muscle & Fitness crew was always flown there to show face, produce content, organize photo shoots.

 

It was always a really good time. It was in Vegas, which — nothing against people who go to Vegas — not my cup of tea, but fun for a four-, five-day trip.

David TaoDavid Tao

You want to be in Vegas for no longer. If it turns into a five- to six-day trip, too long, that’s my opinion.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

You want like a taste of Vegas. First thing I would do is, I would touch down and I would have the taxi driver take me to In-N-Out burger which was near the Orleans.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I used to do the same thing. I have that In-N-Out, the image of that In-N-Out, imprinted in my mind. Exact same thing.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

You go under the bridge and then it’s on your right.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s almost elevated above everything else around it. It’s like this gleaming beacon. Everyone who is listening from California is going to be like, “These noobs, this is nothing special.” For us, for the East Coasters, it’s unique. It’s different.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

It is special. The taxi cab driver would always be happy to pull in, go through the drive-thru. I’d always offer to get him something, and then I’d walk on into the Orleans feeling insecure because I was surrounded by champion bodybuilders who were surviving on saltines and water, and I’d be holding three double-doubles.

 

I’d be like “Oh, I’m going to get massacred.”

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m imagining the old cartoons where the cartoon characters were elevated by scent trails and they levitated off the ground as they followed the scent of something. That’s you walking into the Olympia with the bag of In-N-Out. That’s what I’m imagining.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Except that everyone is far scarier looking, [laughs] far bigger…But yeah. I love the Olympia. From the expo to the actual competition, it was such a…I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense, but it’s such a circus. It’s so interesting to see.

 

First off, bodybuilders in real life are pretty trippy to look at. They’re huge. Then the production value of it all was pretty crazy. You’re staying in the Orleans. If anyone listening has never been or heard of the Orleans, it’s not nice by Vegas casino hotel standards, I wouldn’t call it nice.

 

It’s this very cool, kitschy, little smoke-filled hotel. It had a lot of personality. I always liked staying there, even though…

David TaoDavid Tao

I stayed at the Orleans. It hearkens to an old era of Las Vegas.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

Before the family-friendliness.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

 [laughs] It was always bodybuilders, and then 79-year-old women playing slots. That was the crowd.

David TaoDavid Tao

There was very few in between.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

There was me.

David TaoDavid Tao

You. You were the bridge.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah, definitely the Olympia. I’ve been to a couple Arnold expos, which are a fun time. I would say that those are the two big events that I’ve covered pretty consistently. What about you?

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re turning it back on me.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah. What about you, man?

David TaoDavid Tao

I always found the Europa expos fun because they were a little less intimidating than the Arnold expo. I’ve actually never been to the Olympia, so I should totally admit that. I always thought the Europas were fun because you could actually have a conversation with people. They weren’t so crowded.

 

You could go up and talk to Ronnie Coleman or Branch Warren on the bodybuilding side, just a few folks who we were lucky enough to interact with. I’m going to turn it back on you in a second, talking about events covered for BarBend.

 

Covering the 2017 Weightlifting World Championships in Anaheim, where we were doing color commentary, we were very much on the ground in an environment that was somewhat comfortable. It was American soil, right?

 

I felt like I could get around, I knew what was going on, I knew a lot of people there. I ran into people who would coach me in weightlifting, and I ran into old teammates of mine. We were actually doing actual work, going and doing commentary on sessions.

 

We also just happened to be staying at the Great Wolf Lodge, which is this indoor water park and hotel complex. It was during the winter, so the water park was closed even though it was warm. It was Anaheim.

 

We stayed in the same hotel as the Iranian team and the Georgian team. We ate in the same cafeteria as them, but there was one bottle of ketchup in the entire cafeteria and everyone wanted to use it for every meal.

 

There was something really interesting about sitting down in the morning and eating your eggs, and trying to add some ketchup for flavor to these powdered eggs, and suddenly Lasha Talakhadze, not really in English, but points at the ketchup, asking if he can grab it.

 

You’re like, “Yeah man, go for it! Get your calories in! You are 6’7″, 300 and who knows how many pounds, and the strongest man in the world. That’s OK!”

 

For me, that really sticks out as an experience because we were all like…It’s all these teams with these accomplished weightlifters, and then the BarBend crew covering it. We just happened to pick the hotel where they put, basically, all the super heavyweights.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

I can only imagine how large Lasha looks in person. I have one more follow-up before you turn it back on me. If you did never cover an Olympia, what the hell were you doing at the Orleans?

David TaoDavid Tao

It was for the National Pro-Grid League, which was like a team-functional fitness competition not related to CrossFit officially, but some of the people who used to work for CrossFit were involved with it. I was involved on the media side as it was trying to get off the ground. They had the first ever combine to assess athletes leading up to an athlete draft.

 

It was there, at the Orleans. It was there at the Orleans. That’s all I need to say about that. In the auditorium, where they have everything from basketballs games to the Olympia, they set up the grid competition floor and the athletes lifted weights, doing pull-ups, rope climbs, and all that stuff there.

 

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

I was hoping for a cooler story, but I appreciate the thorough answer.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m going to give you the honest one. I’m an open book here.

 

When it comes to covering events for BarBend, Andrew, you’ve been with the team for just under a year, but we’ve covered a lot. We’ve covered everything remotely so far, because you got hired during the COVID pandemic. A lot of stuff was virtual, or very limited access, or occurred in a bubble.

 

What have been some memorable moments from things you’ve covered thus far? Then I’m going to transition the conversation to the coverage bonanza that is going to be occurring in a matter of weeks.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

In terms of covering events remotely, I still think it’s a lot of fun. You’re still very plugged in with the team and there’s a lot of comradery behind it. Like there’s World’s Strongest Man, which was very early this past June, that was an absolute tornado of coverage. There was so much going on…

David TaoDavid Tao

To be fair, we did have a person on the ground there, just to toot BarBend’s horn a little bit.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

We did have a person on the ground. Shout-out to our senior writer Phil Blackman who did an awesome job covering the event. You’re still very plugged in with everybody. To answer your question, I really liked my first CrossFit games. That was the first time I’ve ever covered CrossFit.

 

Of course, I know what CrossFit is. I knew what it was before coming on to BarBend, but never have I been exposed to it at that level. I was really impressed and also scared for the athletes [laughs] by the sheer volume of events. We did have people in the office. We were safe. We did have some people in the office and that was fun.

 

You’re tearing up the keyboard writing a lot of content. At the end of the night, you maybe have a drink, you have some pizza. There was still a lot of comradery. I do think covering events either from home or in an office is pretty efficient. I would say it is pretty efficient. Trying to write a story in the Orleans Expo Center is not efficient.

 

Being able to have a desk and be at HQ, it does make the coverage a little bit better.

David TaoDavid Tao

There’s something to be said for that hybrid model. I’m very excited to get back to live events, to have people at live events. At the same time, a lot of the work can be done more efficiently from an office that’s set up to handle a newsroom.

 

I’d anticipate moving forward. We’re going to have to navigate this like, we want to have people on the ground, there’s a lot of value to that. At the same time, it’s nice to have people with predictable WiFi and a comfortable office to do some of this stuff. It’s going to be an interesting balance moving forward that you and I are going to have to figure out how to work through.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yes. I think this upcoming slew of events is a pretty good example of that. We have the CrossFit Games coming up from July 27th to August 1st. We have the Olympic Games which runs from July 24th to August 8th.

 

We also have a few week in events, we have the IFBB Tampa Pro which is a huge qualifier in the world of body building. We have Static Monsters which is a very odd copulative events but a pretty cool popular show, heavy log press and axle deadlift I think, and then we have this Strongman Classic, so there’s are a lot of coverage we have to wrap our head around and we will be remote for all of that.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m taking a small team to the CrossFit Games but the core of BarBend’s editorial team will be remote.

 

There was a moment where we were actually considering taking everyone to Hawaii for the Games since the time zone difference is a little bit better, that’s where team USA is going to be based, but let me just put it this way. That would have been very very expensive because you have to quarantine on the frontend, which is like paying for two weeks for a hotel room for a whole team.

 

It’s extremely cost prohibitive and my hope is that as live events open back up, that that’s a part we don’t have to incorporate or count for, but let’s talk about some of these events specifically. Which of the four events you just mentioned are you most excited about?

 

I’d be bias and say the Olympic Games because hey, it only happens every four, in this case every five years, so kind of crazy, but are there any that you’re really excited to cover or that maybe BarBend’s covering in a different way than we have in the past?

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

I like the CrossFit Games, I’m a big fan of the CrossFit Games. CrossFit does a pretty good job of keeping media and fans and athletes on their toes and although can be sometimes a little frustrating, it’s also fun.

 

Again, it keeps us on our toes, it keeps us sharp. It’s such a whirlwind of writing and editing and everyone’s in the office. So yes, I do like the CrossFit Games, I’ve really grown to respect the heck out of those athletes. Not that I didn’t respect CrossFit athletes before, but now that I have covered them quite a bit…I don’t think I could do at Atlanta with a gun to my head.

David TaoDavid Tao

The last of it of last year’s CrossFit Game.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

For context, it was the final event of the 2020 CrossFit games after athletes already completed, was it 11 events prior?

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Yes…

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

 …over the course of three days. They had to do…run a mile, do 300 kipping pull-ups, 100 handstand push-ups, pistol squats. It’s just pretty insane to me, pretty mind-boggling. I really find CrossFit to be crazy in a great way. The Olympic Games, that’s obviously exciting. I’ve never actually covered in Olympics so this will be my first Olympics.

 

Muscle & Fitness didn’t really cover strength sports like we cover strength sports at BarBend. Yeah, it’s cool. It will be a little complicated because the events are happening in Japan time, so BarBend will have to be up at around 2:00 in the morning, 3:00 in the morning for some of those events which we have an awesome team who is willing to do that.

 

I think there’s some fun in that, maybe after the fact.

David TaoDavid Tao

There’s some fun when you look back on it and you’re like, “That was a trip.”

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah, bend. I can’t believe we did that, but in the moment maybe not so fun. That will be cool. I’m looking forward to the CrossFit Games, but all the events. I like the event coverage. I like working under pressure.

David TaoDavid Tao

 Let me figure out what I want to ask you. I normally have the second question queued up. This is a great question. Is there any particular athlete or any particular session that you’re excited about among all these events?

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

In weightlifting?

David TaoDavid Tao

It could be weight lifting, it could be the CrossFit Games. A big thing folks are wondering on the CrossFit Games this year is who is going to step onto the men’s podium now that Mat Fraser is retired. Tia is still competing so there’s a little bit less of a question mark there.

 

On the Olympic side, there are particular athletes people are really jazzed to see especially given the delay for the Tokyo Olympics. Out of all these, is there a moment that you’re looking forward to and focused on, not only in covering this but as a fan?

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah. Super heavy weight Lasha Talakhadze. I can’t wait to see that guy lift. That would be fun. Lasha is a guy, I know you’ve made this joke before. I’m going to make it up. Lasha keeps BarBend…pretty much keeps the lights on, I’d say.

 

Any time that guy picks up a barbell, it’s some sort of record. We have covered him maybe…I think he’s set three different records this year alone, like all-time records.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah. Records or if it wasn’t an official record on a competition platform, it was literally the heaviest lift ever caught on camera.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah. He’s done that maybe twice this year. I’m excited to watch him lift. He’s primed to set another world record, beat his own world record. I’m also a fan. I like Shi in the 73-kilogram men’s class. He’s exciting and dynamic. I love he screams before every lift or during every lift. He’s fun to watch, and also CJ Cummings is in that class.

 

Go team USA. Not to be biased, but it is the Olympics so go team USA.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ll fit a disclaimer in here since you asked for one. BarBend is the official media partner of USA weightlifting. There’s your biased disclaimer.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

There we go. Super heavy weight men’s and then also the 73-kilogram men’s class at the Olympics. I’d say I’m looking forward to those two sessions.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’re going to see fireworks in those sessions. I don’t know exactly which type it is. Kind of funny because going into the CrossFit Games, we have Tia just asserting her utter dominance. It’s very much hers to lose. On the weightlifting side, we have a similar situation with Lasha because he’s so far ahead of the other competitors in that class.

 

Something extraordinary would have to happen for him to not come away with a second consecutive Olympic gold medal. We are seeing two ranks or two historically dominant athletes cramped into the same two weeks of…

 

I’m calling it a strength-sport-bonanza because I don’t think we’ve ever seen this density of events at this higher level ever in the history of BarBend and we’ve been doing this for five years.

 

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

A lot of the excitement is like, will they lose. We saw that last year at the 2020 CrossFit Games were Mat and Tia. I mean, they were a lock. They were just a lock.

 

At a certain point, we all knew that they were going to win. Jeffrey Adler said it pretty well, where he was, there was a clip of him talking with the other men’s competitors. He was like, “I just don’t want him — him being Mat Fraser — to win the next event.”

 

It was just when Samuel Kwant almost beat him or did beat him in the swim event. Event nine I believe that was a huge story. That was [indecipherable 28:36] the one of only two events, I think, Fraser lost that entire game.

 

I mean, not that you’re rooting against these folks, because they’re phenomenal athletes, but the excitement is, will they lose, because they are expected to dominate.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Andrew, I appreciate you sharing a little bit of insight into what you do your history in the muscle content space. Let’s put it that way.

 

It’s a broader way to say it, and also a little bit of the preview of a very important cluster of events we have coming up for coverage in the space. Where’s the best place for people to follow along with the work you do? Be it personal, social media or on BarBend?

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah, so barbend.com that’s where I do…

 

 …most of my writing these days, I would definitely recommend checking out that site. Also my personal website is ajguttman.com. I have some old clips…

 

 …they’re back from my magazine days and freelance days, but really barbend.com. Check it out.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Andrew, thanks so much for joining us. Really excited to tackle this next period with you.

Andrew GutmanAndrew Gutman

Yeah, man. Thank you for having me.