OSL Contributor, Tom Platz, the Golden Eagle, has returned to bodybuilding in a big way. We spoke to the legend about his career, his love of the sport, and how he wants to impact today’s bodybuilding scene.
Tom Platz is back. In his prime, Platz was simply one of the sport’s best athletes, and many fans of the Golden Era and beyond still contend that he had the best leg development of all time.
Platz grew up in the Detroit area and began competing in AAU bodybuilding shows in the early 1970s. While he would go on to compete in major IFBB shows, including eight Mr. Olympia appearances, Platz’s legend didn’t grow from titles and trophies—his reputation was made in the gym, from the numerous videos and photos of him lifting outrageous amounts of weight in epic high-volume workouts that continue to inspire generations. The beaming smile, the sun-bleached blond hair, those mind-boggling quads—his indelible image and charisma have endured over the decades.
From Bodybuilding to the Boardroom
In a sense, Platz never left the sport. At least his heart didn’t. After his run of Olympia performances ended in 1986, he took a job as a corporate recruiter, an occupation that he enjoyed. Occasionally he would drop in on a contest or two, but he stayed busy away from the bodybuilding limelight for years.
That changed after he did a seminar in Culver City a few years ago. The overwhelmingly positive reaction he received was augmented by an enthusiastic response from young people who had seen his videos and photos on the Internet. Platz, now 62 years old, learned that the digital age had brought back the Golden Era in a big way.
“The internet has made the Golden Era accessible,” says Platz, who earned the nickname the Golden Eagle during his competitive years. “I think people respond to the camaraderie back then. It wasn’t about the money, but about the love of the sport. I think people miss that. We were led spiritually and mentally to Gold’s Gym to all train together. None of us had a choice. We couldn’t say no.”
Platz is the consummate professional, whether in the oiled-up world of bodybuilding or buttoned-up corporate offices. Though he felt the pull of a new generation of fans encouraging him to jump back into the sport, he was reluctant to leave his job as a corporate recruiter. Then his boss encouraged him.
“My CEO at the corporate office told me, ‘If you don’t leave, I’m going to fire you,’” Platz says, laughing. “He wasn’t really serious, but he knew I needed to do this, so I resigned. I began to tour the world, mostly in Europe, giving training seminars and squat clinics.”
Meanwhile, the buzz kept building about Platz becoming more involved in the sport. He did a seminar that was filmed and went viral. He received numerous requests to do personal appearances to host squat clinics and to talk about the Golden Era.
While the Golden Eagle has landed back firmly into the sport he loves, let’s see how he got here and review his remarkable career.
Platz caught the lifting bug at the tender age of nine years old after seeing a photo of Dave Draper in a bodybuilding magazine. He visited a couple of hardcore gyms in Detroit asking if he could train. The bemused members of these gyms told him to come back after he bought some “squat shoes,” a seemingly impossible request to meet. Not only were squat shoes a rare commodity, who would have them in a child’s size?
Undaunted, Platz visited sporting goods stores in search of the training paraphernalia. At first he was met with puzzled expressions and curt dismissals of “move along, son.”
“I went into one store, and the guy at first said, no, then he said he’d look in the back just in case,” remembers Platz. “He came out with a pair of squat shoes that actually fit me. I went back to the gym and they let me train.”
The young weightlifter learned under the tutelage of hardcore trainers who taught him valuable lessons in exercise technique, hard work, and grit. These are lessons he would apply the rest of his life in the gym, onstage, and offstage in the boardroom.
After completing his education at Wayne State University and working as a personal trainer in the Detroit area, he decided to make the pilgrimage to the bodybuilding Mecca: Gold’s Gym. At the time, the gym was down the road from Venice in Santa Monica, but Platz already knew of the greats who trained there: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, and his inspiration, Draper.
Platz arrived in California in 1978 with $50 and a dream. Like all newcomers to Gold’s, he was awed that he could train elbow-to-elbow with the superstars he saw in magazines. But he soon began creating his own buzz, developing a reputation as an evangelist of the squat, an exercise that had fallen out of favor due to concerns about waist thickness. Platz’s prodigious physical strength and astounding quads made a convincing argument that the squat may be the most important bodybuilding movement of them all.
Here To Stay
After making a strong impression at Gold’s Gym, Platz moved on from the AAU and took his massive, defined physique to IFBB stages. He stole the show at the 1978 World Amateur Championships and won the Mr. Universe title and his pro card. Despite the triumph, Platz didn’t see a future in the sport. After having earned a degree in Science Physiology and Nutrition, he wasn’t convinced bodybuilding was a livelihood. That’s when Frank Zane took him aside.
“I told him I was thinking of moving back home, and Frank told me to wait,” says Platz. “Frank said, ‘In two months, you’ll be in all of the magazines. When people see you, there’s going to be demand for your services. Just wait. You’re going to see it.’”
Zane, of course, was right.
“Frank was great. He gave me advice on how to manage my money, and how to get the most from my experience in the sport,” says Platz. “I was in awe of Frank Zane, and here he was helping me out.”
That was the spirit of the Golden Era. Platz remembers Arnold taking him aside and giving him advice and encouragement. Joe Gold, the founder of Gold’s Gym, offered him a lifetime membership, as he did with many of the sport’s leading athletes, including Sergio Oliva. Platz decided that he had found his calling.
Still, it took the new pro a while to feel like he fit in with the guys he grew up idolizing. “Their pictures were on my bedroom wall when I was growing up,” remembers Platz. “I didn’t think that I belonged onstage with these guys. It took me about three years until I could accept it.”
Platz believes this brotherhood of iron is one of the reasons why so many of today’s fans are attracted to the Golden Era of bodybuilding. And it’s the atmosphere he’d like to help bring back.
Restoring the Golden Era Ethic
Platz worries that today’s bodybuilders don’t have the mentoring advantages that he had, when the older generation gave him advice when he needed it most. He points out that other professional organizations—the PGA, NBA, and other sports—provide the kind of lifestyle training that would be helpful to many bodybuilders who find success. Guidance on such matters as wardrobe, handling money, interacting with media, especially mainstream news outlets, can go a long way to putting a professional polish on bodybuilding, while also helping the athlete get more out of his time in the limelight.
“Other sports help train young men in how to become consummate professionals. We don’t have that in bodybuilding,” he says.
He would like to get involved in mentoring today’s top bodybuilding talent, which, of course, starts in the gym. Nothing replaces hard work and grit, and adopting a psychological edge, to be resilient in the face of setbacks, is part of any successful program.
“Bodybuilding taught me about winning and losing,” he says. “You attract success because you think success,” states Platz. “I won the Mr. Universe in 1978 doing everything wrong. But it happened. Attitude monitors talent.”
That’s why I’m coming back
Today’s competitors should look back to the Golden Era for examples of presentation and showmanship. Says Platz: “You have to love the stage as much as the gym. You have to sell the muscle onstage. You need to master nonverbal communication, make people stand on their chairs and cheer. I think bodybuilding could use more of that.”
It’s consistent with Platz’s desire to give back to the sport that has given him so much.
“Bodybuilding taught me everything. It helped me in the boardroom—really, everywhere in life. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve returned to my old neighborhood to help the next generation. It’s a great sport. That’s why I’m coming back.”
To learn more about Tom Platz and to see one of his workouts, go to the “Training” section of the Old School Labs site.