Just call him “The Gentle Giant!” Towering at 6’1” tall and weighing anywhere between 300 and 330 pounds depending on the season and the competition, Gunter Schlierkamp is undeniably one of the tallest professional bodybuilders in the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness. So, how did he make his way to the bodybuilding stage after growing up in the 1970s working on the family farm in Olfen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany?
Hoping to achieve greatness in his life, Schlierkamp’s parents had a different mindset and taught their children the value of hard work by making Schlierkamp and his siblings spend every minute of their free time working on the family farm. Refusing to let their children play sports because they thought it was a frivolous waste of time, Schlierkamp couldn’t stifle his competitive nature or his dreams of one day leaving the farm and making it on his own. At only 12 years old, he discovered a path that would take him far away from a rural lifestyle when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian and was amazed at his physique. Setting out to sculpt his own body, he studied every part of the Pumping Iron bodybuilding documentary and used his work on the farm to build strength.
Finally getting the chance to join the local gym and start weight training when he was 16 years old, Schlierkamp didn’t waste any time building muscle and was ready to enter his first bodybuilding competition only two years later in 1988. With his first win under his belt, he went on to compete and win the 1990 German Championships, the 1992 European Amateur Championships and the 1992 German Championships in the heavyweight division. By then, he was more than ready to transition into the professional circuit and entered the 1993 IFBB World Amateur Championships where he won first place in the heavyweight division. This earned him the prestigious “Mr. Universe” title and a spot in future IFBB bodybuilding competitions.
With his career blossoming, Schlierkamp’s personal life was also taking off as he moved to the United States and married Carmen Jourst in 1996. Dabbling in modeling and acting with appearances in several movies, commercials and advertisements, Schlierkamp and Jourst realized their lives were taking separate paths and eventually divorced in 2003. Schlierkamp spent the next four years as a bachelor before he met and fell in love with Kim Lyons, an American athlete, nutritionist, fitness model and personal trainer. Tying the knot in March 2007, Schlierkamp was thrilled to share a common interest with Lyons and was widely supportive of her career and even encouraged her to join NBC’s hit series The Biggest Loser in addition to supporting her on American Ninja Warrior.
Finally happy with his life at home, Schlierkamp hired legendary trainer Charles Glass to help him take his physique to the next level and, in 2002, the training paid off when he beat eight-time Mr. Olympia champion Ronnie Coleman in the GNC Show of Strength. Pumped by his latest victory and the incredible upset that secured his place in the spotlight, Schlierkamp was eager to win the Mr. Olympia title but, unfortunately, only made it to fifth place in the 2002 and 2003 contests.
Refusing to give up and competing in nine total Mr. Olympia competitions with his best finish coming in 2005 when he placed fourth, Schlierkamp competed in a variety of contests over his 16-year career including the Ironman Pro Invitational, the Arnold Classic and the GNC Show of Strength as well as Grand Prix contests in England, Finland, Germany, Holland and the Ukraine. Winning only the 2002 GNC Show of Strength, Schlierkamp hoped Glass’s expertise would make a world of difference and help him win the Mr. Olympia title but, sadly, it never happened. After securing a 10th place finish in the 2006 Mr. Olympia contest, Schlierkamp was finally ready to call it quits and retired from professional bodybuilding altogether with the hopes of focusing on other ventures.
Once voted the “Greatest German Bodybuilder of All Time” by Sports Revue Magazine, Schlierkamp found a different kind of success off the bodybuilding stage as he pursued an acting career with roles in American films like Beerfest, Never Surrender and The Mudman. Much like seeing his idol in Conan the Barbarian, Schlierkamp knew he had finally come full circle in his career when he appeared in a handful of bodybuilding documentaries including Arnold Schwarzenegger: Hollywood Hero, Rock Hard: Gunter Schlierkamp and FIBO 2004: Muscle to the Max. He is even credited for doing some of the stunt work for the 2003 blockbuster, Hulk.
Although Schlierkamp never made it to the top of Hollywood as an A-list actor, the 46-year-old certainly left his mark in the bodybuilding world and was hired as a product development consultant with several companies around the world. And, while his greatest career accomplishment came in 2003 when his native Germany named him the greatest bodybuilder of all time, the most unforgettable moment of his entire life came on June 3, 2010 when Kim gave him the gift of fatherhood with the birth of their first child, a son named Jake Alexander.
Now spending most of his time with his family at their home in Hermosa Beach, California, Schlierkamp is incredibly proud of his past as a former Mr. Universe and his ability to inspire others to enter the bodybuilding world or to simply improve their overall health by getting back to the gym. In fact, fans from around the world still email him daily to share just how much his own journey from growing up on a farm in Germany to becoming a renowned bodybuilder in the United States has inspired them to build a healthier life for themselves. For Schlierkamp, that’s what motivates him to get up and get going each day.