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Gainesville's Tim Moon powers his way to Mr. Olympia bench-press title, world record
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Tim Moon, 52, poses for a photo Tuesday at the Iron Beast Gym in Gainesville. Moon lifted 788 pounds to win the bench-only championship of the elite Mr. Olympia meet in Las Vegas and 805 pounds to set a new IPL Master's record. - photo by Erin O. Smith

After racking his third press of 788.14 pounds to win Friday’s bench-only championship of the elite Mr. Olympia Invitational in Las Vegas, 52-year-old Tim Moon approached the meet’s promoter with a question.

“Hey, I want to break the world record. How much time do I have?” Moon said to the gentleman in charge.

When informed he only had three minutes of recovery time — instead of the standard 10 minutes in-between sets — before attempting the record-breaking lift, Moon began to feel a bit wary of his chances. And when the moment finally came where his spotters released this barbell stacked with an IPL Master’s record weight of 804.68 pounds, it was all up to him.

Moon was in survival mode. Luckily his designated coach and 23-year-old daughter, Leslie, was with him every step of the way.

“Belly up, belly up!” She shouted from a distance as he began to press upward.

With his feet glued to the floor, and his backside flat on the bench, Moon executed the three-part sequence commanded by the surrounding judges as they intently watched — start (lower), press and rack. Three white lights appeared upon completion to indicate a perfect set.

“When you’re under the weight and under the pressure, it gets very technical,” Moon said of the moment. “So (Leslie) is on the stage hollering instructions to me as I’m lifting. She really takes pride in doing it.”

Despite not meeting his current personal record of over 821 pounds, Moon’s best press of the day still earned him the distinction of world’s strongest bench presser over the age of 50. 

Even better, Moon got to share the victory with daughter Leslie and his spotter Chris McCann who made the long trip with Moon to Vegas. Leslie recently began competing in the sport of weightlifting as well.

Leslie knew her old man could do it.

“It was like an adrenaline rush,” she said. “It was like, ‘Ok my dad is under 800 pounds,’ and I’ve seen him get it before, but sometimes they don’t get it, and this is exciting. There were so many people, so I do worry, but I knew his setup was doing really well in warmup and practice, and it was more exciting than it was fearful.”

Even the strongest of men need a little wisdom to get through the heaviest obstacles. He has his Georgia Iron Dawgs teammate and mentor Garry Glenn, 62, to thank for this year’s approach.

Moon’s more aggressive training regimen wound up causing him the “bomb out” during last year’s championship, failing to get off a valid lift on a split-decision by the judges. Moon said the stress coupled with the three-hour time difference in travel also contributed to the tough circumstances.

So he used a “little more wisdom,” as jokingly put by the world record holder.

His first two lifts (738, 760), while not perfect, were still substantial to earn two of three white lights by the judges.

“When I took my first lift, I was probably 30 pounds lighter than last year,” said Moon.

“And then what you do is you see what the guys in your weight class are doing, and then that’s how you gage what your next attempt is.”

Moon’s third press granted passage through two Russians in order to win the title in the 308.64-pound weight class. Moon laughed when he learned that the two younger adversaries had their sights set on the much-older Moon before the start of the competition.

“They got second and third, so kind of defending the soil kind of thing,” he laughed.

Moon usually competes against people his age, as each age group is generally separated by five-year increments. However as a participant in the Open Class of Mr. Olympia, he found himself competing against individuals who were at least 20 years his senior.

To participate in the invitation-only Mr. Olympia was an honor for Moon. But to power through his much younger competition and win an open medal was even more satisfying.

“I won’t say I expect to win at my age bracket. I’m obviously the strongest man in the world at my age bracket, but I don’t take it for granted you know? Because sometimes I go and I don’t perform like I’m supposed to,” Moon said. “But I guess to win against the young guys was a little more rewarding.”

Moon, who currently trains at the Iron Beast gym in Gainesville, had no idea how strong he was until stumbling into a local meet at Gainesville High School back in 2008. Moon originally wanted to attend as a spectator, but was told it was free of charge to participate. So, even with little knowledge of the sport, he won the competition dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt.

Six months later, Moon was in Germany for his first world championship. To date, he has won 17 World Championships.

“It has been crazy,” Moon said of his journey leading up to his second Mr. Olympia Invitational.

Because of the difficulty obtaining sponsors in the sport, Moon instead uses weightlifting as a platform to spread the gospel and help steer individuals towards a more fulfilling path in life. He has visited at least half a dozen prisons and even lifted in front of a student audience at five different high schools in Costa Rica during a mission trip.

“I would never have dreamed that I would do what I’m doing,” Moon said. “When people ask, ‘how do you do this?’ I just say ‘I don’t know, God made me strong.’”

Moon will be a participant in the World United Amateur Powerlifting (WUAP) World Championship on Oct. 5 in Herzberg, Germany, and hopes to compete in the World Championships located in Moscow in December.

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