Giorgio Tsoukalos '98 muscles in on the world of professional bodybuilding.
by Brian Owens '02
Giorgio Tsoukalos '98 didn't need a stellar physique to establish a career within the sport of professional bodybuilding. Instead, he used his organizational skills, passion, and determination.
As a promoter for the International Federation of Bodybuilding professional division, Tsoukalos produces and directs the annual IFBB San Francisco Pro Grand Prix, giving hard-core bodybuilding fans what they want -- more muscle.
With Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2002; with 2003 IFBB champ Jay Cutler (center)
Tsoukalos says his interest in the sport stems from a fascination with pushing the limits of the human form, in terms of strength and symmetry. Born in Lucerne, Switzerland, he was educated at the Institute Montana, an international boarding school in the heart of the country. He recalls an evening when several IFBB athletes came to Switzerland for a professional contest: "It was one of the greatest days of my life, because for the first time I saw all the athletes I admired in the pages of the [bodybuilding] magazines right there on stage, only 10 yards away." Tsoukalos enjoyed bodybuilding himself, but as his fitness level progressed, he came to terms with the limits of his genetic potential and decided to use his knack for organization to promote the sport instead of compete.
He began with the Swiss Amateur Federation in 1991 as a "lackey," as he puts it. He soon contacted Wayne Demilia, vice president of the IFBB and chair of its pro division, to offer his assistance. From 1992 to 1993 Tsoukalos volunteered at various events on the IFBB pro division European tour.
When it came time to attend college, he chose IC because Ithaca's peaceful, small-town atmosphere reminded him of home. He says his desire to make the move to the United States dates back to his childhood; his grandfather, for whom he is named, lived in Brooklyn for more than half a century.
He began as an international business major but later decided to change to sports information and communication. As his academic schedule permitted, Tsoukalos volunteered at professional bodybuilding events such as the Night of Champions, the Arnold Classic, and the "super bowl" of professional bodybuilding, the Mr. Olympia contest. Because there were only a few events within the United States each year, he didn't face problems with his attendance; his pro-circuit work even earned him extra credit in certain classes.
He built stage sets, fetched name badges, and picked up athletes from the airport. Tsoukalos says his initial assignments may seem mundane to anyone outside the industry, but in fact were quite the contrary. "It was a thrill because it meant that I could go to all the shows and meet all the athletes -- I was a part of it," he says. "I was no longer on the outside." Proficient in Spanish and fluent in English, German, French, Italian, and Greek, Tsoukalos also became the official interpreter for all non-English-speaking athletes of the IFBB during his freshman year at Ithaca -- a title he still holds.
After graduating, Tsoukalos set up residence in Ithaca and began working full-time with his production company, Pro Bodybuilding Productions, which he had created in 1992. He took just four months to organize, produce, and direct the 2001 IFBB San Francisco Pro Grand Prix. In 2002 he moved to San Francisco where he continues to work with his production company and the IFBB.
Although Tsoukalos modestly explains his responsibilities as a promoter, his success and passion for the sport haven't gone unnoticed. "He is young, energetic, and enthusiastic," says his mentor, Demilia. To succeed as a promoter, Demilia adds, it's important to follow the blueprint of the event: "You have to know what the market is looking for and know how to relate to the fans."
And Tsoukalos knows both. Current six-time Mr. Olympia champ Ronnie Coleman puts it this way: "Fan participation and advertising are key ingredients for a good show. Giorgio knows how to get people to come out [to the show] and promote it in a good light."
Tsoukalos adds that each contest should be an "experience." To build a successful show, he says, it's important to find ways to give fans more for their money.
This March he did exactly that, as some 1,200 fans at Kofman Auditorium in Alameda were treated to a showing by several of the world's top male bodybuilders. Tsoukalos gave VIP ticket holders 30-minute backstage access to meet the pros and witness the athletes "pump up" before the finals. "This had never been done before at an IFBB show," he points out.
Refusing to waste time, Tsoukalos is already looking ahead to next year's event. "Each year is a learning experience," he says. Eventually, he would like to produce more shows and work his way up the pro division structure. "I can see myself promoting shows for the rest of my life," says Tsoukalos.
When he's not preparing for his annual event or assisting with other shows on the circuit, he enjoys his down time. But he doesn't mind working hard; he loves his chosen career. And after his annual show has ended, he says, "the most rewarding thing is meeting fans I've never met before and having them congratulate me on a job well done."