About Lee Priest
Competition weight: 203 lbs.
Off-season weight: 230 lbs.
Birthdate: July 6, 1972
Training since age 13
Arms: 20 3/4" (in competition, pumped) to 21 3/4" (off-season, pumped)
Lee Priest was born July 6, 1972, in Newcastle, New South Wales, a 90-minute drive north from Sydney. He was born to a "regular working-class family," as he puts it, and as he reached his teenage years, he began to dabble in rugby and karate. His grandfather, a former army wrestler, enrolled young Lee in the local police force's boys gymnastics club. The youngster had a habit of arriving before the gymnastics class started and -- being the adventurous lad he was -- working out with weights that were strewn around the secluded corner of the gym. This introduction to barbells and dumbbells occurred when Lee was 13.
Though he sported a lean and lithe physique that could never be described as skinny when he started, after only eight months of weight training, he had packed on impressive muscle size. In 1986, at the age of 14, he entered and won three local junior bodybuilding shows in quick succession against competitors three and four years older.
Being onstage felt natural to him from the very first contest, and with that mind-set, he decided to "take this bodybuilding thing as far as I could." Initially, his family was a little wary of young Lee getting involved in the "weird" sport of bodybuilding, but they very quickly became supportive and have remained so ever since.
A devoted reader of Flex and Muscle & Fitness, the teenager became enamored with the Austrian Oak. "Arnold became my idol," he says. As he progressed, Lee was increasingly drawn toward the freaky look, as embodied by pros like Tom Platz and Eddie Robinson. Lee's early 1994 resemblance to Platz, courtesy of his dyed blond hair, is dismissed as a coincidence, and the youngster has now reverted to his natural brown hue. In 1989, at the tender age of 17, Priest won the Mr. Australia title, the major one, not the teen division, and successfully defended it in 1990 and 1991. Too big for Australia, Priest jumped the island continent and took fourth in the lightweight division of the 1990 IFBB World Championships in Malaysia. The tiny terror then entered the 1991 World Championships in Poland as one of the precontest favorites, but in a major controversy, he failed the contest's drug test even though he had tested clean (twice!) prior to leaving Australia. Of that incident, Lee says candidly, "If I was on gear [drugs], I wouldn't have been in the lightweight [154-pound] class. I would have been at least 20 pounds heavier."
After the Polish debacle, Priest felt it was time to strut his stuff among the pose-for-pay brigade. He applied for his pro status with IFBB Pro Division Director Wayne DeMilia, but DeMilia turned down the 20-year-old's request, saying he was too young and not yet good enough to turn pro.
The Priest of pump thus became suspended in a kind of career limbo in 1992. In April 1993, hungry for competition, he journeyed to the States and entered the Niagara Falls open amateur contest, which is staged in conjunction with the annual Niagara Falls Pro Invitational.
A few days before that contest, Lee was in Gold's Gym, Venice, hitting a few shots after a workout when he was spotted by NPC President Jim Manion. Perusing the 181 cut pounds distributed on Lee's 5'4" frame, the canny Manion exclaimed: "You should be a pro."
After a flurry of red tape, Priest was consequently registered as an IFBB pro on the morning of the 1993 Niagara Flass Pro Invitational, and he duly made his debut with an impressive ninth-place finish. Many observers of that show said he should have placed higher, but in the slow-burn manner that personifies his character, Priest in an interview. "As long as I'm in my best shape and continue making progress, I'm content to let the placings take care of themselves," he said humbly.
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