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Calgary bodybuilder places 4th in Mr. Universe competition
Calgary bodybuilder Todd Payette, 49, finished 4th in the Mr. Universe competition in the 40 to 49 year old category in 2018. (CBC News)

Calgary bodybuilder places 4th in Mr. Universe competition

‘I felt like I was in a Rocky movie’

By Stephen Hunt · CBC News

On Nov.10, 49-year-old Calgary bodybuilder Todd Payette competed for the first time in the Mr. Universe competition in Birmingham, England.

Payette, thrilled beyond belief to received an invite, figured it would be the closing chapter to his bodybuilding career.

“My initial thought was — OK, I can’t top [competing in] Mr. Universe. No matter how I do or where I finish, that’s a pretty good finish to a career in bodybuilding,” Payette told CBC News host Rob Brown Tuesday.

Now, after a stunning fourth-place finish, Payette has had a change of heart about this being his bodybuilding swan song — thanks to a little gentle encouragement on the part of his partner Nadine.

“Nadine said, what if you do well? What if you’re close?” he said.

Fourth place might be the heartbreak position if you’re an Olympic athlete, but Payette said he considered landing anywhere in the top five a triumph.

“It’s one thing to compete at the national or regional level, but when you see who you’re competing at that [Mr. Universe] level — everyone’s great.

“To get fourth — it was almost the same as winning,” he said. “I was a huge underdog.

“I had to get a special invite to get into it.”

He realizes now he could have become Mr. Universe.

“Placing fourth — at that level, anybody in top five, top six — anybody can take it at that level,” he said. “It’s a matter of who nails it on that day.

“I only prepared for this contest for 12 weeks. Most of these guys prepare year-round for it,” he added.

“So that thought entered my head: what if I took a year? Then what?”

“Now the goal is to become only the second Canadian to win [the] Mr. Universe contest.”

Payette said he was only the third Canadian to place in a Mr. Universe competition — all of them, he added, have been French Canadians.

Backstage, he enjoyed the chance to experience the different approaches to the competition taken by different nationalities.

The Slavs were stoic and deadpan. The French and British were fun. The Italians were full of life.

“I felt like I was in a Rocky movie,” he said.


However much he enjoyed life backstage, competitive bodybuilding is all about the presentation, he said.

“Once you’ve done a few competitions, it’s not as unnerving, but once you start competing, it’s basically displaying your physique to be judged, and picked apart,” he said.

“For myself, I kind of flip a mental switch when I’m about to walk onstage, and it really becomes about the performance.

“Focusing on the smallest details — how you’re standing. Is every muscle flexed? In certain poses, you want everything tense, flexed, ready to go — and you have to make it look easy.”

Looking ahead

Just returned from the UK, Payette is already back training for a world championship event he plans to compete in in Ireland in June, with the plan to compete — and win — in the next Mr. Universe competition.

But after finishing fourth, Payette paused for a few days to celebrate — by eating anything he wanted.

“There were some pizzas that were shown no mercy,” he said.

“More than one. They went down pretty well.”

(N.B. – Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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