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'American Gladiators' seeks a few hard bodies at Baltimore Arena


They're strong. They're brave. They're veritable paragons of muscle and might.

So why do they want to die?

Some 600 of the area's brawniest men and women yesterday strode into the Baltimore Arena on bulging quadriceps, threw back massive deltoids and sucked in sculpted abdominals to take the first step toward what should be certain oblivion.

But since it's television, it probably won't be. Instead, yesterday's tryouts were designed to find competitors willing to take on the several tons of human muscle known as the American Gladiators -- regulars on the TV show by the same name.

These 10 behemoth-sized men and women -- who go by names like Ice, Nitro, Thunder and Zap, and play games called Assault and Eliminator -- are coming to the Arena on Oct. 16 and thus were looking for people to play with.

Enter Joe Bertolini and the others who turned up at the arena.

"It looks like a lot of fun," said Mr. Bertolini. "And it looks like a lot of pain."

A thin line, to be sure, but one the 20-year-old was willing to cross, if only to change the all-brain, no-brawn image of his school, Johns Hopkins University, where he's a pre-med student.

Most did little beyond their usual pumping and running and sweating to prepare for the tryouts. But you could say some have been in training all their lives.

"I'm from the Bronx," is how Luis Gonzalez Jr., explained it. The 27-year-old Anne Arundel County policeman said he watches the show -- which is broadcast on WJZ-TV (Channel 13) locally -- and thought he'd give criminals something to think about.

Organizers said they'd announce within a week who is among the four men, four women and four alternates who will play against the Gladiators in the October match. That match will decide who has a chance of getting invited to the national championships next year, which will be televised.

While many came out for kicks, others were of the serious bodybuilding culture: men of the no-neck variety, women of daunting muscularity. They were put through the gantlet. First, push-ups -- a test that usually weeds out more than half the crowd, said tryout coordinator Julius Bryant.

Next, the 40-yard -- followed by the aptly named suicide ladders, a back-and-forth run of 20 feet, then 40 feet, then 60 feet.

The final test was the only real Gladiator game that the would-be contestants played -- Powerball. In this, one contestant tries to toss a ball in a garbage can as the other contestant does everything short of biting to prevent him.

"I think I pulled something over there," grimaced Charles Kennedy, 28, as he iced down a shoulder. Still, Mr. Kennedy, a teacher at the Woodbourne school and wrestling coach at Friends School, seemed in little pain but great spirits.

jTC Still, the tryouts can be grueling. "A woman in Augusta, Maine, broke her arm. A guy popped his knee in New York, someone dislocated a thumb in push-ups . . ." Mr. Bryant rattled off the top of his head.

And then there's the final hurdle: the interview. "They have to be well-spoken and a nice, hyper personality," he said, "And humorous, yeah, humorous."

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