| Article Summary:
Writing about the achievements and extraordinarily influential life of former IFBB International President, fitness movement creator, and internationally respected and admired bodybuilding ambassador and diplomat, Ben Weider, can be rather difficult and daunting.
He's had a profound influence not only on the creating, legitimizing and standardizing of one of the world's most popular sports, bodybuilding, but on the lives of many millions of people worldwide who have benefited though the industries he has evolved and the act of getting and staying in optimal physical shape he, along with his brother Joe, popularized back in the mid-'40s. It is hard to know where to begin and end.
One man who strongly benefited from Ben Weider's influence is Dr. Robert Goldman, an internationally respected health and fitness advocate, pioneer and trendsetter.
In using Mr. Weider's ethical, personal integrity and business models as benchmarks for success, Dr. Goldman has attained recognition as a leader in anti-aging and regenerative medicine and doping control in the international sports arena, and respected member and International Medical Commission Chairman of the IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilders).
Given both Mr. Weider and Dr. Goldman possessed, early on, an unwavering passion for progressing the bodybuilding and health and fitness fields it is fitting they, along with scores of devoted IFBB members worldwide, should form an alliance that would ultimately have bodybuilding recognized and formalized in over 180 IFBB member countries.
In the 1940's bodybuilding and indeed the fitness movement itself were virtually non-existent entities. Enter Ben and Joe Weider. For over 60 years these gentlemen worked tirelessly and doggedly to progress bodybuilding and fitness, to have these pursuits recognized as keys to optimal health and areas within which an individual could transform themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
They succeeded above and beyond all expectations to where bodybuilding became the world's most practiced activity and the fitness lifestyle became increasingly sought after as the surest way to permanent good health.
With the passing of Ben Weider on Friday October 17, 2008, the world lost a man who, with his great pioneering spirit and unrelenting pursuit for excellence, touched the lives of many and permanently changed physical culture for the better. The mark he left on the world is unmatched, his legacy vast.
Through those lucky enough to have been mentored by him, this legacy will continue. Dr. Robert Goldman, who first came into contact with Ben Weider as a 14-year-old kid with an interest in physical fitness and precocious athletic abilities, is one man fortunate to have been taught and mentored by Mr. Weider.
In the following interview he tells of the profound influence Ben Weider had on him and gives an exclusive insight into the inner workings of organized bodybuilding at the elite level.
[ Q ] You have described Ben Weider as being the most important mentor in your life. How exactly did he influence you initially?
[ A ] I would say that Ben was not just an important mentor but he was also instrumental in terms of my career development. I, in essence, started the
personal training profession in America when I founded the
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). I trademarked the term CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) initially for the sports industry.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Ben Weider Receiving The Lifetime
Achievement Award At The 2008 Arnold Classic.
I viewed my training with Ben in terms of the globalization and how you can organize teams of people into an organization that you could take multi-nationally. And that is what I got to see with Ben in his work with the IFBB, which he did so effectively. He was so good at inspiring these people to work together, to put all of their differences aside, which is very hard to do.
[ Q ] It must have been hard for Ben in the sense that he was governing an industry fraught with conflicting ideals and ideologies, and a fair amount of healthy egos.
[ A ] Oh yes, it was tough. And bodybuilders, like you mention, are generally very egotistical and strong-natured people to begin with. And so you have these individuals who are very egoically driven - that's what makes somebody want to train so many hours per day and sacrifice and dedicate their life to their sport.
And this is a sport that wasn't even a sport initially, and that is something else Ben did: he created a brand new sport. How many people in their lifetimes could do that? It's like what we are trying to do here by creating a new professional in the areas of anti-aging and regenerative medicine; trying to create a whole new paradigm in medicine, a whole new specialty.
Well, Ben, in essence, created a whole new sport, which became global and had its own World Championships. We have around 1,400 championships a year in terms of competitions. Some sports federations will have 10, 20, 50 and 100 up to 500 competitions, not 1,400 competitions a year! It is quite a remarkable feat.
And he was brave because he would go into all these different countries early on when it was not safe to do so. He would go into China, Russia and the Eastern Bloc, and was not backed up by the IFBB.
| Eastern Bloc
During the Cold War, the term Eastern Bloc was used to refer to the Soviet Union and countries it either controlled or that were its allies in Central and Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and-until the early 1960s-Albania).
He did this as an individual with a private group until the IFBB became a strong sports federation. He went to places - all through the Middle East for example - where a lot of people simply would not go.
[ Q ] Ben Weider was also known as a great communicator and diplomat. For example, he was able to convince Communist Governments to support his ideas on health and fitness. Do you have any examples of Ben's ability to win favor with worldwide administrative powers and/or governing bodies?
[ A ] One of the things that we all learned from Ben is that he had a certain cadence at which he spoke; we all have this to some degree. But Ben had a certain, influential way of speaking.
When you are talking to a translator or to someone from a different culture they don't have the same sense of humor or get things the same way because of the language barrier.
Well, Ben had a very good cadence and manner, including the speed at which he spoke, and an eloquent way in which to speak to these people; the way he would look them in the eye and shake their hand, how he would actually greet these different leaders and sports officials, make presentations and introduce different thoughts to them.
This is something I learned from Ben and have used very effectively now for many years in my work with the IFBB, which has branches in over 180 countries. And my World Anti-Aging Academy Of Medicine is now in over 100 nations.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Dr. Robert Goldman Presenting A Lecture At A
World Anti Ageing Academy Of Medicine Conference.
So I would say how he interacted with people from these different cultures has been very effective and helpful in assisting me to grow my federations and organizations.
He had a really great understanding of how to not only relate to the individual to make them feel important, special and respected but he would be able to engender that same type of loyalty and following among his protégés like Rafael Santonja, and all the others he basically mentored and grew.
We were all kids when he began with us. Rafael is around my age and was in his late 20's when he first made contact with Ben. Ben has known me since I was a teenager, not personally but through mail correspondence.
Imagine a guy who is running these large corporations, these strong entities, and you get letters from these kids. I wrote Ben a letter when I was 12 and not only do I get a response from him, I get a personalized letter, and not one but dozens of letters, after my again making contact with him.
It is hard to believe somebody in his position actually sitting down and writing in response to my letters and actually answering what I asked him. And he probably did this for thousands of people. That attention to detail was one of his fortes and secrets of success because he groomed people and he would filter out people like myself who would go to the ends of the earth for him.
Whatever he asked, we would do. And his requests were never inappropriate, unreasonable or unfair. At least in my dealings with him as a volunteer for the IFBB and interactions he was always very fair and very logical in his approach. He has reasons behind everything.
And he believed people had the right to agree to disagree. That is why during the IFBB Congress we would debate things, not in a hostile manner but in a fashion to where people were able to get their thoughts across.
One of the things I would always enjoy and was always impressed with were the two parts of the World Championships that were not part of these Championships that he in essence created, but were based on a governmental or parliament proceeding.
And this was the first ever Council-meeting where each of the members of the Executive Council ran a continent like North America, South America, Asian, Oceania and Europe and there would be 12 to 18 of us at these meetings.
|EXECUTIVE COUNCIL CONTINENTS|
You were part of a special group because you would get the ground rules and the nitty gritty contents in place to be presented to the Congress, which were all the heads of all the nations: there would be 60 to 70 countries present at the World Championships and a role call of each country, and it was really a neat procedure.
Those meetings were actually my two favorite parts of the championships, even more so than the sporting aspect. I'm not sure if others share that same thought, but procedural and protocol matters were, I knew, the only way to build something up to create longevity, and Ben was a master at it.
And he was so good at bringing all of these people together. This was at a time when you had the Six-Day War, conflicts in the Middle East and in Africana; you had the differences between the different countries. The Europeans can be quite hostile towards one another because of hundreds of years of conflict.
| The Six-Day War
The Six-Day War, also known as the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Third Arab-Israeli War, Six Days' War, an-Naksah (The Setback), or the June War, was fought between Israel and Arab neighbors Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The nations of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria also contributed troops and arms to the Arab forces.
And he was able to override all of that and get people to understand that there is no place for differences of race, creed, color or religion, that we are all part of a bodybuilding family.
The environment at the time had Israelis against Arabs, and different tribes of Africa against one another - the same thing with different European races. His bringing together of these people really was quite remarkable.
[ Q ] Although Ben Weider was able to adopt more of a humanistic approach to dealing with different cultures and viewpoints, to the best of your knowledge what were his personal political views?
[ A ] What is interesting is that there was this inner circle of people who had more intellectual conversations with him. I know Rafael was one of them, I was one, and Pamela (Kagen) - his executive assistant for many years - was one, along with spiritual ones like Buddhist Datuk Paul Chua of Asia.
What we could all ascertain was that he treated everyone that he met with respect. But I did have conversation with him on that (his political views). What I found was that he was more of a global thinker and not one of prejudice; he may have been Jewish by descent but he fully respected you whether you were Muslim, Christian or whatever.
Those prejudices that people tend to harbor just weren't part of his persona. He was very proud to be who and what he was, but not to the point where it would decrease his respect or admiration of anyone else from any other race, creed or religion. And that was something that I learned from him and adapted in the same way.
It was a real talent that he had and he tried really hard to engender that in the leaders he was grooming. Rafael Santonja, who has taken over as the first new president in 60 years, is doing an unbelievable job and was like another son to Ben. Ben groomed him and trained him very well just like he trained his own son Eric to continue the Weider dynasty.
|RELATED VIDEO: BEN WEIDER'S RETIREMENT|
[ Q ] Would you say that Ben is the kind of leader who likes to lead by example and through the values he imparts, rather that dictating what others should do?
[ A ] Right. He was purposely trying not to do that (dictate) even during our council meetings where it is a closed room with only 12 to 14 of us. He would give everyone his opinions and listen to others.
There were certain things that he would feel very strongly about where he would voice his concerns, but even though he ran a very tight ship where no one ever ran against him as International President, he was fair. Then again nobody ever ran against me as World Medical Chairman.
If you are liked and respected by your colleagues you retain your position. So he was a very strong leader, but I can't see where he was dictatorial in the way that he ran the Federation.
Where he felt that there were outside forces like
NABBA or these other groups he would be very strict and he would say, "If you go to these other federations, then you are out of ours."
But I would do the same thing with our medical federation. If you are not pleased with who and what we are, fine. Go then, but you are not coming back. He demanded that type of loyalty.
[ Q ] Ben Weider would not be challenged for leadership more out of respect as opposed to fear?
[ A ] It wasn't a fear thing; it was more out of respect and also his knowledge basis. There is no way anybody is going to side with anybody but Ben. Ben is the reason the Federation is what it is.
His energy and drive and extreme personality in terms of his passion was unmatched. He once called me and said, "Listen, I'm coming to Chicago and I have this very important meeting with Napoleonic scholars." All these other guys were professors and doctors, some pretty heavy dudes coming into this thing.
| Started By:
And Ben comes in fully prepared with reports and the whole thing and rips these people into little pieces. And not by being hostile but through facts, figures, data, proof and research - scientific to the umpteenth degree: he was so prepared that he was like a tornado.
Getting to watch him with his level of interest, passion and attention to detail was nothing short of remarkable, as he came in and completely dominated this meeting. Not because of a loud voice, but because of intelligence, preparation and data. This was the way he attacked things, with great ferocity.
And this is the only way people can achieve anything global in life - to have that same quality. It's the same thing Arnold had. When Arnold came to America, one of the first things he said was that he wanted to be chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport.
| The President's Council On Physical Fitness And Sports:
The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports is an American government organization that aims to "promote, encourage and motivate Americans of all ages to become physically active and participate in sports". It is part of the Office of Public Health and Science an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
The guy could barely speak English and was just starting to learn what was going on in this country, and he wanted to be this great famous actor, as well. There were people in Hollywood saying that there would be no chance as he couldn't speak English and was just this big muscle guy.
And I know this because I was one of the first people that the
USA Today newspaper called to give a reference for Arnold. I almost laughed when they called me. Me give a reference for Arnold? He doesn't need a reference from anyone.
Then I ended up serving as Special Advisor during his term. And he did more on the President's Council than anyone in that Council's history with that same type of focus. And Ben and Joe saw that in him. They were great talent scouts, whether in sport or elsewhere.
[ Q ] To the best of your knowledge, just how large of an impact did Joe and Ben have on Arnold's early success in America?
[ A ] That was more Joe's domain because he was handling the athletes when they came over, as he was living in California. When Arnold's career grew to where he became more involved in business and promotions, I think Ben had more interaction then, not during the early years.
That was mostly Joe. Ben was working more at the Federation level, the business side - and with the mentoring of folks such as myself.
Ben had the same impact on Jim Manion who was, before his initial meeting with Ben, a gym owner. And now he has represented and acted as President of the American NPC and IFBB Professional Division for many years.
[ Q ] Although it is widely known that Arnold had a gift for self-promotion and the mental tools necessary to pull ahead of the pack so to speak, it is a lesser-known fact that Joe Weider supported him financially for much of the beginning of his career.
[ A ] I think that there were definitely some good influences but I'm not exactly sure how Arnold was influenced during that time. But Ben and Joe were extremely influential in the sense the Weider Dynasty is a global phenomenon.
[ Q ] Ben seemed to have been consistent in his dealings with whomever he met. To your knowledge did this come naturally to him or is it something he worked hard to cultivate?
[ A ] I think Ben was a natural. He always worked to better himself, and he was someone who only went to seventh grade in school. And he and Joe grew up in the ghettos of Canada as the legend has it. Both men were great self-educators.
[ Q ] Arthur Jones of Nautilus once said that he dropped out of school in the fourth grade but if he knew what he knew now he would have dropped out in the first grade so I guess there is a lot to be said for self education. Do you think the fact that Ben dropped out of school relatively early gave him the impetus to work harder?
[ A ] When you come from humble beginnings - like myself who was raised in the New York ghetto projects - education is important. But I think that self-education is even tougher to do and to go from nothing to where Ben and Joe arrived is nothing short of remarkable.
[ Q ] Many people view Ben Weider as a man who administratively built bodybuilding into an international force, but there is a feeling that he went far beyond his role as an administrator. What other ways did Ben build his bodybuilding empire?
[ A ] That is right. He was far more than just an administrator; he would travel around to all of these groups all over the world and push as the Federation head to get bodybuilding into the regional Olympic games - the Asian Games, the World Games, the Pan American Games, the Southeast Asian Games, the Pacific Games and most recently the Asian Beach Games in Bali.
|Pro Bodybuilding Weekly!|
These are things he got his regional council members to push very hard for. And he did ultimately achieve provisional Olympic recognition from Samaranch, who was the president of the
IOC at the time. He even went to far as to find and buy, through a very expensive route, some very old Olympic medals that once belonged to Samaranch that were lost.
So, again, his attention to detail and attention to the humanistic side of people and how they are affected is something he was very good at. Another thing he did that I did in my federations - that I think is very important - was to recognize people in some capacity or another.
So he would have different awards to present, and various certificates, a Distinguished Service Award, the Oscar State Memorial Award, the Achievement Medal, the Gold Order and so on. He modeled this a bit off the Olympic movement but also in knowing how important it was for sports officials to be recognized for their hard work.
And people would kill themselves to earn the right to be presented with these awards. One of the highlights for many at the congress meeting for the World Championships would be the presentation of awards. And these people would almost be crying onstage getting their medal after 30 years' loyal service.
It is important to be recognized in this fashion. Another thing that was interesting and unique to our Federation, that is not really being done much anymore, is a gift giving ceremony at the end of the congress, where members of different delegations would bring different gifts from all over the world to present to members of the executive.
These were some amazing gifts: for example, portraits that were made out of gold leaf, beautiful gilded boxes: things that were native to a particular country. And I would hang out because the things Ben didn't want I would try to obtain.
One time he was given a map of Africa, almost two and a half feet high, with each of the countries of Africa represented with the skin of an animal native to that country. Upon receiving it Ben told me, "This has got your name written all over it."
I said, "Absolutely." I am an art collector also so the things he didn't want for his collection I would want. What people would do is literally run up to the stage with huge shopping bags with stuff that would be brought from all parts of the world.
Once the Russians brought a huge bowl that had to be almost two feet in diameter filled with caviar. How they got it on the plane and brought it there in one piece I will never know.
[ Q ] Yet another offering to Ben.
[ A ] Yes, they were all paying homage to the big boss. You would ask yourself how they even got this stuff on the plane and through customs. Because we had Championships in Communist countries - China before it converted over to a more capitalistic state, Poland, the Middle East.
I have attended almost all of the Championships over the past 20-plus years. Some years I was the only American there. And in Bahrain I will probably be the only one again. In Burma I was the only one.
The only one I missed was because there were too many conflicts in the Middle East and I felt it would be unsafe to go and perhaps endanger others with my presence. A funny story is regarding one of the Championships in Izmir, Turkey.
On the way to those Championships I had some filming to do in California with some TV shows. When I finally get over to Izmir I get there very late at night and there are a bunch of nervous officials greeting me, and Paul Chua (Executive Assistant to the IFBB President Rafael Santonja) says, "All the Americans have already left."
I say, "What do you mean?" He told me that while I was in the air, President Clinton sent jets over to Iraq to threaten bombing. Being a Muslim fundamentalist country everybody from America left, as we were told they would provide us with bodyguards for 24 hours, then we would have to go hire our own.
There was a metal detector at the front of the hotel as this was very rare event. I say, "I'm not going anywhere." It turned out to be a great Championship but a little unnerving in certain parts. And these were the kinds of places we would go; we would get full government support and they would be terrific experiences for everybody.
In the 1990s I met the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad who provided $3.4 million US Dollars for our bodybuilding Championships. They even had a parade where there was a rickshaw for every athlete, for over 65 countries. And the Prime Minister was at the Championships.
We were also on the front page of the Malaysian newspapers every single day, with pictures of the Prime Minister. Ben was given the Presidential suite at the Pan Pacific Hotel; it was like a little mini city. So all us officials would go there and eat the food and hang out.
[ Q ] It seems that, through Ben's influence, bodybuilding bonded all of these countries. How was Ben able to achieve this?
[ A ] Yes. Remember this was not an Olympic sport and not something that was readily accepted by the Governments. Ben literally had to find good people who were bodybuilders themselves - many of the sport's officials were former bodybuilding champions - who he would assist to become Federation leaders.
Australia's Paul Grant was a Mr. Universe and actually instrumental in establishing the Australian Olympic Drug Testing Standards with my assistance back in the 1980s. (Abdel Hamid) El Guindy was a bodybuilding champion from Egypt. If you look at the executive council they were mostly all former bodybuilders.
Rafael was a former bodybuilder. Paul Chua was not but he was very interested in sports. What Ben would do is get these people in the different countries and have them work through their local Government for their local sports federations to eventually work their way up.
Then Ben would make trips to these countries and that would provide impetus to get to some of the governmental officials, before courting the competition. And because we were under the radar we presented the sport as being attractive to these people.
For instance, one of our delegates who ran a bodybuilding Championships in Malaka Malaysia was a former bodybuilding champion from Malaka, and he has great governmental contacts; he opened up the introduction to the minister of sport for his country and the upper level.
We ended up having one of the best Championships in Kuala Lumpur in 1990, all with government support. The government completely sponsored it; you just couldn't do something like with without that kind of support.
[ Q ] But on the other hand, countries such as Communist China would have posed more of a problem because they didn't have any bodybuilding champions or no concept if what bodybuilding was all about.
[ A ] That is correct. I was amazed with China and Taiwan and how Ben was able to get bodybuilding into these countries. But Paul Chua was very instrumental in Asia, working diligently over the years to get us into these different countries.
And Ben would rely on his lieutenants to go deep to organize several weeks in advance of Championships. He would make sure everything was in place and he would guide the people. And he did all of this out of Montreal.
[ Q ] But on the one side we have competition and on the other we have training for physical fitness. How would Ben sell the concept of competitive bodybuilding, while continuing to promote its physical fitness merits?
[ A ] Everybody likes to weight train and everybody like muscle and to be strong. All young kids dream of being the muscular strong powerful person, so even in a country like China,
strength and a well-developed physique is something that is admired.
And also it is not expensive; bodybuilding is something people can do all by themselves. Athletes in many of these countries didn't have equipment like we see today; they would use two cans filled with cement and a bar.
So anybody could begin to do bodybuilding on his or her own, so even in China and these other countries athletes who couldn't afford to be in other sports could afford to start bodybuilding and could enter a competition.
It wasn't like you had to join a
soccer team; it was the kind of sport where everyone could get involved even if they didn't have the economic base.
[ Q ] How did Ben make bodybuilding an attractive sport for what eventually became member countries?
[ A ] I think one of the attractive things that were a draw for them was the hosting of a World Championships. This brings a lot of prestige to the country doing the hosting.
And it provides opportunities for a lot of the competitors to visit other countries, who before may never have had the opportunity; they wouldn't be allowed to because they couldn't get a visa. But because it was a World Championships they could.
These are not athletes who were on the Olympic scene, involved in the more standardized sports where they have the rights of other athletes. The first time I ever left the country was to attend the IFBB World Championships in 1986 and it opened a whole new world for me.
Many Americans don't even travel; they are very America-centric. If it wasn't for Ben, who knows when and if I would have ever left the country. On that particular visit I visited Hong Kong and Tokyo. Then every year we would have a World Championships and I would go to whatever part of the world this was held in.
About five years ago I was in Kuala Lumpur and we were holding one of our annual medical conferences - this was right after 9/11 and people were concerned with security - and I get a call from the Malaysian Olympics Committee and Supreme Olympics Council of Malaysia, asking me to meet with them at their headquarters.
I walk in and the heads of this Malaysian Council are all ex-bodybuilders and they had come through the ranks and now had positions within the Malaysian Olympic Committee. They wanted to say hello as they had heard that I was in town. These were kids I knew as they were starting out as competitors.
[ Q ] And you yourself would pass on the ideals that Ben inculcated in you, so that people like you have just mentioned could grow and prosper within both the IFBB and in other important higher-level positions?
[ A ] We all did. He trained and inspired us to do what he did, to open the world to others. And that's a really satisfying thing when you see your students and protégés moving to new heights.
[ Q ] As mentioned in his biography Brothers Of Iron, Ben was a 7th grade dropout, yet was able to garner four honorary doctorates for his advancement of historical and physical fitness knowledge. What was it about his intellect that enabled him to do this, as far as you could tell?
[ A ] He had memory recall that was staggering, especially in terms of history, art and battles that occurred.
When we traveled to different countries we would tell me what battle occurred here and he would go through all the details; what war occurred, what part of the battlefield did what occur on; the names of generals.
He could remember everything in astounding detail. I'm talking about world history, not just Napoleonic History. He had a phenomenal knowledge base and a tremendous memory. That kind of quality of selective memory is quite common among people of a similar level of success.
[ Q ] Did Ben apply this kind of memory to what was going on in the world of bodybuilding, the current training trends and champions?
[ A ] Yes, and he knew a lot of the current champions and he knew a lot of the athletes by name; but he was more involved memory-wise, I think, in remembering all of the names of officials, heads of countries and heads of governments, heads of different Olympic committees.
That is where his memory banks were a bit more focused, but of course he knew what was going on in bodybuilding at the competitive level also. I'm sure, early on, this was even more of a focus but his memory was applied more, later on, in the area where he felt he needed to do the most good, which was more in the diplomatic and political arenas.
I have one story that I remember as clear as if it were yesterday. We were sitting in their equivalent of the senate of the congress in Katowitz, Poland - a lot of times I would sit next to him as we would often have conversations on medicine and I was like a medical advisor for whenever he had any questions.
So the Polish Government was about to present Ben with this beautiful award. Well, we were looking around the room and taking it all in and I posed the question, "How do you feel?" "Damn good," he replied. He was almost childlike, just really happy. It wasn't like, wow I'm getting this it was more like wow this is fun.
Then he just hops up onstage and gets this award from the Government and comes back to his seat. I take a look at it and say, "Wow I would like to get one of these one day." This brings up another story where Ben's son Eric and I were in China and we were at the World Championships.
Well, they brought out one horrific dish after another, which I could never eat, and I asked Eric, "So does your dad always have this positive attitude?" And he said, "Yes, every day. He would whistle on his way to work and whistle when he came home.
He was always in a good mood and would get up each day, excited and ready to go at it." And that was something I think he instilled in Eric.
And Ben was very modest even in the way he dressed. Some guys, after reaching enormous financial success, would wear crazy big diamonds and real showy stuff. Ben always dressed in a real European classy manner, with a sweater, nothing gauche and none of this crazy showy stuff.
And he lived in a similar house most of his life, as well, and of course he could have afforded any house he wanted. I know Joe liked houses so he bought a whole mess of them, but Ben was always pretty understated in that way.
I do know one thing, he always insisted on though, was that he fly first class whenever he was brought into a country as an invited VIP or President. He said this was to be done more so out of respect.
It wasn't because he wanted people to spend extra money, it wasn't an ego thing; he was always just very protocol-driven. He is a true diplomat and protocol-driven and that is why we always had all of these different rules and regulations and the constitution of the IFBB.
This was a real hot button for him because he thought that the rules and regulations would help the Federation gain respect from outside parties. He always had to be ten times better then everyone else to get the same amount of respect.
We were an orphan sport so we always had to be more organized, better run with the proper administration in place. We had to be all of these things to be on a semi-equal footing with all of the other sporting federations.
Even though we were, at one time, the sixth largest sporting federation in the world, and had more countries coming to our Championships than all the other federations with more athletes competing in our sport than in other sports, we always had to be so much better just to be on an equal footing.
[ Q ] When you think of one who is so heavily entrenched in rules and regulations as Ben was, you often assume that person to be stuffy and quite black and white in their focus. To what degree was Ben like this?
[ A ] One thing Ben was not and that is stuffy. He was never conceited and was always down to earth. Early in my career I had a little tiny office with a few chubby secretaries and he wanted to visit my offices.
I was a little embarrassed but he came. Upon entering my offices he walked up to each of these little girls, each around 20 years old, looks them in the eye, shakes their hands and says, "It is a pleasure to meet you." They were just flabbergasted.
How many guys in his position would take the time to do this sort of thing? And that had a huge impression on me. Even after he had made hundreds of millions from the success that he had he would do the same.
And he would truly enjoy being with the bodybuilders and seeing them and getting his picture taken with them. Making time for people and giving them proper respect is something he always did. He would like to make people feel good. The last time I saw Ben at the (2008) Olympia I walked over to him and he was there with a few friends of his.
At this time a few people came over and wanted to get their picture taken with him, and he said, "Of course." He didn't really have to do that but, still, he always would with a smile. And he would thank them for taking the picture with him.
That was just the way he was. I could notice he was quite protective about something at the time (at the 2008 Mr. Olympia), when I hugged him I knew there was something going on. But he didn't show it. He stood upright and strong; I asked him how he was and he replied, "I'm doing great."
A funny thing: when I used to call him I would ask, "How do you feel?" and he would tell me, "Well, I feel with my hands." So I learned to stop asking that. And usually we would tell each other jokes before we would start a regular conversation. Ben would always have a joke for you, so when talking to him you would get the joke of the week.
He had a great sense of humor that he would share with others and he was a great storyteller. He was many things to all of us but to me he was like a secondary father and brother and, of course, he was a mentor. Of those who truly understood him and got close to him, the sentiment shared is probably what I am giving to you here.
[ Q ] Gaining IOC recognition for bodybuilding was something Ben Weider strove for and ultimately achieved in 1998. Unfortunately bodybuilding never was accepted as a legitimate Olympic discipline. How did Ben deal with this setback?
[ A ] Ben worked so hard to get the provisional recognition and there were a lot of people who were quite jealous, as it is very competitive as to who can get to be an Olympia sport.
So Ben finally got the Olympia recognition - and for us it is like "wow, we made it, you've finally pulled it off" - but unfortunately what happened was there was some funny monkey business meeting with the IOC people and there was one very lower level guy who was very jealous of Ben and our movement, and they just did some monkey business voting and the IOC recognition was stripped after Ben had worked so hard to get it.
It was very frustrating when that occurred. But I know Rafael is now working diligently to again achieve that goal. In saying that, we have a number of Olympic officials who support bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is really the root of what all athletes do; they all weight train.
When I first started training for sport, weight training was a no-no. Well, what athlete today does not weight train? Here is how it works, and we have the same thing in medicine: you come up with a new idea and first people call you crazy, then they try and disprove you and ridicule you, then they copy you, then they call it their own.
Click To Enlarge.
Jim Manion, Ben Weider & Dr. Rafael Santonja.
"Ben Relied Upon And Trusted The Strength And Leadership Abilities Of Jim Manion Who Is Head Of The Professional Division And All Of American Amateur Bodybuilding, And Head Of The Judges Committee." - Dr. Bob Goldman.
So people would give tremendous resistance toward and ridicule bodybuilders, then at the end they just tried and copy it anyway. The benefits of bodybuilding and weight training are universal all over the world.
[ Q ] When it comes to bodybuilding though, there are two main areas: the training side and the performance aspect. Was it ever an issue for Ben to convince the powers that be that bodybuilding fit every criteria of what a sport should be?
[ A ] This was always a work in progress and it (bodybuilding) was more so about fitness, but it is tough because we had challenges like all sports do with drug use - and that's why Ben brought me in, in the mid-'80s, to put together the first protocols for dope control - and Ben was concerned about this issue.
When I first put my report on drugs together for Ben as a teenager, the medical committee asked me what I was doing. I was writing about things that had not come to pass yet - I was writing about the pyschogenic effects of steroids, the psychological effects. These guys said it was all nonsense; all garbage and that I couldn't print it.
It was not me they spoke to directly but Ben and they told him not to print it (I was not on the committee at the time or even knew them). And Ben felt horrible and got back to me to say he didn't know what to do. After all, his whole medical commission had told him this whole report was nonsense.
A few years later he published it and it became the most popular report ever published in IFBB history (it was backed by over 290 medical references), and all the things I was writing about were proven to be correct. Ben then appointed me as chairman of his commission, and over 20 years later, here we are.
[ Q ] To your understanding, was the IOC extra critical towards bodybuilding because of bodybuilders' obvious use of steroids at the elite level?
[ A ] Drug use is right across the board in all sports. Ours is more obviously noted because you see these big bodies. Fortunately for us we are falling a bit under the radar screen now because people don't really care if a bodybuilder does this or that, but they sure care what an Olympic champion does.
That's big news. If bodybuilder "X" gets caught, nobody really cares. So a lot of that media focus has gone off us and onto the big sports names.
[ Q ] Just how much has drug use in bodybuilding held it back from gaining greater recognition?
[ A ] Well, we do our dope control as best we can, but it's challenging. Doping in sport has been around for one thousand years. We have a challenge just like anyone else. There is no easy answer or quick fix.
We are adapting the WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) code; we are doing what we can to stay in compliance with the powers that be within the Olympic Federation rules. Being in all these regional Olympic Games we want to maintain that position.
[ Q ] Many feel that bodybuilding, as a sport, has regressed with the influx of newer types of drugs and the fact the athletes are pushing the boundaries more so than ever. Did this concern Ben in his later years?
[ A ] Yes there is a backlash to drugs occurring in all sports and this is a concern. Then again you have the recent Olympic Games that was so well received. Rafael and myself were the only two IFBB officials there and it was fantastic.
It would have been even greater if bodybuilding were one of those competitive sports. This past week we had the first Asian Beach Games, and there is the World Games. And these are all regional Olympic championships; bodybuilding is a competitive sport.
[ Q ] There is a distinction between amateur and professional bodybuilding that might cause people to think along blurred lines when it comes to determining the fate of bodybuilding at the Olympic level.
[ A ] Yes. The professionals are much more difficult to regulate of course and so that does give us more challenges.
[ Q ] What are some additional positive qualities Ben had, from both a business and humanistic perspective?
[ A ] Ben really had been my main mentor and the man who I have benchmarked my whole career on in building my own federations within the sporting and medical arenas.
He had some interesting aspects to his personality but he was always a great mentor and there was always a lot of learn. And he also had a great sense of when to exit from certain projects or industries; when the Weider brothers sold their fitness equipment company to a large conglomerate group who bought into Icon, they sold it at the perfect time.
Same thing when they took their company public on the nutrition end and again when they sold the
magazines for a huge sum of money - 360 million or so. And you look at the markets today and see how astute they were to do what they did.
Ben instilled that good sense of sharp intellect and timing into his son Eric Weider. Eric has the intelligence and class that his dad had with a higher education level because Ben was self-schooled and Eric was highly trained as well as coming from a privileged family and attending good institutions.
Ben was never egotistical and neither was Eric. Individuals that achieve at high levels can become very immodest and full of themselves; that is one thing Ben was not; same thing with Eric. They are both very modest about who they are.
Ben was still like the little boy from Canada with the excitement that he shared, but was also a class leader. When you reach that level, not everybody is going to be fond of you.
[ Q ] How closely did Ben work with his brother Joe to build the sport of bodybuilding?
[ A ] They worked extremely closely. Ben would always make sure to recognize Joe repeatedly. Joe was more the artist, the free spirit, whereas Ben was more of the detail-oriented business and brains behind the organization.
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[ Q ] It is said that Joe was the visionary and ideas man while Ben was the organizational genius and highly respected ambassador for bodybuilding. Would you agree with this statement?
[ A ] Ben could also be creative but, yes, Joe was more the artistic creative type and he would work closely with the bodybuilders in everything from the
photography shoots to the magazines. Ben was more involved in political, business and organizational aspects. They both had their talents and yet, being brothers, they both had extremely different skill sets.
[ Q ] What personality traits distinguished Ben from Joe as you could tell?
[ A ] Even though they were brothers and very close, they had two completely different personalities. My relationship was really with Ben, though I was friendly with Joe.
Joe would only rarely come to a World Championships and usually only to look to see who will be the future professionals coming up the ranks. But one was a free flowing artist and one was a corporate CEO.
[ Q ] From time to time there is negative talk regarding Joe and Ben's influence on bodybuilding, but it is usually Joe that receives most of the flack. Would it be fair to say, from your perspective, that Ben was the better received of the two by the public at large?
[ A ] Oh yes. Joe was more emotional and he wanted to make everybody happy but unfortunately he would promise four or five people a cover spot on the same magazine. He wasn't being dishonest; he just wanted to keep more people happy.
But you can't make everyone happy. Ben would try to keep people happy but was very politically savvy, whereas Joe was more artistic and he would make some errors in judgement. Ben was the one who everybody took very seriously.
But Ben would never, ever disrespect Joe. He would always seek his thoughts and recognize that Joe was the reason the sport has increased, that it was Joe Weider's Mr.
Olympia, and that he (Ben) was the President of the IFBB.
So there was a strong bond and respect and I never detected any jealousy between the two. Sometimes between brothers in such powerful positions you will get jealousy.
They may not have agreed on everything, because Joe, for example, may have wanted to go off on a more artistic mode, which politically might not have been the best thing to do, and Ben would say they couldn't do this.
He would still try to make his brother happy but would explain that that was not the way they should go in a particular situation.
[ Q ] Although Ben Weider played a major role in building organized bodybuilding from the ground up, there is still a feeling that he could have done more to help bodybuilders make a better living from the sport? What is your view on this sentiment?
[ A ] First of all Ben knew that by increasing the prize money this was a critical progression - if people can't make any money from the sport the sport is going to die. Unfortunately in our sport it is tough for the athletes to make money as a professional.
There are many bodybuilders involved at the professional level but only a small handful that can make a substantial living from it. But there are a lot of other industries along those lines like personal training, gym ownership, and nutritional supplements - all the auxiliary businesses, which the Weider's were involved in as well.
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These provided a venue for these athletes to make a living from the sport. And many of the customers of the company you work for, Bodybuilding.com, are former bodybuilding champions and athletes.
[ Q ] There is a still a feeling that prize money for the Mr. Olympia, the world's largest professional bodybuilding contest, is still very low compared to other professional sports.
[ A ] Well, there is only so much money that can be made from the competition. The amount of sponsor money that can be generated through the exhibiters, ticket prices and so on can only provide so much.
They don't have companies like Toyota and Mercedes Benz to fund the competition, like they have in other sports like tennis and golf. The difference is a big company in the bodybuilding world is worth 100-200 million whereas in the other world there are companies doing much more.
[ Q ] There remains a lot of complaining and dissatisfaction regardless.
[ A ] People are always complaining and people are never happy unless they get everything they want.
They (the IFBB) are doing the best they can and are paying a lot more than the thousand bucks they used to give to the Mr. Olympia winner. Even if you adjust for inflation it is still a far cry from what it was.
[ Q ] It seems sad that Joe and Ben, who worked tirelessly to build bodybuilding, are bearing the brunt of much of the backlash to the perceived inequities bodybuilders face.
[ A ] Without them there would be no income for these people and no sport for them to compete in. And they wouldn't have any gym jobs or associated bodybuilding-related employment. There would be no nutrition companies and so on.
Everybody will look to the leader and blame them for what they don't have. All you can do is the best you can, modify the environment to make it better for people and achieve good things while realizing that you are never going to make everyone happy.
Those who have a good level of intelligence and understanding of the way the world really works don't feel they should be entitled to everything simply because they are on the planet.
I have experienced much of the things you refer to from parties who are either jealous or angry, or dissatisfied and unhappy with what the Weider's have done or not done.
By seeing what they have gone through with this it allowed me to see that this was part of the right to passage. If you are not doing anything in life, nobody really cares about you either way. There is no emotion involved. You are nothing because people don't care.
Guys like this, who have achieved great things, are going to attract people who are upset, or who agree or do not agree with them. I have people who don't like me, which I have never met and have never even spoken to, simply because of my position. There is a level of jealousy that goes with it.
On one occasion an individual approached me and told me I should go to Ben and tell him off and demand that I be paid for my services to the IFBB. I looked at the guy like he was crazy and said, "Are you nuts?" The only thing I would say to Ben was, "Sir, what can I do for you next?"
Because I understood the value of what he was trying to engender and the doors he was opening, it was up to me to take advantage of the opportunity and create new things. So to me that response was representative of the kind of person that usually makes negative comments, those who have not made it to a place in life where they would like to be.
They are not the ones working seven days a week, 24 hours a day, sacrificing like these guys (the Weider's) did to make things happen. And even after they reach a level of success, they keep working. Once Joe and Ben had reached a certain level where their power base was so strong, they didn't have to do anything but sit on a yacht somewhere.
Yet they kept working. And I asked Ben, "What was it like when you sold your first company and didn't really have to do anything again." He told me that nothing had changed and that he just went back and did what he felt was important work, where his passion lay.
He may have slept a little bit better at night but he just got straight back to work, because that was who he was. That is what those guys were made of.
They were out there to change the world and it wasn't about the money: it was about change and paradigm shifting and making a difference, about cleaning out the chimney and creating a new industry and a new sport.
What an opportunity for someone to have, to literally make your mark on the world. Legacy for guys like these is everything.
What kind of legacy am I leaving behind? What am I creating in this world to make it better, more interesting, more exciting that will affect peoples lives for many years to come?
To honor his achievements I once brought Ben in to lecture at an American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine World Congress meeting in the mid-'90s, but I didn't know how to recognize him. I mean this guy was my mentor and I was like, "What can I do for him?"
So I developed a one-time award - and it was the only one he had ever received - called the Pioneer Award, and that is truly what he was: a pioneer. So I presented him with this one-of-a-kind hand-carved piece of art styled into a trophy.
[ Q ] Though Ben is admired the world over for his contributions to bodybuilding, health and fitness, there is also a known degree of animosity toward Ben, and Joe, within the bodybuilding community. Have you any idea why is this?
[ A ] Anybody of substance, anybody who had created something that has had a global effect will encounter this exact same thing.
You will have people that think the world of you and have great admiration for you and you will have people that don't like you. I think if you get international feedback I think the good comments you get about Ben will far, far outweigh the bad from the few people who are upset with him.
There are people that idolize him, especially in the Far East and Middle East. He was as close to a God as you could get. People actually idolized him. And there is nobody out there creating another federation; there have been some but they have gone. The IFBB is it. For this sport it is the federation, all the way.
[ Q ] Was there ever a time during any of your dealings with Ben where he showed some of the more so-called human negative traits such as anger, jealousy and greed? Did he ever become overwhelmed with his workload and lose it?
[ A ] He was never overwhelmed. There was one incident that was kind of funny.
I went into a meeting and there was a heated debate on dope control because he had just disqualified a number of athletes; we were being very strict, as is always the case, on dope control and we were to have a meeting with a series of professional athletes.
Before he entered the meeting Ben said, "They may say some things that will get you upset. I want you to relax; I don't want you to get angry. Control yourself." I don't lose control anyway, that's just not the way I am, but Ben warned me anyway.
So we enter this meeting and partway through it was discovered that one of the athletes had hidden a tape recorder. All of a sudden Ben just really exploded at this woman, which was out of character for him.
Anyway, after the meeting I said to Ben, "So this is what you meant by staying calm?" But in general he was always very even-tempered. There were times where he would get a bit emotional about things, but that was because this was his passion.
But for the most part he was always quite classy in his approach and tempered, but when he felt strongly about something he would vigorously defend what he felt was most important to the Federation. He was very protective of the Federation.
One time he got quite angry while at the first World Championships in Japan, in 1986. I only had one suit from since I was a kid. So when we got to Tokyo they gave us all sweat suits. I was like, "Wow, this is great, free sweat suits, terrific."
That night there was an important dinner so I show up wearing my little IFBB sweat suit. And as I'm walking down the hall everybody is applauding each person upon their entering. Of course everybody is dressed in their full IFBB suits with tie jacket and everything.
I stroll in wearing a sweat suit. I stand next to Ben and he looks me over and says, "Never again." After that I bought some appropriate clothing. So I went from the worst dressed to one of the best dressed.
It is still one of the funniest stories we tell amongst ourselves because now I dress in a very classy fashion. The IFBB Executive Council laughed about it back then because they personally saw Ben give me the look of death.
There were all these diplomats and official photographers and I'm in my sweat suit while everybody else is in their suit and tie.
[ Q ] That must have been a first for Ben Weider.
[ A ] Yes. And there is another funny story that goes along these lines and happened at the same Championships.
I was quite young when I took over the Medical Commission - still in my 20s - and being an athlete myself I really didn't look like a doctor, but like one of the bodybuilders. So I go into an area they call the Secretariat, where you go to collect your VIP credentials.
Upon entering this area to collect my credentials I saw a group of Japanese guys all with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths looking tough and looking me up and down. Then they physically try to throw me out of this room.
I said, "No, I'm here to pick up my credentials." They don't understand and continue to usher me out, thinking I'm one of the bodybuilding competitors. So I say my name and out of their mouths come the cigarettes along with the apologies: "I'm sorry sir."
It was like one of those funny Asian movies. Everything was protocol driven but sometimes you could get confused with who is what, where and how.
[ Q ] What is your lasting memory of Ben Weider and the legacy he has left the bodybuilding world?
[ A ] I think Ben had created what is now a global paradigm shift in health and fitness.
He created a culturally new paradigm in health, fitness, bodybuilding and weight training, the importance of nutritional supplements, diet, and the importance of looking at the whole mind/body aspect.
So Ben has literally created a whole dynasty way beyond the Weider family: he has created an international family of disciples in over 180 countries, of people who are now going to continue what he started from zero. You start with one country and you build.
And now we have a really powerful Federation that will continue to grow, we have a sport that has new divisions growing all of the time - women's fitness and classic bodybuilding being newer ones - and he built this whole thing out of air.
So he has left behind this fantastic legacy but even more important, what Ben has done is touch lives. When somebody asks me, "Who is the person most responsible for who you are today?" I tell them it is because of Ben Weider.
I'm now trying to do what he did for others. I was fortunate to have great parents; my mom and dad were from very simple beginnings but we were very close. But in terms of my education and position in the world it is all because of Ben.
If you ask Rafael or any of these guys, if you really think about it, it's really because of him regarding where they are in life. If there weren't any Ben Weider, their lives would be completely different and nowhere near as far ahead as they are today.
[ Q ] And yourself and the others he has personally touched now have some pretty big shoes to fill and a big responsibility to uphold?
[ A ] And it's a big responsibility because we honor him by continuing his legacy and building on it.
I was so lucky to have this guy in my life for so long, to meet him at such a young age. What a gift. At the recent Olympia he was onstage giving awards out and addressing the crowd. I got to give him a hug for the last time and to look in his eyes.
[ Q ] At this Olympia, Ben's last, did he seem okay health-wise?
[ A ] He was Ben, his usual self, but he looked a little pale. But he was energetic, upright, and strong, completely with it. He was sharp, had a good sense of humor.
And, as I told you before, he literally thanked people for having their picture taken with him. This guy was a class act right across the board. At his age he did not have to do these sorts of things - to take time out to greet everybody.
But that's Ben, right to the end. And I was really happy to see that both he and Joe were at the Olympia together, and Ben opening the competition, and onstage with all the winners, congratulating them. What a great exit.
He had a class entry and a class exit - right to the very end. And we are all proud to have been part of his life and will continue to try to make him proud going forward. We are all part of this IFBB family.
And our goal is to have our sport recognized at Olympic level, to continue to open new opportunities for the athletes and members of the Federation, and continue the great work that Ben did.
[ Q ] Thank you for your time Dr. Bob.
[ A ] My pleasure David.
Robert M. Goldman (Dr Bob Goldman) MD, PhD, DO, FAASP:
- Chairman-IFBB International Medical Commission
- Chairman-IFBB Doping Commission
- Chairman-NPC Medical Committee
- Chairman-World Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine
- Chairman of the Board-American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine
- President Emeritus: National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)