Joe Weider's Mr. Olympia
A Retrospective - Part One
Entering its 44th year, the Mr. Olympia - the longest running professional bodybuilding competition of all time - promises, in 2009 - as part of the Olympia Weekend - to be bigger and better than ever. But, believe it or not, and despite its international reputation as being the greatest bodybuilding show on the planet, this massive, unprecedentedly spectacular event emerged from rather humble beginnings, on the strength of one man's dream.
For bodybuilding to be recognized as having one great champion, like almost all major sporting codes back then (and today), and to showcase all Mr. Universe champions in one place, at one time, thought visionary bodybuilding promoter Joe Weider, a professional event with prize money and the elevation of its winner to senior status among quality competition was needed.
After much deliberation, during which time the title Mr. Olympia (named after a brand of beer: Olympia Beer made in Olympia, Washington) was decided upon, this contest came to fruition: on September 18, 1965, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the crowning of its first ever champion, California's golden boy, Larry Scott.
The prize money, at this time, was to be a whopping $1000, but production expenses swallowed the cash and Mr. Scott walked away empty handed. Today the Mr. Olympia prize money pool totals over half-a-million-dollars, with $200,000 going to the overall winner.
To further illustrate the exponential growth the Mr. Olympia, and its athletes, has undergone, its first historic event almost half a century ago, attracted only three men - Scott, Harold Poole and Earle Maynard - all weighing under 220 pounds, and displaying comparatively soft conditioning. Today the line-up typically features 20 to 25 of the world's most massive men averaging 245 pounds of sub-four percent body fat, sliced to the bone muscle.
Since its inception, the Mr. Olympia has been the biggest drawcard in men's professional bodybuilding, attracting many who have themselves' become legendary and who have helped elevate the art and sport of physical display to unprecedented heights. When the Mr. Olympia name, and brand, is mentioned, there is no mistaking, nor forgetting, the tremendous impact each forerunner has had on its preceding show.
The contest - including all elements of production - builds on itself each year to where it has become hard to top its previous manifestation. But it is really the athletes that make the show and no amount of pre-competition hype and polished production will negate unworthy competitors. Fortunately - for the athletes, promoters, and fans - the physique competition has also improved from year to year.
Let us now take a step back in time to chart the rise of this most prestigious event. Who were its ultimate champions and how has it progressed over the years? Read on to learn how from a single idea grew something that has become both a multi million dollar enterprise and unsurpassed sporting event.
1965: Larry's Guns Rule The Olympia
The irony that bodybuilding's first professional event should be named after a brand of beer was not lost on Larry Scott, a practicing Mormon whose religion forbid the consumption of alcohol, when he jokingly asked Joe Weider, "What, you're going to name this contest I want to win after a beer?" "This contest", however, was not, of course, named after the beer itself, but the associated Olympus, home to the perfectly developed and immortal Gods and Goddesses of Greek mythology.
The bodybuilders who Joe envisioned walking onstage at his show would similarly prove otherworldly in the physical development they would show. And so it was at the very first contest: Larry Scott - a Mr. Universe, Mr. World and Mr. America champion - with his trademark arms and tiny waist and to applause that arguably has not been witnessed since.
Larry Scott demonstrated a physique significantly more advanced in muscle mass, aesthetics and conditioning compared to his closest rival; and this was no walkover considering second place was eventually awarded to the legendary Harold Poole, a man whose bodybuilding credentials (including the breaking of the race barrier with acknowledgement as first black Mr. America in 1963) have secured his place in the IFBB Hall Of Fame and his name as one of the bodybuilding immortals Joe had first envisaged when he named his event. At 21 years old Harold was, and remains, the youngest man to ever contest the Mr. Olympia.
Arguably the most important of all Mr. Olympia competitions, the 1965 event helped solidify bodybuilding's future as a legitimate force in professional sports and capitalized on the growing popularity organized bodybuilding had achieved as a viable option for champions wishing to further their sporting careers and heighten their physical success.
Get The Full Results From The 1965 Olympia Here.
1966: Larry Wins Again
Based on his spectacular showing the year prior and the further improvements he had made to his physique, Larry Scott was tipped to win his second Olympia title in 1966. Harold Poole, however, had other plans and arrived ready to do battle with a vastly improved package.
Though Larry again won, in a field of four athletes, it was argued afterwards, by some, that Harold, with perhaps better balance and greater definition than Larry, could easily have switched places with the blond Californian, while the consensus seemed to suggest that Scott had the edge.
Poole, whose career had been dogged with controversy, having been denied the AAU Mr. America title in 1961 (allegedly based on the color of his skin), later stated that, "Yes, I should have won the second Olympia."
Directly after his second win, Larry, to the surprise of most in attendance, announced his retirement from competitive bodybuilding. As a deeply religious man bodybuilding's unwritten "live by the sword" philosophy, with the increasing reliance among its competitors on potentially harmful performance enhancing drugs, proved counterintuitive to the demands his daily Mormon life dictated. He walked away undefeated as a pro from sport he helped pioneer and toward a future helping others reach their bodybuilding potential.
As the first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, by all measures of the term, proved a worthy champion, one who took his newfound responsibility seriously. "As the first, Mr. Olympia," he would go on to say, "I realized right away how important it was for the titleholder to be a good role model for the sport. In your time as Mr. Olympia, you are the figurehead for the sport, and the fans, particularly the younger ones, need someone they can look up to and respect."
At 5'7" and over 200 pounds of solid muscle, with clean cut good looks and much charisma, it was Larry Scott that heralded in a new breed of bodybuilder: the professional champion.
Get The Full Results From The 1966 Olympia Here.
1967-69: The Coming Of The Myth
After Larry Scott's reign, bodybuilding needed someone equally great and inspiring to keep the Olympia name relevant and to help further grow professional bodybuilding. It could not have been a better time for one Sergio Oliva to hit his stride and bring his refined, powerful and bulky yet well-proportioned and genetically superior weightlifters physique to bodybuilding's biggest stage.
If audiences were amazed by the - until then - unsurpassed development Scott demonstrated they were positively shocked by what Sergio had to offer: the smallest waist in the pro ranks capped off with the widest lat muscles and tremendously deep cuts adorning the largest muscular physique ever seen. It would sure take some beating as underscored by convincing wins at Olympia's '67 through to '69.
Easily winning his second Olympia (his first, prior to revamping his physique, being in 1966 where he placed third behind Harold Poole), beating out the 23-year-old veteran Poole (competing in his third such event), such was Sergio's dominance he again won unchallenged in '68; one assumes his competition had learned of his inclusion before the show.
In '69 Sergio encountered an inexperienced Arnold Schwarzenegger and, again, proved his worth with a third Olympia win against the visibly upset Austrian Oak. The question on the minds of most was: who could counter the genetic marvel that was Sergio Oliva?
"Being Mr. Olympia carried a magic completely different from that associated with other titles," said Sergio several decades later. "I feel good still being known as Mr. Olympia - you stand apart." As the second ever Mr. Olympia, Sergio indeed stood apart and would take some beating.
He would, however, and perhaps controversially, meet his match in a man who would become the greatest bodybuilder to have ever lived.
| Sergio Oliva Jr.
Sergio's son competed in his first show at the 2009 NPC Junior Nationals.
1970-75: Arnold Schwarzenegger Makes His Mark
With professional bodybuilding's continued progression, as evidenced through the respective domination of champions' Larry Scott and Sergio Oliva, the sport had apparently found a man who would remain king for many years into the future.
Sergio, however, felt ultra-confident that no man would come close to taking the title he had won three years consecutively. He didn't count on an improved Arnold, and in 1970 lost his Olympia Sandow statuette to the Oak. However, Sergio strongly felt the title was his and has argued his case ever since. "I beat him that year (in 1969)," says Sergio, "and in 1970 Arnold looked no different, but he won. He knows and the whole world knows that I was the better bodybuilder."
Hoping for redemption at the 1971 Olympia (held in Paris, France - the first time it had been run outside of New York), Sergio trained like a madman and unthinkably added even more muscle to his dense frame. But it was not to be: though he filed his application in July (with the contest being held in September), Sergio was later disqualified after competing in the NABBA Pro Universe a week before the Olympia.
Says Sergio: "After the '69 Olympia they said I was banned from the IFBB for competing in a non-IFBB contest. They never told me about the ban so I naturally went along to the '71 (Olympia) to compete. That is when it all happened." With Sergio out, Arnold won his second Olympia title unopposed.
Though thought to be smaller in certain areas (notably throughout his legs and back) compared to Sergio, Arnold, it could be argued, had made steady improvements and looked equally impressive, making the early '70s Arnold/Sergio rivalry one of the biggest in all of bodybuilding history.
Determined to exact his revenge against the man who "robbed" him in 1970, Sergio contested the 1972 Olympia and was almost true to his word. In a controversial decision Arnold again won the title. Arnold's win in '72 has always been in question as Sergio was at his best, while the Austrian was slightly off.
Today Sergio maintains that he should have won both the '70 and '72 Olympia titles. "So I prepared myself and went to Germany (in 1972) at 245 pounds, cut like a ribbon," says Sergio. "You don't fool people. You can pull a trick in the magazines, but up on the stage, uh, uh. And in Essen Germany, oh my God, forget it. They loved me."
The Essen, Germany Olympia was also notable for its inclusion of five of the greatest bodybuilders to have ever competed: Arnold, Sergio, Serge Nubret (3rd) Frank Zane (4th) and Franco Columbu (5th). By virtue of its numbers it was the largest Olympia to date.
By 1973 Arnold had secured his hold on professional bodybuilding, as attested by his dominant victory at that year's Olympia. With Sergio having retired from the IFBB game Arnold accepted the challenge of less dominant adversaries and by '74 was almost assured victory should he arrive in the supreme conditioning and with the remarkable size he had become known for.
In '74, two weight classes (under-200 pound and over-200 pound) were introduced for the first time and, naturally, Arnold, at a reported 235 pounds, made his home in the heavier division. That year a new giant in the form of Lou Ferrigno challenged him, but the hulking contender had to settle for second, as Arnold's refinement, increasing muscle maturity and overall size were really just too formidable for anyone at that point.
1975 proved a turning point for Arnold. With the entertainment arena beckoning and with the man himself having achieved more than any other bodybuilder, ever, he chose to retire, but still had one final Olympia title to win. With Pretoria, South Africa being the location for that year's Mr. Olympia the current champion worked himself into arguably the best shape of his bodybuilding career and convincingly won the title against perennial contenders Franco Columbu, Serge Nubret, Lou Ferrigno and Frank Zane.
With confirmation as the greatest bodybuilder to have ever competed, having won its biggest prize an unprecedented six times, Arnold left the sport at the top of his game. But he never forgot his roots as attested by his comments regarding what the Mr. Olympia title, and the man who founded it, meant to him:
"In the week before the Olympia, everyone got personal attention from Joe Weider, which made everyone feel like a winner. He was like a coach who never chose one (athlete) over another. He felt like we were all his children and we felt he was the father figure. Without him, there would have been no Olympia, none of the excitement, and I would never have had- besides all the other help (he gave me) - the great pleasure and entertainment that I had in bodybuilding."
With Arnold's retirement, had the bodybuilding world seen the last of him, or would he be back? With his competitive nature nobody at the time could rule this possibility out, and so it was in 1980 with his return to the stage, but not before the later half of the '70s showcased a combination of mass with class, and powerful muscle size, as Arnold's competition seized their opportunity take over where he left off.
Get The Full Results From The 1970 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1971 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1972 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1973 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1974 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1975 Olympia Here.
1976: Franco Columbu Muscles In
1976 was an important year for professional bodybuilding as it was for the first time subjected, on a mass scale, to movie audiences through the hit Pumping Iron. One of the more popular characters on this movie, which profiled the 1975 Pretoria, South Africa Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe competitions, was the smart, likeable and very powerfully built Franco Columbu.
An ex-European weightlifting and boxing champion, Franco had moved to California in the early '70s to train with his close friend (who he had competed against as an amateur bodybuilder in Europe), Arnold Schwarzenegger. After Sergio's retirement from the IFBB, he soon became Arnold's closest competition demonstrating an equally muscular, albeit shorter and more compact physique.
Held in Columbus, Ohio, the '76 Mr. Olympia, promoted by Arnold and business partner Jim Lorimer, showcased an amazing line-up of under-200 pound bodybuilders including Frank Zane, Ed Corney, Bill Grant and Boyer Coe, with newly crowned Mr. Universe champions Ken Waller and Mike Katz being the sole over-200 pound entrants.
Having tried to win the Olympia for five years, Franco Columbu, ripped and stacked with muscle, with back development reminiscent of Sergio Oliva in its density, and without Arnold to contend with, proved the best man onstage and won his first Olympia title.
Frank Zane, visibly shaken by his narrow defeat (the decision was an extremely close one), vowed to come back better than ever in 1977, while Franco announced his retirement and exited with the title he had spent the early '70s working toward.
Almost 30 years later Franco fondly remembered his time as Mr. Olympia, acknowledged the importance of winning such a prestigious title and explained how hard such a feat was for him. "What makes the Mr. Olympia - the contest and the winner - so great is how the event forces physique standards to improve year by year," said Franco in the mid-'90s.
"In 1975, when I went against Arnold for the overall, it was very close - it could have gone either way. As we were standing onstage, Arnold said to me, 'this is it (his last Olympia). It's getting too dangerous out here. I'm improving, but everybody else is too.'
"The moment of winning my first Olympia was so incredible [after competing in it for so many years] that I jumped up in the air. Then I had to take a big deep breath to think about what I had done. What I had done was get to the top, top, top, top, top!"
As with many great champions after having reached the pinnacle of achievement before retiring (think Ali, for example), Franco too was susceptible to making an ill advised comeback. As the '80s began, Franco, ultra competitive being that he is, decided he would again throw on the trunks one last time. But would he sink or swim?
Get The Full Results From The 1976 Olympia Here.
1977-79: Frank Zane's Rules With Conditioning And Shape
With the '75 and '76 Olympia's inclusion of seven athletes for each contest, professional bodybuilding competition was undoubtedly increasing and the quality of competitor was improving with each passing show.
In 1977 the line-up featured nine men - the largest pool yet - including the new Mr. Universe Robby Robinson, an African American competitor (named the Black Prince) who displayed one of the best physiques ever seen in bodybuilding, and certainly one who would push that year's favorite Frank Zane hard for the title.
Having promoted himself as a future Mr. Olympia in the build up to the '77 event, Zane had placed much pressure on himself to win. He came ready to conquer and indeed did so with a near-perfect physique that is still considered today as being one of the most symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing of all time.
Though smaller than his closest competition by a good 15-20 pounds, Zane disproved the adage that a 'good big man will beat a good small man' with a flawless, polished display of physical magnificence never before seen on the Olympia stage. Placing second was Robinson with master poser Ed Corney coming hard on the heels of the Black Prince to round out the top three.
In '78, and with 12 competitors to contend with, Frank Zane again had his hands full with Robby Robinson, who that year was tipped as the one competitor likely overthrow the champ.
Again proving that quality over quantity will win out every time (especially within bodybuilding) Frank Zane won his second Mr. Olympia title in as many years, again edging out Robinson who had to settle for second once more. Though Zane had shown he was the best bodybuilder in the world, his greatest showing would arguably come in '79.
As Zane prepared for his second title defense he could not have imagined a bodybuilder no less imposing as Mr. Heavy Duty himself, Mike Mentzer, to contend with, and so was born another great bodybuilding rivalry that would continue into the 1980's.
In a contest that Zane considers his best ever, he faced tough opposition, not only in Mentzer - the largest man in the contest, with probably the densest muscle development seen up until that point - but with Robinson and promising newcomer, Chris Dickerson. Nevertheless, Zane was awarded his third Sandow along with the distinction, and added pressure, of being the man to beat in 1980.
Says Zane of his third title win, his ability to not only outmuscle, but outsmart the opposition, and what he considers to be his best showing yet: "In '79, it was close between me and Mike Mentzer. I was behind going into the evening posing round, but I also knew I was going to win. I hadn't been compared to Mentzer and I knew that when we were, all the work I had put in would show and I would beat him.
"I knew Mike didn't pose too well. What happened was that Mike watched me pose, and when it came [to be] his turn he imitated each of my poses. That was perfect for me; it was follow the leader.
"Out of the three Mr. Olympia's it (the best) would have to be the last one. I think in 1979 I was in my best shape of all time considering everything. I had some really good years but I think '79 was my best year as far as combining size and shape. Just having it all together."
The 1980 Controversy
While every Mr. Olympia outcome since the first event showcasing the classy Larry Scott has featured a degree of controversy (a word that best suits the competitive pro bodybuilding game possibly more so that any other), 1980 would forever be tarnished with the stigma of being one of the most questionable results of all time.
With Frank Zane coming off three consecutive wins and with the concomitant shaking of heads among fans who were beginning to think his combination of size, shape and conditioning was untouchable, the 80's, on the face of it, would be an exciting time for the three time champ. It was not to be.
Held in Australia, the 1980 Mr. Olympia featured the largest field to date (16 top line physiques), including the formidable Mike Mentzer (tipped by many to win the show due to his impressiveness the year prior) and Chris Dickerson (another conceivable winner with incredible development from head to toe and arguably the best legs in the business).
Vintage Lineup: 1980 Olympia!
Arnold, Mentzer, Zane & Tinerino.
Photo Courtesy Of Robert Nailon.
Week #112 - 5/13/2008
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However, another competitor, having seemingly come from nowhere, without any prior notification, had other ideas. After retiring from bodybuilding in 1975, and in beginning his acting career in earnest while adopting the mantle of contest promoter, Arnold Schwarzenegger had allowed his physique to shrink markedly, and combined with a later injury, did not in the least resemble a competitive pro bodybuilder.
Many would argue the physique he brought to Australia in 1980 presented only a marginal improvement over that of his post-competition look.
With his shock inclusion in the 1980 line-up, many in the audience, and especially the competitors themselves, felt Arnold simply did not belong in such an esteemed field; among a pool of men who had spent the best part of ten years training and sacrificing for that very day.
Indeed, until literally moments before the competitors first walked onstage, Arnold's fellow athletes thought he was in Australia to do TV commentary for the show.
Visibly lacking the required conditioning and sufficient leg development needed to even compete at the professional level, and showing an uncharacteristic degree of nervousness, Arnold did his best, but the sheer confidence oozing from his nearest competition (notably Mentzer, Zane and Dickerson) suggested he would, for the first time in his career, embarrass himself on an Olympia stage.
Yet when the results came in it was Arnold's hand that was raised (defeating Dickerson (2nd) and Zane (3rd)), a result that virtually destroyed the careers of several major professional athletes who could not reconcile such a decision, and who lost faith in the sport as a result.
History will show that Arnold won his seventh Olympia title in 1980, but testimony that continues to this day suggests it was the most controversial win in the event's history. It was later revealed that at least four of the judges in 1980 were close friends of Arnold's and that legendary bodybuilder, and pro judge (who did not judge that day), Bill Pearl, would never have picked the Austrian to win.
Get The Full Results From The 1980 Olympia Here.
1981: More Controversy
In again switching back to contest promoter mode to co-promote the 1981 Mr. Olympia, held once more in Columbus Ohio, Arnold had well and truly signaled his retirement, but a good friend of his had done the opposite by announcing a bodybuilding comeback.
In another controversial inclusion, Franco Columbu, having seriously injured his leg a year prior, stood uneasily among a full line-up of 17 men, many displaying the best form of their careers. After initial judging had been done the consensus suggested that with one significantly shrunken leg, visible performance enhancement abuse, and with a vastly improved field of competitors this time around, Franco would be lucky to break the top five. He won.
Beating Chris Dickerson (surely the unluckiest man in pro bodybuilding at that point) and third placed Tom Platz, bringing the best shape of his career. Fifth placed Danny Padilla was picked by many to crack the top three if not win the entire show after displaying definition that would embarrass an anatomy chart, along with near-perfect proportion.
While Franco's 1981 win proved questionable, he did bring his usual thick back and chest development along with respectable conditioning.
Here he discusses the improvements he had made for this show compared to his 1976 win, and what it takes to secure bodybuilding's biggest crown: "Over the next year, I improved, then won the title in 1976. That year, I weighed 187 pounds. When I won again in '81, I was 11 quality pounds heavier. To win the Olympia, you have to improve on your previous form. Standing still won't get you the crown."
Get The Full Results From The 1981 Olympia Here.
1982: Chris Dickerson Wins At Last
After taking the runner up position in the previous two Olympia's, two of the most controversial to date, Chris Dickerson knew he was very close to winning a title of his own, a fact verified by his victory in '82.
With London, England hosting the Olympia for the first time, 16 competitors traveled to Europe, among them Frank Zane still seeking further Olympia glory after boycotting the 1981 contest in light of what occurred the previous year in Australia, and newcomer Casey Viator (the youngest AAU Mr. America ever winning the event in '71 at age 19), a heavily muscled young competitor and training partner of Mike Mentzer, who had himself left the sport, depressed over the 1980 disaster from down under.
Up against the similarly aesthetic and well-balanced Frank Zane and the diametrically opposed muscle phenomenon Viator, Dickerson had a tough battle, but his complete development, polished posing skills and crisp conditioning proved superior and he secured his first and only Mr. Olympia title (many feel it could have been his third based upon the last two contests' final results). He retired onstage in London, walking away as one of only 12 men to have won the title in its 43-year history.
Chris explains what it felt like to win his first and only Olympia, to have waited so long for it, and what the title means to him. "The moment seemed to say 'we did it,' and 'we' really had done it, because it was a joint effort. It was like, after all the controversy of 1980; things had finally come out, as they should have. The journey was a long, painstaking one, but the victory was sweeter for having had to wait.
Click To Enlarge.
His Complete Development, Polished Posing Skills
And Crisp Conditioning Proved Superior.
"The Mr. Olympia is the apex that eclipses all other titles. When they announce me anywhere, they say, 'Chris Dickerson, Mr. Olympia!' There's just no point in quoting any other titles. I know I will be remembered for having been Mr. Olympia. It's there forever.
"I think I would have wanted any place, but London has always been a very good city for me. The London audience and the people really look for perfection and not just size. We are becoming more of a size audience and the fans go crazy over the biggest guys. But aesthetics play a big part and always have in England. I am not saying it may not have happened in another place, but it did happen there."
Get The Full Results From The 1982 Olympia Here.
1983: The Lion Of Lebanon Triumphs
With 11 Olympia appearances to his name, Samir Bannout surely is one of the more prolific professional competitors of all time. Known for his erratic contest conditioning and his battling of the water demons (the water retention that has plagued his competitive career), Samir brought it all together in Munich, Germany in 1983 to win bodybuilding's biggest prize.
In what would be Frank Zane's final competitive year, Samir had not had only the three-time champ to deal with but also emerging threats Mohamed El Makkaway (who would place second) and Lee Haney.
Samir, with his pleasing and symmetrical body, would signal for many years to come an end to aesthetics over size in an Olympia champion, while Lee Haney (who placed third) would, the following year continue this theme by marking the rise, and eventual acceptance among the judges, of the more massive physique taking precedence over the smaller look however symmetrical and proportioned that package might be.
To be awarded the Mr. Olympia title is something Samir never took lightly and here he explains exactly what its achievement meant to him: "The Olympia title is the ultimate. Nothing tops the ultimate. Being Mr. Olympia means you cannot go any higher. By winning the Olympia, you become the king of bodybuilding... in '83 I truly felt like the king."
"I was ready for the war. 'The night before the show, Joe [Weider] asked me to go up to his room, so he could check me out. I started posing, and I looked at Joe and Betty's (Joe's wife's) faces, and they were like, Wow! Holy cow! What did this guy do? Joe became excited and said, 'Oh, my God, let me get a photographer up here. I need a cover.'"
"While Joe was on the phone, Betty said to me, 'Samir, Arnold Schwarzenegger and you are the most impressive bodybuilders I have ever seen.' That was a h#ll of a compliment."
Get The Full Results From The 1983 Olympia Here.
1984-91: Lee Haney Begins A New Era
With a significant increase in total prize money - to $100,000 - attendance record of 5000 people for the finals and biggest ever line-up of 20 athletes, the Mr. Olympia contest had - in 1984 - entered into a new era of popularity and respectability. The athletes' physiques were more refined and larger (better food, supplements and training methods right?) and one champion stood out based on the sheer size of his physique and the classical shape he presented.
In 1983 Lee Haney had shown potential as being a future prize winner with an impressively muscular look, capped off with a never before seen shoulder/waist differential. In '84 he had gained at least ten pounds of solid muscle to tip the scales at 247, the largest an in-shape Olympia competitor had ever been.
With his untouched size he single-handedly re-shaped the future direction professional bodybuilding would take and in winning his first Olympia title laid down a challenge to all bodybuilders wishing to take it from him: bring his degree of size or forever remain out of the winner's circle. As history shows, the challenge was never really accepted until 1992, a year after he retired as an unprecedented eight time Olympia champion.
The year 1985 proved another stunning one for Mr. Haney, by now around 250 pounds, as he defeated holder of the most Olympia appearances and oldest man ever to contest the title (in 1991) at 53 years old, Albert Beckles. Rich Gaspari placed third and in doing so positioned himself as a tough challenger to Haney's title in '86, '87 and'88 with three consecutive runner up spots.
In 1988, and with prize money at a record $150,000, Lee Haney won his fifth straight Olympia. At this point there was little competition for the massive man from Atlanta, Georgia. However, in '89 he faced his toughest test yet in the imposing and seemingly flawless, yet much smaller form of Lee Labrada in a record 23-strong field of competitors.
Not at his best condition-wise, Haney won on the strength of his remarkable size, but could easily have lost to the superbly conditioned Labrada. Still, with his sixth straight win he had tied with Arnold Schwarzenegger for most consecutive Olympia victories.
Nineteen ninety proved an important year for Lee Haney, as in winning his seventh Olympia title he had eclipsed Arnold's run of consecutive victories amid very strong competition (he was down by two points going into the finals but managed to capitalize on his powerful posing and the overall impact of his physique in the dying stages of the show to beat Lee Labrada (2nd) and Shawn Ray (3rd)). He also secured a large chunk of the increased prize money pool of $200,000.
By beating smaller men who displayed better conditioning and, it could be said, superior shape and aesthetics (namely Labrada and Ray) Haney had proven that gargantuan size was an important acquisition for any Mr. Olympia hopeful. This was more than underscored in 1991 when he narrowly won his eighth straight title (a new record) against a man who weighed 245 pounds and stood 5'11", like the champ himself: second place finisher, Dorian Yates.
Known as The Shadow based of his ability to appear at a moment's notice to dominate the opposition, Yates indeed cast serious doubt over his opposition in '91 with conditioning never before witnessed on a man so large. With superior leg development compared with Haney and greater potential for further progress (he had only been in the pro ranks for two years) Dorian signaled to all that he was here to stay.
It is not surprising that Haney chose the '91 show to be his last. Though probably at his very best - "I have finally learned how to peak," he said immediately after the show - Haney must have known that a new era was emerging, one that would even surpass the legacy of mass combined with balanced muscle development that he himself had ushered in.
Four years after the historic victory that positioned him ahead of Arnold as the best completive bodybuilder of all time, Lee Haney had the following to say about his motivation for making history, what the Olympia title means to him and the impact Joe Weider, the man who started it all 26 years earlier, had on the sport of bodybuilding:
"Preparing for my last Olympia, my motivation was to do what nobody else, not even Arnold, had done before: win eight Olympia's and earn a unique place in history.
"There was something almost pre-ordained about that last year ('91). The training was the easiest ever - I peaked perfectly, and going out in the best shape of my life was a magical experience. For that last contest, I used the same music (theme from the movie Excalibur) that I used for my first victory in 1984. That seemed to bring my bodybuilding career full circle and gave it a sense of closure.
"Should I never achieve anything else, I can say I took eight Olympia titles. When my kids grow into adults, they can look back and say, 'Yup! My daddy was the greatest bodybuilder of all time.'"
"The Olympia is a monument to Joe's love for the sport, and the avenue through which we [the athletes] can become better bodybuilders and people. Joe's like the shepherd pointing us in the right direction."
As has been outlined here, professional bodybuilding has enjoyed a succession of great champions, all of them having one thing in common: they have competed in, or won, the Mr. Olympia contest. Into the 90's who would continue pro bodybuilding's progression through capturing the biggest title on the planet?
Get The Full Results From The 1984 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1985 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1986 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1987 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1988 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1989 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1990 Olympia Here.
Get The Full Results From The 1991 Olympia Here.
Coming Soon: Part Two - The 90's And Beyond!
The 2009 Olympia Weekend will be held September 24-27, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Orleans Arena and Las Vegas Convention Center. Get comprehensive information here!
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