Joe Weider's Mr. Olympia:
A Retrospective - Part Two
In the first installment of this two-part feature, the Golden Era of bodybuilding (the 60's and 70's) was charted through the line of champions who have won its biggest prize, the Mr. Olympia title. Into the 80's we delved with the emergence of several of history's most aesthetically gifted professional bodybuilders along with the reign of Lee Haney, who began a new era with his unique combination of size and shape.
Now we will chart the 90's and beyond, which encompassed two separate eras where size ruled. Into late 2000 we discover that bodybuilding is, and has always been about class coupled with mass. What will the future hold for the Mr. Olympia contest? No one knows for sure but it promises to provide a dazzling display of the best physiques ever seen.
1992-97: The True Mass Game Begins With Dorian Yates
As the level of professional bodybuilding competition grew (literally an figuratively), the Mr. Olympia contest, and its' judging system, it seems, felt a need to adapt to the standards to which physical display was increasingly held and a new trend in ultra-massiveness began to emerge. The man responsible for this new trend was a relatively unknown behemoth from Birmingham, England:
In '91 Yates showed that few could touch him in the mass department. But it was his incredibly grainy conditioning and definition that was in a class of its own. In 1992 he set a new standard for ultra-massive size by competing at over 240 pounds ripped.
Held in Helsinki, Finland the '92 Olympia featured possibly the toughest competition of the 90's, with Lee Labrada, Shawn Ray, newcomer Kevin Levrone and Mohammad Benaziza all hoping to capitalize on the sizeable void left by Lee Haney. The line-up that year also included a rookie by the name of Ronnie Coleman who would tie, along with seven others including Samir Bannout, for dead last.
Ronnie would get a little redemption in later years. And so it was, against a stacked field of competitors Dorian Yates won his first Olympia title. While many fans though they had seen for the first time the smashing of the size barrier with Yates' win, he was only just beginning and in 1993 would shock the bodybuilding world more so than probably any other competitor before or since.
Dialing down from a massive and cut off-season weight of over 270 pounds, Dorian strode onstage at the '93 Olympia, held in Atlanta, at an unprecedented 257 pounds bodyweight. For one under six feet tall, he had well and truly broken all size records and, coupled with his usual great conditioning and good proportion, made that year's Olympia a competition for second place.
Runner-up Flex Wheeler himself would later remark that Dorian was "untouchable" in '93. In winning his second title, Dorian raised two questions: how can a competitor at his level of development make such progress (16 pounds of added muscle) in just one year and will there ever be a limit to which the muscular body can be pushed?
Five Days Of Dorian!
To celebrate the most popular blue-collared bodybuilder of all time, we are launching the most in-depth feature ever to be published on Yates.
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Almost 20 years later Dorian answered the first question in a Bodybuilding.com interview: "What I realized is that for '92 I was in great shape but I was near enough in that shape five or six weeks before the contest and kept coming down in bodyweight, wanting to get harder. What I realized was happening was that I was just about as hard as I was going to get anyway. And if you are losing more weight at that point, what are you losing?
"I came to the conclusion that I was losing muscle. Although I was big and shredded in '92, I was competing well below my potential so, with that knowledge and all of my records, I decided the following year I would try to avoid that, basically the over dieting.
"So I was able to come in - between those two Olympia's - around 16 pounds heavier. I had a really good year of training so I probably was five or six pounds heavier, which at that level is a pretty respectable amount anyway. The other ten pounds of muscle came from simply not sacrificing it, not deleting it during the dieting process."
The second of these questions (raised moments ago) could be answered in the years immediately preceding his first two Olympia victories. But alas, Dorian never definitively made another breakthrough as he did in '93 and, due to several physique-altering injuries, probably would not recapture his personal best as he did for his second Olympia win.
However, the question of whether the professional bodybuilding physique could improve post '93 Dorian was resoundingly answered in the early 2000. But that was a way off and Dorian still had four Olympia's to win.
In 1994 Dorian was expected to again shock the world, as was his habit of redefining himself with each passing year. However, in March a rotator cuff injury combined with a left quad tear two weeks later made training very hard for the Englishman. But he battled through and with nine weeks to go before the big day it looked like he just might show an improvement over '93.
Almost on cue, if one is following the dictates of Murphies Law, he tore his left biceps. While this combination of injuries would have ruled most competitors out, Dorian persevered and eventually won his third title with Shawn Ray, Kevin Levrone and Paul Dillett placing second, third and four respectively.
By 1995 the Mr. Olympia had been running for 30 years and to honor the occasion all past winners, including Dorian - defending his title that night - appeared onstage to the thunderous applause of the fans.
For the show itself, many had doubts as to whether Dorian Yates would be up to the task winning his fourth Olympia. Proving them wrong he not only won but he did so with straight firsts in one of his best appearances ever. Third place (behind second placed Kevin Levrone) was a man who would out-mass even Dorian: the 270-pound Nasser El Sonbaty, who would come extremely close to taking Dorian's title two years later.
For his fourth title defense Dorian looked very good in 1996, but the competition was closing in. Shawn Ray, who had been competing at Olympia level since '88, was at his all time best, as was Nasser El Sonbaty, who many had picked after prejudging to win his first title based on his unrivaled size and conditioning.
Dorian, though, had proven himself a seasoned competitor and did just enough to win in respectable, though not convincing, fashion.
The year '97 was expected to provide the anticipated re-match between Dorian and Nasser, who was picked by many as the Brit's successor. By now total prize money was $285,000, with the winner's share being a handsome $110,000. Held in Long Beach, California the Olympia - for only the second time in its history at that point - was run on a two-day format (with the prejudging on Friday and the finals on Saturday).
When the athletes filed onstage at prejudging it was apparent that Yates was not at his best, though he did manage to present a respectable package considering he had torn his left triceps three weeks before the show. Though he did display the muscle size he was renowned for, he lacked the edge that his closest competition seemed to have.
Says Dorian of how his triceps
injury impacted his ability to gear up for his seventh shot at the Olympia. "I didn't train for the last three weeks before the 1997 Olympia. I was barely able to do a double biceps pose; I was very timidly trying to do it in the posedown, because normally there is a bit of bumping and pushing and I had to be especially careful.
"I didn't want anyone to bang my elbow. Apparently it was literally just hanging on by a thread. I had trained right up until three weeks out (from the Olympia). I was in good shape and had three weeks to go; you are not going to disappear in three weeks if you don't train."
So while Yates would win his sixth straight title it was not without a huge dollop of controversy, and was not the end he would have wanted to a remarkable career (he chose to retire after the '97 show).
Nasser El Sonbaty, who placed second that night, was especially vocal in the aftermath: "In 1997, Flex Wheeler came to me after the prejudging (which was on a Friday, so that they had the finals on Saturday - in order for them to generate more entrance ticket money) and told me backstage if I knew that they would not give me my very deserved title," said Nasser. I did not say too much because I hoped that he was wrong. But as we all know, Dorian Yates won the Olympia again, the very next day.
"He won despite a huge belly (looking like he was pregnant in the sixth month), a waist like a drum, a torn up left biceps, a freshly torn left triceps, a quad tear left, a quad tear right, a torn right hip. He won it with a perfect score, which was just unbelievable. This was a completely staged outcome and the biggest bodybuilding robbery of the 20th century by the clique of judges who 'judged'."
"I also have to say that some judges had Dorian Yates even in third and fourth place, because about 13 judges judged officially. I think you just use seven of the score sheets. But these judges (who scored Dorian lower) score sheets had not been used and some of the judges had then been removed from the judging panel because they did not produce what was expected of them to produce.
"There are multiple reasons why I did not win. Some judges did not want to upset their friend Dorian and they did not want him to go out of bodybuilding with a defeat after all his injuries and tears. They did not want to give another non-US guy the most prestigious title in bodybuilding because it would underline the US inferiority in bodybuilding compared to non-US athletes."
Dorian, for his part, felt his win was justified on the basis of his complete development and how he looked from all angles. "Nasser from the front was phenomenal and in some poses from the front there is no doubt he beat me," said Dorian 11 years later. "But from the side he is very narrow and from the back there is no comparison really. You have to look at it logically. Let's say he beat me in the front relaxed pose and the front double biceps." I will give him this.
"Did he beat me in the side triceps? No. In either of the back poses? No. Abs and thighs was close. So no, I don't think he deserved to win although he did look very good that year."
"But he looked good from certain angles. Some physiques you can't judge from a photograph; you have to be there. Everyone who sees my physique in person always comments on how much better I look in person than in pictures. That's because my physique is thick and developed from all angles.
"From the front, from the back, from the side, standing on my head: it doesn't matter. Everywhere is fully developed from every angle. And this might not show in one-dimensional photos. When you turn somebody to the side and they are twice as thick as everyone else, then that shows up."
Whatever the case, Dorian retired after the 1997 Mr. Olympia as a sixth time champion and left professional bodybuilding a legacy that few have been able to match since.
Here he explains what the tile means to him: "The Olympia is the ultimate title for the ultimate bodybuilder. When you think of the Mr. Olympia, you think of someone with presence, power and size. You think of
Haney. Two hundred pound guys can win other contests, but if you are going to say to the general public, 'this is Mr. 'O', the best bodybuilder in the world'; they are going to expect to see a big, big guy."
"The night before my first win, I was nervous. By finishing as the runner-up in 1991, I was the pre-contest favorite. But I kept on thinking, "Okay, you've proven yourself one of the best bodybuilders in the world, but being Mr. Olympia means being the absolute best. Out of all the countless numbers of bodybuilders in the world, can it be that I, Dorian Yates, am the best?"
"It's quite an amazing thought to be considered the best on the planet at what you do. I was confident in my physique, but it was incredible to think I could be the absolute best at what I did. Then I thought, s**t, somebody's got to be the best - why not me?"
With Dorian out of competition, 1998 would be the year of a new champion. But who would win? The main contenders, in no particular order, were
Nasser El Sonbaty,
Shawn Ray and
Kevin Levrone, all proven warriors within the highest echelons of the IFBB. The ultimate winner, however, would surprise everyone, not least the victor himself.
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1998-2005: Ronnie's Reign
Placing ninth in '97 and often finishing toward the end of the pack in previous outings was
Ronnie Coleman, a competitor with good promise who, when he nailed his conditioning, would usually place respectfully in smaller contests. On the Olympia stage, however, he was no more than a top ten guy. In 1998 that all changed.
Bringing a monstrous 270 plus pounds to the Olympia stage, Coleman, an Arlington, Texas cop, forced his opposition to serve hard time as they could only look on in wonder as to how one could appear so ripped and huge after having been relegated to ninth the year before.
Ronnie himself elaborates: "There was Flex and Nasser and Kevin. There were just so many people in front of me who had got first, second and third for seven or eight years. I was not even in the picture with a ninth place the year before." But now he was truly in the frame as number one in the world after having won the prestigious Olympia after almost ten years of trying.
A far cry from where he first began: "I didn't even care about winning then (in 1992 when he finished dead last). I was just competing because it was a hobby and I was getting a free membership to the gym (laughs).
"I just did it because it was something I enjoyed doing and loved to do. As long as I went into the show and knew I had done my best that is all that really mattered."
With usual suspects Flex Wheeler, Nasser El Sonbaty, Kevin Levrone and Shawn Ray - all extremely worthy challengers - rounding out the top five, Ronnie had done the unthinkable and left his competition shaking their heads at a missed opportunity. But would Coleman repeat this dominant performance in '99, or would he be a one hit wonder as was Chris Dickerson in'82 and Samir Bannout in '83?
From '99 through to 2005, Ronnie, remarkably since he was in his 40s by early 2000, made significant improvements and won most of his Olympia title defenses in convincing fashion. In '99 he proved just too much for second placed Flex Wheeler who by now was becoming increasingly frustrated at not winning a Sandow of his own, and in 2000 brought over 280 pounds to the stage.
In 2001, Ronnie had an up-and-coming contender named
Jay Cutler to deal with, and who gave the champ his biggest shock as Mr. Olympia yet. Winning the first two rounds at prejudging gave Cutler the edge, but Coleman was able to capitalize in the finals taking both rounds there to win by a narrow margin of just five points.
Though Ronnie was in his own class by virtue of his size and structure (with muscle cramming ever inch of his physique he still had one of the best V-tapers in the business and certainly the best back and legs), there was a worthy challenger in Jay Cutler, and so was sparked the biggest Mr. Olympia rivalry of the 21st century.
With his non-inclusion in the 2002 line-up, Jay Cutler was not a factor, or threat for Coleman. But there were plenty of athletes who were. Kevin Levrone, by now tipped to someday win the title, Chris Cormier, one of the most complete and massive competitors around, and smiling giant Gunter Schlierkamp, made winning his fifth straight title an uphill grind, but Ronnie still proved he was king, though in a less convincing manner compared with previous years.
In what could have been his best conditioning ever, Ronnie, despite predictions that he would face his biggest challenge with the return of Cutler, presented 287 pounds of shredded beef to win his sixth Olympia in 2003, virtually unopposed.
Having tied Dorian's string of victories, Ronnie had two to equal Haney. With the addition of one more he would be regarded as bodybuilding's undisputed champ, a fact he had made known after winning his sixth that night. Alongside the champ in '03 was Dexter Jackson, an almost scaled down version of Ronnie at 5'6" and around 210 pounds, with amazing lines and near perfect symmetry: certainly a name to watch for in the future.
And as for Jay Cutler, the 'cut above' was indeed muscling in on Ronnie's domain. The question everyone wanted to know was could Coleman continue his run or would the new breed of superstar catch him before he reached Haney's record of eight?
A significant year for the Olympia competition was 2004 with the controversial addition of a new Challenge Round. This round would change the way the final six would be scored in the last round. After round three the top six competitors' scores would be discarded and the final round would be the clincher.
Unfortunately for Dexter Jackson, who was third after the first three rounds, his final standing was fourth. Newcomer
Gustavo Badell, however, did enough to place third in this round, thus giving him this final placing for the evening. Jay placed second and Ronnie again won the whole show, giving him his seventh Olympia title.
By 2005 total Mr. Olympia prize money, including a new Best Wheels award ($10,000), the Challenge Round ($50,000) and a Wildcard Showdown ($10,000), where the winner would also qualify for inclusion in the main Olympia show, peaked at $550,000. Winning the Best Wheels was second placed Jay Cutler, while Gustavo Badell walked away as the Challenge Round victor.
The prize that really matted though was that of Mr. Olympia, which went to the now eight-time champ Ronnie Coleman. Also placing high in this show, held at Las Vegas, Nevada, was Victor Martinez (5th) and Branch Warren (8th), two men who would become fan favorites in future outings. Sadly for Ronnie, 2005 would prove his last year as the champ, though he would be back for further attempts in 2006 and '07.
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Ronnie Coleman At The 2007 IFBB Olympia.
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Showing the humility and class that has typified his career, Ronnie discusses what the Olympia means to him and what his greatest moment in the game was:
"My greatest moment in bodybuilding is, by far, winning my very first Mr. Olympia. The reason why is because I never really thought it was possible to win the Mr. Olympia. My biggest goal was to place in the top five and that's all I thought was possible for me, but for me to win was definitely overwhelming and very unexpected. It just goes to show that we are not in control of our own destiny like we would like to be. God is in control and decides what he wants us to do in life.
"When you reach the pinnacle of your sport there's really nothing that can top it. I never envisioned myself winning but when it happened it was like winning the lottery. It was one of those events where you are so overwhelmed that you can't find the words to put it into perspective to explain top people how you really feel about it."
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At his reign's conclusion, Ronnie had unequivocally made his mark as the best bodybuilder to have ever competed. Though he tied with
Lee Haney for most Olympia wins, he had revolutionized the way a professional bodybuilder could look and took bodybuilding to an unsurpassed level that has not been eclipsed to this day.
The question of whether, as an Olympia champion, he had a better physique to that of fellow mass monster Dorian Yates, though, has been debated among legions of 'distinguished thinkers' on Internet message boards and within the wider bodybuilding community for some time.
Here is what the man himself had to say in early 2009: "Well (laughs), it's kind of hard to say because at my best and at Dorian's best you are looking at two different eras. So I guess it has a lot to do with age difference because when Dorian was competing I was nowhere near as good as I was when I was winning, so you would have to take a poll to see what people think.
"But actually I don't think that would even be possible because he had his era and I had mine. He was way advanced. I would have had to be on the same level as him at that point in time to truly compare myself to him."
If one considers the
consistency he applied throughout his career - notwithstanding his final two appearances where father time had caught him and he was far from his best - and the unsurpassed muscle development he displayed it is not too hard to look past Ronnie as being the greatest Olympian of all time, a fact made all the more obvious by the paucity of competitors to have rivaled his development before or since his tenure at the top.
To summarize his life in bodybuilding Ronnie had the following to say:
"The greatest career ever!"
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2006-07: Jay Cutler
One man who did rival Ronnie from a mass standpoint was
Jay Cutler. Though much blockier than Ronnie, Jay was younger and had more room for improvement. It was just a case of paying his dues and biding his time. Touted as the most important Olympia ever, in that Ronnie Coleman would make history should he win and secure a record nine titles, the 2006 version was very much anticipated.
Ronnie himself certainly knew this and said in the build-up to the big day that he would do his best to make true on the historical significance of the event.
After being runner-up to Ronnie on four occasions, though, Jay Cutler had a different viewpoint, solidified by his best ever showing come prejudging. Ronnie, on the other hand, presented at well below his best with a degree of smoothness and obvious structural problems in his lower lat region.
Any edge, however slight, given to Cutler, who had progressed from the year before, and was much harder and more muscular than he had ever been, was too much, a fact discovered by Coleman as he accepted second place at the Olympia for the first time in nine years.
Says Cutler of his historic first win:
"It was actually pretty amazing. Gustavo jumped on me and gave me a hug as soon as I realized what was kind of going on, so I was on shock a little bit, but at the same time that was the most satisfying moment I think of my bodybuilding career because I not only won the Mr. Olympia but I won the crowd."
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Jay Cutler At The 2007 Olympia.
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"And I always said I you win the crowd you win the show and I had the crowd behind me 100 percent and I could tell through the whole night show when the cheer was for Jay Cutler when Jay Cutler's name was announced.
"I mean it was off the hook. Through the posedown and through my posing routine I heard the chants and I had so many people there supporting me.
"I have been second so many times and have gathered so many fans over the years. I'm just a down to earth guy from nowhere USA, small town Massachusetts, and I have taken on a sport that people said I will only go so far in. I proved everyone wrong and I am completely satisfied."
"I said this was my destiny and I made a promise on my website the day after the Mr. Olympia last years (2005) and said 2006 was going to be different and everyone laughed and said, 'yeah right, this kid's dreaming' and I was persistent and I persevered and I really believed I could be the best and of course your are talking to me today because I'm the best."
As the defending champion,
Jay Cutler knew he would need to be at his all time best to retain the title in 2007, as he would be up against very tough competition in
Victor Martinez, a man tipped by no less than
Ronnie Coleman as a future Olympia winner, and Coleman himself, looking for redemption after his loss the year before.
Remarkably, in one of the worst showings of his Olympia career, Cutler, in his first title defense, came in softer than expected at his level, which only served to magnify the blocky shape of his physique. Not a good idea when your next closest competitor happens to be Victor Martinez, a man known for his incredible shape, who can more than hold his own in the mass department.
Although he won his second Olympia title Jay was already showing signs of vulnerability, which he would pay for at his next title defense. Second was a very unlucky Martinez, at his all time best with no discernable weak points. Dexter Jackson rounded out the top three showing probably the classiest physique ever to have stepped onto an Olympia stage.
Ronnie Coleman, try as he might, could not break the top three and, after receiving his fourth place award, left the stage (for good?) he had owned for eight years. With Cutler showing increasing fallibility how would he deal with the improved threats of Dexter Jackson and number one contender, Victor Martinez, in 2008?
2008: The Blade Takes The Title
The only record
Jay Cutler seemed to be gunning for at the 2008 Olympia was worst conditioning ever. With the competition having improved yet again and the champ having regressed in conditioning even further than the previous year (though he was still the largest, most muscular man onstage), Cutler, on the face of it, would not be crowned champion in 2008.
And he wasn't... the honor going to next in line, Dexter Jackson - Victor Martinez was out recovering from knee surgery - who had shown consistency in being consistently cut to shreds with a flawless display of aesthetics over mass.
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Dexter Jackson At The 2008 Olympia.
View More Pics Of Dexter Jackson At The 2008 Olympia.
Indeed, one sensed that with his win came a realization among the judge's that the best-proportioned and conditioned physique should win regardless of how large it happened to be. The close calls experienced by
Lee Haney in the '80s and
Yates in the '90s, it appears, will no longer be freely given. The title will go to the best man on the day, irrespective of size.
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2009: Who Will Be Next?
With this year's Mr. Olympia only a few short weeks away, the speculation has long since started and the names being mentioned as likely contenders include
Victor Martinez, titleholder
Dennis Wolf, and
So close has the competition become that picking a winner is harder than ever. It seems that gone are the days when a champion like Lee Haney is assumed victor before the line-up has even been announced. Today each champion must prove beyond doubt that they are worthy of bodybuilding's biggest award: the exalted Mr. Olympia title.
So who will win in 2009 is anyone's guess: my pick is Dexter again, but should he compete even five precent below his best, Victor, Phil or Freeman could easily switch places with The Blade. Stay tuned to Bodybuilding.com to see what goes down come September 24.
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A Contest Without Peer
In its 44-year history the Mr. Olympia has proven unmatched for the quality of physique it presents and, the mystique and anticipation it creates and bodybuilding careers it furthers.
As you have read in this special two-part feature, it has a long tradition of success and continues to grow with each passing year. Not without its share of controversy (what sport isn't) it has remained a contest that offers many surprises and a few shocking outcomes.
As it approaches half a century it certainly is not slowing down - with its legends having shaped it and its new champions keeping it fresh and exciting, the future of the Mr. Olympia spectacle looks to be a long one indeed.
The Champs: Olympia Winners From 1965 To 2009
- 1965 - Larry Scott
- 1966 - Larry Scott
- 1967 - Sergio Oliva
- 1968 - Sergio Oliva
- 1969 - Sergio Oliva
- 1970 - Arnold Schwarzenegger
- 1971 - Arnold Schwarzenegger
- 1972 - Arnold Schwarzenegger
- 1973 - Arnold Schwarzenegger
- 1974 - Arnold Schwarzenegger
- 1975 - Arnold Schwarzenegger
- 1976 - Franco Columbu
- 1977 - Frank Zane
- 1978 - Frank Zane
- 1979 - Frank Zane
- 1980 - Arnold Schwarzenegger
- 1981 - Franco Columbu
- 1982 - Chris Dickerson
- 1983 - Samir Bannout
- 1984 - Lee Haney
- 1985 - Lee Haney
- 1986 - Lee Haney
- 1987 - Lee Haney
- 1988 - Lee Haney
- 1989 - Lee Haney
- 1990 - Lee Haney
- 1991 - Lee Haney
- 1992 - Dorian Yates
- 1993 - Dorian Yates
- 1994 - Dorian Yates
- 1995 - Dorian Yates
- 1996 - Dorian Yates
- 1997 - Dorian Yates
- 1998 - Ron Coleman
- 1999 - Ron Coleman
- 2000 - Ron Coleman
- 2001 - Ron Coleman
- 2002 - Ron Coleman
- 2003 - Ron Coleman
- 2004 - Ron Coleman
- 2005 - Ron Coleman
- 2006 - Jay Cutler
- 2007 - Jay Cutler
- 2008 - Dexter Jackson
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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