It has been twenty eight years since the 1980 Olympia contest was held, yet it is still often talked about today. "What did Arnold look like?", "Should he have won?", What was the argument between Arnold and Mike Mentzer about?", etc, etc. Well I was there and saw it all while taking photos of the event.
Paul Graham was the promoter. Dating back to 1967, Paul had brought many top bodybuilders out to Australia (Dave Draper being the first) to guest pose at the IFBB Nationals. Paul had fought hard to get the Olympia to Sydney and it cost him a lot of his time and money negotiating with Joe and Ben Weider.
In addition he had to attend to the organization of airline flights, hotel accommodation, cars etc. It was a huge undertaking.
Paul had an Australian magazine at the time named "Muscle and Fitness" (before Joe's) and in it he advertised the contest and a list of contestants who had already accepted his invitation. At this stage there was no mention of Arnold but rumors were spreading that he would definitely be making an appearance - either as a judge or guest posing.
The date of the event was October 4th, our Spring and the venue would be held at The Sydney Opera House, one of the best locations in the world. The contest was to take place in the main hall which overlooks the harbor and bridge, a perfect setting.
Back then, I owned a gym in the Eastern suburbs which was close to the hotel where most of the contestants would be staying. So naturally my gym became one of the obvious choices for workouts. Most of the competitors flew in together about a week before, to soak up the sun and prepare for the show.
I went out to the airport to take a few photos so I could get a good overall coverage. Some of the guys arrived separately so I acted as a chauffeur and drove them to the hotel at Bondi Beach, a place which is similar to Venice Beach in Santa Monica, to give you some idea.
A few days later, Arnold and Maria arrived. Arnold looked tanned and energetic. Again I was at the airport and so were a film crew shooting a movie about the show. Naturally Arnold was the star, he had won six Olympias to date but still no mention of him entering. It wasn't long before he and Maria were driven away to the Hilton hotel in the city.
During that week I would collect some of the guys to train at my gym. Frank Zane trained in the mornings but most would work out in the late afternoon.
Joe Gold and Reg Park two others I drove back and forward were both great guys with many interesting stories to tell. Reg was to be the main guest star of the show and Joe was going to sell his 'World Gym' products such as T-shirts, tank tops, shorts etc, in the foyer.
Since his arrival, Arnold had been training at a gym at Bondi (it had been there since the mid 50's and was well equipped). Everyone said he was in good shape especially considering he had only had 7 weeks to train prior to his arrival. The rumor now was he would guest pose along with Reg Park.
Arnold Decides To Compete
The day of the show arrived, the judging was held on the Saturday morning in the main hall of the Opera House. The main show would come later, that evening.
Arnold had dropped a clanger; he decided he was going to compete after all. Because of his last minute decision there were objections from some of the contestants who felt he should have registered a month before like everybody else. So, Ben Weider held a meeting with all contestants downstairs in one of the private rooms.
There were heated words between Arnold and Mike Mentzer, it came close to fists and comments like Arnold saying Mike could "never win the Olympia with a big gut" were thrown at each other. Eventually it was sorted out and Arnold was given the OK to enter. Still, a few remained unhappy about the decision.
Due to the meeting the judging was running an hour late and the audience was becoming impatient as they had already been seated for an hour and a half with no entertainment at all.
Backstage, before the judging the contestants were pumping up. I noticed Arnold looking a little agitated and wondered if he it was because he was thinking he hadn't had as much time to prepare for this Olympia as he did for the other Olympias. He looked lean one moment and big the next.
Many felt he was retaining a lot of fluid, but the size was still there and the veins prominent. (He looked in better shape during the evening show as it seemed he'd lost a bit more fluid by then).
The judging began, the contestants walked out on stage with applause from the audience who were surprised to see Arnold in the line-up, an added bonus for them.
He did not disappoint in his ability to excite a crowd as well as attract the judges with his charisma, antics and true showmanship. It was promising to be a stimulating and exciting competition indeed.
As the comparisons continued and the contestants were asked to strike a required pose, Arnold would break the rules by jumping out of the line and hitting a most muscular or double bicep much to the audience's delight.
The others would follow only to discover Arnold stepping back as they went forward. Then they would step back and Arnold would go forward. This was repeated a few times to the annoyance of the judges. Arnold was given a warning - if he continued he would be disqualified. Yet somehow as we would see later on, it played to his advantage.
Evaluating the physiques on stage, I didn't think Arnold looked his best compared to the past. His thighs were smaller front on and he wasn't as cut as he normally appeared in competition but he still had a lot going for him and stood out.
Zane had great shape and was ripped but I felt he was too lean (10 pounds too light). Dickerson was in good shape but his arms looked small. Coe was big and ripped, had exceptional arms but looked blocky. Mentzer was also big but didn't look finished.
Most bodybuilders had good size and proportion but lacked competition muscularity. Looking at the line up, all the contestants looked good generally but had their individual faults. As Reg Park said to me after the judging "All eyes were on Arnold, he was the biggest and the tallest and doing a side chest in a line up, who could compare"
Bill Pearl was supposed to be head judge but declined as he had helped Chris Dickerson prepare for the contest. Instead he took over the role of interviewer for CBS television who were doing a documentary on the Olympia.
Throughout the show he was interviewing all contestants including Arnold. It was to run for an hour and be released in the US a month after the event however, I heard it was canned and never went to air. A pity because it would have been another version and a part of Olympia history.
Another film called "The Comeback" shot in 16mm was made by an Australian film maker but it was taken off the market due to legal reasons. (I went to a private screening at a movie theatre to see it few weeks later, it played for just under and hour and was very entertaining).
During the judging break, before the main show, I was walking around the foyer talking to some of my friends about the judging and the comparisons between the guys as well as taking some photos which I thought may be of interest. Remember this was the time of film, not digital, so I was limited to how many shots I could take, time and cost wise.
Arnold was browsing the various merchandise set up in the foyer. There he approached Joe Gold (who also had his table set up) to get some feedback about the judging.
Arnold looked confident but still apprehensive. I took a lot of photos (in the foyer) of Arnold walking about, he was dressed casually and had two of his friends, Bill Drake and his personal photographer in tow.
The Main Show
I can't remember whether or not I ducked out to get something to eat or not between the judging and the main show as the rest of the day was such a highlight by comparison.
The evening show arrived and was packed out, standing room only and believe me they were standing! The atmosphere was electric, the audience greatly looking forward to the show ahead, especially knowing Arnold had entered. He was regarded as the bodybuilding phenomenon of the decade, even century and is a legend today.
When the contestants appeared on stage the audience clapped, there were a few whistles and shouts, the show had begun. The evening was running smoothly as each contestant posed to his chosen music.
I must say every bodybuilder looked great under the lights, even the smoothest. There were a couple of pale entrants who could have tanned up more. You have to have a good tan (don't mention it to the cancer council), even before the tanning lotion goes on, to stand out in a competition.
My friend Vince Basile (Mr Canada 1970) was in the audience with his camera set up in the best possible spot. He was taking black and while and color slides while I was taking shots backstage, onstage, everywhere in fact. So, between both of us we managed to get a very good coverage. Eventually I bought all the film from Vince so I had a complete record of the show.
Reg Park a gentleman and true professional in his early 50's who had been unbeatable for 20 years, gave a posing routine to the theme music "The Glass Mountain" which he had used since 1952.
It was good to see, one of the greats of bodybuilding even though he wasn't in top shape. Reg had won "The Universe" three times and had made five 'Hercules' films in the early 60's when he weighed 253 lbs.
He told me he bench pressed 500 lbs in 1954 and was the first to do so but it wasn't made official. A day later it was also performed by Doug Hepburn who had it recorded officially in the US. Bev Francis (Australia's strongest woman) also gave a posing routine.
As each winner from sixth to first was announced, he came out on the stage. Some were humble, others angry. Backstage, Frank Zane hurled his third place trophy against the wall and Mentzer and Coe left their trophies behind, vowing never to return to Australia again!
When second place winner "Chris Dickerson" was announced, we all knew who the winner would be. I remember Arnold who was waiting in anticipation backstage right next to me saying "I can't believe it, I can't believe it" Then the announcement was made " First place goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger"
Arnold leapt onstage at 1000 miles an hour and I ran downstairs to the front of the audience almost as fast to take photographs. Even though the angle was wrong (too low for photos) it was the best spot to capture the moment. Joe Weider presented Arnold with his trophy and check and both struck the victory pose, arms up!
Arnold went to the microphone and gave his speech. A few minutes later Franco followed but the microphone was too high so he grabbed it and bent it to suit his height! A costly bill for a new microphone was sent to the promoter a week later.
Another victory for Arnold, his 7th and last Olympia win. The contest was over but not the night, there was a harbor cruise after the show. The boat was moored just alongside the Opera House and was to leave at a certain hour.
I had to drive Frank and Christine Zane back to their motel, it took over an hour to get back. I parked the car and ran towards the spot but the boat had left and was about 20 feet away.
I'd missed the icing on the cake, I was disappointed and so was my girlfriend. It would have been a perfect day but because I was attentive to others I lost out.
Bill Reynolds (former editor of UD Muscle and Fitness) was at the contest and had his views on the show. Bill had seen Arnold win most of his Olympias. He said at the '71 and '74 Arnold was at his biggest and at the '73 and '75 he was at his sharpest.
Bill also said Arnold wasn't in his best shape but fairly good shape at the 1980 Olympia.
"Not bad after a five year retirement... whipping himself together in such a short period of time... taking a tremendous risk... if he had lost the value of his six previous magnificent Mr. Olympia wins and indeed his unparalleled reputation to the sport would have been tarnished beyond redemption," Bill wrote.