It seems only yesterday that I moved into a house four doors down from the original Gold's Gym in Venice and decided to take out a membership, and start working out.
I found myself virtually the only non-bodybuilder in a fairly small space trying to stay out of the way of the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ken Waller, Denny Gable, Robby Robinson, Franco Columbu, Dave Draper and others.
You sometimes see animations of what it was like for the tiny little mammals that existed in the age of the dinosaurs as they skittered around in the underbrush trying not to get stepped on. It was like that.
My workouts in Gold's got me involved in writing and doing photos for Joe Weider in what turned out to be for decades. Because of this long-term involvement in the sport I have been to every Mr. Olympia competition since 1979 - with the exception of the 1980 Olympia in Australia. Actually, I thought I was assigned to cover that contest as well. But it was early-on in my experience of dealing with Joe Weider and I got faked out.
Joe has always been famous for avoiding confrontation and trying not to have to say "no" whenever possible. I mentioned the Australian Olympia to him many times in the months before the event and thought I would be covering the show. But I never got what seemed to be a commitment.
About a week before everyone was scheduled to leave I asked Joe where my ticket was. "Oh, did you want to go to the Olympia?" he said with surprise. "You should've TOLD me!" Thus endeth the lesson.
Actually, my first Mr. Olympia in 1979, which was held in Columbus, Ohio, probably taught me more about bodybuilding competition than any other contest I attended. Frank Zane ended up winning the title and he demonstrated he had everything under control right from the beginning.
Driving in from the airport we passed a motel that had a big sign out front saying "Welcome Frank Zane: Mr. Olympia." A nice piece of psyching out. When we got to the Veteran's Memorial all the competitors located a dressing room. Except for Frank. He had an RV out in the parking lot to use as his private dressing area.
Privacy and all the comforts of home. Another example of Frank's complete control of the situation. This was the last Mr. Olympia in which there were weight divisions so the competitors had to weigh in backstage.
Stripped Down, Weighed In And Was Back Out In His RV."
The bodybuilders seemed reluctant to strip off their sweats and show their bodies - as if that would make any difference to the outcome of the show. But Frank immediately went up to the scales while everyone else was milling around, stripped down, weighed in and was back out in his RV, kicking back and relaxing, before anyone realized what had happened.
Because this show had weight divisions, the under-200 pound and the heavyweight classes were prejudged separately. At that point in his career Zane had built himself up to about 195 pounds - which was massive given his tiny frame.
Frank As A Poser:
"Frank is rightfully famous for having been
one of the most aesthetic bodybuilders of all time."
I've seen Frank in later years when he wasn't training much at all and somebody not familiar with his career would have trouble believing he was ever a pro bodybuilder, much less three-time Mr. Olympia. But Frank is rightfully famous for having been one of the most aesthetic bodybuilders of all time and one of the best posers - and at 195 he looked as big as he needed to be.
Frank was also up there with Arnold himself in his ability to make the most of what he had on stage. I used to describe his posing routine as "doing a series of posters of himself." When magazine art directors got photos of him from the contest they could print almost anyone one of them.
Zane had a limited number of poses but they were all perfect. And he held his poses long enough for the judges to get a good look and for the photographers to get good shots. "I hit a pose," he told me, "and I hold it until all the flashes have gone off." I quote him frequently when giving advice to current competitors in the importance of hitting and maintaining poses on stage.
"Given the truism that the bigger athlete
has an advantage over the smaller one, it seemed
likely that Mentzer would take the overall when
matched up against Frank Zane."
The best competitor in the heavyweight division was Mike Mentzer. Mike was in the best condition of his entire career. He was hard, defined and shapely. The veins in his forearms looked like a road map.
During prejudging, he looked great and was confident in his posing. Given the truism that the bigger athlete has an advantage over the smaller one, it seemed likely that Mentzer would take the overall when matched up against Frank Zane. However, the fact is that Mentzer wasn't that all that much bigger than Zane. At least, the difference wasn't as extraordinary as it can be today.
This was before the era of the 290 pound, ripped-to-shreds pro bodybuilder. A physique that is something over 230 pounds compared to one slightly under 200 pounds is bigger but not overwhelmingly so.
Until All The Flashes Have Gone Off."
Actually, the fact that the "big" bodybuilders weren't all that huge in those days is one reason why the IFBB did away with weight divisions in the pros. Of course, soon afterwards we saw Lee Haney and Dorian leading to Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler and Gunter Schlierkamp - which in hindsight calls into question whether not having weight divisions is a good idea. Witness the success of the 210 and under division at the 2007 Europa Pro in Dallas.
"Zane... had been competing since the early 1960s
and was a veteran, a master of stage presence and presentation."
During the class finals Zane was declared the winner of the smaller division and Menzer took the heavyweight title. Then came time for the posedown. While the judges had plenty of time to look over each division carefully over the course of the day they had only a few minutes to compare the two class winners, but one thing was immediately apparent: Mentzer did not look as good as he had during prejudging.
There has been a lot of speculation about why this happened. One opinion was that he had filled himself up drinking cokes after prejudging was over. Certainly, something accounted for the change. It's just hard to know for sure what that was. But two things should be taken into account.
One is that Mike was relatively inexperienced at competition. He had come up so fast that he had only been in a handful of competitions (I heard 5 but I'm not sure). Zane, on the other hand, had been competing since the early 1960s and was a veteran, a master of stage presence and presentation.
The other factor, which wasn't apparent at the time, was Mentzer's psychological fragility. It was only a few years afterward that he had a breakdown which caused him to be institutionalized for a time - a breakdown from which he never completely recovered.
So it is not hard to believe that the pressure of competition caused him to eat or drink something he shouldn't or that the anxiety and stress of the situation were enough to throw off his metabolism.
In any event, on stage next to Zane, Mike Mentzer appeared smoother than in prejudging and his abdomen looked bloated. He wasn't awful - not just as good as he had been in the afternoon. In addition, Frank simply outperformed him during the posedown.
Zane stood in front of the judges and paid no attention to Mike or what he was doing. He just did a posing exhibition, slowly and carefully "doing posters of himself," hitting and holding his best shots. Mike, on the other hand, started posing faster and faster, hitting one pose after another without holding them very long.
An Arnold Sabotage?
"Frank just kept posing and never looked back at Mike."
Part of the "Arnold Myth" is that Schwarzenegger was backstage and advised Mentzer to pose this way. Whether this is true or not, I can't say. Whether Arnold might have been screwing with his mind, as The Oak was known to do, is a matter of conjecture. But whatever the reason, Mike's posing looked rushed and anxious.
Mike made one other mistake. He would hit a pose and then look over at Zane. Of course, when he looked at Frank so did everyone else. But Frank just kept posing and never looked back at Mike. Mike looks at Zane, the audience and judges look at Zane, Frank never looks back so everyone keeps looking him and pays less attention to Mentzer.
Awarded The Overall Mr. Olympia Title For 1979."
At the end of the posedown Frank looked cool and composed while Mike seemed stressed, tired and anxious. So it was no surprise when Frank Zane was awarded the overall Mr. Olympia title for 1979.
I came away from the 1979 Mr. Olympia feeling that I'd been treated to a master class in how to compete as a pro bodybuilder by Frank Zane.
Because I've collaborated on three books with Arnold I've heard all sorts of stories about previous Olympia's - how he was able to control and manipulate the contests, judges and other competitors in some of his 8 Mr. Olympia victories.
But I know Frank Zane to be one of the smartest bodybuilders in the sport so it seems obvious to me that while Arnold was working his magic during those contests in the 1970s Frank was watching, learning and figuring out how to use this knowledge to maximize his own potential to win his own Mr. Olympia victories.
Radio Interview With Frank Zane