Bodybuilding History

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The History of Bodybuilding

It was 23 centuries ago, during the Golden Age of Greece, that the philosophy of "The ideal state of a sound mind in a sound body" first started. The Greeks felt that to achieve one's full human potential requires "a healthy mind in a healthy body."

According to Greek mythology, Milo of Croton was the first person to use progressive resitance training (550BC). He began his strength training as a young man by lifting a calf every day. As the calf grew heavier, so Milo became stronger, until eventually he was able to lift the fully grown bull above his head.

The 1890's

Strongman Louis Cyr: The Father of Strength - A lumberjack from small town Quebec who went on to become the toast of European society, and the greatest lifter of all time. He could lift 550 lbs with one finger and over two tons with his back. Fitness and bodybuilding guru Ben Weider talks about how Cyr inspired his career choice.

Eugen (Eugene) Sandow: The Father of Modern Bodybuilding - Published one of the first bodybuilding magazines (Physical Culture), invented and popularized some of the first metal machined dumbbells, and toured around the world to pose and demonstrate his strength to sellout crowds.

The 1920's and 1930's

Charles Atlas: "The 97 pound weakling who became the worlds most perfectly developed man" - Angelo Charles Siciliano immigrated from Italy as a boy, and in his teens started bodybuilding and built up his physique, he changed his name to "Charles Atlas" and marketed courses by mail called "Dynamic Tension."

Bob Hoffman: The father of American weightlifting - Founded the York Barbell Club and also started his own magazine; STRENGTH and HEALTH. Hoffman was highly instrumental in bringing Olympic weightlifting to the fore of the public´s consciousness throughout the 1930´s. He influenced and guided weightlifting and bodybuilding for half a century.

Early Days Santa Monica and Venice Muscle Beach - back in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, crowds gathered to watch muscular young men and women who did somersaults and handstands, built human towers and threw each other around. A number of the regulars have long since become household names, including Vic Tanny, Jack La Lanne and Joe Gold, all of whom made fitness their lifes work.


Bodybuilding magazines started becoming more popular, bodybuilding finally distinguished itself from weightlifting with bodybuilding contests were being held at large venues. Bodybuilders such as John Grimek, Steve Reeves and Earl Leiderman started becoming household names, the general public became interested in fitnes and building a healthy body.

Joe Weider

Ben and Joe Weider are the cofounders of Weider Nutrition International, Weider Publications, Inc., and the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB). Weider publications include Muscle & Fitness, Muscle & Fitness Hers, Men’s Fitness, Flex, Shape, and Natural Health. Ben Weider lives in Montreal. Joe Weider lives in Woodland Hills, California. This article tells about the early years of Joe and Ben Weider; how they started in bodybuilding; how they built the business; and much more. It also responds to the accusations against Weider by Alan Klein. The article was written by Tim Hoxha, and was featured in Flex Magazine, September 1995 issue.

If you think that Canada's contribution to sports stops with hockey, you've got another thing coming. In the 193Os, a slightly built boy named Joe Weider and his younger brother Ben couldn't make it home from school through their tough section of Montreal without being beaten up or picked on by neighborhood hooligans. An ad by Charles Atlas caught their eye; they were sick of being '9O-pound weaklings'; and they tried his calisthenics program. When that didn't do much to make either their muscles bigger or the bullies go away, they turned to Strength & Health, a magazine published by strongman-competition promoter Bob Hoffman.

As they grew into young men, the brothers set about building strong bodies with a set of barbells made with parts found in a junkyard. They soon discovered that lifting weights made more than their biceps and triceps bigger. It also built self esteem, which, as it turned out, was the real key to beating bullies. They didn't realize it then, but this passion for exercise marked the beginning of a career for both of them, one that would ultimately impact the lives of millions and launch an international sport.

The Early years

By age 18, Joe did indeed become the strongest kid in the neighborhood, a feat that led him to win Quebec's weightlifting competition, the most important of that era. Twelve year old Ben was not far behind in his enthusiasm for weightlifting.

"Developing my body by lifting weights and applying intelligent nutrition Concepts to my life became something of a holy quest," Joe remembers. But improving his mind and physique wasn't enough. "Sooner or later," he says, "it becomes necessary for people to do something that they consider important, and I felt it necessary to pass on the information I had learned to others."

Joe realized the impact those early muscle magazines had made on him, even though he'd discovered that the information they provided was often incorrect. He dreamed of publishing his own fitness newsletter to promote the physical and psychological value of working out. But the Weiders' mother wasn't impressed by her elder son's Conviction.

"The best thing for you to do is learn a trade," she admonished,"instead of growing up to be a bum." Mrs. Weider was so distraught she sought a fortune teller's advice, who predicted Joe would be a success and advised her to let the boy follow his dream. Mrs. Weider heeded the counsel, perhaps believing that a greater power guided her Son's inspired, if unusual, actions.

So with a fortune teller's blessing, seven dollars in his pocket and a mimeograph machine, Joe began publishing YOUR PHYSIQUE, a 12-page instructional magazine. His first subscribers were fitness buffs who attended strongman competitions in Montreal, and people who had written letters to the editor in Strength & Health, to whom Joe had Sent penny postcards asking them to accept a two dollar yearly subscription.

The strategy worked. By 1943, the circulation of 'Your Physique' reached across Canada. So many readers wrote in for information on weight equipment that Joe began his own equipment mail order business with help from brother Ben, who had recently returned home from duty in the Canadian army.

There was such a community of weight training devotees by 1946 that the Weiders organized the first Mr. Canada contest. This event was different from the exploitive carnival and vaudeville contests of the time, in which participants had to perform such stunts as bending steel bars or biting through steel. The Weiders wanted a contest that was respectful of the individual and of the discipline of lifting, and so developed a sport by having competitors pose in front of judges to determine who had the most balanced muscular build.

"After that first contest, I understood the depth of interest people had in strength and bodybuilding", Ben recalls. "I figured that since there was so much interest in Montreal, there must be equal interest around the world".

The following year, Ben visited Europe to spark interest in the growing sport of bodybuilding. (He eventually traveled the globe and established the International Federation of Bodybuilders, which has grown to include more than 150 member nations.)

At the same time that Ben was promoting bodybuilding as a sport, Joe was persuading a large distribution company to carry 'You Physique' on its newsstands. Circulation rocketed to 50,000 copies a month and orders for weight equipment multiplied. To better manage publishing and production demands, Joe left Canada for the East Coast of the United States, while Ben remained in Montreal to oversee the IFBB, a task he continues to perform to this day.

No Smooth Sailing

From a small, shabby warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, Joe established a magazine empire. By 1952, 'Your Physique' reached record sales levels and prompted Weider to distribute 20 separate magazines with a total circulation of about 25 million readers. Joe Weider was on the verge of his 30th birthday and already a millionaire.

Then troubled waters hit. The Weider's distribution company was dismantled in a buyout, leaving Joe with no distribution for his products as well as an unpaid $2.3 million debt. To save the company, he quickly cut back to publishing his first successful vehicle, 'Your Physique', which he renamed Muscle Builder.

It reached a respectable 80,000 monthly circulation by 1965, allowing the Weiders to focus their energies on bolstering the sport of bodybuilding. The sport was losing many of its top competitors, who were force to take jobs as bouncers, bodyguards and professional wrestlers because they couldn't make a living in the sport of their choice. By increasing contest incomes, the Weiders hoped to keep both veterans and rising champions in the sport.

They subsequently created the Mr. Olympia contest to showcase bodybuilder's top talent in the hope of attracting lucrative television and business contracts that would support the fledgling sport. Yet the deals didn't materialize. In the mid-'60s, advertisers still considered bodybuilding a cult sport practiced by 'muscleheads', and having little mainstream appeal.

Building a Dream

How to move bodybuilding from cult to?mainstream? First, Joe moved?his American operations to sunny California, home?to?the body conscious and hub of the bodybuilding subculture. Then the Weiders stepped up the educational approach to bodybuilding, filling every article in their publications with hands on information readers could utilize to improve their bodies and mind. Still, they needed a spokesman who would be a living, breathing symbol of the virtues of the sport. And they found it in a young, charismatic Austrian champion named Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Weiders moved Schwarzenegger to California in 1969, where they paid him $100 a week to write about his training and diet in 'Muscle Builder'. Joe also took the young bodybuilder under his wing by managing his daily training schedule and tutoring him in real estate investments, media relations and the arts. Joe even loaned Schwarzenegger his favorite three paintings to decorate a new apartment. "Five years later, I tried to give them back, but Joe said 'Keep them; they're yours,'". Schwarzenegger has said in interviews.

In return, Schwarzenegger told readers about the benefits of using Weider supplements and equipment. Soon, Schwarzenegger personable manner, wit and charm captivated audiences and helped to dispel the notion that big muscles equated with little brains. "When Arnold did the talk shows," says Robert Kennedy, publisher of Toronto based 'Musclemag International', "people realized that this was a guy who made sense, and made us laugh too. They liked him."

The release of the motion picture Pumping Iron in 1977 served not only to make Schwarzenegger a household name but helped boost the sport itself. For the first time, the general public had a bodybuilder to admire. By the early 1980s, bodybuilding and the healthy lifestyle associated with it were ingrained in the public consciousness, thanks in no small part to the Weiders' marketing skills.

By drawing a stronger line between bodybuilding and fitness, the Weiders, through their growing publishing efforts, have been able to bring the spirit of fitness to an ever widening readership in 17 countries: 'Muscle Builder' evolved into the 1.7 million circulation magazine Muscle & Fitness, attracting the general bodybuilding and fitness fan; Shape, a publication devoted to women's health and fitness, was launched; Flex became the journal for hardcore and professional bodybuilders; and Men's Fitness was created as a health and lifestyle periodical. The corporation that publishes the magazines also produces vitamins and food supplements. Combined, the two businesses create products available in some 60 countries and gross nearly $1 billion a year.

The success of their publishing efforts and products has made it possible for the Weiders to realize that goal they sought years ago: to make bodybuilding lucrative for the athletes and recognized as a sport. Today, success as a bodybuilder often attracts greater attention from the public at large. Consider the multi million dollar film status of Schwarzenegger; the respect eight time Mr. Olympia winner Lee Haney has garnered; the television achievements of the very inspirational Lou Ferrigno; and the prolific career of author / product representative / actress Rachel McLish, the first Ms. Olympia.

The list of successful bodybuilders is extensive; gone are the days when being a bodybuilder meant you could cut your destiny off at being a bouncer. Joe Weider himself contracts, on average, 20 athletes who perform a variety of jobs within the company, from generating articles to endorsing products and representing the Weider name. The overall expenditure on these contracts exceeds well over $1 million.

Breaking Down Barriers

As a result of the Weiders' strong beliefs in the concept of liberty and equality or perhaps because of them, the brothers have done their share to open the sport to all people, notably, women and ethnic minorities. By putting women bodybuilders on the cover of their magazines, writing articles about them and promoting women's competitions, the Weiders have made the image of strong women acceptable to society at large and marketable to boot. ESPN and other cable contracts have brought both men's and women's competitions into millions of living rooms across North America.

When Joe and Ben created their first bodybuilding competitions way back in the 1940s, they also broke race taboos that permeated American culture in general and American sports in particular. "The Weiders liberalized bodybuilding at a time when black athletes were shunned from competition," explains Leroy Colbert, the first black Mr. America. "Before that, the competitions were very prejudiced and unfair, and if you were black, you were not allowed to win. But when Joe and Ben began organizing, they said 'If you're the best, you're going to win. We don't care what color you are.'" By opening the door for black and Hispanics in bodybuilding, Colbert maintains, the Weiders were the first to apply true sportsmanship to bodybuilding.

A Sporting Revolution

However, the most dramatic of the Weider's contributions has been to athletic training, which they revolutionized. "During the 1950s, when we first popularized bodybuilding and weight training, bodybuilding as a basis to build strength for sport was rejected 100%," explains Ben. Experts of the time believed the weightlifting left athletes muscle bound and uncoordinated.

So vehement and numerous were the Weiders' critics that scientists would not write articles for their magazines. Even Charles Atlas told Joe he was 'an idiot' for selling barbells to build strength, Ben remembers. Despite this, the Weiders persevered. They created the 'Weider Triangle of Peak Performance', based on exercise technique, nutrition and bodybuilding, to enhance athletic performance in activities like running, swimming and cycling. With help from Leroy Colbert, they also created speed training programs to develop fast twitch muscle fibers aimed at increasing speed for specific sports. "We investigated and assessed all the training methods available and compiled them into one catalgue," Joe explains.

The catalogue, widely accepted by the sporting community and by the numerous doctors, researchers and scientists who now regularly contribute to all Weider publications, is nothing short of the bible for the fitness revolution in our culture. "The Weiders have helped millions of people, including a generation of bodybuilders," Schwarzenegger has stated.

On the nutrition front, the Weiders' development of vitamin and supplement programs has been key to benefiting both athletes and nonathletes. "In 1950, it was against the medical and coaching communities thinking to use vitamins and supplements," says Ben. But in this area too the opinions of many athletes, doctors and scientists have swung in favor of the Weider' approach. Take the example of Dr. Linus Pauling, who was a Nobel Prize recipient for his work on vitamins' effects on the body. He argued that supplements are a nutritional requirement, especially for athletes striving for the highest level of athletic efficiency.

As far back as the 1940s, the Wieders have stressed the link between the mind and body for optimum health and fitness. "The principles of the Weider lifestyle stand for education of the whole person: body, mind and spirit," says Joe. For the Weiders, 'total fitness' depends upon following principles that enable us to effectively interact with others.

The Weiders were also ahead of their time in waging campaign against the tobacco and alcohol industries. As early as in the 1930s, the brothers were educating readers about the pitfalls of both addictions, an endeavor that, according to Ben, became a permanent policy. In fact, it was under Ben's direction that the IFBB reprinted a paper by the Executive Health Report on the dangers of smoking to motivate both the layman and the athlete to live a healthier and more productive life. So committed are the Weiders to this message that they not only devote editorial pages in their publications to informing readers about smoking and alcohol dangers but they refuse to accept what could be very profitable advertising revenue from the billion dollar tobacco and alcohol industries.

The Mechanics of Success

As pacesetters in the sports business industry, the Wieders have built an interdependent group of companies that sell more than 100 bodybuilding and fitness related products, making the Weider name synonymous with health and fitness. How did they do it?

Corporate analysts praise the Wieders for the entrepreneurial skill; even the 'Wall Street Journal' has lauded them for the organization of their management team, their marketing tactics and their high productivity. The Weiders are ranked among the tip five in the 'best of the best' list of 300 executives compiled by the Peak Performance Center of California.

High company standards spark the Weiders' success. For example, at the Weiders' food supplement headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, they employ leading specialists in research and development, as well as consult with a team of outside experts to further guarantee that their supplements and vitamins meet the highest standards. As a result, Toronto based professor of sports medicine Dr. Mauro DiPasquale counts Joe Weider as "one of the most responsible supplement manufacturers."

Aided by a keen executive team that includes Michael Carr, Richard Bizzaro, Eric Weider and David Obey, the Weiders keep honing new market strategies. In the mid-1980s, they bought a Los Angeles based maker of high energy nutrition bars. They also have phased out the long standing mail order business in favor of selling Weider products in retail stores throughout North America. Fiannly, the company uses a 'synergistic' approach to promotion, placing subscription ads for their publications inside video and equipment items. The thought is that by promoting health and fitness, interest will be generated in products. In turn, using the products and being involved in bodybuilding as a sport spurs interested in the magazines.

False Accusations

Despite the brothers' business and financial success, or perhaps because of it, they have been criticized. In 'Little Big Man' an academic critique of the Weider organization, sports sociologist Alan Klein accuses the Weiders of conspiring to control the organization and competition level of bodybuilding, the marketing and sales of products and the ideology of the sport. "They have a monopoly." Klein writes.

Unfortunately for Klein and his reputation as a scholar, his research is anemic, at best. His arguments are based on hearsay evidence given by unnamed individuals. Klein's claims that the Weiders dictate the organizational and competitive levels of the sport rest on the assumption that Ben Weider processes, like a king, absolute power within the IFBB as its president. However, Ben is but a member, albeit a founding one, of a democratically elected governing body comprised of affiliates in 156 countries.

"If they want to vote someone else in," Ben states unequivocally, "they can vote me out." What's more, federation members vote on proposals, which effectively negate any claims that the president runs the IFBB with uncontested power.

Nevertheless, Ben does not deny that the IFBB oversees a 'monopoly' in the dictionary definition of the term, since the organization functions like another other recognized sports federation that regulates and coordinates a sport. The General Association of Sports Federations (GASF) grants authority to the IFBB just as it does to entities like the International Gymnastics Federation. Having another group organize and supervise bodybuilding would be like having a group other than the International Olympic Committee (IOC) put on the Olympic games.

Klein also charges that the Weider control the ideology of the sport. However, Klein never defines what he considers to be the 'ideology of the sport' nor dies he outline what 'ideology' the Weiders are purported to preach. The Weiders do instruct readers to build muscle, strength and stamina. Most coaches who are aware of the principles of physiology and performance offer their athletes the same instruction.

Another of Klein's charges is that the Weiders have a monopoly on bodybuilding as an industry. He is not the only one to have claimed this, which means he is not the only one to be wrong. In 1990, two separate court rulings dismissed an antitrust suit filed by Twin Laboratories, Inc., that charged Joe Weider with blocking competitors from selling supplements by not allowing them advertising space in either 'Muscle & Fitness' or 'Flex'. The appeals court judge in fact noted that Weider name a "responsible and legitimate decision in refusing ad space to Twin Labs," remarking that the plaintiff "is not a 90-pound weakling in whose face Weider kicked sand. Rather, it is a muscular competitor who is complaining about the competitive process."

When reviewing charges by Klein and his ilk, it's important to realize that the Weider Corporation does not control the flow of information. In Canada alone, no fewer than nine different bodybuilding magazines are sold. Simply put, the existence of many independent publishing groups means that no one magazine can be recognized as the 'canon' even by dedicated enthusiasts. "It is a free market," notes Robert Kennedy of MuscleMag International. "Anybody can sell magazines, supplements or weight equipment."

Klein has also contended that the roles of Joe and Ben in the business and sport of bodybuilding overlap and thus create a conflict of interest. "Joe Weider can make or break a career," Klein maintains. He argues that a star bodybuilder who appears in Flex or wins an IFBB meet can't promote a competitor's product because if he does, the iFBB will shun him.

"Klein is completely prejudiced, or he lacks the facts," Ben says bluntly. "There is no way the IFBB allows its sport to be involved with business. Bodybuilding is a sport, and we keep it as one." Take the example of Lee Haney, Ben notes, who once endorsed Weider products, but then signed a contract with a competitor. "Because Haney endorsed someone else's products," Ben says, "they said he would never win another Mr. Olympia contest. P.S.: Haney won."

"There are new stars coming up all the time and no reason why people shouldn't progress in the sport," notes competing publisher Kennedy. Kennedy says that since he often oversees articles written about up and coming champions, he knows firsthand that success in the sport is not controlled by the Weiders. He adds that bodybuilders who work for Weider are on contracts that allow them to run their own seminars, sell their own merchandise or endorse clothing lines from other companies.

Klein also charges that the Weiders "indirectly influence the outcomes" of competitions through judging that "can be manipulated to fit a standard the Weiders want by selecting judges who agree with the Weider philosophy of bodybuilding." This is allegedly done in order to ensure that highly marketable athletes will win, which will allow them to sell more magazines and merchandise for the company. But again, Klein has apparently failed to research the reality: There are hundreds of qualified judges within the IFBB who are selected by a panel of IFBB officials.

"There is only one way to face a contest," Ben says. "You approach the nine judges and say, 'I am president of the IFBB, and if you guys want to continue being judges, you're going to vote my way. I don't want Lee Haney to win, you vote for my new man.' How long do you think that is going to stay a secret? How quickly do you think my life's work, 50 years of work, would be destroyed?"

Klein's speculation does not define the 'standard' or 'philosophy' the Weiders supposedly use to 'influence' competitions. Such a definition would be impossible anyway. Consider the significant physical differences between former Mr. Olympias. Three time winner Frank Zane is white, 5'7" and relatively muscular; eight time champion Lee Haney is African American, 6' and extremely massive.

Like any other federation, the IFBB does have a set of guidelines; bodybuilders must possess muscularity, definition, size and symmetry. Ben suggests that the Weider philosophy literally mean the 'Weider lifestyle' or 'total fitness,' not a standard by which judges can base decisions. Every IFBB judges, Ben asserts, votes according to his or her conscience.

Klein contradicts his statements that the Weiders "indirectly influence" the outcomes of competitions in his argument concerning women. He reports that Ben is "really opposed to overly muscular women," yet in the next breath he observes that the overwhelming number of female champions "keep pushing the edges of that envelope." Using logic, if Ben 'indirectly influences' judges, why do 'overly muscular women' continue to win? In the end, judges must select winners based on their own interpretations of muscularity, proportion and symmetry.

Several policies ensure the credibility of the IFBB judicial process. First, to eliminate bias, the highest and the lowest score of each competitor is dropped. Second, Ben instructs judges to 'look at an athlete from his neck down'. Forget about who he is. Judge him by his physique'. Ben never attends prejudging because judges usually narrow down the field at that time. If a tie between two or more athletes exists, then the judges make a final decision during the evening presentation.

"I have never, ever, ever expressed my preferences to any judges as to who should win and who shouldn't," Ben states. Leaders within the sport back up Ben's assertions. "Anyone can win," says former Mr. Universe Mohamed Makkaway. "Bodybuilding is like gymnastics or figure skating, not everyone agrees with the results." Adds Frank Zane, "The only person who doesn't disagree with the judges is the winner."


More and more bodybuilding magazines were showing up on the newsstand, and people were starting to get curious. They were looking at those ads in the back of comic books at the Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension system. Exercise devices, diet plans, books, and nutritional supplements were now selling in stores making thousands of people want to lift weights and build their own bodies.

Mae West enlisted many bodybuilders (including Reg Lewis, Mickey Hargitay, Gordon Mitchell, Dan Vadis and Joe Gold) and took them on a tour of nightclubs to various cities across the nation. West's male revue created a sensation and the men were a big hit with the all-female audiences.

Movie audiences enjoyed Steeve Reeves in the Italian-produced series of Hercules films. In those roles, he was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his era, the most visible and best-known bodybuilder in the world; in fact, Steve Reeves’ and Reg Park's Hercules films helped serve as an inspiration to the young Austrian Oak.

Other great physiques of the 1950's included: Gable Boudreaux, Leroy Colbert, Bob Delmontique, Vince Gironda, Dan Lurie, Bill Pearl, Armand Tanny and Leo Robert.


In 1963, Joe Weider surveyed the available bodybuilding titles, and felt that none of them quite matched the vision he harbored of where the sport was headed. The Master Blaster insstrinctively realized that the current generation of bodybuilders was taking the sport to uncharted heights, and that they required a contest worthy of their talents. Joe came up with the iltimate contest, the ultimate prize for the ultimate physique, the Mr. Olympia, which materialized in 1965. Needless to say, the posing platform was forever transformed.

It all started on September 18, 1965. The crowd at the Brooklyn Academy of Music waited at the edge of their seats, screaming in anticipation. They clapped their hands, stomped their feet and yelled as loud as their lungs would allow for the blond superstar from California with arms too big to believe. The man they were waiting for was the legendary Larry Scott, and the reason why they were waiting was because this was the night of Joe Weider's greatest creation. This was the night of the first ever Mr. Olympia contest.

Larry Scott was the bodybuilding superstar of his day, but by 1963 there were no more world to conquer. Scott had already won the Mr. America, Mr. World and Mr. Universe titles; there was little left for him to prove. Besides proving anything, Scott already had a houseful of trophies and plaques and felt it was time to move on from bodybuilding and make some money.

Joe Weider recognized the need to keep Larry Scott in bodybuilding and the necessity to force the sport to grow. He created the Mr. Olympia contest to keep all the great Mr. Universe champions active in the sport and to give them the opportunity to earn money from competing. Joe could see that for the sport to succeed in the future, the champions would have to be able to make a living from competing in the sport just like other professional athletes.

Larry Scott indeed won the first Mr. Olympia contest that hot September night in 1965 and repeated as Mr. Olympia again in 1966. He then announced his retirement and the 1967 crown was up for grabs.

In 1967, Sergio Oliva (commonly known as "The Myth") won the third Mr. Olympia contest in overpowering fashion. People wondered how much better Sergio could get. But better he was! In fact, he was so much better that he won the 1968 Mr. Olympia unopposed. You know true greatness when no one dares to challenge.

Nevertheless, the greatest challenge to Sergio was waiting in the wings and 1969 commenced the greatest rivalry in the history of bodybuilding. Oliva was challenged by a young Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a close battle, Sergio came out on top in 1969. He was now Mr. Olympia three years in a row, but Arnold promised that Sergio would never defeat him again.


Both men trained hard for the following year and in September of 1970, Arnold edged out Sergio to become the third man to hold the Mr. Olympia title. He'd said he would hold the title until he retired and that he would never be beaten again.

Arnold took the title unopposed in 1971. For the first time, the show was held outside of New York. The Mr. Olympia contest was held in Paris the same day the NABBA Universe was being held in London. Arnold, with his loyalty 100% behind the IFBB, competed in the Mr. Olympia while other great champions of that year chose to avoid Arnold and compete in the NABBA competition.

In 1972, the Olympia moved to Essen, Germany, were it hosted another epic battle between Sergio and Arnold. Even today, more than 20 years later, people still argue over who should have won. The decision was made by seven judges and, by a four to three vote, Arnold held on to his Mr. Olympia title.

In 1973, the contest moved back to New York, and the Big Apple saw Arnold take the title for the fourth consecutive year with a victory over Franco Columbu and Serge Nubret. Most people felt it was an easy win for Arnold, but a huge challenge awaited him for the following year - the emergence of Lou Ferrigno on the pro scene.

Standing 6"5" and weighing 270 pounds, Lou was the largest competitor that Arnold had ever faced. The show was held in New York at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden. Arnold again showed his dominance and won the title for a fifth time, but rumors started to circulate that he was thinking of retiring.

The Mr. Olympia moved to South Africa in 1975, forever preserved on film in Pumping Iron. Most people close to Arnold feel the only reason he competed in 1975 was because the contest was being filmed and it could possibly aid in kicking off his film career. Arnold won the contest easily and immediately announced his retirement.

In 1976, the contest moved to Columbus, Ohio, with Arnold serving as promoter along with Jim Lorimer. Franco Columbu finally won the Mr. Olympia title after trying for more than five years. It was not an easy victor, for he won by only an eyelash over Frank Zane. After the contest, Columbu announced his retirement while Zane immediately started training for the next year.

The next year, 1977, turned out to be the year of Zane. Frank has promoted himself that way for the 12 months leading up to the contest. He came to Columbus ripped and ready. he felt that no one could match his muscle density and he was right.

Almost like an instant replay , the 1978 show was again held in Columbus and Frank Zane walked away with the title. Frank proved that the Mr. Olympia winner did not necessarily have to be big, as what wins is quality.

In 1979, Zane made it three in a row. Could he go on forever? Would he challenge Arnold's record of six Olympias in a row? Zane seemed unbeatable, but 1980 would prove to be the most controversial Olympia in history.


In 1980, the contest was held in Australia. The field of competitors was the largest to date (16), but it was the comeback of one that made the story. Many in the sport had seen Arnold training for weeks before the 1980 Mr. Olympia, but most felt in was for a movie. When Arnold boarded the plane for Australia with the other competitors, they thought he was going to do the TV commentary. Even at the contestants meeting, they though he was there because he was an IFBB promoter and official. It dawned on them that he was there to compete when his name was called and he selected a competitor number. Arnold won the Mr. Olympia title for a seventh time in 1980, but to this day, many people still wonder why he came back. Some observers at the time said the judging, as well as the location, was 'down under'.

In 1981, Arnold switched back to being a promoter with Jim Lorimer and the contest was again held in Columbus. Not to be outdone by his famous friend, Franco Columbu staged a comeback himself and won the 1981 title in a tight contest of 16 contestants.

In 1982, London, England, hosted the show for the first time. Chris Dickerson won the title after finishing second the two previous year. After winning, Dickerson announced his retirement while onstage.

The contest returned to Germany in 1983, but this time to Munich, where it was won by the Lion of Lebanon, Samir Bannout. He fought off tough challenges from Mohammed Makkaway from Egypt and newcomer Lee Haney from the USA. Samir had what it took to be a dominant champion, but no one foresaw the determination of Haney.

In 1984, the even moved back to New York City's Felt Forum, where it has the highest attendance for the finals (5,000), the highest attendance for prejudging (4,000) and the largest amount of total prize money ($100,000) for any Olympia up to that time. It also featured the largest Mr. Olympia winner, Lee Haney. Haney won weighing 247 pounds at a height of 5'11". He was big, he was massive and he was cut. Also, he was unbeatable.

In 1985, the show was held in Belgium for the first time. Haney was dominant again, fishing off the challenges of Albert Beckles and Rich Gaspari. It was now two and counting for Lee. Many people feel that the Lee Haney onstage in 1986 rendition in Columbus may have been the greatest Mr. Olympia ever. Lee took his third straight crown and began setting his sights on Arnold's record.

In 1987, the Mr. Olympia contest moved to Sweden, but the first place result was the same. Haney was head and shoulders above all the others. He had now won four in a row and Arnold's record was definitely within his reach.

In 1988, Los Angeles was the host city of the Olympia. The Universal Amphitheater was jammed by 6,000 people who came to see if Lee Haney could continue in his quest of becoming the greatest Mr. Olympia ever. With prize money at its highest level, $150,000, Haney again won easily, making it five straight times. For the third year in a row, Rich Gaspari placed second.

The next year brought the Mr. Olympia to Rimini, Italy, on the beautiful Adriatic coast. This would prove to be Haney's toughest defense as he has to fight of the challenges of Lee Labrada and Vince Taylor. For the first time, people doubted Haney's dominance and many people said that he was lucky to win, But win he did, and in doing so he tied Arnold's record of six consecutive Mr. Olympia victories.


In 1990, 4,400 people packed Chicago's Arie Crown Theater. Prize money hit $200,000 for the first time as Haney tried to make in seven in a row. If 1989 was tough for Haney, 1990 was the year he almost lost. After two rounds, he was behind by two points, but he rallied in the posing round and posedown to best Lee Labrada and Shawn Ray. Haney now had seven consecutive Mr. Olympia titles.

Orlando, Florida, was the site of the 1991 Mr. Olympia. Haney was going for eight in a row, but for the first time he was up against a man who was the same height (5'11") and weight (245 pounds) in Dorian Yates, the Beast from Britain. Four points separated them after two rounds, but Haney pulled away in rounds three and four to seize his eighth championship in a row.

In 1992, the Mr. Olympia contest moved to Helsinki, Finland. A new Mr. Olympia would be crowned that year because Lee Haney had decided to retire after a record setting eight consecutive victories. The contest was close after the first round between U.S. National champion of 1991, Kevin Levrone, and the 1991 Mr. Olympia runner up, Dorian Yates. But after the first round, Yates started pulling away and won in convincing fashion.

A new Mr. Olympia was crowned, but did a new era begin?

Nothing could stop the amazing Yates in 1993 as he rocketed the scales at a record 257 pounds in Atlanta. Even runner-up Flex Wheeler called him "untouchable". Yates certainly seemed set for a long reign in the manner of other great Mr. Olympias.

However, the Brit endured a horrendous year in 1994. In early March, he severely damaged his left rotator cuff, and then later on the month, he tore his left quad. He battled his way through, but with the Olympia less then nine weeks away, he tore his left biceps. Displaying true blood and guys, even that injury could not end Yate's Olympia dream. He duly arrived in Atlanta to take his third Sandow statuette, but questions were raised as to what was previously thought to be his invincibility.

If doubts were raised about Yate's reign he didn't hear, or head, them. He returned to Atlanta in 1995 to score a straight firsts victory in what many rate his best ever form. Kevin Levrone hulked into second place a new threat emerged in his spot in the 270 pound shape of Nasser El Sonbaty. Not that Yates was the only Mr. O onstage that night, as in a unique ceremony, for the first time ever, all nine men who have so far won the Olympia crown assembled onstage to pay homage to the contest's creator, Joe Weider.

In 1996, after a three year tenure, the Olympia left Atlanta and moved to Chicago. In the Windy City, Yates, more streamlined that we've ever seen him, cruised to victory, closely followed by Shawn Ray and Kevin Levrone. It was the Brit's fifth victory, and, as in 1994, doubts about his invincibility began to surface.

In 1997, the Mr. Olympia road show arrived in Long Beach to celebrate the 33rd rendition of bodybuilding's ultimate contest. Total prize money was $285,000, first place was worth $110,000, and the bodybuilders are recognized as professional athletes in the truest sense of the world. Dorian Yates was now going for six Olympia titles in a row. Could he make it six in a row? Would he make a run at Haney's record of eight in a row? It was a hard fought contest. Nasser El Sonbaty came in at his best condition to date and opushed Dorian hard, but in the end, once again, in a very close race, Dorian succeeded for the sixth time as Mr. Olympia. Some felt that Nasser was better, and had been cheated out of a victory! With Dorian announcing moments after winning the contest that he would be back to get a seventh title in 1998, it set up an interesting confrontation. What most people did not know is that Dorian had suffered a torn triceps a few months before the show, and had said nothing about it and competed.

1998 now arrived, and Dorian had decided, after he had surgery to repaid the torn tricep, that, due to lingering injuries, not to compete in this year's Mr. Olympia in New York and to retire. With the great Yates done, that meant a new Mr. Olympia would be crowned in New York on October 10, 1998. This would be one exciting show, with a guaranteed new winner! The Mr. Olympia contest, which only Joe Weider had the imagination to create, is now firmly established as bodybuilding's show of shows. From intense competition, Ronnie Coleman came from out of nowhere for a dramatic win. With Flex Wheeler and Ronnie Coleman competing for the top prize, a new king was elected. Ronnie Coleman, with his massive back and freaky posture, became the latest Mr. Olympia. His fellow competitors sportingly congratulated the cop from Texas on his narrow victory, but privately the knew they had blown an opportunity to go down in history. Afterward, debate raged whether Coleman's victory was a one time affair, or the beginning of a new Mr. O dynasty. Not since Samir Bannout in 1983 had there been a one year Mr. Olympia. Haney has won eight in a row, Yates six. Would Coleman flash and fizzle or solidify his grip on power?

The answer came in Las Vegas, at the ornate Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas strip on October 23, 1999. The venue itself was completely sold out! There, 17 warriors took the stage, with Coleman and Flex Wheeler locked in a close battle. Wheeler had done his homework, but the reigning Mr. Olympia would leave no doubters this night. Chris Cormier placed 3rd, with his best physique ever at this show, and when Ronnie was called the winner, Flex turned his back on the judges, and lifted his finger saying he was #1. But Ronnie proved to the world that he is the Mr. Olympia king! Ronnie Coleman was even bigger than he had been the previous year, and his sparling condition held throughout. He won his second consecutive title.


On October 21, 2000, Coleman took another step toward placing his name among the greatest of them all by winning his 3rd consecutive Mr. Olympia. Challenges came from Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone, but incredibly, Ronnie was even bigger then he was in the past Mr. Olympia. Ronnie was untouchable.

On October 27, 2001, Jay Cutler came from out of nowhere to capture the first two rounds of the Mr. Olympia, and gave Ronnie Coleman one of his biggest scares of his life, and one of the most exciting Olympia's ever! During the evening show, Ronnie Coleman won both rounds, and beat Jay Cutler by an extremely close score, by six points. With some fans swearing that Jay should of won the show, and a press conference two days before that was one of the most exciting in year, it was an incredible year.

On October 19, 2002, Ronnie Coleman won the show, but controversy erupted again as Kevin Levrone won both the evening rounds, while Gunter Schlierkamp came from out of nowhere to become one of the crowd favorites of the night. Another exciting contest prevailed with Ronnie barely getting by.

In 2003, there was no doubt that Ronnie Coleman was the clear cut winner. He looked unhuman. He looked awesome. Three months before the Olympia, the talk was that this Olympia would be the greatest ever, with Gunter Schlierkamp, Chris Cormier and Jay Cutler having a good chance of taking away the title from Ronnie. It didn't happen. A few days before the big show, Chris Cormier pulled out (although he was a commentator on the pay per view, and Gunter faded into 5th place. But the night was Ronnie's. What ever doubt people had was dispelled as soon as Ronnie got on stage. He is in his best shape ever, at 39 years old.

In 2004, with a change in the direction and promotion, as AMI took over from Wayne DeMilia, a new 'Challenge' round was introduced instead of the usual 4th posedown round. Ronnie Coleman looked dominant and inspiring, and no one could catch him at all this time, like last year, he was unbeatable. Second went to Jay Cutler, and third went to Dexter Jackson - well, not exactly, because even though Dexter was a solid third after the 3rd round, all scores were erased in the 'new' 4th round, and Dexter lost by one point to a stunning upset, Gustavo Badell, who took 3rd this year!!!

Next year, 2005, at the Mandalay Bay, Coleman will once again try to perpetuate the trend of the dominate champ in Mr. Olympia lore. Ronnie will be 41 years old, and age might be a factor as Dexter Jackson, Chris Cormier and Jay Cutler are the favorites to take away the title from Ronnie.

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