It 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
Larry Scott was the bodybuilding
superstar of his day, but by 1963 there were no more worlds 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 that
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
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
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
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 as
the NABBA Universe was 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
In 1972, the Olympia moved to
Essen, Germany, where 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
The Mr. Olympia contest 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 probably 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 victory, 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 Zane
had 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, 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 it 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 thought
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.
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.
In 1982, London, England,
hosted the show for the first time. Chris
Dickerson won the title after finishing second the two
previous years. After winning, Dickerson announced his retirement
The contest returned to
Germany in 1983, but this time it was to Munich, where it was won by
the Lion of Lebanon, Samir Bannout.
He fought off tough challenges from Mohammed Makkawy from Egypt and
newcomer Lee Haney from the USA.
Samir had what it takes to be a dominant champion, but no one
foresaw the determination of Haney.
In 1984, the event moved back
to New York City's Felt Forum, where it had the highest attendance
for the finals (5,000), the highest attendance for prejudging
(4,200) 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, fighting off
the challenges of Albert Beckles and Rich Gaspari. It was now two
and counting for Lee. Many people felt that the Lee Haney onstage in the 1986
rendition in Columbus might have been the greatest Mr. Olympia ever.
Lee took his third straight crown and began setting his sights on
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 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 had to fight off
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 tied Arnold's record
of six consecutive Mr. Olympia victories.
In 1990, 4,400 people packed
Chicago's Arie Crown Theatre. Prize money hit $200,000 for the first
time ever as Haney tried to make it 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 rallied in the posing round and
pose down to beat 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 in 245-pound Dorian
Yates, the Beast of 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 the
U.S. National Champion of 1991, Kevin Levrone, and the '91 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 rocked 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. Olympia's.
However, the Brit endured a horrendous year in 1994. In early March,
he severely damaged his left rotator cuff, and then, later in the
month, he tore his left quad. He battled his way through, but with
the Olympia less than nine weeks away, he tore his left biceps.
Displaying true blood and guts, even that injury could not end
Yates' Olympic 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 Yates's reign, he didn't hear, or heed
them. He returned to Atlanta in '95 to score a straight-firsts
victory in what many rate his best-ever form. Kevin Levrone hulked
into second place and a new threat emerged in this sport in the
270-pound Nasser El Sonbaty. Not that Yates was the only Mr. O on
stage that night, as in a unique ceremony, for the first time ever,
all nine men who had 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 than
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
'94, 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
bodybuilders were recognized as professional athletes in the truest
sense of the word. The Mr. Olympia contest, which only Joe Weider
had the imagination to create, was firmly established as
bodybuilding's show of shows.
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 pushed Dorian hard. In the end,
Dorian took the title for the sixth time, but there were some that
felt Nasser was better. It would set up an interesting confrontation
for 1998 since Dorian announced moments after winning the title that
he would be coming back to compete for a seventh title.
What most people did not know was that Dorian suffered a torn
triceps in training a few months before the show. Being the tough
champion that he is, he said nothing and competed. After the
contest, he had surgery to repair the muscle tear, but it will
prevent him from competing in 1998.
In 1998, the Olympia will move to Madison Square Garden in New York
City and will see the crowning of a new Mr. Olympia. Although a new
champion will wear the coveted title of the "World's Best
Bodybuilder", will he be cast in the shadow of Dorian Yates who may
or may not return in 1999?
His senses were reeling, battling to come to terms with the scene
unfolding around him. He stood next to pre-contest favorite Flex
Wheeler at the top of the ramp erected at The Theater at New York's
Madison Square Gardens, gazing out over the seething maelstrom of a
sellout crowd of 5,600. They were in an uproar as a chant of "RON-NIE!
RON-NIE!" filled the auditorium, as it had throughout the day. He,
Wheeler and the 5,600 were waiting to hear IFBB Pro Division
Chairman Wayne DeMilia make the second-place announcement at the
1998 Mr. Olympia contest. The man not called would go down in
history as the best bodybuilder in the world, the successor to Dorian Yates (retired),
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sergio
Oliva, et al.
Hushing the crowd, DeMilia purred into the microphone: "In second
place ...", DeMilia, who makes the Marquis de Sade seem like Mary
Poppins on Valium, then cruelly paused a full 10 seconds before
barking, "... Flex Wheeler!"
The crowd erupted into celebration as the man who was supposed to be
the last one standing went the other way, crashing face down to the
ground in shock. Could it be that a guy who finished "dead last" in
his first Olympia back in 1992, who placed ninth at the 1997
rendition, who had to constantly remind people that he was not the
bodybuilder called Ron Coleman, had just entered the ranks of
bodybuilding immortality? It could, and the biggest baddest cop in
Texas began to sob uncontrollably, as at 10:41 PM on Saturday,
October 10, 1998, 34-year old Ronnie Coleman became only the 10th
Mr. Olympia in the contest's 33-year existence.
Like Siegfried and Roy, like abs and thighs, Las Vegas and the Mr.
Olympia belong together: Both celebrate excess for the sheer
excessive sake of it; both foster a larger-than-life philosophy
decreeing that its standout attractions keep getting bigger and
bigger and bigger; both revel in illusion and promote the fantasy
that "life-changing gains can be yours", which in truth only a
gifted few can attain. So it really was only a matter of time before
Joe Weider made the inspired decision to bring his bodybuilding
flagship to the gambling capital of the world.
Staging the Mr. Olympia contest in Las Vegas was a spectacular
success, for there has never been a more glamorous setting for the
sport's premier contest than the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and
there has never been a greater night for bodybuilding than what
occurred there on October 23, 1999. A sold-out 5,000 capacity crowd
at the hotel's Event Center witnessed a thrilling extravaganza that
culminated in Ronnie Coleman out
muscling 15 others on the road to
Mandalay and his second consecutive Olympia crown, with the only
apparent dissenter to the decision being a hyped-up Flex Wheeler.
How do you bring down Ronnie Coleman? Tell him he's won the Mr.
Now for the third time in a row, the world's greatest body collapsed
like a heaving shuddering rag doll after learning he had won the Mr.
O title, thus becoming the biggest structure to implode on the Las
Vegas Strip since the demolition of the El Rancho resort a few weeks
Ronnie's personal annual fall classic, with its sobs of elation and
earnest familial embraces, was emblematic of the exposed emotions
curdling the atmosphere of the 36th annual Mr. Olympia, held at the
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Saturday, October 21.
Among Coleman's competitors, it was a night of repressed rage and
quiet smoldering - a gathering of frowning Paul Bunyans who looked
as if their favorite ox had just died. If the Mr. O lineup were a
rock group, they'd be called the Moody Blues.
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