The history of the Mr. Olympia contest

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Mr. Olympia – In the beginning
It started on September 18th, 1965, with a crowd over their seats at the Academy of Music Brooklyn, screaming and cheering. They were awaiting the start of the first competition between Mr. Universe winners, Mr. Olympia. The new competition was the brainchild of Joe Weider (1920 – 2013), a Canadian bodybuilder and entrepreneur who realized the need to give Mr. Universe champions an opportunity to earn more money from competitions. The inaugural contest was won by Larry Scott (1938 – 2014), known as “The Legend”, who also held the titles of Mr. America (won in 1962) and Mr. World (won in 1964). Larry won again in 1966, after which he retired. The third, fourth and fifth Mr. Olympia titles were won by Sergio Oliva (1941 – 2012), called the “The Myth”.


In 1969, Sergio faced for the first time the challenge of ayoung, still unknown, Austrian called Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947) . Although Sergio managed to win, that one would be his last victory in the contest. In 1970, Arnold beat Sergio, becoming the third person to ever win the competition. 1970 was also the first year that the competition was held outside New York, taking place in Paris. The 1972 competition was held in Essen, Germany, where a titanic battle between Sergio and Arnold ensued. The result was so tight that even today, 25 years later, some still speculate about who deserved it the most. The decision was taken by a group of seven judges, and the title awarded again to Arnold by a vote of three-to-four. After this competition, Sergio retired from IFBB. In 1973 the competition was held again in New York, where Arnold won yet again, competing against Serge Nubret and Franco Columbu. Without Sergio, this was considered an easy victory for Arnold. A huge challenge was waiting for him next year, though: the appearance of Lou Ferrigno (1951) in the professional scene. The event was held at the Felt Forum. Arnold won the title yet one more time, but rumors that he was planning to retire began to circulate. Next year the contest was held in South Africa. This edition was immortalized in the movie Pumping Iron, a docudrama directed by Robert Fiore and George Butler. Many believe that the only reason Arnold decided to compete was because the competition was being immortalized in a movie, and that helped his career as an actor. He attained victor easily, and immediately afterwards announced his retirement.

Mr. Olympia – The Beginning of the Arnold era

In 1976 the competition was held in Columbus, with Arnold and Jim Lorimer as promoters. After five years struggling to win, Franco Columbu (1941) was honored with the title. He also announced his retirement right afterwards. 1977, 1978, and 1979 were the years of Frank Zane (1942), imposing a much needed shift from mass to aesthetics. The 1980 contest took place in Australia. This was an extremely competitive year, as well as controversial. Zane had recently recovered from a life-threatening injury. Others, such as Boyer Coe (1946), Mike Mentzer (1951-2001) and Chris Dickerson (1939), where in the peak of their physique. The winner was Arnold, though, who unexpectedly decided to return to the competition after less than eight weeks of training while preparing for his debut as a Hollywood actor at Conan the Barbarian. Many decided to boycott next year’s Mr. Olympia contest.

In 1981 Franco Columbu gained back the title of Mr. Olympia. In 1982, it was the turn of Chris Dickerson. After receiving the title, he retired on stage. The Lebanese Samir Bannout (1955) won the 1983 competition, held in Germany. From 1984 to 1992, it was the era of Lee Haney (1959), who managed to win an astonishing eight consecutive times. During these years the competition took place in (in chronological order): New York City, Belgium, Columbus, Sweden, Los Angeles, Italy, Chicago, Florida and Helsinki. After Lee’s retirement, Dorian Yates (1962), known as “The Beast of England” and “The Untouchable”, dominated the 1993 edition of Mr. Olympia. Unfortunately, during the training next year he injured his left first, and then his left quadriceps. With a torn bicep and almost no time remaining to train, Lee fought his way into the competition and won. In 1995, he won again, with Kevin Levrone finishing in second place. In 1996, after three consecutive years being held in the city of Atlanta, the event was organized in Chicago. That year, Dorian Yates achieved his fifth consecutive title. Judges during this period tended to prefer mass over symmetry, proportion and aesthetics. In 1997, Mr. Olympia was held in Long Beach, California, to celebrate number 33th birthday of the competition. The total award that year was $285,000, and first place award $110,000, the highest to date. By then, bodybuilders were already considered professional athletes. Mr. Olympia, as devised by Joe Weider, had succeeded in its goals, establishing bodybuilding as a professional sport. Dorian Yates achieved his sixth consecutive victory, yet again competing with a torn bicep, although he had to retire right afterwards due to complications of his injuries.

Ronnie Coleman emerges at Mr. Olympia

1998 was the first year of Ronnie Coleman’s (1964) era, which would last until 2005. To this day, Ronnie is the record holder as IFBB professional with more victories under his belt. Him and Lee Haney are the only ones who have ever won eight consecutive times. Jay Cutler (1973) won in 2006 and 2007. 2008’s title was for Dexter Jackson (1969). Jay Cutler claimed it back in 2009, and won it again in 2010, becoming the third only person who has ever managed to claim back the title. From 2011 until now, the title belongs to Phil Heath (1979).

It must be noted that in 1994 Joe Weider created yet another competiton, called Masters of Olympia, reserved to former Mr. Olympia winners. This competition was intended to be an opportunity for former professional bodybuilders over 40 years old to continue competing, and lasted until 2003. In 2006 it was organized again under the name of IFBB Masters Professional World Championships, in New York, and yet again in 2012 under the original name of Masters Olympia, in Miami Beach, Florida. From 1980 until today a competition called Ms. Olympia has also been organized, usually coinciding in time and place with the male one, during what is known as the Olympia Weekend. The most notable competitors in Ms. Olympia’s history have been Lenda Murray (1962), Cory Everson (1958), Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls (1968) and Iris Kyle (1974), who has won more Olympia titles than any other bodybuilder in history, male or female.


One comment on “The history of the Mr. Olympia contest

  1. 1Diva says:

    I never read such nice and comprehensive explanation of the history of Mr. Olympia from the 1965 to till date. Thanks.

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