Follow the history of bodybuilding's biggest event from the very first winner, to the emergence of the sport's biggest star, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
1965--1966: Larry Legend
The very first Mr. Olympia contest took place on September 18, 1965, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The crowd that night 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. 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. To keep high-level talent like Larry in posing trunks, and give them opportunity to earn money doing so, Joe Weider created the Mr. Olympia contest. As expected, Larry did not disappoint, taking that first title. Larry repeated as Mr. Olympia the following year, then announced his retirement.
1967-1969: The Myth
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. In 1969, one of the greatest rivalries in the history of bodybuilding commenced when Sergio was challenged by a young Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a close battle, Sergio came out on top. He was now Mr. Olympia three years in a row, but Arnold promised that Sergio would never defeat him again.
1970-1975: The Oak
Both Arnold and Sergio 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 the NABBA Universe was held in London. Arnold, with his loyalty 100% behind the lFBB, 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, 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 retiring.
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 possibly aid in kicking off his film career. Arnold won the contest easily and immediately announced his retirement.
1976: Franco Takes It
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.
1977-1979: The Zane Master
The next year turned out to be the year of Zane. Frank 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, especially with otherworldly quality and condition.
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.
1980: One More Time
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 lFBB 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.
1981: Deja Vu
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, the second time he followed in Arnold's mighty footsteps.
1982-1983: Battle for the Top
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 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 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 Lee.
Follow the history of the Mr. Olympia during eras of dominance from Lee Haney, Dorian Yates and the current champ, Ronnie Coleman.
1984-1991: TotaLee Awesome
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. Lee 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. Lee was dominant again, fighting 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 the 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. Lee 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 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 Lee'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 he 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 as Lee tried to make it seven in a row. If 1989 was tough for Lee, 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. The TotaLee Awesome one now had seven consecutive Mr. Olympia titles.
Orlando, Florida, was the site of the 1991 Mr. Olympia. Lee 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 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.
1992-1997: The Shadow Grows
In 1992, the Mr. Olympia contest moved to Helsinki, Finland. A new Mr. Olympia would be crowned that year because Lee retired 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, Dorian, nicknamed "The Shadow," started pulling away and won in convincing fashion. 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." 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 Dorian's Olympia dream. He duly arrived in Atlanta to take his third Sandow statuette, and 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 third spot in the 270-pound shape of Nasser El Sonbaty. Not that Dorian 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, Dorian, 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. 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. 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 sadly he retired before the 1998 show.
1998-2003: Big Ron
With the great Yates gone, that meant a new Mr. Olympia would be crowned in New York on October 10, 1998. Ronnie Coleman came from out of nowhere for a dramatic win. His fellow competitors sportingly congratulated the cop from Texas on his narrow victory, but privately they knew they had blown an opportunity to go down in history.
Afterward, debates 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 had 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 and Casino on the Las Vegas strip on October 23,1999. There, 17 warriors took the stage, with Coleman and Flex Wheeler locked in a close battle. Flex had done his homework, but the reigning Mr. Olympia would leave no doubters this night. Ronnie was even bigger than he had been the previous year, and his sparkling condition held throughout. He won his second consecutive title.
He didn't stop there. Again besting Flex (who finished third), Ronnie won his third Sandow in 2000 convincingly over second place finisher Kevin Levrone. It was clear that Coleman was here to stay, and that a fourth win was his for the taking, but no one foresaw what was coming next, a man that would push Ronnie to the brink: Jay Cutler.
Ronnie's 2001 title defense, again at Mandalay Bay, was supposed to be a cakewalk. However, less than perfect shape found him trailing after pre-judging to the 265-pound Cutler. Big Ron knew his title was in jeopardy, but somehow rebounded during the evening show to beat Jay by just four points. Despite controversy, it was four Olympia wins and counting.
With Jay deciding not to compete at the Olympia in 2002, again Ronnie was the heavy favorite. This time, the surprise of the show was Gunter Schlierkamp, who one year earlier finished 15th at the O. The Mandalay crowd backed Gunter so strongly that when he was announced in 5th place, the boo birds sung once again, as they had a year earlier. Levrone was in perhaps his best condition ever, but had to settle for runner-up, as Ronnie made it five. But as great as his run had been, many saw Coleman's days of invincibility turning into vulnerability right in front of them.
The 2003 Olympia was to be the champ's toughest challenge, as Cutler, coming off consecutive Arnold Classic victories, would return for battle. It was also believed that Gunter would give a Ronnie a run too, since he had beaten him just weeks after the '02 Olympia at the GNC Show Strength in New Orleans. Any doubts quickly dissipated, however, when Ronnie showed up at a stage-rattling 287 pounds. Bigger than ever, he hadn't lost any symmetry or detail, and easily beat Jay in his easiest title defense to date. With six straight Olympia wins, he made his intentions clear after that show: He would go after Haney's record, with his goal set on nine Sandow trophies.
Ronnie seeks number seven this October 30 at Mandalay Bay. Though obviously favored again, Cutler, Levrone, Dexter Jackson and others have vowed to knock him off. Will they have what it takes? We'll know this Halloween weekend in Sin City.