This year marks the 52nd rendition of a contest Joe Weider dreamed up one evening as he and Larry Scott were kicking back with a couple of brews, pondering bodybuilding’s future. From such humble beginnings an event would be born that is recognized today as the pinnacle of bodybuilding achievement.
The Mr. Olympia has provided unforgettable memories, and thanks to numerous talented photographers, these indelible memories have stood the test of time. Whether they capture moments of onstage drama or backstage tension or they simply convey the inherent artistry of bodybuilding, these pictures deserve special recognition, as do the photographers who took them.
At the first Mr. Olympia, part of the grand prize was a crown that winner Larry Scott was understandably reluctant to wear. Could runner-up Harold Poole be smiling because he didn’t have to wear a crown? Ben and Joe Weider flank the bodybuilders.
Photo: Unknown, 1965
After handily taking the 1967 and ’68 Olympia titles, Sergio Oliva was seen as all but unbeatable. Then, in 1969, along came 22-yearold Arnold Schwarzenegger and one of bodybuilding’s great rivalries was born. You can almost read Schwarzenegger’s thoughts in this photo as he glances wistfully up at show promoter Joe Weider: Sergio may have gotten me this time, but next year, I’ll be back!
Photo: Jimmy Caruso, 1969
In the early ’70s, pre-judgings were often held in back rooms, leaving the finals for the stage. Here, Serge Nubret, Columbu and Schwarzenegger (the contest’s only competitors) hit the most muscular shot.
Photo: Art Zeller, 1973
THE KING AND US
By the time of his sixth Mr. Olympia win in 1975, Schwarzenegger was established as all but unbeatable. Here, he’s flanked by Nubret, Ben Weider, and Lou Ferrigno as Pumping Iron director George Butler films the ceremony for his now-legendary documentary.
Photo: Caruso, 1975
In what may be the most artistic photo ever taken at an Olympia, Mike Neveux captured the silhouettes of the 1977 Mr. Olympia’s top competitors. Only the keenest-eyed bodybuilding historians can identify the six physiques presented here. Can you?
Photo: Neveux, 1977
Amid high tension, Mike Mentzer and Schwarzenegger nearly came to blows during the athletes’ meeting preceding the 1980 Olympia. The trigger? Schwarzenegger needled Mentzer about his midsection after Mentzer challenged Schwarzenegger’s assertion that the contest should have classes.
Photo: Neveux, 1980
A telling moment in Olympia history is captured here as Dickerson is announced runner-up at the 1981 Mr. Olympia, leaving Columbu the last man standing. Danny Padilla (fifth) and Roy Callender (fourth) are both leaving the stage in protest as gracious Tom Platz (third) congratulates Dickerson. Columbu’s friend Jusup Wilkosz (sixth) sticks around for the final announcement. The outcome of the ’81 O is arguably the most disputed in bodybuilding history.
Photo: Unknown, 1981
IF LOOKS COULD KILL
Offstage, Lee Haney and Rich Gaspari were the best of friends, but in the heat of battle, they were warriors. Here, Haney is announced the winner of the Sandow for the fourth consecutive year, and it was the second of three years in a row that Gaspari would play bridesmaid to Haney.
Photo: Greg Aiken, 1987
BEST FOR LAST
For his final, record-breaking eighth Olympia win (beating Schwarzenegger’s seven), Haney came in at an impressive 252 pounds, and he needed every bit of that dense mass to overcome Dorian Yates—the first opponent to match Haney in both stature and sheer size. It was the end of one reign and the beginning of another—Yates returned the following year and put his own iron grip on the Sandow (taking six) until his retirement following the 1997 Olympia.
Photo: Chris Lund, 1991
Former FLEX Editor-in- Chief Peter McGough had the idea to unite all nine Olympia winners onstage with Joe Weider and, as was hoped, it was a great moment waiting to be photographed.
Photo: Lund, 1995
This poignant shot captured Joe Weider in the theater wings at the 1996 Mr. Olympia. In addition to being the founder of the Olympia, Weider is roundly considered the father of modern bodybuilding. In this photo, he stands, a silent sentinel, watching over his beloved “children.”
Photo: Teagan Clive, 1996
Photographer Chris Lund was in perfect position to catch a telling moment, this time at the 1999 Olympia, where a shocked Ronnie Coleman defeated a dismayed and perplexed Flex Wheeler. In case you can’t tell, that’s Coleman on the floor and Wheeler with his back to the camera.
Photo: Lund, 1999
Even Coleman himself believed he was about to be dethroned by Jay Cutler, as evidenced by his “second” finger sign. When Iron Jay was announced runner-up, pandemonium ensued. It would be Coleman’s most controversial win of his eight title runs and a bitter disappointment for Cutler.
Photo: Lund, 2001
In what would be his last Olympia win, Coleman took advantage of the short-lived trend of using props in posing routines. As he vied for his record-tying (with Haney) eighth Sandow, Coleman lit up the stage in a red velvet cape and suitably ornamental crown.
Photo: Kevin Horton, 2005
A NEW HOPE
By 2006, bodybuilding had long grown accustomed to Coleman being named Mr. Olympia each fall. So when emcee Bob Cicherillo announced Cutler winner of the 2006 O, Orleans Arena erupted in a cacophony of shock and glee. Not the least gleeful was sixth-place finisher Gustavo Badell, who saw Coleman’s dethroning as a chance for all pro bodybuilders to fulfill their dream of one day ascending to the Olympia throne.
Photo: Lund, 2006
“I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE”
Far from the dominant force he was during his unstoppable eight-year Olympia-winning run, Ronnie Coleman returned to the sport’s grandest stage for a final farewell in 2007. After placing fourth and announcing his retirement to a standing ovation, the man many consider the greatest bodybuilder in history was left alone with his thoughts. Sitting backstage long after competitors and fans had left Orleans Arena, Coleman lingered as the maintenance crew cleaned up around him. “I don’t want to leave,” a teary-eyed Coleman told FLEX Senior Writer Greg Merritt. “I just want to soak it up and sit backstage at the Olympia this one last time.”
Photo: Allan Donnelly, 2007
A TITLE RECLAIMED
In the show’s 44-year history, no one had ever regained the Sandow after losing it the previous year—until now. Amid rumors that he was washed up, Cutler—with his all-time best combination of size and condition, particularly in his legs—crushed the competition in the deepest Mr. O lineup in recent years, claiming title No. 3 and putting himself in the history books.
Photo: Horton, 2009
Supported by a new incarnation of the iconic Sandow, Phil Heath enjoys a quiet moment onstage after clinching his fifth straight win last year. Heath is the latest to join the exclusive club of 12 other men to claim the title of greatest bodybuilder in the world and fourth on the list for most Olympia wins—for now.