The Mr. Olympia Mystique
When the IFBB Mr. Olympia began in 1965, it was not considered the number one bodybuilding contest in the world as it is today. Joe and Ben Weider wanted to establish a competition that would decide who was the best bodybuilder in the world. At the time, there was no professional bodybuilding. The biggest and most prestigious contest during those years, the NABBA Mr. Universe held annually in London, England, did include both an Amateur and Professional divisions but the Pro winner was not awarded any cash prizes.
The Weider brothers invited the best and most popular bodybuilders of that era to compete in their inaugural Mr. Olympia contest in New York City. Reg Park, a three time winner of the NABBA Mr. Universe contest (including that year), was definitely on the invite list. Bill Pearl, winner of the NABBA Mr. Universe in 1953 (amateur) and 1961 (professional) was also a hopeful star attraction at the Mr. Olympia.
Unfortunately, neither Park or Pearl made the trip to New York to contend for the first Mr. Olympia title. In fact, only three competitors comprised the very first Mr. Olympia contest in 1965. What the show lacked in quantity, however, it made up for in quality. The fans loudly cheered on the competitors and witnesses who attended the show remember the thunderous applause echoing off the walls of the theater, reminiscent of when the Beatles made their first appearance on American soil.
Larry Scott would go on to win the first Mr. Olympia contest over Harold Poole and Earl Maynard. Although not as genetically gifted as some of his successors to the Mr. Olympia throne such as Oliva and Schwarzenegger, Scott did possess some of the thickest and most awe-inspiring arms of his time. He also demonstrated a quality that not all bodybuilders bring to the stage – charisma.
As Larry Scott’s name was announced to the sold out Brooklyn Academy of Music Theater in New York City, the crowd erupted into deafening cheers. Larry waited a few minutes for the applause to build before slowly, gingerly stepping out under the spotlights. With his golden hair and Colgate smile, Scott looked like a Hollywood movie star. Extending one arm forward to showcase his enormous bicep, his fans exploded into rapturous delight as Larry treated them to a magnificent display of physical perfection.
By the time Larry exited the stage, the bodybuilding fanatics who cheered his appearance felt like they had just experienced the highlight of their lives. To most of them, Larry Scott was not only Mr. Olympia, he was God! His mystique was more than just his legendary arms and thick, cannonball deltoids, it was something undefinable. Larry had brought forth the heroic quality of a superstar and, in doing so, had established the precedent for all future Mr. Olympia winners.
Charisma was a quality that Arnold Schwarzenegger fully encompassed in his entire being. Growing up as the son of local police chief in a small Austrian village did not portend future stardom for Arnold but when he stepped onstage at his first Mr. Universe contest in 1967, the audience recognized something special in this 19 year old farm boy. Arnold had charisma and, even though he did not win the contest, he was the only competitor asked to return to the stage for an encore by the knowledgeable bodybuilding fans who cheered this unknown giant from Austria because they could see that he had that special “something”.
When Arnold finally made his way to America several years later and captured the Mr. Olympia title in 1970, he had to overcome the incredible physique of Sergio Oliva in order to claim the title of the Best Bodybuilder in the World. Much has been made of the mind games and psyching out trickery employed by Schwarzenegger in order to gain an edge over his competition but the “star power” that Arnold oozed out of every pore of his being was even more responsible for his incredible success than any backstage antics.
When you see a picture of Arnold in a magazine, you can’t help but stare at him. He could be posing onstage at the Mr. Olympia contest, preparing to do a heavy squat at the original Gold’s Gym or laying in the sun on Venice Beach. When Arnold was attempting to make it in Hollywood as an actor, someone in the business who knew what they were talking about told him, “The camera loves you”.
Arnold was the first bodybuilder to dominate the Mr. Olympia contest and he helped elevate this event to the status that it currently enjoys. In order to win the biggest bodybuilding contest in the world six consecutive times (twice as many wins as his predecessor Sergio Oliva), Arnold displayed not only a magnificent physique but something more, something intangible.
The star quality and mystique of Schwarzenegger made it very difficult for the judges on the panel to award the title to someone else. Arnold looked confident onstage, smiling to the rabid fans and sometimes even adopting a detached look on his face as if this act of posing to win the biggest bodybuilding contest in the world was as simple and routine as reading the morning newspaper. Everyone who had the memorable experience of seeing Arnold onstage couldn’t help but admire and cheer for him. Remember one of the opening scenes from the film “Pumping Iron” when Arnold is posing to a sold out crowd? After he completes his routine and blows kisses to the crowd, the camera turns it’s attention to the audience and we see the JOY and EXCITEMENT on their faces. That’s charisma!
I was fortunate to witness Frank Zane win the Mr. Olympia in Columbus, Ohio from 1977-1979. Zane was the antithesis to the monster physiques of Oliva and Schwarzenegger. How could someone weighing under 190 pounds at a height of 5’9” win the biggest contest in bodybuilding three consecutive times, beating some of the biggest and most massive bodybuilders in the world in the process?
It’s true that Zane possessed remarkable symmetry and proportions and he competed in extraordinary condition, displaying definition and muscularity that was above any other bodybuilder during that time. However, Zane also brought onstage an air of superiority and confidence that allowed him to win over the judges and the bodybuilding fans during his three year reign as Mr. Olympia.
When Frank Zane was being defeated by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1972 and 1974 at the Mr. Olympia as well as the legendary Bill Pearl in 1971 at the NABBA Professional Mr. Universe in London, he took note of the intangible aspects these champions brought to the stage that helped them to claim victory. It was the same quality that Zane witnessed on that magical night in 1965 when he saw Larry Scott bring down the house as he won the first Mr. Olympia contest.
A very serious man, Zane had the bad habit of keeping his feelings and emotions inside of him when he competed in a bodybuilding contest. After several disappointing losses to winners like Arnold and Pearl, Zane realized that he needed to change his attitude onstage if he wanted to accomplish his goal of attaining the Mr. Olympia title. He had to show the audience and the judges that he was a winner and this feeling of victory had to come through in his actions, his persona and in his overall being. In order to be a winner, Zane had to believe and act like a winner.
Frank Zane possessed this winning aura onstage at the Mr. Olympia in 1977. Feeling self assured and occasionally smiling to the audience, Zane acted as if this was his destiny and we were lucky to be able to share the experience with him. He was never cocky or aggressive or overbearing. Instead, it was a feeling of calmness and achievement.
When the emcee, Reg Park, announced that Zane was the winner of the Mr. Olympia that night, the audience jumped to their feet in delight and Zane thrust his fist triumphantly overhead. He had visualized this moment, he had advertised himself as the winner all year long and he had even dreamed that this victory would happen. Now, it was reality and it was because of the incredible physique and the confident aura that Zane brought to the stage.
If you ever have a chance to watch a Mr. Olympia contest, remember the “Mr. Olympia Mystique” when watching the show. One bodybuilder will step on that stage with a dominating physique along with the confidence, charisma and winning aura that all Mr. Olympia champions possess. When he holds the coveted Sandow statue in his hands, it will be a destiny that required not only years of hard work and sacrifice but a winning persona that predicted his victory the minute he stepped onstage.