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Samir Bannout had a curious career. In 49 pro contests over 16 years, he won only two. However, one of them was the 1983 Mr. Olympia. He had three good years, 1982–84, when his conditioning matched his aesthetic 5’7″ musculature, but otherwise he was almost always too bloated to make an impact. Aside from his good years, Bannout’s career had both an inauspicious first three years and a forgettable final seven years. He failed to place in his 1979 pro debut, and he was 15th out of 16 in his 1980 Olympia debut. No one then would’ve thought the mustachioed Lebanese could impact bodybuilding’s top rankings. But he did with his fourth at the 1982 Olympia. Then he nailed his conditioning at the 1983 O. Crisp and full, he was the clear winner (just ahead of fellow slow-starter Makkawy).
It was the buildup, that space right before the big moment when Samir Bannout pulled his elbows back and placed his hands on his hips to unfurl his back in the rear lat spread. He paused for dramatic effect, and when the lower lats and muscles of the vertebrae splintered and popped, two words came to mind: Christmas tree. Sure, the 1983 Mr. Olympia wasn’t the first to do it, but nobody highlighted the transition quite like the Lion of Lebanon, making the new “pose” a must-have moment for photographers and competitors alike. Never possessing the size to overpower his rivals, Bannout, like Zane and Dickerson, relied on proportion and details to outclass the competition. Facing a new crop of bodybuilders, led by a 24-year-old from Georgia named Lee Haney, Bannout placed sixth at the 1984 O. His five-spot descent is the most of any reigning Mr. O, and that year marked the transition point between two eras, the sub-200-pound Mr. O and the 250-plus-pound beasts who followed. The Lion won only one contest after his Olympia triumph, the 1990 Pittsburgh Pro, and his last competitive roar was at the 2011 Masters Pro World, where he placed 11th. Bannout’s career proves it’s sometimes not about where you start or even where you finish. It’s about the heights you reach along the way.