Much of the filming of the ever-glorified bodybuilding flick Pumping Iron, starring, among others, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Lou Ferrigno, and Mike Katz, didn’t actually take place at the Olympia, but the film’s chronicling of the 1975 Mr. O did more to bring the sport to the masses than any other single event since the contest’s inception, in 1965. If you’ll recall, viewers are tricked into thinking that Big Lou actually has a chance of beating Schwarzenegger—uh, not quite.
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Zaney Beats Franky (1977)
Credit Frank Zane’s win in 1977 in Columbus, OH—and his subsequent wins in ’78 and ’79— for paving the way for the present-day likes of Shawn Ray and Darrem Charles. While others aspired to endlessly add bulk to their frames, Zane was content weighing well under 200 pounds, bringing into vogue the scaled-down yet ever-aesthetic physique and solidifying the mantra “quality over quantity” on the Olympia stage.
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Gunter Makes His Move (2002)
Never before was a fifth-place finish so memorable. Günter Schlierkamp, who had never placed higher than 12th at an O, showed up with noticeably enhanced symmetry and fullness. Though he was no serious threat to dethroning Ronnie Coleman, Schlierkamp established himself as a potential top-six finisher for years to come. But if the fans present at Mandalay Bay that night were the judges, Schlierkamp would have won by a landslide.
Samir Bannout, aka the “Lion of Lebanon,” captured his first and only title with what some call a perfect overall package—symmetry, size, and detail in quintessential harmony. Not only did his win in ’83 solidify him as the consummate people’s champion due to his irrepressible character and humor, Bannout also bested Lee Haney one final time before Haney went on a record-setting streak of eight wins.
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Ronnie’s Leapfrog Year (1998)
Sure, we knew a new champion would be crowned in ’98, what with Dorian Yates finally on the shelf, but the so-called experts expected it to be Flex Wheeler, still widely considered the best bodybuilder never to win an Olympia. But Coleman, a former also-ran who had cracked the top six only once and finished a distant ninth the year before, bested the favored Wheeler.
Warriorlike is the only way to describe Dorian Yates’ ’94 Olympia triumph in Atlanta. His laundry list of injuries leading up to the O: a torn shoulder ligament that impinged his left rotator cuff, limiting all chest and deltoid training; a torn quad muscle that ceased all leg work for five weeks starting in April; and, finally, a left biceps nine weeks out from the O that left his competition status doubtful. None of it stopped him from winning his third Sandow in a row.
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The Hulk Hits the Stage (1974)
Schwarzenegger was big, as were others before him, but nothing like what he faced with the 6’5″, 270-pound Lou Ferrigno at Madison Square Garden in 1974. Though he easily defeated Ferrigno, the Hulk would proceed to help bring the sport to the mainstream. Dwarfing Schwarzenegger onstage was his first step toward Hollywood.
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Arnold Ousts “The Myth” (1970)
Sergio Oliva was so dominant in the late ’60s that, after winning his first Olympia in 1967, he competed and won unopposed in ’68. That’s right—he was such a force, no one dared challenge him. In 1969, he beat Schwarzenegger in what would prove to be the Austrian Oak’s final defeat. Schwarzenegger was determined to beat Oliva in 1970, and he did so by a slim margin, ending the Myth’s reign and commencing his own. You know what happens after that.
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Jay Beats Ronnie…Almost (2001)
Coleman wasn’t supposed to just win his fourth Olympia in 2001. He was supposed to be able to sleepwalk through his posing routine and still cruise to a 50-point victory. Jay Cutler thought otherwise. Placing eighth at the O a year earlier, Cutler showed up more shredded than an Enron bank statement and actually led Coleman through pre-judging. Sure, Big Ron came back in the night show and edged out Cutler by four measly points, but heck if he didn’t sweat it out a bit.
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The Oak Comes Back (1980)
Schwarzenegger had hung up the posing trunks nearly five years earlier when he began training to come out of retirement for the 1980 Mr. Olympia, held in Australia. But no one knew he was making a comeback, not even when he boarded the plane with other competitors. (They thought he was attending the show as part of the media.) They quickly figured it out when he was given a competitor’s number to pin on his dusted-off trunks. Though his victory was mired in some controversy. It did extend the legacy of the greatest Mr. O in history.