Tales From Columbus

Behind-the-scenes stories from the Arnold Classic




It seems like such a long time ago. It was a time when, if someone mentioned a 20" Mac, you might have thought they were discussing a dwarf’s raincoat; a time when Barack Obama sounded like a place where soldiers lived; a time when no one had heard of MuscleTech; a time — so help us — when Shawn Ray, the heir apparent to the Olympia, had hair (a time when Shawn wasn’t shorn?). That’s how long ago 1990 is.

On Friday, March 9, 1990,

Shawn Ray was in Montreal to fulfill a guest-posing spot. Now, let it be said that Montreal in March is cold, but it’s not the North Pole. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old Californian felt on top of the world. Six days prior, at the Arnold Classic, he had taken the top spot and an accompanying $60,000 check. His Columbus success had come a week after he had tasted victory at the Ironman Pro Invitational.

Yes sir, he was on a bigger roll than a 50-pound cheeseburger, and seasoned experts (and me, as well) predicted he was now ready to fulfill the prophecy foisted on him when he took the overall at the 1987 NPC Nationals — namely, that the owner of the most famous flattop to come out of the Hollywood area since Olive Oyl would succeed then-Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

As he contemplated that he needed more room under his bed to store his fresh winnings (jeez, you knew he wouldn’t spend it), Ray was in “you’re in the money” mode. But before you could say “banned substance,” it was a case of “urine, the money,” because on that Canadian spring evening, a call from the IFBB informed the 1990 Arnold Classic winner of March 3 that as of today, March 9, he wasn’t. The contest was the first men’s pro show to be drug tested and his sample had proved to be more positive than an Anthony Robbins seminar. He wasn’t alone. Those who also tested positive from the 13-man Columbus shooting match (what am I saying?) were Samir Bannout (fifth), Nimrod King (eighth) and Ralf Moeller (12th).

The test results

sent shock waves through the sport and proved to be a major black eye, as NBC TV had filmed the event for later broadcast and had to hastily re-edit their footage. The post-contest winner’s interview of Ray by Arnold Schwarzenegger had to be scrapped and after a frantic search for original runner-up Mike Ashley, the victory interview was restaged.

Ray was devastated by these developments. Initially, it seemed he may even quit the sport, but Ray quickly regrouped to set his sights on the 1990 Mr. Olympia. His Ironman win had qualified him for the big show, and even though his Arnold winnings were taken back, he never faced suspension — and neither did any of the other offenders.

Nineteen-ninety was a watershed for bodybuilding, as it was the year in which a program of drug testing at men’s pro contests was launched. After the Arnold, though, the Mr. Olympia was the only other contest in which a wee trip to the boy’s room was mandatory.

To forestall a repeat of the Arnold PR disaster (where drug-test results came after the contest), the Olympia competitors were tested on the Thursday before the event and the results were announced Friday, 24 hours prior to prejudging. At the 1990 Mr. O in Chicago there were four failures (Momo Benaziza, Vince Comerford, Berry DeMey and Van Walcott Smith), but due to the pre-emptive nature of the tests, none of them appeared in the lineup. Shawn Ray did and eked out third place.

When Ray returned to Columbus on March 2, 1991, in many ways we witnessed a rerun of 1990. He took straight firsts, and with the only doping issue being who granted my press pass, he left Columbus as 1991 Arnold Classic champion without the pause of waiting for any other shoe to drop. Ray eventually retired from the sport in 2001 after 12 consecutive Mr. Olympia top-five finishes. Married, with two children, he works for Muscular Development.

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