As Franco Columbu climbed the steps leading to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, October 10th, 1981, he felt confident of victory. Having just returned from several weeks in Hawaii, Franco had put the finishing touches to both his tan and his physique as he prepared to shock the bodybuilding world by adding another Mr. Olympia title to his already impressive resume.
It was five years ago that Franco had achieved his greatest accomplishment ever by finally winning the coveted Mr. Olympia title right here at this same location in Columbus, Ohio. His reign as the King of Bodybuilding was dramatically cut short by a terrible accident in which Franco tore every tendon and ligament in his left knee when he tripped running with a refrigerator on his back during an event at the 1977 World’s Strongest Man competition. His doctors told him he would be lucky to walk again. Competing in another bodybuilding contest was out of the question.
Franco was anxious to prove his doctors and all the other critics out there wrong. He had shown tremendous courage and tenacity in his zeal to rebuild his damaged knee and return to the stage a winner. Franco visualized himself as Mr. Olympia all year long as he trained for this contest. He knew in his heart that he would walk off the stage holding a Sandow statue by the end of the night. After all, he was the only previous Mr. Olympia winner entering the contest this year. Frank Zane, three time Mr. Olympia from 1977-79, was taking the year off after dropping to third place the year before. Even top Olympia contenders such as Boyer Coe and Mike Mentzer would not be showing up to contend for the Mr. Olympia this year.
The reason for so many dropouts in 1981 Mr. Olympia contest had everything to do with the 1980 Mr. O. Now considered the most controversial Mr. Olympia contest in its sixteen year history, “The Sydney Affair” had cast a black eye on the sport of bodybuilding. Unfortunately, this happened to take place at a time when bodybuilding was just beginning to achieve worldwide popularity and acclaim.
Franco’s best friend and the most popular bodybuilder in the world, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had sneaked into the same contest that he dominated in the 1970’s and pissed off both competitors and fans by winning the 1980 Mr. Olympia with less than eight weeks of serious training and a physique that was a shadow of the dominant “Austrian Oak” that we all remembered and revered. The aftermath of that contest was still reverberating through the bodybuilding world and threatened to sink the number one contest in the world.
Arnold himself was painfully aware of what was on the line as the 1981 Mr. Olympia neared closer. He knew that Franco was planning on competing in the contest, the fifth Mr. Olympia event that he would be promoting with his business partner Jim Lorimer. Arnold also knew that his reputation would be at risk if his best friend won the contest and did not deserve it. He even told Franco that he would be on his own at the show as Arnold could not risk further controversy by being seen helping him out or showing favoritism toward him backstage.
As the competitors for the 1981 Mr. Olympia pumped up, it was clearly evident that there would be some surprises this year. Although superstars such as Zane, Mentzer and Coe were indeed absent from the lineup, the remarkable condition of some of the other bodybuilders would more than make up for it. The audience was in for a treat!
A total of 17 professional bodybuilders made their way onstage at 10 a.m. sharp on the morning of October 10th. Johnny Fuller, the thick as a brick British bodybuilder from England and the current (1980) light heavyweight Mr. Universe winner, lead the group onstage. He was followed by one of the true surprises of the contest, a shredded and ripped Danny Padilla! Danny was almost unrecognizable as his genetically perfect body was completely devoid of fat. Was this the same Danny who had once devoured two dozen doughnuts the night before a contest and had actually chewed gum onstage as he easily won the 1977 AFAB Mr. America show? Danny’s face was so gaunt as the skin tightly stretched over his fat-free cheekbones that the audience had to look close to make sure this really was “The Giant Killer” in the flesh!
The shapely, aesthetic and (unfortunately) waterlogged physique of Samir Bannout walked onstage behind Padilla, followed by an out of shape Steve Davis, a thick Carlos Rodriguez from Arizona and an over the hill Ken Waller. It was hard to imagine that this was the same Waller who posed down with Columbu at the 1976 Mr. Olympia as the winner of the Over 200 Pound class.
The current Professional Mr. Universe winner, Jusup Wilkosz from Germany, was competitor number 7. Jusup was a friend and training partner of both Schwarzenegger and Columbu and his thick and muscular physique looked like it would contending for top honors tonight. Roger Walker, a top six competitor last year in Sydney, was not the same bodybuilder tonight. A year ago, competing in his home country of Australia, Walker had displayed a thick, ripped physique that could stand favorably with the best in the world. Roger was so aggressive that he even pushed around Arnold himself as they compared poses onstage. This year, he would leave that top six spot open to another competitor as he also seemed to have suffered negatively from the Sydney Mr. Olympia debacle.
Ed Corney, the celebrated “Greatest Poser in the World”, was beginning to show his age as he bravely stood in the lineup. Now sporting a full head of grey hair, Corney was one of the best from the last generation of bodybuilders who was now daring to compete in the decidedly more competitive new decade of the ’80’s. Standing next to Corney was an ebony giant who looked so good, he couldn’t resist showing off his pearly whites. Roy Callendar was in the shape of his life and he knew it! Always one of the thickest and most massive bodybuilders in the world, the 1978 Mr. Universe winner was more ripped than ever before and he was ready to pull off the upset of the century tonight! Even though all the competitors were supposed to stay relaxed, Big Roy could not resist extending one of his massive thighs forward and proudly showing off the incredible separation in his freaky quads!
Immediately to the left of Roy stood the Sardinian Strongman himself, Franco Columbu! Franco was deeply tanned and looked carved out of granite as he flexed his amazing upper body. His renowned chest split into thick striations and his abs were marble hard. Franco was not about to have Callendar steal the spotlight from the contest that he believed was his destiny. Roy pointed to the pronounced sartorius muscle standing out in his displayed quadricep as Franco bared his teeth, quickly hitting several most muscular poses before Oscar State put an end to the impromptu posedown. This was going to be a war!
Jorma Raty, the middleweight Mr. Universe winner from Finland with lats to rival Franco, stepped onstage next. Unfortunately, Jorma only had that enormous back along with some massive arms to challenge for the title. Mike Katz, like his old rival Waller, was also past his prime. The rumor was that both Mike and Ken had agreed to help out their old friend Arnold by entering the Mr. Olympia again to fill up the dwindling lineup. The proposed “boycott” of the 1981 Mr. Olympia had both the IFBB and the promoters nervous about this year’s event.
As Tom Platz stepped onstage next to Katz, the audience gasped! Not since the appearance of the mythical Sergio Oliva had the audience witnessed such a marvel of mass and thickness. Platz smiled a charismatic grin as he acknowledged the shock of the crowd. Platz’s famous legs looked remarkably even more massive as the individual heads of the quadriceps each stood out as thick slabs of beef.
However, it was Platz’s upper body that had the audience in shock. Tom looked like he had added at least 15 pounds of beef above the waist since his disappointing ninth place finish a year ago in Sydney. His pecs were massive and full and his thick, wide lats were among the best onstage. Even his much aligned arms were now big! Tom’s thick as a brick abs highlighted his amazing condition to a delighted capacity crowd. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Platz’s massive physique blew every other competitor off the stage the moment he arrived!
Not to be outdone, the tall and handsome Dennis Tinerino followed Tom onto the stage. Always a top contender, Dennis showed off his mile wide shoulders and rock hard six pack abs but his appearance did suffer standing next to Platz. Hubert Metz, the 1980 heavyweight Mr. Universe champ, displayed a ripped but unevenly developed physique with one of the worst cases of gynecomastia in recent memory. Poor Hubert would suffer the wrath of the crowd all afternoon with shouts of “Bitch Tits!” aimed toward at him.
Last but certainly not least was the great Chris Dickerson. Chris had become accustomed to winning ever since he dominated the 1979 Canada Cup two years ago. Aside from the Mr. Olympia contest, Chris had won almost every Grand Prix event and the coveted Night of the Champions contest. His second place finish in last year’s controversial Mr. Olympia had established him as a favorite in this event. Zane, Mentzer, Coe, Walker, Callendar, Platz and Padilla had all been previously defeated by Dickerson. Now, he was here to claim the title that he believed was rightfully his.
Dickerson was in peak condition for the 1981 Mr. Olympia but he was lacking the impressive thickness and mass that he demonstrated in Australia a year ago. His legs were still one of the best pairs of wheels onstage with complete development in the quadriceps and the most outstanding calves in bodybuilding. His physique was one of balance and symmetry and the judges usually loved the package that Chris brought to the stage.
The prejudging would feature three separate rounds of judging. The judges would score the competitors by points with 20 points being the highest possible score. The three rounds would consist of the relaxed round, with each competitor doing the four quarter turns by themselves and then being judged in comparison with the other competitors. The second round would be the free posing round in which each competitor would pose to their own musical selection (a relatively new concept that was introduced last year at the 1980 Mr. Olympia). The third and final round would be the mandatory poses. Like the relaxed round, the mandatories would have the competitors do their mandatory poses individually and then in comparison to the other competitors.
Three months prior to the Mr. Olympia contest, IFBB president Ben Weider had conferred with the federation’s general secretary, the honorable Oscar State, to discuss who would be judging this years competition. One of the complaints about the 1980 Mr. Olympia was that the promoter, Paul Graham, had picked the judges. It turns out that many of those judges also happened to be close friends or acquaintances of Arnold Schwarzenegger. To avoid any controversy this time, the IFBB would select their own judges.
Weider decided to use an international panel of judges to judge the biggest contest in the world. The judging panel included Jacques Blommaert of Belgium, Jim Manion of the U.S.A, Winston Roberts of Canada, Sven-Ole Thorsen from Denmark, Franco Fassi of Italy, Dominic Certo from the U.S.A. and Doug Evans from Wales.
The head judge, Roger Schwab, was concerned about the selection of judges because he, too, was aware of how closely this contest would be scrutinized after the Sydney Affair. He brought to Ben Weider’s attention the selection of Sven-Ole Thorsen. Thorsen had gotten into trouble by showing prejudice the year before at the Schwarzenegger-Lorimer promoted Professional Mr. Universe contest when he had given his fellow countryman, Ulf Bengtsson, a perfect score while all the other judges had given him fourth place.
Thorsen was suspended from judging international events until the IFBB decided he was fit to judge again. Schwab understood the IFBB’s decision to use an international judging panel but he argued that only the most qualified judges should be allowed to judge the sport’s biggest event. It was especially important this year because the 1980 contest was so controversial and still fresh in the minds of the fans and competitors.
One week before the 1981 Mr. Olympia, Ben Weider informed Roger Schwab that Sven-Ole Thorsen had redeemed himself by correctly judging a competition in London so he would be allowed on the judging panel at the Olympia. How Thorsen had been allowed to judge another international show when he was under suspension was never brought up. However, Weider assured Schwab that Thorsen’s scores, along with the other judges on the panel, would be “closely scrutinized”.
The night prior to the contest, Weider held a meeting with all the competitors. The IFBB president assured the competitors that he had selected a qualified panel of judges and he was looking forward to a fair and honest contest. Weider was concerned with the good name and reputation of the IFBB. He invited any competitor to voice their opinions or concerns here and now so all complaints could be heard before the contest.
Some of the competitors had questions about the distribution of the prize money. Carlos Rodriquez, who was not expected to finish among the finalists, wanted the top ten to receive cash for their efforts. However, none of the competitors challenged the judging credentials of any of the judges. Perhaps some were afraid to speak up the night before the biggest contest of their lives.
As the judges put the competitors through their paces, the audience could see who was challenging for the top spot. Padilla was amazing with his degree of definition and fat-free muscle. For years, all the bodybuilding experts had told Danny that he had the “perfect physique”, if ONLY he could get ripped. This year, he had listened to his critics and was more ripped than anyone could believe. It looked like he had lost 30 pounds and, if his gaunt face was any indication, had gone through severe torture to arrive at this condition!
Columbu was also extremely impressive. Franco’s upper body was thicker and more ripped than ever before. His abs were rock hard and skin tight and his famous pecs, lats and shoulders were bigger and harder than in his last Mr. Olympia victory in 1976. Even Franco’s arms were much improved, having previously been overshadowed by his incredible torso. This year, they were holding their own with thick triceps and high peaked biceps.
Unfortunately, Franco’s legs were way out of proportion. His calves were still impressive but his poor quadriceps could not keep pace with his award winning upper body. The thighs had come up in size from their atrophied state but the separation and definition, always a struggle for him, were non existent onstage. Add to this problem a very distracting case of gyno on one of his nipples and it was hard to see Franco winning another Mr. Olympia title tonight.
The sport of bodybuilding had changed since Franco had last won the Mr. Olympia title. In the 1970’s, very few bodybuilders had really impressive legs. The few that did exhibit strong leg development were considered somewhat of an anomaly and superior legs were not really required for winning even the top competitions.
Exhibiting great legs onstage in the 1980‘s was now a necessity for winning even a local contest. Bodybuilders such as Mike Mentzer, Tom Platz and Danny Padilla started to show bodybuilders in the ’70’s what leg development was all about. When Chris Dickerson and Casey Viator made their comeback onto the pro bodybuilding scene in the last few years, their incredible legs were part of the winning formula. Even that year’s Mr. America winner, Tim Belknap from Illinois, had a pair of legs that brought to mind a mini version of Tom Platz.
Speaking of Platz, he was quickly becoming the audience favorite each time he stepped in front of the judges for another comparison. His incredible improvement in only the last year had catapulted him to the forefront of the biggest competition in bodybuilding. When had anyone made such a dramatic transformation to their physique? It looked like Tom had added 15-20 pounds of muscle to his upper body alone since the 1980 Olympia. Incredible!
Everyone expected Platz to have the biggest legs onstage but it was the quality muscle packed onto his back, his chest, his shoulders and his arms that blew everyone away. His side chest pose now revealed a barrel ribcage and massive pectorals that kept easy company with those huge legs. His rear double biceps showcased a thick, ripped back and calves so freaky, the fibers looked like they were moving and alive! His side triceps pose hammered home thick arms and hamstrings large enough to substitute for a full leg. The audience pored out their admiration and love for Platz, a man who had surely endured torturous workouts for a full year in order to celebrate the winning physique he was proud to display tonight on stage!
A new Roy Callendar had arrived in Columbus this night looking for victory! A veteran competitor, Roy had always impressed with his tremendous muscle thickness and size but he never exhibited the hunger and desire that he showed at this show. He was tremendously ripped and hard and, combined with that size, Callendar knew that this could be his night.
As the judges compared the top competitors in the first round, Columbu scored points by constantly flexing his massive torso. Crunching down hard on his abs and pecs, Franco displayed a rock hard look that was missing from his semi-relaxed competitors. As an oblivious Padilla smiled to the audience, Franco flexed harder and never relaxed.
Platz shocked the audience and the judges with his added size. It wasn’t just his legs that overwhelmed his competitors this year, it was also his thick back, chest and shoulders that commanded attention. Dickerson showed class and poise as he displayed his extensive competitive experience to his advantage, standing relaxed but with his muscles flexed and ripped. Chris did his best to ignore the boisterous cheers for Platz, Callendar and Padilla from the rowdy fans.
The mandatory comparisons had the sold out audience jumping out of their seats! Platz continued to win over the crowd as his outrageous muscle mass dominated the other competitors. Padilla was the most genetically gifted bodybuilder onstage with his flowing lines, full muscle bellies and perfect proportions. However, next to mass monsters like Platz and Callendar, Danny seemed to fade in the comparisons. Could he have gone overboard in his desperate desire to get shredded?
Callendar was anxious to shake things up in each comparison he was included in. He particularly liked standing next to the pre-contest favorite Franco. He knew Franco’s weak point was his legs so he took every opportunity he could to shove his ripped and massive quads in front of the judges to show them what every open eye in the house could clearly witness.
If there was any doubt about the striking imbalance in the Columbu physique, one particular comparison between Franco, Tom Platz and Danny Padilla during the mandatory poses seemed to dramatically close the door on Columbu’s dream of annexing another title. The judges called for Platz in the middle of Franco and Padilla, Tom appearing both inches taller and wider than his two smaller competitors. Although Franco was impressively thick and ripped, Danny was incredibly shredded and Platz was hard and huge.
The last pose called by the judges was the Overhead Abdominal and Thigh pose. Franco crunched down on his rock solid abs as he twisted his good leg this way and that way, desperately searching for a line of separation in his quadriceps (bodybuilding writer Rick Wayne later described Columbu’s thighs as looking like “a pair of overstuffed sausages”). The crowd was on the edge of their seats in anticipation as Platz failed to suppress a slight grin. He knew what was coming and so did the audience. Tom crunched down on his thickly muscled abdomen and extended his right leg slowly forward. BOOM!! Platz’s thigh exploded into an amalgam of mass and striations! The audience roared it’s approval as they were witnessing the birth of a new champion.
By the end of the prejudging, the majority of the crowd had Platz, Callendar and Padilla at the top of the roster. Dickerson, for all his balance, symmetry and beauty, seemed to be overwhelmed by the size and impressiveness of the new mass monsters. Franco, despite all his confidence and courage, could not realistically be higher than fifth with zero separation in his legs. How could anyone win the Mr. Olympia title while missing a major muscle group?
As the audience filled the Veterans Memorial Auditorium for the evening finals, anticipation and uncertainty filled the air. Would the 1981 Mr. Olympia be another controversial embarrassment like the year before or would the judges do the right thing by giving an accurate assessment of the competitors, despite their name or reputation? You could cut the tension in the air with a knife as everyone anxiously waited for the show to begin.
As expected from a Schwarzenegger-Lorimer production, the stage design and quality of the show was top-notch! No one could promote a classier or more entertaining bodybuilding contest than the team of Arnold and Jim. The Mr. International competitors were all introduced onstage with only the silhouette of each bodybuilder visible. The music from the movie soundtrack “2001: A Space Odyssey” filled the auditorium during this dramatic opening. It was enough to raise goosebumps on even the most jaded bodybuilding spectator.
IFBB President Ben Weider opened up the ceremonies. Some of the fans in the audience tried interrupting Weider by yelling out, “Where’s Mentzer?”, “Where is Zane at?”. Weider ignored the catcalls and praised the promotional efforts of Arnold and Jim Lorimer. At the mention of Arnold’s name, some of the audience booed with the memory of the Sydney Affair fresh in their minds.
“We live in a democracy”, Weider continued. “Everyone is free to express his personal opinion”. The IFBB president went on to remind the audience that Arnold has played a critical role in developing the sport of bodybuilding, “a sport we all love”. With that last line, the audience completely changed their attitude and began to wildly applaud the former King of Bodybuilding.
The Mr. International competitors were up next. A shredded Ralph Piers from South Africa won the lightweight class over Ray Beaulieu from Canada. The very impressive Shigeru Sugita from Japan, a former Nabba Mr. Universe winner, easily won the middleweight class. The hard-working Ali Malla won a tough light-heavyweight class over Les Galvin and Billy Arlen from the U.S.A.
The heavyweight class in the Mr. International was where the big boys battled it out. Rod “Thee Animal” Koontz and Mr. California Larry Jackson initially tied for second place. The nervous audience sensed another controversial decision but it was quickly resolved with Jackson winning the tie breaker, to the satisfaction of the fans. Broad shouldered Scott Wilson from California took first place in this class as well as the overall. All was good and the audience seemed to be in agreement with all the decisions. Maybe the dark cloud of the 1980 Olympia had indeed passed, as Ben Weider had seemed to allude to in his opening remarks.
Before the Mr. Olympia competitors took the stage to perform their individual posing routines, the audience was treated to a sneak preview of a movie that would introduce their own Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world at large. The movie was called “Conan the Barbarian” and the voice-over that accompanied the set of color slides being shown on the big screen hinted at an upcoming blockbuster on par with “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
After that dramatic introduction, Arnold himself came to the microphone. The audience went crazy for their King, chanting “Arnold!” “Arnold!” “Arnold!”. Gone (at least for the moment) were the ugly memories of a smiling, out of shape Arnold winning the 1980 Mr. Olympia and all the controversy and ill-will that went along with it. Right now, the only thing that mattered was the appearance of their Leader in the flesh.
If anyone ever doubted Arnold’s future as a politician, they should have heard his speech that night in Columbus, Ohio. As popular as Arnold was, there were still a few “fans” who were angry at his involvement in the Sydney Fiasco and they let their feelings be known as Arnold waited to speak. How the future Governor of California transformed that apathetic audience into a crowd of cheering, rabid true believers was something to witness!
“I hear da boos”, Arnold began. He talked about his experience making “Conan the Barbarian”, a movie that had been eagerly anticipated for over four years now. The underlying message in Arnold’s speech was, “Do you have any idea how big this is going to be?” Arnold also praised his partner, Jim Lorimer, and even mentioned Joe Weider for the publicity he has given him in Joe’s magazines. “Some good, some bad”, Arnold added, an obvious reference to the 1980 Olympia.
Arnold then won the sold out crowd over by thanking them for their support of bodybuilding. “Thanks to you”, he said, “we have rescued bodybuilding out of the comic books and put it on prime time TV. We still have a way to go until we reach the level of sports like baseball and boxing but we are on our way.” With that, the crowd let loose all the love and admiration they felt for the King and their Leader in the bodybuilding world. The 1980 Mr. Olympia was forgotten, let’s get on with the show!
One noticeable absence from the 1981 Mr. Olympia was the annoying flood lights that would be illuminated every time the television cameras would begin filming the events onstage. After signing a three year deal with the IFBB for exclusive rights to broadcast the Mr. Olympia contest, CBS Television decided to join competitors like Mentzer, Zane and Coe and boycott the event this year.
The crew from CBS-TV was in Australia last year when Arnold won the contest. After filming the event and witnessing the unpopular decision with both the competitors and the spectators, the television giant decided to not broadcast what would no doubt be a very controversial spectacle. The event was so suspect that even the network’s own prime time news magazine, “60 Minutes”, was going to do a report on the contest. This was also never aired.
In 1981, CBS stuck to their contract with the IFBB by paying the Schwarzenegger-Lorimer team the agreed upon $20,000 for the right to broadcast the contest. However, after the controversial decision the year before, they also decided to stay home and not even attend the event. Another black eye for the sport of bodybuilding in the eyes of the general public!
As the competitors began their posing routines, the audience, most of whom had attended the prejudging earlier in the day, knew who to look out for. The first name on that list was the Giant Killer himself, Danny Padilla. Danny shocked the audience with his amazing condition. Never had Padilla pushed himself this hard to achieve such amazing definition. His full muscle bellies were still round and big but they were completely stripped of fat. Danny Padilla was shredded!
In spite of his outstanding shape, Padilla didn’t blow the crowd away with his posing routine. Throughout the day, Danny looked laid back and subdued. Maybe he had suffered so much in his preparation that he had nothing left for the stage. His musical selection was the old fashioned theme from the movie “Exodus” and this was not enough to bring his fans to their feet.
One bodybuilder who did choose the right music was Samir Bannout. Despite his bloated condition, Samir received one of the loudest ovations of the night by using a musical selection that was perfectly choreographed with his poses. The music had no lyrics, just a resounding “clang!” every few seconds. Samir timed the music with his poses and the audience loved it! They gave him thunderous applause as The Lion of Lebanon gave a posing seminar on how to do a posing routine to music!
Roy Callendar didn’t need any music to bring the house down. As Roy was going through his graceful posing routine, his cassette tape broke. Instead of walking off the stage in frustration, he continued to pose to the roar of the crowd. Callendar’s monster most muscular poses brought down the house! Aside from weak calves and somewhat bowed legs, Roy had it all. He was the biggest and most ripped competitor on stage next to Platz and he had every right to be confident!
The audience was curious to see the next competitor after Callendar triumphantly exited the stage. Franco Columbu was making his first contest appearance five years after winning the Mr. Olympia on this same stage. That Franco could walk again was a miracle after rupturing every tendon and ligament in his knee. To be competing in the biggest contest in bodybuilding after such a tragic accident was a victory in itself. If there was ever a bodybuilder that believed he could overcome anything, it was Franco!
For his musical selection, the immigrant from Sardinia, Italy chose an Italian operetta that did not generate the response he was hoping for. Instead of focusing on hitting his patented most muscular and lat spread poses during his free posing routine, Franco, at one point, slowly turned in a circle with his arms raised overhead in a poor imitation of his rival Frank Zane. Despite his amazing condition, the thick and muscular Columbu did not have the leg development to compete against Callendar, Padilla, Dickerson or Platz. However, you wouldn’t have known it from the look of confidence on his face. The indomitable Dr. Franco Columbu was convinced he was the winner!
The audience waited anxiously for the arrival of the new Tom Platz! When the Golden Eagle confidently loped onto the stage, the fans in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium erupted. Platz had trained for this contest as if his life depended on it. His physique was so thick, so freaky, so muscular, that he oozed HARDCORE out of every fiber of his being!
Tom Platz had the audience in the palm of his hand tonight as he confidently glided from pose to pose. When he brushed back his golden hair with one of his hands before locking into a single arm bicep pose, he knew he had it! The audience gasped with awe at the size and muscularity in his back, his chest, his calves. When he finally locked his knee and thrust his famous leg forward at the conclusion of his routine, the crowd screamed their approval!
Every so often, a bodybuilder will come along and exemplify everything that is magical and beautiful about the sport of bodybuilding. He may train his whole life for that one special day when it all comes together perfectly. It is a day that he will remember for the rest of his life. Win, lose or draw, he knows that he did everything humanly possible to be the very best he could be and he finally reached his ultimate potential. Tonight was that night for Tom Platz! In the hearts and minds of everyone lucky enough to watch it, Tom Platz was Mr. Olympia!!
The last headline bodybuilder to pose was Chris Dickerson. A fan of ballet and opera, Chris incorporated his passion into his posing routine. You will never see Chris Dickerson bang out most muscular poses like Callendar or Columbu. He choose poses that fit his individual structure and made sure to show the judges a variety of kneeling, standing and lunging poses that emphasized his aesthetic and shapely physique.
Chris was in outstanding condition for the 1981 Mr. Olympia. Dickerson could always be relied upon to hit his peak. His legs were among the best in professional bodybuilding and, if he didn’t have the same thickness throughout his torso that he displayed in Sydney, the Dickerson aura and confidence did not reveal it. Chris quietly believed that his physique would be the one that the judges would pick to win the title.
Finally, the time was here. The top six bodybuilders were called back onstage for the long awaited posedown! Padilla, Callendar, Columbu, Wilcosz, Platz and Dickerson. The bodybuilders changed positions as they all strived to show their best before the judges. The final scores were being calculated as the bodybuilders posed down to a sold out auditorium of screaming bodybuilding fans!
The emcee, Len Bosland, announced Jusup Wilcosz in the sixth place position. The current Professional Mr. Universe winner was making his Olympia debut at this contest and he was in very good shape. Everyone was expecting this placing and there was no surprise and just mild applause from an anxious audience. With his next announcement, Bosland would begin an unprecedented tidal wave of pandemonium and chaos.
“In fifth place….Danny Padilla!” NO! NO! They’ve done it again! The crowd screamed their disapproval and started booing with sustained volume. How could the judges be so blind? Wasn’t it supposed to be Franco in the fifth place position? What the hell was going on? How could a perfectly proportioned and sliced to the bone Padilla place behind a man with zero definition and separation in his legs?
Padilla’s face said it all as he received his fifth place trophy and check. One of the most well-liked and pleasant personalities in the sport, Danny just shook his head and smiled onstage as the boos continued to rain down on the judges. Poor Padilla had to ask himself why on earth he had sacrificed so much and dieted so hard to come in such spectacular shape for THIS!
After the crowd had finally calmed down, Len Bosland had everyone’s rapt attention as he slowly read the next placing. “In fourth place…..Roy Callendar!” Callendar seemed to look to the ceiling for an answer as the crowd now started screaming expletives at the judges and the booing reached an even higher level. How could this be happening? Had the IFBB screwed us all again?
The trophy presenter walked onstage and presented Roy with his fourth place award and money. Roy didn’t take the news as well as Padilla. Like Danny, Callendar had sacrificed a lot for this contest. He had left his wife and child at home in Canada as he spent months in the warm California weather preparing specifically for this contest. He was in the best shape of his life and he knew in his heart that he was gunning for that top spot. How in the world could he place fourth looking like this??
After several long minutes, the audience had finally gained some composure. The booing had subsided and everyone was sitting on pins and needles as they awaited the next placing. Jusup Wilcosz quietly stood off to the right as both Callendar and Padilla waited for the final decision on the left of the stage. Tom Platz, Franco Columbu and Chris Dickerson all stood in the middle of the stage, anxiously awaiting the next words out of Len Bosland’s mouth.
Everyone in the audience all shared the same thought toward the judges. “OK, you totally screwed Padilla and Callendar but there’s still room for hope. Award the title to Platz and you can still do the right thing. Don’t let this contest turn out worse than last year!”
The audience held it’s collective breath as Bosland began to speak again. “Receiving the third place trophy……Tom Platz!” CHAOS!! Most of the audience sprung to their feet, booing and screaming at the top of their lungs! This was insane! How could the judges be so blind? This was happening but no one could believe what they were witnessing. Not two years in a row!!!
This time, the audience didn’t stop. They kept booing louder and louder, screaming at the judges. Sitting in the first five rows, I personally had never experienced such a hostile reaction to a bodybuilding placing. People were mad! There had to be a reason for this but this made no sense!
Tom Platz was every bit the gracious gentleman as he received his trophy and check with no hint of malice. He held his massive arms out wide as if to say, “Oh well!” and then remained onstage as the crowd continued to boo the placing and applaud the man they thought should have been awarded the title.
At this point, several people started to leave the auditorium. Ever since the fifth place announcement of Danny Padilla, there had been non stop booing from this very emotional audience. Now, only two bodybuilders remained onstage. Some of the fans didn’t even care who won at this point but we all knew it could not be Franco. How could someone win the Mr. Olympia title with no legs? If Franco was to win, the audience believed, than the fix was definitely in!
A hesitant Bosland announced what everyone was expecting. “In second place…Chris Dickerson!” That was it! The audience jumped to their feet again and the booing and screaming continued. Dickerson reluctantly accepted his second place trophy and check. Didn’t he go through this same scenario just one year ago?
As Len Bosland introduced the 1981 Mr. Olympia to an angry crowd, very few could hear him over the booing and the cursing. At this point, people were actually starting to throw objects at the stage to show their disgust. Coins bounced off the edge of the stage onto the judges table as Ben Weider raised Franco’s arms overhead in “victory”. Arnold and Joe Weider dared not walk onto the stage and into the frenzied mob of screaming fans. It would be like rubbing salt into a very open and painful wound.
The victory photos of Franco with his Sandow trophy and his $25,000 check were all taken off stage. Arnold congratulated his best friend and Franco’s wife Anita kissed her loving husband on the cheek. An oblivious Columbu didn’t seem affected at all by the booing from the audience. To his mind, he deserved the title and there was no controversy at all.
So, how did all this happen? Was the 1981 Mr. Olympia contest an outright fix among the judges or was this a case of incompetent scoring by a group of individuals who did not belong anywhere near the judging table of a Mr. Olympia contest?
In the analysis of the score sheets, part of the problem seems to have been the method of scoring itself. In both the 1980 and 1981 Mr. Olympia contests, the judges used a point system for each round of judging. The highest possible score for an individual competitor was 20 points. Because these were Mr. Olympia competitors and, in theory, some of the best bodybuilders in the world, no one should have received lower than a 16 in each round.
At the conclusion of all three rounds of judging, the points are tallied up and the top six scores are those competitors who are in the posedown. In the posedown, the judges are told to give a first place to the bodybuilder who they feel should win the contest. Those points are then added to the total score from the prejudging.
In 1979, when the Mr. Olympia was judged in two rounds (the under 200 pound class and the over 200 pound class), Mike Mentzer received the highest point total from the prejudging. However, when he was compared to Frank Zane for the first time in the posedown, Zane was able to score more first place votes from the judges and he narrowly beat Mentzer to win the contest.
In 1980, the competitors voted to have just one class instead of splitting the competitors into two separate divisions. After 1979, the Mr. Olympia contest was always judged as one big class. This would allow the judges the opportunity to compare all the competitors during the prejudging.
Let’s look at how the judges scored the 1981 Mr. Olympia contest. After three rounds of judging, this is how each judge placed the top six competitors by using the points system.
Judge Jacques Blommart from Belgium -
1st Roy Callendar (59 points)
2nd Tom Platz (58 points)
3rd (tie) Danny Padilla and Jusup Wilkosz (56 points each)
5th – Chris Dickerson (55 points)
6th – Franco Columbu (54 points)
Jim Manion from the U.S.A -
1st – Franco Columbu (59 points)
2nd – Tom Platz (58 points)
3rd – Roy Callendar (57 points)
4th – Chris Dickerson (56 points)
5th – Dennis Tinerino (54 points)
6th (tie) – Danny Padilla and Jusup Wilcosz (53 points each)
Winston Roberts from Canada -
1st – Chris Dickerson (60 points – perfect score)
2nd – Roy Callendar (58 points)
3rd – Franco Columbu (57 points)
4th – Tom Platz (56 points)
5th – 8th (all same score) – Danny Padilla, Jusup Wilcosz, Dennis Tinerino, Johnny Fuller (54 points)
Sven-Ole Thorson from Denmark -
1st – Chris Dickerson (60 points – another perfect score)
2nd – Franco Columbu (59 points)
3rd – Tom Platz (58 points)
4th – Roy Callendar (56 points)
5th – Danny Padilla and Jusup Wilcosz (54 points each)
Franco Fassi from Italy -
1st – Franco Columbu (60 points – perfect score)
2nd – Chris Dickerson and Roy Callendar (57 points each)
3rd – Tom Platz (56 points)
4th – Samir Bannout (55 points)
5th – Danny Padilla, Jusup Wilcosz and Dennis Tinerino (54 points each)
Dominic Certo from U.S.A -
1st – Tom Platz (60 points – perfect score)
2nd – Franco Columbu and Roy Callendar (59 points each)
4th – Chris Dickerson (57 points)
5th – Danny Padilla and Jusup Wilcosz (56 points each)
Doug Evans from Wales -
1st – Franco Columbu (60 points – perfect score)
2nd – Chris Dickerson (59 points)
3rd – Tom Platz (58 points)
4th – Roy Callendar (56 points)
5th (tie) – Dennis Tinerino and Johnny Fuller (54 points)
6th (tie) – Danny Padilla and Jusup Wilcosz (51 points)
That was the accumulation of the points for three rounds. Adding them all up and eliminating one high and one low score, this is what the standings looked like going into
the posedown -
1st – Franco Columbu with 294 points
2nd – Chris Dickerson with 289 points
3rd – Tom Platz with 288 points
4th – Roy Callendar with 286 points
5th – Danny Padilla with 281 points
6th – Jusup Wilcosz with 270 points
At the evening show, the judges were asked to place a one (placement system) by the competitor they would have in first place.
Jacques Blommart had Tom Platz in 1st (he scored Callendar the highest)
Jim Manion had Padilla in 1st (he scored Franco the highest and he scored Padilla in 6th at the prejudging)
Winston Roberts had Dickerson in 1st (he also scored Dickerson 1st in points)
Sven Ole Thorson had Dickerson in 1st (he scored Dickerson in 1st)
Franco Fassi gave Franco the 1st (he also had Franco highest in points, perfect score)
Dominic Certo gave Tom Platz the 1st (he had Platz first in points, perfect score)
Doug Evans gave Franco the 1st (he had Franco first in points, perfect score)
When using the placement system at the evening show, Franco, Dickerson and Platz all received two first place votes. Danny Padilla received one first place vote and Roy Callendar did not receive any first place votes. The scores varied among each judge with no consistent winner.
The system itself was flawed but the judges were also way off the mark. Franco Fassi from Italy is a close friend of Franco Columbu so he should never been allowed to judge. Doug Evans did not have the experience to judge a major professional show like the Mr. Olympia. Sven-Ole Thorsen was also a close friend of Arnold and Franco so he should not have been used either (although he did put Franco second to Dickerson).
How could Doug Evans give a perfect score to Franco, who was obviously out of proportion with weak leg development, but only give 51 points to Danny Padilla who displayed perfect proportions and outstanding conditioning? Franco Fassi not only awarded his friend Franco with a perfect score but also placed a smooth Samir Bannout ahead of Danny Padilla.
Julian Blommart seemed to be the only judge on the panel who scored Franco lower because of his obvious imbalance in his physique. He only scored Franco with a 54 point total while giving higher points to Tom Platz, Roy Callendar and Danny Padilla. However, Blommart also had Jusup Wilcosz ahead of both Chris Dickerson and Franco Columbu.
Even more surprising is Jim Manion giving a first place vote to Padilla in the evening (the only judge to do so) but scoring him with a low 53 points in the prejudging. Did Padilla really look that much different at night than he did during the day? Manion even had 7th place finisher Dennis Tinerino ahead of Padilla during the day but then changed his mind at night. Jacques Blommart also had Roy Callendar ahead of Tom Platz in the day but then voted for Platz as the winner at the evening show.
The score sheets show that it was not necessarily a “fix” for Franco Columbu to win the contest. Only two judges out of seven had him in first place but it was his high point total from the majority of the judges (two 60 points, three 59 points, one 57 and one 54) that helped him to win the title. Platz, although he had pretty high scores, consistently scored lower than both Dickerson and Columbu. Maybe the judges felt like Platz was too overdeveloped in the legs so they gave it instead to the guy who had weak development in the legs.
Poor Danny Padilla. Padilla, who would often pose to “Short People Don’t Get No Respect”, really got the shaft. How could a bodybuilder who had a genetically perfect physique and in shredded condition score only two 56 point totals, three 54 points, one 53 and even a 51? What were these judges looking at?
In the end, the sport of bodybuilding suffered the most from the 1980 and 1981 Mr. Olympia contests. The 1981 event was even more controversial than when Arnold made his comeback because of the glaring imbalance in Columbu’s physique. When compared to the outstanding wheels of Dickerson, Padilla, Callendar and Platz, Franco truly didn’t have a leg to stand on.