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Remembering the 1981 Mr. Olympia – Part 1

1981 Mr. Olympia

After the 1980 Mr. Olympia, a contest now referred to as “The Sydney Affair” by those in the bodybuilding community, all eyes were on Columbus, Ohio in October of 1981. In the months following the most controversial Mr. Olympia contest of all time, the rumors of the contest being fixed had surfaced throughout the bodybuilding magazines. “Arnold had his friends on the judging panel”, one disgruntled competitor had said. “Arnold deserved no better than fifth but he won on his name alone”, another competitor charged. “The fix was in and we (the other competitors) were all made out to be fools”, Mike Mentzer was heard to say after the contest.

Even more surprising in the aftermath of the 1980 Mr. Olympia was the proposed boycott of many of the top bodybuilders in the sport. Mike Mentzer, Boyer Coe and Frank Zane (three of the best bodybuilders in the world) all decided to sit out the 1981 Mr. Olympia in protest of the 1980 decision. They strongly encouraged all the other top bodybuilders to follow their lead.
The prevailing rumor was that Franco Columbu was going to enter the 1981 Mr. Olympia. With his best friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger, again promoting the biggest contest in bodybuilding, would there be any doubt who would win the Olympia that year? The big three of Zane, Coe and Mentzer warned all the top pro bodybuilders that they were entering the Olympia at their own peril. Why even show up when it was guaranteed that Franco was going to win?

Franco had hinted to Arnold that he was possibly planning a comeback of his own when Arnold was competing in Australia in 1980. After severely injuring his knee in the 1977 World’s Strongest Man contest, it would be a miracle if Franco could even stand onstage again, let alone win a contest the caliber of the Mr. Olympia. While running with a refrigerator strapped to his back, Franco had tripped and ended up either tearing or straining every tendon and ligament in his left knee.
The doctors had told Franco that his bodybuilding career was over. If he was lucky, he might be able to walk again after years of therapy. Heavy leg exercises like squats were to be a thing of the past and stepping onstage to compete again was a pipe dream. Franco laughed at the doctors and rigorously engaged in his own therapy program which included walking up stairs sideways, backwards and forward.
In early 1981, while filming the movie “Conan the Barbarian” in Spain, Franco again re-injured his bad knee after jumping off a rock. Despite this setback, Franco shared with Arnold his plans to comeback and win the Mr. Olympia again, just as his good friend had done the year before.

When Arnold heard this news, he was filled with anticipation. It seemed to Arnold that he was being blamed for his controversial win in Sydney as well as all the other problems in the sport of bodybuilding. He knew his reputation as one of the premier bodybuilding promoters in the sport (along with his partner Jim Lorimer) was in serious jeopardy if Franco was to enter and win the 1981 Mr. Olympia.
Franco trained like a man possessed for his Mr. Olympia comeback. He deliberately held back on his chest and back training and focused his energies on his arms, his calves and his thighs. His lat training was replaced with hours of abdominal and forearm training as well as carefully building up his injured left thigh.

During the summer of 1981, Franco was well into his contest preparation and was looking markedly improved each succeeding month. He would train wearing only gym shorts at World Gym, often training in the sun at the new outdoor weight section to work on his tan as well as his physique.

Franco was anxious to get a look at his main competition for the 1981 Mr. Olympia. Chris Dickerson, runner-up to Arnold at the 1980 Olympia, was also training at World Gym but Chris was much more conservative than Franco. Dickerson, choosing to leave his physique display for the stage, would train fully covered up with sweat pants and a long sleeve sweat shirt.
The only time Chris would remove his clothes was after his workout when he took a shower in the World Gym stalls. Because Franco was training at a different time of the day than Dickerson, he had his good friend Eddie Giuliani keep an eye out for when Chris finished his workout. As soon as Dickerson headed for the showers, Giuliani placed a call to Franco, who would get in his car and drive like a maniac to the gym in the hope that he would finally get a glimpse of the Chris Dickerson physique.
Dickerson had initially agreed to go along with the boycott of the 1981 Mr. Olympia but had changed his mind as the contest got closer. A former competitor in the AAU and the Nabba organization in England, Chris was a renowned physique champion throughout the 1970’s, even becoming the first African American to win the coveted AAU Mr. America title in 1970. He did not agree to compete in the IFBB until the 1979 Mr. Olympia, where he placed in the top six.

It wasn’t long before Dickerson became the most successful pro bodybuilder on the IFBB circuit. With his incredible symmetry and extreme muscularity, as well as his artistic and graceful posing routines, Chris won the overall Grand Prix titles in both 1980 and 1981. At the 1980 Mr. Olympia, Chris was one of the strong audience favorites to win the title and many experts felt it should have been Dickerson, and not Arnold, who deserved the Sandow statue and the Mr. Olympia title.

Not wanting to pass up the opportunity for another shot at the contest that so many people thought he should have won a year earlier, Dickerson ignored the boycott put forth by the Coe-Mentzer-Zane contingent. Even though he competed all year long at the numerous Grand Prix contests, winning almost all of them, Dickerson was back at the gym and training hard for the Mr. Olympia contest for his third consecutive shot at the biggest contest in bodybuilding.

One person who didn’t even consider boycotting the 1981 Mr. Olympia was Tom Platz. To Tom, bodybuilding WAS Arnold and Franco. Platz had nothing but love and respect for the two men who created professional bodybuilding. He fully supported Arnold’s win at the 1980 Olympia and was gladly on hand to compete in the Professional Mr. Universe in Columbus, Ohio (promoted by Schwarzenegger and Lorimer) one month after the Sydney Affair.

Known as the hardest training bodybuilder in the world, Tom was well known for his incredible leg development. Going back to his days as a struggling Mr. America competitor in the mid-1970’s, Tom quickly became famous for sporting a pair of the biggest and most thickly developed legs on the planet.
After winning the middleweight class at the 1978 Mr. Universe in Acapulco, Mexico, Platz anxiously embraced his professional status. Tom booked seminars and posing exhibitions all over the United States and around the world. He even released a leg training manual to capitalize on his most famous bodypart. During his posing exhibitions, Platz would intentionally avoid flexing his legs until his posing routine was completed. Before leaving the stage, Tom would pause and look at the audience who would be screaming “Legs! Legs!”. Flashing an impish grin, Tom would clasp his hands behind his waist, casually extend one leg forward and BAM! flex his enormous quadriceps, which would explode into a mass of striations and bulbous muscle. The crowd would roar their approval and Tom would hop off stage.

Although Tom was happy with his status as “Mr. Legs”, he desperately wanted the respect of the judges and to move up in the rankings at the Mr. Olympia. He placed out of the money at the 1979 Mr. Olympia and trained very hard for the infamous contest in Sydney the following year. He watched in despair from the sidelines as the top six athletes were called out for the posedown at the 1980 Olympia and his name was not called. A determined Tom was back in the gym the following morning to make further improvements to his physique. Only one month after the Sydney Fiasco, Tom came so close to winning the Professional Mr. Universe contest in Columbus, Ohio but placed a disappointing second to Jusup Wilcosz from Germany, also regarded as a very good friend and training partner of promoter Arnold Schwarzenegger.
1981 was a do or die year for Tom Platz! After his defeat to Wilcosz, Tom resolved to completely transform his physique and shock the world at the next Mr. Olympia. Tom was seen doing repetition squats with 600 pounds at Golds Gym. He was consuming 6000 calories a day, going to bed at nine every night, waking up at 5:30 each morning. While eating his breakfast of a frozen banana or yogurt for breakfast, Tom would psych himself up with self-hypnosis. He would “see” himself squatting with 800 pounds, doing dips with 200 pounds strapped to his waist.

His ex-girlfriend was training at the same gym as Tom. Despite the fact that she would show up with her new boyfriend, Platz used the pain and rejection he felt as motivation to fuel his workouts. He would stretch for an hour and a half before his leg workouts, turning his massive body into a pretzel. Those who were witness to the torture he imposed on his body exclaimed that his training sessions were brutal to watch. At the 1980 Mr. Olympia in Australia, Tom only weighed 195 pounds. For the 1981 Olympia, he resolved to step onstage at 245 pounds!

Roy Callender was another bodybuilder waiting for his turn to shine. Roy, like Chris Dickerson, had a long competitive career. In fact, he was one of the contenders onstage when Arnold made his IFBB debut at the 1968 Mr. Universe in Miami. Although he received some success competing at the Nabba Mr. Universe contest in London, Roy did not really come into his own until he returned to the IFBB in 1977.

Winning the Canadian Championships that year, Roy catapulted into the international spotlight by first winning the heavyweight class at the IFBB Mr. International in Columbus, Ohio, held on the same night as the Mr. Olympia. Roy followed up this big win with a Mr. Universe victory one month later in Nimes, France as he easily won the middleweight class.

In 1978, Roy defeated all contenders except for champ Robby Robinson at the IFBB Night of the Champions and the World Cup. His strong third place finish at that year’s Mr. Olympia was credited to his incredible thickness and mass. Very few bodybuilders displayed the massive pecs, lats, delts and arms that Roy did. Even top professional champions like Boyer Coe, Danny Padilla and Ed Corney were left in the dust when Roy stepped onstage.
A back injury in 1979 had Roy literally limping off the stage but he made a very strong comeback in Sydney at the 1980 Olympia. Displaying perhaps his best condition ever, Roy was stuck in a tie for sixth place with Australia’s own Roger Walker before Walker won the tie breaker and a chance to posedown with the top six bodybuilders. Roy was now looking at the 1981 Olympia as his opportunity to showcase his remarkable physique.

A resident of Canada, Roy left his wife and their baby daughter behind as he moved to Southern California to properly prepare for his assault on the Mr. Olympia title.  Roy trained six days a week, twice a day for six hours each day. Sweat poured out of his body every day during his insane workouts. Callendar was all business this year and nothing was going to stop him from winning the title.

Danny “The Giant Killer” Padilla was quickly being written off by the bodybuilding experts as the genetic freak who lacked the heart and desire to win the big one. Ever since his IFBB debut in 1975, the 5’2” Padilla gained national attention as the bodybuilder who had it all. Danny had the shape, muscle mass and proportions that most bodybuilders could only wish for.
In 1976, a soft Padilla was taken to the cleaners by a razor sharp Mohammed Makkawy at the Mr. Universe in Montreal. Having learned his lesson, Danny came back better than ever the following year to easily win the IFBB Mr. America (even while chewing gum and with no tan!) and get his revenge on Makkawy by winning the Mr. Universe in Nimes, France.

As a pro bodybuilder, Padilla never really fulfilled his vast genetic promise. He placed 6th in the 1978 Mr. Olympia but was again a little soft to seriously challenge Frank Zane and Robby Robinson for the title. The following year, Danny out scored a ripped Robby at the Night of the Champions but was someone beaten by the end of the night by a last minute pose-off. A disappointed Padilla walked away convinced that the judges would never let him win a professional contest because of his short stature.

At the 1980 Mr. Olympia in Sydney, Padilla looked fantastic with his full muscle bellies and incredible proportions but was overlooked and relegated to 10th place. Danny was blessed with the same round, full muscles that Schwarzenegger possessed. Although he didn’t look as shredded as Zane or Makkawy, Padilla’s physique was gifted with the mass and proportions that made him look like a giant onstage. If ONLY he would come in ripped!
Because of his natural genetic gifts, Danny would sometimes only train for three months a year before a contest. The rest of the year was devoted to helping his father manage the family owned convenience store in upstate New York. Shortly before the 1980 Olympia, Danny had left Southern California and had moved back home to New York, leaving the bodybuilding lifestyle and, seemingly, his contest career behind him.

However, Padilla had decided to give it one more shot. Listening to his critics and advisors for the first time, Danny had dieted for the 1981 Mr. Olympia like he had never dieted before. Known for his suicidal pre-contest binges (Danny had once eaten two dozen doughnuts the night before a big contest), Padilla stuck to his spartan diet and had reduced his bodyweight to almost 150 pounds. His face had become so sunken in and depleted that he wasn’t even recognizable. Could this finally be Danny Padilla’s year?
The stage was set for one of the most exciting and controversial Mr. Olympia contests ever. Would the controversy and dark cloud of the Sydney Affair resurface one year later in Columbus, Ohio? With the proposed boycott from three of bodybuilding’s biggest stars, the opportunity for a new star to emerge was wide open. Could Franco Columbu repeat his Mr. Olympia win from 1976 and, in the process, accomplish the biggest comeback in the sport’s history? Would Chris Dickerson finally win the number one spot that so many thought he deserved a year ago? Would the herculean efforts of Tom Platz, Roy Callendar and Danny Padilla pay off with a surprise victory for one of these gifted bodybuilders? Check out Part Two of the 1981 Mr. Olympia report for all the details!

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