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The 1980 Mr. Olympia Controversy

Check out my article about the 1980 Mr. Olympia. This is still considered one of the most controversial and

talked about Mr. Olympia competitions of all time.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was training hard at World Gym in the summer of 1980, many wondered if the former King of Bodybuilding was planning a comeback by entering that year’s Mr. Olympia contest. For the first time since he retired in 1975, Arnold and his partner, Jim Lorimer from Columbus, Ohio, would not be promoting the Mr. Olympia contest. Although Arnold and Lorimer had done an outstanding job staging the number one bodybuilding contest in the world from 1976-1979, raising both the prize 027money and the prestige of the Mr. Olympia contest, other promoters were complaining to the IFBB that they wanted a chance to promote the biggest contest in the world. In 1980, the contest was to be held in Sydney, Australia by Arnold’s good friend Paul Graham. Graham had paid big money to the Weider brothers for the right to hold the prestigious event in the Land Down Under and he finally got his wish.

The reigning Mr. Olympia, Frank Zane, who had won the title the previous three years when Arnold and Lorimer had promoted the contest in Columbus, Ohio, was having doubts about defending his title. After a very productive year of off season training, Zane was looking really good going into his contest prep when he suffered a very serious injury. While tanning outside by his pool, the chair he was sitting on collapsed. Zane cut his urethra on the edge of the pool, causing massive internal bleeding. After he was released from the hospital, Frank had lost a lot of muscular weight and didn’t know if he should compete at less than his best. In his previous three Mr. Olympia victories, Zane had improved significantly each year and the judges had awarded him the title in response to his improvements.

Zane decided to consult with Arnold, a person who he trusted to be honest and objective regarding his condition. In the previous three years, Zane had always posed for Arnold to get his input prior to the contest. This year was no different but Zane wanted Arnold’s honest opinion on if he should risk competing inmikeuniversearch the contest at less than his best.After Arnold watched Zane pose for him, he told him he should go to Sydney and defend his title. Even at less than his best, he was still good enough to win. “What about you Arnold? Are you competing in the show? You are looking pretty good lately and the rumor is that you are entering the Mr. Olympia this year”, Zane asked the 6-time Mr. Olympia. “No”, said Arnold, “I’m just getting ready for a movie (“Conan the Barbarian”). I’ll be there to do commentary for CBS Sports but I’m not entering the contest”.At World Gym in Santa Monica, California, Arnold was training very hard twice a day. He would alternate training partners, sometimes training with his friend Franco Columbu and 1979 Heavyweight Mr. Universe Jusup Wilkosz and other times training with two large, young up and coming bodybuilders. Arnold mostly trained with very light weights, often swigging Diet Pepsi from a 2 liter bottle and eating seedless grapes during his workout. When old friend and former IFBB Mr. World Eddie Giuliani was asked by someone if Arnold was looking better than ever, Eddie shook his head. “No, he’s only about 70 percent of what he was at his best. He’s getting in shape for a movie role”.On the long plane ride to Sydney, Australia, Arnold was tan, lean and muscular as he relaxed with his girlfriend Maria Shriver and chatted with Joe Weider. At this point, no one knew that Arnold was planning on actually entering the contest.Pre-contest favorite Mike Mentzer put himself through hell in prep for the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest. One of the sport’s most popular bodybuilders, Mentzer achieved a perfect 300 score when he won the IFBB Mr. Universe two years earlier. He won his very first pro show in early 1979, beating the perennial favorite, Robby Robinson. In his first Mr. Olympia contest, Mentzer won the Over 200 pound class and had a higher score than Frank Zane going into the posedown. Unfortunately, Zane’s experience and poise allowed him to outscore Mentzer in the final moments of the posedown and land Zane his third Mr. Olympia title.

This was his year. Mentzer believed it in his heart and soul. He was reportedly 10 pounds heavier than last year and he had engaged in long cardio sessions on his bike as well as suffering from low calories and low carbohydrates in the weeks leading up to the contest. At his hotel room in Sydney, Mentzer turned up the heat, literally, transforming his room into a self-made sauna so he could shed any remaining subcutaneous water.

When Arnold arrived in Sydney, his friend Franco Columbu watched him pose in his hotel room and asked him what the hell happened? Arnold was retaining water and he didn’t look like the same physique when he posed at World Gym in California. Franco asked Arnold if he was taking any drugs. “Just the usual steroids”, Arnold replied. When Arnold admitted that he also took a cortisone shot for a shoulder injury that he had incurred in his intense training for the contest, Franco hit the roof! “You idiot, 1980 olympia review dhow are we going to get the water out?”

The night before the contest, the heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes took place on closed circuit TV. Ali, the undisputed king of boxing, was embarrassed in his loss to Holmes, a former sparring partner of the champ. Ali lost his championship belt and many wondered why he had continued to box way past his prime. The comparisons between this world championship bout and the upcoming Mr. Olympia contest were strikingly apparent. Did Arnold Schwarzenegger, the “Muhammad Ali of bodybuilding” make a big mistake by choosing to compete again just as the real Ali had begun to destroy his reputation as the Champ by suffering a humiliating loss?

ar417Arnold did not concern himself with the problems of Muhammed Ali, however. The former 6 time Mr. Olympia spent most of his evening posing and posing and posing in order to shed the excess water retention caused by the cortisone shot. It was early in the morning before Arnold finally collapsed on his hotel room bed, exhausted from his spartan effort to shed the water from his physique.

When the 16 competitors for the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest finally walked onstage at the Sydney Opera House theater on October 4th, the MC introduced each bodybuilder as they walked onstage. The crowd gave a rousing cheer when it was announced that competitor number four was, in fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The legendary Austrian Oak, who won six Mr. Olympia titles in grand fashion, the star of the movie “Pumping Iron” and the undisputed King of Bodybuilding was back onstage competing for another Mr. Olympia title. This was truly history in the making!

Each bodybuilder was brought onstage one at a time to do the mandatory poses first. Oscar State, the strict IFBB head judge from England, was calling out the poses for each competitor. State was known in the industry as a stern task master who would not allow any bodybuilder the freedom to wander outside the rules. He famously criticized Samir Bannout one year earlier at the IFBB Mr. Universe contest in Columbus, Ohio for not standing relaxed during the relaxed round.

When Arnold hit his first pose, the front double biceps, the audience applauded loudly for the best arms onstage that day. With only 8 weeks of serious training, some of Arnold’s bodyparts were still lacking in size and development. His arms, however, were as magnificent as his glory days. Huge, peaked biceps and sharply separated triceps were Arnold’s trump card and he proudly displayed them at every possible opportunity onstage.

When Oscar State called for a side triceps pose, Arnold pretended that he didn’t hear him. State repeated the pose and Arnold instead hit a bicep pose with his right arm while keeping his left arm straight and flexed. His heroic side chest pose brought to mind the Arnold from a decade ago with the deep ribcage and massive pecs. Schwarzenegger’s rear double biceps pose displayed a Christmas tree lower back, thick and muscular lats and massive calves. The abdominal and thigh pose, however, revealed average ab development with a wide waist off set by thin, under developed quadriceps. This was not Arnold’s best pose.


Before exiting the stage, Arnold quickly looked over at Oscar State, who was momentarily not paying attention. Before he was instructed to leave the stage, Arnold quickly hit a crab most muscular pose for an appreciative audience. As the crowd roared its approval, Arnold held up both hands in surrender to State and walked off the stage to laughs and cheers. Arnold the showman was already beginning to win over the crowd and the judges.

The comparison poses were next. With all 16 bodybuilders standing onstage, the judges brought forth 3-5 bodybuilders at a time to make comparisons. The competitors were judged both standing relaxed (from all four sides) and in the mandatory poses. It quickly became apparent who the top contenders were for the 1980 Mr. Olympia. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chris Dickerson, Frank Zane, Mike Mentzer, Boyer Coe, Roger Walker and Roy Callendar were the bodybuilders most often compared by the judges.

Arnold stood out from the other bodybuilders by virtue of his height and his smile. While many of the competitors, like Australia’s Roger Walker and Mentzer, were deadly serious, Arnold smiled and played to the crowd. He towered over the magnificent Chris Dickerson and dwarfed the ripped but thin Frank Zane. When being compared to the0 other competitors, Arnold would take a step forward and hit a pose. When the others followed, Arnold stepped back. By the time the head judge restored order, Arnold had made his impact.

Dickerson was the most completely developed physique onstage. Despite his short stature (5’6″ in height) and his weak biceps, Dickerson had it all. His thick traps and lats were clearly superior to Arnold when they stood relaxed from the rear. His quadriceps were thick and separated and his calves were perfectly shaped and massive. During his free posing routine, Dickerson performed one of the best routines onstage, gracefully moving his classic physique from one artful pose to another.

Mike Mentzer was ripped and ready. With his tiny hips off set by wide shoulders and massive arms, Mentzer hit some jaw-dropping poses during his free posing routine. His legs were some of the best onstage with cords of thick muscle popping out of his thighs and his freaky calves bunched up and looking ready to explode. His triceps were hanging off the back of his arms covered in striations. Although more ripped than the previous year, Mentzer seemed a little flat when standing relaxed in the line-up. His striated pecs paled in comparison to Arnold’s massive chest.fz38

Frank Zane, the returning champion, was deeply tanned and sharply defined. His great structure and superior aesthetics set him apart from the rest of the competitors. Unfortunately, his muscular size was noticeably down from the year before. Standing relaxed, Zane was hard to beat. When he posed, especially from the side, he was lacking in thickness compared to the bigger bodybuilders.

Boyer Coe, five time Mr. Universe, was at his all-time best. Boyer had competed in the Mr. Olympia contest every year since 1976, dramatically improving his physique each year. In 1980, Boyer had exceeded his condition from the year before. Although his structure was a little blocky and lacked the beautiful aesthetics of Zane, Coe had perfected his posing to showcase his strong points and hide his weaknesses. He was incredibly ripped and his arm poses were some of the best onstage that night. Boyer’s posing routine at night to the theme song from the movie “Rocky” was one of the most inspiring routines in the show.

Roger Walker from Australia was the hometown favorite and got the most applause from the audience next to Arnold. Walker earned the applause by displaying a thick and ripped physique. Although a little blocky in the waist, Roger was as thick as any bodybuilder onstage and he was in shape! He wasn’t about to bow down to Schwarzenegger either, physically sparring with the legend during the rear double biceps comparison by bumping elbows with him.

Roy Callendar was another dark horse in the contest. Probably the thickest bodybuilder in the show, Callendar was also ripped and in the best condition of his life. Although slightly bow legged and possessing high calves, Roy was massive and cut and ready to upset some of the favorites in the show. His incredibly thick pecs and lats highlighted a physique that also featured razor sharp abs, huge arms and massive traps.

During the many comparisons at the prejudging, Arnold was the center of attention. At one point, he was standing slightly off to the side and out of the best lighting onstage. Franco Columbu, his most loyal friend and confidante, quickly walked onstage with a towel and whispered in Arnold’s ear that he needed to move over to be in the best light. Arnold raised Franco’s arm over his head and yelled, “Franco Columbu, Mr. Olympia!” to mask his unorthodox appearance onstage.

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After the prejudging was over, Arnold sought advice from his closest friends. He knew the contest was close and he felt a little out of place onstage after a five year absence. Joe Gold, the owner of World Gym, honestly told him the contest was very close and the top competitors were all in great shape. Franco confidently told him that he was going to win. Arnold was uncharacteristically nervous and unsure of the outcome. The cocky winner from “Pumping Iron” didn’t know how this movie would end.

The seven judges at the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest included Albert Busek from Germany, Brendan Ryan from Australia, Mike Walczak from the U.S.A., Mits Kawashima from the U.S.A, Reg Park from South Africa, Jacques Blommaert from Belgium and Dan Howard from the U.S.A. After the contest, it was pointed out by many of the competitors that several of the judges were close friends of Arnold. Busek was a close friend of Arnold from when Schwarzenegger lived in Germany. Park was Arnold’s idol as well as a close friend and mentor since he was 19 years old. Kawashima was another close friend from Hawaii who often brought Arnold to the Islands to guest pose.

In the first round (relaxed round), Arnold received the highest score (20) from 5 out of 7 judges. Only Jacques Blommaert and Dan Howard gave him an 18 and 19, respectively. Arnold’s total score of 99 was the best in the first round with Frank Zane in second with a total score of 97 followed by Dickerson in third with a 94. Mike Mentzerindexcatpxkky received a total of 92 (receiving varied scores of 20 from judge Walczak and 17 from Kawashima) and Boyer Coe got a 91.

The second round was the mandatory poses. Arnold scored a perfect 100 in this round with every judge except Blommaert giving him a 20 (the high and low scores are eliminated). Dickerson and Zane received mostly 19 and 20’s and tied with a total of 97. Mentzer and Roger Walker followed with totals of 94 each and Boyer Coe and Dennis Tinerino each scored a 93.

The third round took place at the evening show. Back in 1980, the free posing routines were not only judged but they were one third of the final score. After several hours of posing, many of the competitors looked better at night. Arnold had shed some of the subcutaneous water from the intense comparisons during the day.

Posing to the theme music from “Exodus”, Arnold relied on his standard “Arnold poses” to excite the audience and earn the approval from the judges. Hitting mostly arm poses with sweeping transitions between the poses, Schwarzenegger relied on the feedback from the audience when deciding what poses to hit and which ones to avoid.

Even though he looked better in the evening, Arnold only scored a total of 96 in the free posing round. Chris Dickerson, with his superb physique and incredible posing, scored an almost perfect 99. Frank Zane, posing to the music of Pink Floyd and hitting his trademark Zane poses, was second with a 97. Boyer Coe, with his rousing routine to the “Rocky” theme music, scored a 96 along with Roy Callendar and a past his prime (but still excellent poser) Ed Corney. Arnold only received a perfect 20 from judges Albert Busek and Brendan Ryan in the free posing round.

1980-comeback-1After three rounds of judging, Arnold Schwarzenegger was solidly in first place with a total score of 295, followed by Frank Zane with 291 and Chris Dickerson with 290. The rest of the field was trailing by a wider margin with Boyer Coe and Mike Mentzer tied in fourth place with a score of 280 and Roger Walker and Roy Callendar tied with a score of 277. After a special posedown between Walker and Callendar, Roger Walker was allowed the distinction of being allowed in the top six and was eligible to compete in the posedown among the top six competitors.

The posedown used the placement system instead of the points system. The seven judges would give a “1” to the bodybuilder they felt deserved first place. Those points would be added to the total scores before the final placings were announced. Five of the seven judges awarded Arnold an additional point, bringing his total score to a perfect 300. Only judges Jacques Blommaert and Dan Howard awarded first place to Dickerson, moving him up from third to second place.

Although Boyer Coe and Mike Mentzer were tied in fourth, Mentzer was given the fifth place award. Obviously infuriated and feeling he was the victim of “politics”, Mentzer exclaimed “Bullshit” when he was handed his award. Frank Zane reportedly threw his trophy against the wall backstage.

When Arnold was finally announced in first place as Dickerson walked onstage to accept the runner-up position, he jumped up and down off stage yelling, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!”. Many in the audience loudly booed the controversial decision. Arnold made a speech after being handed the Sandow trophy by Joe Weider, acknowledging how close the decision was. He brought his close friend Franco to the podium, thanking him for his help and support.

The bitter aftermath of the contest was felt by many of the competitors. Zane, the reigning champion, was devastated. Boyer Coe publicly said at a seminar after the contest that the winner of the 1980 Mr. Olympia “had legs that looked like they belonged in a chicken nest”. Roger Walker felt that Arnold acted like “an asshole” onstage. Mike Mentzer took the loss hardest of all. He never competed again in another bodybuilding contest, feeling like he gave this contest his all but was the victim of politics and conspiracy.

Many of the competitors vowed to boycott the Mr. Olympia the following year, including Zane, Coe, Mentzer, Walker and Dickerson. Only Dickerson would change his mind by finally deciding to enter the 1981 Mr. Olympia, which was again promoted by Schwarzenegger and Lorimar in Columbus, Ohio again. CBS Television spent lots of money traveling to Sydney, Australia to film the 1980 Mr. Olympia. After witnessing the controversial decision, they decided not to air the contest after all. The popular television show “60 Minutes” contemplated doing a story on the contest because of its unpopular outcome.

1980 olympia review hBill Pearl was scheduled to be one of the judges at the 1980 Mr. Olympia but he withdrew himself from the judging panel because he had helped prepare Chris Dickerson for the show. When asked where he would have placed Arnold, he quickly replied “Fifth”. Samir Bannout, a competitor at the 1980 Mr. Olympia, said Arnold was lucky to place in the top five, explaining that he was both small and soft for the contest.

Joe Gold and Franco Columbu, both good friends of Arnold, admitted that the contest was very close and Arnold was not at his best. However, they explained, he was good enough to win and many of the other top competitors all had their weak points too. George Butler, director of the film “Pumping Iron”, said the same thing. “Arnold has a quality about him that sets him apart from all the other competitors”, he explained. “Even when he’s not at his best, he’s still the best”.

In the end, the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest would go down in history as one of the most exciting and controversial bodybuilding contests in the history of the sport. Even today, more than 30 years after it took place, it is still highly debated and discussed on bodybuilding forums all over the world. Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course, went on to superstar status as one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Many of the bodybuilders involved in the contest no longer wish to discuss it, having moved on to better and more important things in their lives. For many of us fans, however, the controversy and discussions will never end about the 1980 Mr. Olympia.


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