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Who Are We to Say?

For them, setting the goal of getting in the best shape they could and competing in a contest helped them focus on something positive and gave them a clear target.

Ronnie ColemanRecent interviews with eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman have revealed his intention to keep competing despite his gradual downward tumble in placings at his last two appearances on the Olympia stage. That announcement from the man who dominated pro bodybuilding for close to a decade sparked a firestorm of debate from those who felt Big Ron needs to hang up his posing trunks and move on with his life. 

The consensus is that any future contest outings that Coleman fails to win will only serve to tarnish his legend. Lee Haney, the only other eight-time Mr. Olympia, left the sport undefeated and in his prime. His successor, Dorian Yates, bowed out after six Sandows with the understanding that the multiple muscle tears he’d incurred throughout his reign would make future title defenses futile. 

Meanwhile, Ronnie shows obvious signs of wear and tear, most notably in his withered left lat and triceps. Ronnie, however, is adamant in stating that he simply loves to compete, regardless of whether his days of dominating lineups are over.

Well, really, who are we to tell Ronnie to stay retired? 

That brings to mind something I’ve seen many times at bodybuilding contests, all the way from the local level to the national level. Often there’s at least one competitor who looks completely out of place, lacking the muscle size, condition or structure of the others. Audience members—and, far more often these days, anonymous online posters—scold those athletes for daring to get onstage among “superior” physiques. 

There’s usually a story behind each of those people, and I’ve talked to a number of them. Some are mentally or physically handicapped, some were extremely out of shape for many years, and others have been though a traumatic life experience, such as the death of a loved one. For them, setting the goal of getting in the best shape they could and competing in a contest helped them focus on something positive and gave them a clear target. 

You never know if the guy with blurry abs and smooth legs used to weigh 400 pounds or if the woman with hardly any muscle mass is a cancer survivor. Plus, if the only people who competed were the ones who had a serious chance of winning the overall, there would be very few athletes, and our sport would be even smaller than it already is. 

So whether we’re talking about Ronnie Coleman or the guy at your gym who doesn’t seem to be all there, nobody has the right to say that person should not compete. Ultimately, that’s his or her choice and his or hers alone. In my first contests back in 1989, I didn’t really belong up there, yet I gained valuable experience and motivation that enabled me to improve each time I competed again. 

Bodybuilding is the ultimate individual sport. If you love it, no one can or should tell you that it’s not for you.

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at

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