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Decades of Strength | The History of the Mr. Olympia Competition

Decades of Strength | The History of the Mr. Olympia Competition

In the world of competitive bodybuilding, physique athletes, bikini competitors and sweltering strongmen lies a reputable event acknowledged by fitness enthusiasts around the globe: The Mr. Olympia. Occurring once a year in the infamous city of Las Vegas, the Olympia is now an annual mecca of all things fitness – everything from bodybuilding competitions to supplement expos to fitness gear to athlete meet-and-greets can be found at this muscle-bound event. But just how did it get started? In this article, we will delve into the brawny history of what has become a fitness enthusiast’s cultural capitol.


Musician.. Or Bodybuilder?

history of mr olympia

When people think of bodybuilders, musicians typically do not come to mind. This, however, is the where the Olympia competition (and bodybuilding in its entirety) found its birth. Enter Eugene Sandow, above, the music-hall-maestro turned strongman. Eventually being regarded as the original bodybuilder, Sandow abandoned his career in the music halls of Brooklyn in order to pursue a physique of the gods. At one point considered the most popular man in the world because of his photogenic physique, Sandow literally brought bodybuilding into the world (inventing barbells, dumbbells and weighted plates in the process), establishing it as a prominent sport on the rise at the time of his death in 1925.


The First Mr Olympia

history of mr olympiaFlash forward forty years to the same music hall. It was then, on September 18th of 1965 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that Larry Scott was crowned the first-ever Mr. Olympia. Following up the next year by winning the same title, Scott became the original precedence of what an Olympian had to be. The organized event itself, construed by the now-infamous Joe Weider, was created in order to sustain and improve bodybuilding’s ever-steady rise to popularity. Through such a competition, competitive bodybuilders were given a reason to continually improve their physiques and seek paid sponsorships from outside companies and organizations – much like the other professional athletes of the day. What Weider had instituted would soon become what every brawny bulker could ever dream to become a part of.

In the wake of Larry Scott, an annual Mr. Olympia was crowned to prolong the existence of such a competition. Garnered by many repeating holders, the Olympia has crowned several famous folk throughout the years, including legendary names such as Ronnie Coleman, Franco Columbu, Jay Cutler, Lee Haney, Phil Heath, Sergio Oliva, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian Yates and Frank Zane. Each year new competitors join the game, and the physiques have only continued to get bigger, harder, leaner and stronger.


Mr. Olympia’s New Home

history of mr olympiaAfter many years of international relocations, the Mr. Olympia competition finally settled in Las Vegas in 1999 with the second-year win from newcomer Ronnie Coleman. Up until the present day the contest has found its home in Sin City, with its reprise soon occurring on September 17th-20th, 2015. In more recent years the event has transitioned from a single event into an expo of sorts, introducing the Ms. Olympia in 1980, the Fitness Olympia in 1995, the Figure Olympia in 2003, and both the Men’s & Women’s Physique Olympias in 2013. In addition to these extra competitions within the Mr. Olympia weekend, the event has also introduced an entire supplement expo floor that features sales, samples and sponsored athletes representing a plethora of brands from across the globe (be sure to stop by the Myprotein booth this year and say “hi!”). How’s that for a motivational fitness convention?


The Growth of Olympia and the Fitness Industry

history of mr olympia

As can be clearly seen, the rise of the Mr. Olympia competition has grown in correspondence with bodybuilding and fitness as a whole. From the days before striated glutes & sub-5% bodyfat were attainable concepts to the modern era where professional & recreational competitors can be found in any given gym, bodybuilding has gained substantial ground over the past century and is only continuing to grow (just like our muscles)! Whether they intend to compete or simply just admire the aesthetics of their peers, every fitness enthusiast should strive to make their pilgrimage to the athletic mecca that is the Mr. Olympia expo at least once in their lives – the motivation from attending will FUEL YOUR AMBITION like none other!



Jacob Masters

Jacob Masters

Writer and expert


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