Some of the wording and facts of this article came from Joe Roark, the IFBB Men's Historian; Wayne DeMilia, former IFBB Chairman, and a variety of other sources.
It all started on September 18, 1965. The crowd at the Brooklyn Academy of Music waited at the edge of their seats, screaming in anticipation. They clapped their hands, stomped their feet and yelled as loud as their lungs would allow for the blond superstar from California with arms too big to believe. The man they were waiting for was the legendary Larry Scott.
Larry Scott was the bodybuilding superstar of his day, but by 1963 there were no more contests for him to conquer. Scott had already won the Mr. America, Mr. World and Mr. Universe titles; there was little left for him to prove. Scott already had a houseful of trophies and plaques. He felt it was time to move on from bodybuilding.
Joe Weider recognized the need to keep Larry Scott in bodybuilding and the necessity to force the sport to grow. He created the Mr. Olympia contest to keep all the great Mr. Universe champions active in the sport and to give them the opportunity to earn money from competing.
Larry Scott won the first Mr. Olympia contest that hot September night in 1965 and repeated his win again in 1966. He then announced his retirement and the 1967 crown was up for grabs.
In 1967, Sergio Oliva (commonly known as "The Myth") won the third Mr. Olympia contest in overpowering fashion. People wondered how much better Sergio could get. But better he was! In fact, he was so much better that he won the 1968 Mr. Olympia unopposed.
The greatest challenge to Sergio was waiting in the wings and 1969 was to be the year of the biggest rivalry in the history of bodybuilding. Oliva was challenged by a young Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a close battle, Sergio came out on top in 1969. He was now Mr. Olympia three years in a row, but Arnold promised that Sergio would never defeat him again.
Both men trained hard for the following year and in September of 1970, Arnold edged out Sergio to become the third man to hold the Mr. Olympia title. He'd said he would hold the title until he retired and that he would never be beaten again.
Arnold took the title unopposed in 1971. For the first time, the show was held outside of New York. The Mr. Olympia contest was held in Paris on the same day the NABBA Universe was being held in London. Arnold, with his loyalty 100% behind the IFBB, competed in the Mr. Olympia while other great champions of that year chose to avoid Arnold and compete in the NABBA competition.
In 1972, the Olympia moved to Essen, Germany, were it hosted another epic battle between Sergio and Arnold. Even today, more than 20 years later, people still argue over whom should have won. The decision was made by seven judges and, by a four to three vote, Arnold held on to his Mr. Olympia title.
In 1973, the contest moved back to New York, and the Big Apple saw Arnold take the title for the fourth consecutive year with a victory over Franco Columbu and Serge Nubret. Most people felt it was an easy win for Arnold, but a huge challenge awaited him for the following year - the emergence of Lou Ferrigno on the pro scene.
Standing 6'5" and weighing 270 pounds, Lou was the largest competitor that Arnold had ever faced. The show was held in New York at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden. Arnold again showed his dominance and won the title for a fifth time, but rumors started to circulate that he was thinking of retiring.
The Mr. Olympia moved to South Africa in 1975, forever preserved on film in Pumping Iron. Most people close to Arnold feel the only reason he competed in 1975 was because the contest was being filmed and it could possibly aid in kicking off his film career. Arnold won the contest easily and immediately announced his retirement.
In 1976, the contest moved to Columbus, Ohio, with Arnold serving as promoter along with Jim Lorimer. Franco Columbu finally won the Mr. Olympia title after trying for more than five years. It was not an easy victory, he won by only an eyelash over Frank Zane. After the contest, Columbu announced his retirement while Zane immediately started training for the next year.
The next year, 1977, turned out to be the year of Zane. Frank had promoted himself that way for the 12 months leading up to the contest. He came to Columbus ripped and ready. He felt that no one could match his muscle density and he was right.
Almost like an instant replay, the 1978 show was again held in Columbus and Frank Zane walked away with the title.
In 1979, Zane made it three in a row. Could he go on forever? Would he challenge Arnold's record of six Olympias in a row? Zane seemed unbeatable, but 1980 would prove to be the most controversial Olympia in history.
In 1980, the contest was held in Australia. The field of competitors was the largest to date (16), but it was the comeback of one that made the story. Many in the sport had seen Arnold training for weeks before the 1980 Mr. Olympia, but most felt in was for a movie. When Arnold boarded the plane for Australia with the other competitors, they thought he was going to do the TV commentary. Even at the contestants meeting, they thought that he was there because he was an IFBB promoter and official. It dawned on them that he was there to compete when his name was called and he selected a competitor number. Arnold won the Mr. Olympia title for a seventh time in 1980, but to this day, many people still wonder why he came back. Some observers at the time said the judging, as well as the location, was 'down under'.
In 1981, Arnold switched back to being a promoter with Jim Lorimer and the contest was again held in Columbus. Not to be outdone by his famous friend, Franco Columbu staged a comeback himself and won the 1981 title in a tight contest of 16 contestants. Once again, just as the in the previous year's show, the result was a bit shocking to many in attendance. Franco had done a fine job of rehabilitating himself after a terrible accident he had suffered during a strong man demonstration, but he was definitely not the Franco of old and yet he still "beat" a lineup that included, among others, a phenomenal looking Tom Platz and a shockingly ripped and huge Danny Padilla.
In 1982, London, England, hosted the show for the first time. Chris Dickerson won the title, after having finished second the two previous years, and became the oldest man ever (at age 43) to take home the Sandow. After winning, he announced his retirement while still onstage.
The contest returned to Germany in 1983, but this time to Munich, where the Lion of Lebanon won it, Samir Bannout. He fought off tough challenges from Mohammed Makkawy from Egypt and newcomer Lee Haney from the USA. Samir had what it took to be a dominant champion, but no one foresaw the determination of Haney.
In 1984, the event moved back to New York City's Felt Forum, where it had the highest attendance for the finals (5,000), the highest attendance for prejudging (4,000) and the largest amount of total prize money ($100,000) for any Olympia up to that time. It also featured the largest Mr. Olympia winner, Lee Haney. Haney won weighing 247 pounds at a height of 5'11". He was big, cut and unbeatable.
In 1985, the show was held in Belgium for the first time. Haney was dominant again, fishing off the challenges of Albert Beckles and Rich Gaspari. It was now two and counting for Lee. Many people feel that the Lee Haney onstage in 1986 in Columbus may have been the greatest Mr. Olympia ever. Lee took his third straight crown and began setting his sights on Arnold's record.
In 1987, the Mr. Olympia contest moved to Sweden, but the first place result was the same. Haney was head and shoulders above all the others. He had now won four in a row and Arnold's record was definitely within his reach.
In 1988, Los Angeles was the host city of the Olympia. 6,000 people came to see if Lee Haney could continue in his quest of becoming the greatest Mr. Olympia ever. They jammed into the Universal Amphitheater. With prize money at its highest level, $150,000, Haney again won easily, making it five straight times. For the third year in a row, Rich Gaspari placed second.
The next year brought the Mr. Olympia to Rimini, Italy, on the beautiful Adriatic coast. This would prove to be Haney's toughest defense, as he has to fight of the challenges of Lee Labrada and Vince Taylor. For the first time, people doubted Haney's dominance and many people said that he was lucky to win, but win he did, and in doing so he tied Arnold's record of six consecutive Mr. Olympia victories.
In 1990, 4,400 people packed Chicago's Arie Crown Theater. The prize money hit $200,000 for the first time as Haney tried to make in seven in a row. If 1989 was tough for Haney, 1990 was the year he almost lost. After two rounds, he was behind by two points, but he rallied in the posing round and posedown to beat Lee Labrada and Shawn Ray. Haney now had seven consecutive Mr. Olympia titles.
Orlando, Florida, was the site of the 1991 Mr. Olympia. Haney was going for eight in a row, but for the first time he was up against a man who was the same height (5'11") and weight (245 pounds) in Dorian Yates, the Beast from Britain. Four points separated them after two rounds, but Haney pulled away in rounds three and four to seize his eighth championship in a row.
In 1992, the Mr. Olympia contest moved to Helsinki, Finland. A new Mr. Olympia would be crowned that year because Lee Haney had decided to retire after a record setting eight consecutive victories. The contest was close after the first round between the U.S. National champion of 1991, Kevin Levrone, and the 1991 Mr. Olympia runner up, Dorian Yates. After the first round, Yates started pulling away and won in convincing fashion. A new Mr. Olympia was crowned, but did a new era begin?
Nothing could stop the amazing Yates in 1993 as he rocketed the scales at a record 257 pounds in Atlanta. Even runner-up Flex Wheeler called him "untouchable". Yates certainly seemed set for a long reign in the manner of other great Mr. Olympias.
The Brit endured a horrendous year in 1994. In early March, he severely damaged his left rotator cuff, and then later on the month, he tore his left quad. He battled his way through, but with the Olympia less then nine weeks away, he tore his left biceps. Even that injury could not end Yates' Olympia dream. He duly arrived in Atlanta to take his third Sandow statue, but questions were raised as to what was previously thought to be his invincibility.
He returned to Atlanta in 1995 to score a straight firsts victory in what many rate his best ever form. Kevin Levrone hulked into second place and a new threat emerged in his sport in the 270 pound shape of Nasser El Sonbaty. Not that Yates was the only Mr. O onstage that night, as in a unique ceremony, for the first time ever, all nine men who had so far won the Olympia crown assembled onstage to pay homage to the contest's creator, Joe Weider.
In 1996, after a three-year tenure, the Olympia left Atlanta and moved to Chicago. In the Windy City, Yates, more streamlined than ever before, cruised to victory, closely followed by Shawn Ray and Kevin Levrone. It was the Brit's fifth victory, and, as in 1994, doubts about his invincibility began to surface.
In 1997, the Mr. Olympia road show arrived in Long Beach, Calfiornia to celebrate the 33rd year of bodybuilding's ultimate contest. The total prize money was $285,000, first place was worth $110,000. Dorian Yates was now going for six Olympia titles in a row. It was a hard fought contest. Nasser El Sonbaty came in at his best condition to date and pushed Dorian hard, but in the end, once again, in a very close race, Dorian succeeded for the sixth time as Mr. Olympia. Some felt that Nasser was better, and had been cheated out of a victory. With Dorian announcing, moments after winning the contest, that he would be back to get a seventh title in 1998, it set up an interesting confrontation. What most people did not know is that Dorian had suffered a torn triceps a few months before the show, and had said nothing about it and competed anyway.
1998 arrived and Dorian decided, after surgery to repair the torn triceps, not to compete in that year's Mr. Olympia in New York. This would be one exciting show, with a guaranteed new winner! Ronnie Coleman became the latest Mr. Olympia. His fellow competitors sportingly congratulated the cop from Texas on his narrow victory, but privately they knew they had blown an opportunity to go down in history. Afterward, debate raged whether Coleman's victory was a one-time affair, or the beginning of a new Mr. O dynasty. Not since Samir Bannout in 1983 had there been a one year Mr. Olympia. Haney has won eight in a row, Yates six. Would Coleman flash and fizzle or solidify his grip on power?
The answer came the following year in Las Vegas. Seventeen athletes took the stage, with Coleman and Flex Wheeler locked in a close battle. Wheeler had done his homework, but the reigning Mr. Olympia would leave no doubters this night. Chris Cormier placed 3rd, with his best physique ever. Ronnie proved to the world that he was the Mr. Olympia king! He was even bigger than he had been the previous year, and his sparkling condition held throughout. He won his second consecutive title.
On October 21, 2000, Coleman took another step toward placing his name among the greatest of them all by winning his 3rd consecutive Mr. Olympia title. Challenges came from Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone, but incredibly, Ronnie was even bigger then he was in the past Mr. Olympias. Ronnie was untouchable.
On October 27, 2001, Jay Cutler captured the first two rounds of the Mr. Olympia. During the evening show, Ronnie won both rounds, and beat Jay by only six points.
On October 19, 2002, Ronnie Coleman again won the show, but controversy erupted as Kevin Levrone won both the evening rounds, while Gunter Schlierkamp came from out of nowhere to become one of the crowd favorites of the night.
In 2003, there was no doubt that Ronnie Coleman was the clear-cut winner. He looked inhuman. Three months before the Olympia, the talk was that this year's show would be the greatest ever, with Gunter Schlierkamp, Chris Cormier and Jay Cutler having a good chance of taking away the title from Ronnie. It didn't happen. A few days before the big show, Chris Cormier pulled out (although he was a commentator on the pay per view, and Gunter faded into 5th place. But the night was Ronnie's. Whatever doubt people had was dispelled as soon as Ronnie got on stage. He is in his best shape ever, at 39 years old.
In 2004, with a change in the direction and promotion, as AMI took over from Wayne DeMilia, a new 'Challenge' round was introduced instead of the usual 4th posedown round. Ronnie Coleman looked dominant and inspiring, and no one could catch him at all this time, like the previous year, he was unbeatable. Second place went to Jay Cutler, and third went to Dexter Jackson - well, not exactly, because even though Dexter was a solid third after the 3rd round, all scores were erased in the 'new' 4th round, and Dexter lost by one point in a stunning upset to Gustavo Badell, who took 3rd that year!!!
Next year, 2005, at the Orleans Hotel, Coleman won once again. Ronnie was 41 years old. Second place went to Jay Cutler.
In 2006 Jay Cutler finally took the title. In 2007 Jay repeated his victory.
In 2008 Dexter Jackson took home the Sandow for the first time.
In 2009 Jay Cutler became the first man to have lost the title and then regain it by winning his third Sandow. Jay returned the next year, in 2010, and claimed his fourth win!
In 2011 Phil Heath took home the Sandow in Las Vegas. He came back in 2012 and won again!