The First Mr. Olympia

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It all began in April 1965 in a Joe Weider magazine…

Sick and tired of conversations about who was the greatest bodybuilder, Weider had decided to create a competition pitting champions from around the World against each other. In the same year that the iconic Gold’s Gym opened, Weider’s ‘Mr. Olympia’ would see A Mr. Universe, Mr. World and Mr. America pose, flex and tense in front of thousands of fans to determine the best that Bodybuilding had to offer.

Why create a new tournament?

So what motivated Joe Weider and his brother Ben Weider to create a new bodybuilding competition? Were their motivations driven by altruism or greed? In this case, probably both…

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From Sandow’s Great Competition in 1901, Bodybuilding Competitions began popping up around the world

The first half of the 20th century had seen the growth of dozens of bodybuilding competitions. In this vast ocean of local, regional and international competitions, three Titles soon became the most coveted. Those being the Mr. Universe, Mr. World and Mr. America. The problem was that because these competitions were often held at different times of the year, in different locations and with different rules, it was rare for a Champion to hold all three titles. For instance in 1965, Sergio Oliva was Mr. World, Dave Draper Mr. America and Earl Maynard Mr. Universe. In much the same way that professional boxing had suffered from the fact that numerous champions can exist in the same weight class, people began to suggest that without an undisputed Champion, bodybuilding as a sport would suffer.

To make matters worse, champions couldn’t defend their titles. Once you had become Mr. America, you could no longer compete in the competition again. A rule that clearly irked Joe Weider. Writing in Muscle Builder magazine in April 1965, Weider compared Larry Scott who at the age of 24 had won every possible title available to Alexander the Great, who said at the age of 33 that there was nothing left for him to conquer.

In Joe’s eyes, the same went for all other former champions such as as Harald Poole, Bill Pearl, Reg Park and Chuck Sipes among others. Welder’s competition would therefore allow former Mr. Universe, Mr. World and Mr. Americas’ to compete against one another to determine who had the best physique. It gave bodybuilder’s one more crown to fight for and fans one more event to attend. In many ways it was a win win.

But bodybuilding, as we all know, is a business.

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A business that the Weiders desperately wanted to dominate. Remember that in the 1960s, the Weiders’ company was far from the multimillion dollar giant it is today. They were one of many companies, each struggling to outdo the other. In an attempt to gain the upper hand, the Weiders hoped that by creating, supporting and promoting a new competition aimed at finding the best bodybuilder that they would, by association, become the most influential men in the sport. Coupled with this, Larry Scott was one of the most popular bodybuilders the sport had seen at that point, and as a Weider man, his inability to compete in anymore competitions would hurt the Weiders’ bottom line. Larry had to compete in a new tournament, funded and organised entirely by the Weiders. It was a risky decision but one, as we now know, paid off quite handsomely for them.

Just think about the modern bodybuilding climate. For all the IFBB competitions, Arnold Championships, NABBA Championships and so on, fans of the sport all converge on the Mr. Olympia as it has become ‘THE’ bodybuilding event of the year. Buying into Weider propaganda, the Mr. Olympia is the bodybuilding equivalent of the Super Bowl.

Who competed in the first Mr. Olympia?

Unfortunately for fans of the sport, the first Mr. Olympia did not get off to the best start. For reasons extending beyond the scope of this article, two of the biggest names in bodybuilding at that time, Bill Pearl and Reg Park declined the invitation to compete in the September competition. It was a blow to the Weiders but regardless they pushed on, securing the signatures of Larry Scott, Harold Poole and Earl Maynard among others.

Held at the end of that year’s IFBB competition, the first ever Mr. Olympia did not disappoint. Indeed, those lucky enough to get tickets to the event, held in the Brooklyn Academy of Music in September 1965, were treated to one of the most electrifying atmospheres a bodybuilding contest has ever witnessed. Reports from the night show as much:

As each man stepped into the light he received a tremendous ovation. But even before Larry Scott came out, the fans chimed: “We want Scott … we want Scott!”

As soon as he stepped out of the wings, the auditorium exploded with thunderous applause. It was deafening … a roar … and flashbulbs flooded the stage with so much light that it seemed as if the sun had rose.

The roar became a deafening hum and the floor actually trembled from the pounding of feet. The crowd went wild – mad with excitement and enthusiasm.

In recent memory I cannot think of a comparable atmosphere at a Mr. Olympia competition and perhaps unsurprisingly given the crowd’s reactions, Larry Scott was crowned the first ever Mr. Olympia. Collecting a cash prize of $1,000 and a crown (the iconic Sandow trophy wasn’t awarded until much later), Scott cemented his place as a bodybuilding legend.

Returning to the competition report we read that

… It was clear that Scott was the winner – that he had been unanimously declared the world’s greatest bodybuilder … the first of the great bodybuilders – the first MR. OLYMPIA.When the beautiful jeweled crown was awarded to Scott, the fans were numb – but they still cheered. And after several hundred more photographs were taken, the curtain slowly closed – only to end another annual IFBB spectacular

Snapped into reality again by the houselights, the fans rushed into the streets and surrounded the Academy. It was a sea of people – and as each contestant left the theatre that night, each was greeted with a round of applause and cheers. Several contestants were tossed onto the shoulders of enthusiastic well-wishers – as they triumphantly marched them through the streets. And until 2 AM and later, hundreds were still outside – waiting for the great Scott.

Think this report is exaggerated? Believe us … we couldn’t begin to express on paper the excitement you missed if you were not there.

When the tallying had been completed, the results were as follows:

1st Place and Inaugural Mr. Olympia – Larry Scott

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2nd Place – Harold Poole

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3rd Place – Earl Maynard 

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Aftermath 

With Larry Scott as the inaugural Mr. Olympia, fans of the sport saw Scott scoop the Crown for the second time in 1966. Upon winning the Mr. Olympia for the second time, Scott retired at the age of 28, content that he had done all that he could in the sport. Fans still maintain that Scott had one of the best physiques the Olympia has ever seen. Looking at the footage below, it’s easy to see why.

With Scott out of the picture, the world of bodybuilding would soon see the emerge of a golden age containing the likes of Oliva, Arnold, Zane, Mentzer and countless others. The inaugural competition the Weiders created in 1965 would become the hottest title in bodybuilding in less than a decade.

Remarkable to think it all began in the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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