Category: Biographies

Bobby Pandour: The Mysterious Muscle Man

Wladyslaw Kurcharczyk, or ‘Bobby Pandour’ is one of the most fascinating physical culturists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A gymnast by trade who published little in the way of training material, Pandour […]

The Life and Times of Professor Dowd

Born in Nelson Flats, New York, in 1854 Dowd was, if his own accounts and obituaries are to be believed, a somewhat unathletic child in his youth. Writing some decades after Dowd’s passing, W.A. Pullum, a renowned British physical culturist, claimed that Dowd “showed nothing in his youth to indicate that destiny marked him out to become one day a great physical culture figure.” Pullum went on to claim that while Dowd did not suffer from any serious illness, his physique, according to his peers was “rather on the meagre side.”[i] This idea of the young weakling was, as explained by Ana Carden-Coyne, a common trope in health biographies.[ii] By disclosing one’s own personal shortcomings during a previous stage in their lives, health entrepreneurs could advertise their miraculous transformation using a specific dietary protocol or workout. The most dramatic example of this was of course Charles Atlas who, during the 1930s and 1940s, advertised using his now famous “Insult that made a man of Mac” comic strips.[iii]

Ireland’s First Bodybuilding Show

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Since beginning my study of physical culture several years ago, I have been fascinated by  the extent of Irish physical culture. Part of the British Empire in the early twentieth century, Ireland was very much influenced by the broader spread of physical culture in Great Britain. So close were the two regions that the Irish physical culture industry was largely predicated on what was happening in Britain, but more specifically, in London.

Thus in the late 1890s and early 1900s numerous Irishmen, of all age ranges, began writing in to British physical culture periodicals seeking advice, support and kudos for their interest in purposeful exercise. Without simplifying things too much, Irish physical culture at this time was very much a poor imitation of broader British developments. When a British Amateur Weightlifting Association was founded in the early 1900s, a smaller Irish branch was opened the same year. Where Britain had physical culture magazines, Ireland had physical culture newspaper columns. What Britain did, Ireland followed and this extended to bodybuilding competitions.

A Drug Free Mr. Olympia? The Strange Case of the 1990 Mr. Olympia

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Bodybuilding, at a professional level, is a sport fuelled by anabolic steroids. This is not to take anything away from the competitors themselves, but is rather an acknowledgment that those at the elite level often resort to chemical means in order to further push the limits of human strength and muscularity. Certainly the Mr. Olympia competition, the Super Bowl of the bodybuilding calendar, has always been an arena for the freakish and dedicated to flex their muscles in search of the big prize.

That Mr. Olympias have used anabolic steroids should come as a surprise to no one. Heck even Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to dabbling with steroids during his political career despite the negative reaction this risk. This preamble is my way of saying that the idea of a drug tested Mr. Olympia is strange. Yes, we have natural bodybuilding shows but elite, professional, non-tested shows have always proven the most popular form of competition.

With this in mind, today’s post looks at the one moment when the Mr. Olympia contest introduced an explicit drug testing protocol which, it was hoped, would stem the tide of drug abuse within the sport. Examining why this came to be, we’re going to look at the background to the Mr. Olympia, the event itself and the consequences of a drug free Mr. Olympia. In case you’re wondering, it went about as well as you could have imagined!

Wrestling and Weightlifting: The WWF and Fitness in the 1980s

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I’ll admit it, although born in the early 1990s, I was a Hulkamaniac. Aside from growing up during the WWF attitude era, where individuals like Triple H, The Rock, Mark Henry and Stone Cold were living embodiments of strength, I regularly went through back catalogues of old wrestling shows. There I’d see Jimmy Superfly Snuka’s iconic finishes, Jimmy Hart’s unmatched smack talk and everything weird and wonderful that wrestling offered from the 1980s onwards. I, like many others, was enthralled by the athleticism of the wrestlers. I suspect that my initial interest in training came from my love of wrestling where the heels and the babyfaces sported muscular bodies in equal measure. In that vein, today’s post examines the WWF’s crossovers into health and fitness in the 1980s.

P.H. Clias: An Early Pioneer

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This website has, at time of writing, been operating for a little over six years. When I began Physical Culture Study my intent was to shed some light on the weird and wonderful of the fitness industry. Little did I know at the time of all the things I could write on!

Somewhat shamefully it’s dawned on me that I have tended to neglect the early pioneers in the fitness industry, the men and women from the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century who helped to create, normalise and promote, the practice of moving the body and building muscles.

The object of today’s post, Phokion Heinrich Clias, is one such individual. Born in the United States, Clias moved to Switzerland before travelling around England and France preaching the gospel of gymnastics in the first half of the nineteenth century. Here we are going to discuss his life and, more importantly, his legacy.

The Amazing Physique Of A. Schwarzenegger & How He Developed It (1967 Article)

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Published in Iron Man Magazine in 1967 by Arnold’s friend Albert Busek, the following article details Arnold’s rise to fame alongside his working routine of the time. A fine biography and reminder that even during the 60s, people marvelled at the Austrian’s successes.

JUST a short year ago his name was still generally unknown, but on October 30, 1965, in Stuttgart, his meteoric rise to international fame began.

However, let us review his story from the very beginning. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947, the son of police inspector Gustav Schwarzenegger and his wife, Aurelia. As a child he was taken along by his father to curling contests, and very soon the desire to emulate his father’s interest in sports awakened in him. At the same time he realised that that wouldn’t be a very easy thing to do, for his father was – and still is – an outstanding sportsman. Among other things, his father was the European title holder in distance curling, and several times he won awards as state champion in gymnastics and calisthenics. In his early efforts to achieve distinction in athletics, Arnold had to content himself with a merely average performance, and was very disappointed in this result. That happened in February, 1962, at the Graz City Championship in Distance Curling for Juniors. Arnold only won sixth place. For the son of a well-known sportsman that was naturally an unfortunate start, but Arnold was simply too weak to assert himself against the best performers. Thus, for the moment, his drive to reach the top came to a sudden halt.

A Brief History of Strongman

Strength sports, as an endeavour, are simultaneously a modern, and pre-modern, sport. Accounts of men engaging in contests date back to the Chinese practice of lifting heavy stones and cauldrons in 6000 BC (Hai-sheng, 2012). Likewise, Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, among other regions, had strength cultures (Crowther, 2007). That withstanding, strength contests and feats, like Hafþór’s deadlift, trace their immediate history to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when ‘physical culture’ emerged as a new recreational movement. Defined by Michael Anton Budd as a late nineteenth and early twentieth century phenomenon concerned with the ‘ideological and commercial cultivation’ of the body, physical culture marked the beginning of mass gym cultures (Budd, 1997). Originating in Europe and spreading to the United States, physical culturists included strongmen and women who routinely competed against one another for prestige and popularity.

Charles Gaines, ‘Cutting Some Fancy Figures, Sports Illustrated, 10 July (1972).

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Outside the auditorium, or Pavilion, as it’s called, it is a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at the Mountain Park amusement center in Holyoke, Mass. A roller coaster clatters up and down a wooden trestle. Children fly around in little whirly things that look like boats with wings. There are clam bars, pizza stands, dart throws, cotton-candy booths, a commando machine-gun stall. The sky is raucous blue, the sun is hot and a lot of people are laughing. Outside Mountain Park, on all sides, stretches Holyoke suburbia, big homes and fine lawns that make the place feel mischievous and isolated, an island of gaudery in the midst of all that yawning green. Especially today. Today in the Pavilion a body contest is going on, a “Festival of Flesh”—maybe the gaudiest of all sporting events and strange as a llama race to the average suburban fan. Leon Brown, who works in a laundry in New York, is in there posing for the 1972 Mr. East Coast title.