Whatever it takes:
Of the 13 men to have won bodybuilding’s biggest prize, the Mr. Olympia title, the vast majority have, over its 50-year history, enjoyed repeat wins. In fact, only three competitors have claimed the title but once (Chris Dickerson, 1982, Samir Bannout, 1983, and Dexter Jackson, 2008) with the most Olympia champions maintaining their streak for three or more years.
Winning the Olympia takes many years of dedicated toiling in the training trenches. Before taking the title, many Olympia champions experience multiple losses only to emerge stronger on the back of such defeat. Pro veteran Dexter Jackson, for example, contested eight O’s before finally winning one. Eight-time Olympia champion, Ronnie Coleman, spent most of the 90s trying to win Olympia gold, often placing out of top ten as he steadily built the phenomenal physique that would catapult him to the top in 1998.
Four-time winner Jay Cutler similarly worked his way onto the winner’s podium via many years spent diligently chasing the champ (in Cutler’s case, Coleman).
It is often said that winning the Mr. Olympia title ranks among the most difficult of sporting feats. To turn professional, then to qualify for Olympia inclusion is an impossible task for most pro hopefuls. But almost all pros, top tier or otherwise, would place an Olympia win at the top of their bodybuilding to do list, such is the honor of claiming this most prodigious of titles. To win the Olympia distinguishes one as a true bodybuilding great; one of a few select competitors to have beaten the odds, to become a pro bodybuilding immortal.
So what does it take to win the Olympia title and, once secured, retain it for two or more years? Might the few men to have accomplished this monumental feat each possess a common range of winning attributes, traits that enable them to maintain the winning edge despite the constant threat of losing? Read on to find out.
Staying the course
To win and successfully defend the Olympia title takes great persistence and a near pathological degree of determination. Olympia winners have a strong faith in their ability to trump the field. They are not easily dissuaded and will do whatever it takes to wrest the coveted Sandow from the incumbent champ. To work diligently over long periods, sacrificing time and the freedom afforded the less dedicated, takes a champion mindset. All Olympia champions know what it takes to stay on top; they have discovered their personal formula for Olympia success. Provided they continue to consistently apply the effort needed to outhustle and outmuscle the competition, they can, in most cases, be assured victory.
A strong sense of self belief
From Scott to Heath, one distinguishing quality shared by all Olympia winners is extreme levels of self belief. The master of this essential winning attribute, Arnold Schwarzenegger, routinely predicted he would win the Olympia in convincing fashion; he positively radiated self belief and this trait was, among others, applied to winning seven Olympia titles. In tracing the ascent of Olympia winners, the one defining factor that shines through in the body language and speech of these champions is an overpowering determination to win. A rookie pro tagged for eventual
Olympia success will demonstrate a degree of confidence that perpetual prospects will never have.
Confidence, optimism and a strong belief in the inevitability of Olympia success are what all Olympia champions possess. Once achieved, an Olympia win may create a self-perpetuating wave of momentum that is applied to training, competing, and most importantly of all, may underpin the belief that continued success will ensue.
Winning the Olympia takes place in the gym and at the dinner table. Being the best bodybuilder on the planet may appear to be a glamorous proposition, if what we read in the magazines, and see come Olympia time, is anything to go by. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, competing in pro bodybuilding’s upper ranks demands an unwavering commitment to completing the many daily tasks necessary for edging out the competition.
Winning the Olympia against tough opposition takes the heightened level of focus which strengthens such a commitment.
Without a laser-like ability to concentrate on the task at hand and propensity for applying maximal effort in all aspects of pre competition preparation, an edge may be lost. When the competition is close (as it was in 2013, when Phil Heath ousted Kai Green by the slimmest of margins) as little as a one percent drop off in training intensity, or nutritional consistency, may mean the difference between first or second place. Top Olympians like modern day greats Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman and Phil Heath class bodybuilding as their business. Unlike most business interests, theirs is a 24/7 pursuit. While most would quickly tire of such a demanding schedule, true iron warriors seldom falter. The ability to stay focused for significantly long periods of time is what separates an Olympia winner from the many pretenders to the throne.
An unbreakable work ethic
A punishing schedule of intensive weight training, fat blasting cardio, and exhaustive posing practice (which, if done correctly, can be one of the most tiresome bodybuilding requirements of all) is not for the weak hearted or lazy-minded. All pro bodybuilding competitors have come to savor the pain which signifies Olympia-caliber gains. The best of these athletes are able to push that little bit harder, to garner the muscular edge such additional training intensity provides.
Olympia winners, as readily demonstrated in training videos, are borderline sadomasochistic to the extent to which they push themselves
when working out. Who can forget Arnold’s facial contortions as he cranked out rep after agonizing rep in the docudrama Pumping Iron, or Ronnie Coleman’s exhortation of ‘light weight baby’ when preparing to dumbbell row 200lbs with one arm? Indeed, an ability to outwork the opposition and to do it repeatedly without any excuses for failure or compromising on effort could be the most important winning attribute shared by our 13 Olympia victors.
A passion for the game
Without an underlying an enduring sense of satisfaction and enjoyment, the process of training for and contesting an event a big as the Olympia could not be sustained for very long. It is evident that each Olympia winner loved (and in the case of current champ Heath, loves) the challenge of training and the thrill of competition. Completing the difficult task of retaining the Olympia title could not be successfully navigated with indifference or apathy. One does not switch off between Olympia wins; every minute of every day is planned so as to ensure a replication of the last winning performance. Such a monastic schedule must necessarily provide high levels of enjoyment. Question any multi-Olympia-winning champ on how they were able to stay committed to retaining their title and, chances are, they will tell you of their love for the process. Winning the Olympia and retaining it could be considered a formality brought about through diligent effort and, above all, a competitor’s love of the game.
Only the best need apply
Olympia wins are not always claimed by those with superior muscle building genetics and high level aesthetics. Rather, it is the competitor who can consistently apply themselves to doing whatever it takes to unseat the champ; those who possess persistently high levels of self belief; athletes who are willing to outwork the opposition and who have chosen to devote their life to repeatedly securing Olympia gold, all the while enjoying a process that would break lesser men. These are the worthy few who will forever be immortalized as Olympia winners.