Like all sporting events which attract colorful characters and promote long-running rivalries and intensive competition among high caliber athletes, Mr. Olympia has seen its share of controversial moments. Indeed, by virtue of its few debatable decisions, and the questionable antics (and inclusion) of several of its high profile contenders, the Olympia has often been publicized for all the wrong reasons.
An extra quad striation, a better tan, or a superior posing routine can mean the difference between winning and losing the Mr. Olympia title. As such, competitors are expected to bring perfection – the “complete package” – and an extreme level of conditioning that most would admit is not healthy. Such is the price to be paid to secure one’s legacy as the best of the best. Further, because the competition among competitors is so close and the judging criteria often subjective, Olympia decisions are frequently debated among fans and insiders alike.
#5: Flex Wheeler Attacked By Ninjas!
On the eve of the 1997 Mr. Olympia, most felt the perennially on-form, reigning Arnold Classic champion Flex Wheeler would soundly defeat the past-his-prime five-time Olympia champ, Dorian Yates. A belief that was quickly turned on its head 48 hours out from the big event when the Sultan of Symmetry Wheeler, with left forearm and hand bandaged, claimed he had been the victim of an unsuccessful carjacking at the hands of nunchaku and gun-wielding assailants.
Though he claimed to have trounced his attackers with his formidable martial arts skills, Wheeler, a Tae Kwon Do black belt, admitted to suffering enough injuries to exclude him from the competition, a story few people bought. It has since been speculated that Wheeler was off his usual peak form and did not wish to pull out of the 1997 Olympia race due to conditioning reasons, hence the elaborately concocted carjacking story.
#4: Jay Cutler Threatens Ronnie’s Reign
The year was 2001 and Jay Cutler (who placed 8th in 2000) was considered by many to be yet another blocky behemoth that would, at best, eventually work his way into the Olympia top six, but not challenge for the title. Apparently someone forgot to tell Jay. So impressive was his 2001 showing that he came extremely close to unseating the widely considered invincible three-time Olympia champion Ronnie Coleman. In fact, so good was Cutler that many onlookers felt him to be the rightful 2001 Mr. Olympia champ. This controversial decision turned out to be a blessing (for the fans, not Cutler!) as it signaled one of the biggest rivalries in pro bodybuilding history, and foreshadowed many epic Cutler/Coleman battles.
#3: Franco Columbu Wins the 1981 Mr. Olympia
Four years after being told he would never walk again (after seriously injuring his leg in the 1977 World’s Strongest Man competition, in which he placed 5th), Franco Columbu, hot on the heels of his former training partner Arnold Schwarzenegger’s controversial 1980 Olympia win, decided to make a comeback of his own at the ’81 version. The decision was ill-advised, though ultimately paid off for the former champ Columbu.
Up against arguably one of the best Olympia line-up’s in the contest’s history, Franco, bowlegged, off his usual ripped conditioning, top heavy, and sporting gynecomastia (the benign enlargement of breast tissue in males), was not considered to be a threat to the top six. That he won this contest ahead of at least five men who all were in the running for the winner’s check reeked of political interference and cast a shadow of doubt over Olympia judging protocols. It remains one of the most controversial decisions in Olympia history.
#2: Arnold Beats Oliva at the 1972 Olympia.
After beating Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Austrian Oak’s first Olympia attempt in 1969, Sergio Oliva missed his peak in ‘71 and was defeated by his taller nemesis, thus setting up a monumental encounter between the two for the following year’s event. Unfortunately the Mythical Oliva was suspended from IFBB competition in ’71, which left the gate open for Arnold to win his second Olympia title. This helped build hype for their much anticipated third Olympia battle in ’72.
And what a battle their third Olympia meeting was. Though better than ever, Arnold did not appear to be in the same category as Sergio, who was at his all time best, and, in the view of many, poised to win his fourth Olympia title. The record shows that Arnold won the 1972 Olympia, but the decision is still debated among bodybuilding fans to this today. Given Sergio was banned from competition in 1971, and Arnold was, at the time, heralded as the next big bodybuilding star, might politics have reared its ugly head yet again? Sergio certainly thought so, and argued the ‘72 decision until his death in 2012.
#1: Arnold Returns to Win the 1980 Mr. Olympia
Though clearly no stranger to controversy throughout his bodybuilding career, Arnold Schwarzenegger, save for his Essen Germany win, thoroughly deserved his Olympia victories. That is until he announced an unexpected return to the posing dais in 1980. That year’s Olympia, held in Sydney Australia, would be the most hotly contested yet. Arnold, still in respectable shape from having prepared for his iconic role in Conan the Barbarian and, as one line of speculation has it, seeking to ‘school’ a few of the new breed of bodybuilders, was determined to show he still had it. He was sadly mistaken.
Lacking the requisite conditioning expected of a high level pro bodybuilder, much less an Olympia competitor, and down on overall muscle size with little thigh definition and mass, and uncharacteristically nervous, many in attendance felt the former champ would be lucky to place near the winner’s circle. Few gave him any chance of winning. When the results were announced and the words ‘Mr. Olympia 1980’ preceded Arnold’s name, several athletes walked off the stage in disgust and a chorus of boos could be heard throughout the crowd. The consensus remains: Arnold should not have won the 1980 Olympia. That he did is considered the most controversial moment in bodybuilding history.