Mr. Olympia Part 3: The 6 Greatest Olympians of All Time
With the epic battles it has hosted, and the depth of top tier bodybuilding talent it has featured in its ranks, Mr. Olympia has a definitive lock on its status as ‘the greatest bodybuilding event in the world’. In comparing the many Olympia winners, however, the task of assigning ‘greatest ever’ status is not so easy. While fans of aesthetics over sheer size may pick perfectly proportioned ’77, ’78, and ’79 winner Frank Zane, mass connoisseurs are likely to favor six-time champ Dorian Yates, or the biggest of them all, Ronnie Coleman, who along with Lee Haney holds the record for most Olympia wins at eight.
Indeed, each fan has their individual preference and each Olympia winner could, aside from being considered the best of their era, be picked as being the best ever for reasons as multitudinous as the striations that highlight extreme definition on the best-conditioned of competitors.
Though each Olympia winner has done what only 13 men in the contest’s 47-year history has been able to achieve, several, by way of their impressive records and era-defining size and shape, may justly rank as just that little bit better. Drawing from a confluence of factors (record, impact made, improvement on past physical benchmarks, and general consensus), this article will attempt to determine the six best Olympia winners of all time.
#6 – Jay Cutler
With four Olympia wins to his credit, the ultra-wide Jay Cutler is, of the six men listed here, the only one still to be throwing down with today’s best. A pro standout since 2001, after placing second at that year’s Olympia, Big Jay has not landed any lower than second place since. A true bodybuilder for the modern age, Jay has no apparent weaknesses (save for a little mid-section blockiness) and enough size to stand with any competitor. Cutler is also the only man to truly challenge eight-time Olympia champ Ronnie Coleman during Coleman’s prime.
#5 – Lee Haney
If Sergio and Arnold kick-started the bodybuilding trend for size and shape, eight-time Olympia champ Lee Haney heralded a new era in mass while keeping true to the aesthetical criteria that had made many ‘70s physique champions household names. With the widest back and shoulders seen on a pro stage, a waist reminiscent of the phenomenal Sergio, and 240-plus-pounds of cross-striated beef on his 5’ 11” frame, Haney became synonymous with ‘80s bodybuilding excellence.
In arguably the most fiercely contested bodybuilding era of them all (the 80s and early 90s), Haney did not lose an Olympia and, unlike many of the athletes featured here, continued to get better, finally peaking in 1991, his final year as a competitor.
#4 – Sergio Oliva
An old-school bodybuilder who won his first Olympia title in 1967, Oliva, who died in 2012 at age 71, is largely regarded as the best ever, genetically speaking. In winning three Olympia titles without the advantage of today’s increasingly sophisticated training and dietary practices, Sergio developed a physique that, even by today’s lofty standards, was as perfectly balanced as could be found anywhere. So unbelievable were his massive legs, tiny waist, flaring lats, phenomenal V-Taper, not to mention the biggest arms of his day, that Sergio became known as “The Myth”. He set the standard for immense mass combined with the aesthetically pleasing shape of a Greek god.
#3 – Dorian Yates
What the massive Lee Haney started in the ‘80s, the imposing Dorian Yates continued into the ‘90s with an even greater degree of evenly distributed, shredded mass comprising a physique that left his contenders in the dust. The unsurpassed impressiveness of Yates’s physique, replete with grainy conditioning (which further highlighted his superior muscle mass), initiated yet another bodybuilding era – one noted for its extreme size and definition. Until his retirement in ’97, Yates continued to push the bodybuilding boundaries, eventually bringing to the stage a 260+ physique that will forever be considered a game changer.
#2 – Arnold Schwarzenegger
The great Arnold Schwarzenegger has, from a marketing perspective, done more to boost professional bodybuilding’s profile than all other Olympia winners combined. With his image, achievements and mainstream success, Arnold helped to transform what was considered an underground cult activity into a popular sport and recreational pursuit for all.
For bodybuilders he will always be remembered as one of the greatest Olympia champion of all time. At 6’ 2”, 235lbs (in peak shape), and with a presence that remains unsurpassed, Arnold collected six of his seven Olympia titles with relative ease (his seventh was the controversial 1980 win). Though criticized for possessing incomplete lower back, hamstrings, and abdominal development, Arnold’s ‘70s physique nevertheless still compares well with many of the greats of today and was certainly in a class of its own.
#1 – Ronnie Coleman
What makes Ronnie Coleman’s Olympia journey especially remarkable could be the fact that before he won his first title in 1998, he routinely finished out of the money at bodybuilding’s big dance. Never considered an Olympia threat, Ronnie, in 1998, literally came from out of nowhere to present arguably the most impressive physique ever to be seen on an Olympia stage. At his most physically imposing (the 2003 Olympia), Ronnie sent jaws a dropping with an unheard of 300lbs of shredded mass.
Alas, for the man who would ultimately win eight Mr. Olympia titles, the decision to retire on his own terms prompted him to continue fighting it out beyond his physical peak (he would lose his title to Jay Cutler in ’06 and fall to 4th place in ‘07). However, because of his complete dominance, the length of his tenure at the top, and the physical completeness, perfect conditioning, and sheer size of his physique, Ronnie Coleman remains, undoubtedly, the greatest competitive bodybuilder of all time.
Simply the best
Though many will debate the above list and indeed may completely disagree with the final decision, this only serves to underscore the subjective nature of professional bodybuilding. We all have our favorite bodybuilding champions and, in fact, many a non-Olympia winner has been regarded by many fans as the best ever (Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone are two that come to mind). But whichever way you slice it, the champions listed above will remain bodybuilding icons who have paved the way for the competitors of today. We should salute them all.
Mr. Olympia Part 1: Shaping Bodybuilding’s Biggest Showcase – Winners and Trends