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Muscle Wars - 1980 and 1981 Mr Olympia - Comeback and Controversy

Strength Oldschool

By Rick Wayne

Muscle Wars - By Rick Wayne

The following is Rick Wayne's story about the 1980 Mr. Olympia and what happened before the 1981 Mr. Olympia. The story is an excerpt (all of chapter 9) from Rick's book “Muscle Wars” (a behind the scenes look at bodybuilding, written in 1985).

* To purchase this book click here.

Rick Wayne

By 1978 bodybuilding fans everywhere had reconciled themselves to the gloomy prospect of life without the Arnold of Pumping Iron, the documentary that finally proved that not all bodybuilders think with their biceps. They learned to love the new Schwarzenegger laughed on cue when he played the fool on coast-to-coast television with Johnny and Merv, loudly applauded his form-fitting tuxedo at the shows that he staged with his shrewd insurance executive partner from Columbus, Ohio.

1975 Arnold Schwarzenegger

It wasn’t easy keeping up with Arnold. I followed his activities via the gossip columns and feature articles in various newspapers and magazines. He was a great hit with New York’s uppity glitterati. He sat naked for Jamie Wyeth and LeRoy Neiman, admitted to smoking pot to the pleasure of Rolling Stone readers, caroused with such crepuscular delights as Truman Capote and Andy Warhol, was shot by Ron Galella while cavorting at space altitudes with the more congenial of Regines butterflies, and pictured time after time with such stellar bodies as Raquel Welch, Shelley Winters, and Dolly Parton.

He was the subject of a Playboy interview. A leading women’s magazine pronounced him the sexiest man in America.

He exposed to the world’s prurient curiosity the orgasmic possibilities of working out with weights, seducing potential barbell adherents with the irresistible lure that “the pump is like coming!” And in addition to Hollywood’s Golden Globe, he hooked the beauteous Maria Shriver, she of the fibrous Kennedy roots. It needed only a best-seller to fill out this man’s version of the American dream, and his Education of a Bodybuilder hit the New York Times list shortly after publication and stayed there a full three months.

If from the vantage point of the die-hard muscle fan it could be said that bodybuilding’s favorite son had deserted, the ersatz Arnold gave no cause for complaint. He staged four Mr. Olympias in a row, all tremendous successes. (Franco Columbu won in 1976 in a blistering battle with Frank Zane, who claimed the title each of the next three years.)

Bodybuilder Larry Scott Comeback

Arnold even brought Larry Scott out of retirement, despite the latter’s affirmation upon rediscovery of his religious heritage that never again would he indulge the muscleman in his ego. The old gray Mormon wasn’t what he used to be. After one exhibition in New York, the original Mr. Olympia decided to give public thanks for the wonderful reception accorded him – easier decided than done, as it turned out. For close to three minutes the no longer shining star stood at the mike, sweat pouring down his aging body, chest heaving, so short of breath that he couldn’t get a word out. Minutes before he’d received a standing ovation that had more to do with nostalgia than with current form. Now there was only the amplified noise of his asthmatic wheezing.

A lone voice shattered the awkward silence: “All night long, Larry! All night long. Take your time!” Still Scott could not speak. So he waved, and the audience applauded that.

Finally the man found his voice. “I want . . .[wheeee] . . . to thank … [wheeeee] … thank my father up in … [wheeeee] . father in … heaven ……

Scott attempted a comeback in a forgettable Toronto contest – alas with embarrassing consequences – then showed up in Columbus as a Mr. Olympia judge, rolled-up shirtsleeves and all. That, too was at Arnold’s behest.

Arnold increased the Olympia prize money from one thousand to fifty thousand dollars. And he made as if to free bodybuilding’s professionals from the grip of the IFBB.

IFBB laws forbade participation in unsanctioned events whether as contenders or Guest posers. Those who ignored the federation’s injunction risked suspension for at least one year, which is to say they were barred from competing in IFBB contests at home and abroad. In addition, IFBB promoters were under strict orders not to employ suspended bodybuilders. Considering that by 1975 the IFBB was the only game in town, American contenders really had no choice but to play that game or face starvation, a situation that Arnold said he wanted to change.

Arnold didn’t actually initiate the idea of a pro bodymens union, but he readily pledged support and quickly agreed to serve as union president, if elected. The man who came up with the idea was a young Hungarian-American named Kalman Szkalak, who had been AAU Mr. America in 1976 and IFBB Mr. Universe in 1977.

Kal Szkalak - 1978 Olympia

He was also one of the more highly prized stallions in Joe Weider’s stable, until the two men fell out over a “verbal contract” that Szkalak claimed Weider had failed to honor. A confrontation one afternoon turned physical after Szkalak invaded Weider’s photo treasury. The matter wound up in court. Among Weider’s star character witnesses was the Incredible Hulk in mufti, Lou Ferrigno. Weider settled out of court.

It was Szkalak’s contention that professional bodymen ought to be free to choose their contests, free to accept bookings, free to set up conditions of employment, all without IFBB interference. Several West Coast muscle stars promised their support, evidently figuring that with Schwarzenegger’s muscle on their side they had what it took to stand up to the IFBB plutocracy. But IFBB president Ben Weider got wind of the plan and, while on a visit to Los Angeles, convened an emergency meeting ostensibly intended to discuss the grievances that had prompted the outrageous idea of a labour union Professional musclemen.

Manuel Perry - Denny Gable and Lou Ferrigno

The meeting, held at a Santa Monica hotel, was well attended. Among the big names present were Manny Perry, Danny Padilla, Roy Callender, Robby Robinson, and, of course, Kal Szkalak, who sat in the front row, less than three feet from Weider’s table. Arnold arrived a good thirty minutes late, by which time Weider had already delivered several telling blows to the belly of Szkalak’s brainchild. The IFBB president claimed that certain professionals with no concept of loyalty had turned up for engagements in poor shape, a disgrace to both the IFBB and their fans. With support from promoters in the audience, Weider accused unnamed stars of having contracted to appear at shows for an agreed-upon sum and just before they were due onstage, blackmailing the promoters paying more. Other big names simply didn’t bother to make their appearance, Weider charged. “Makes you wonder who’s most in need of protection,” he observed with a touch of irony, “our so-called pros or the promoters have a special responsibility to the fans.”

Szkalak offered resistance, of course. But the troops had deserted. Shortly before a show of hands dismissed the need for a union, Arnold walked over to Ben Weider, whispered in his ear, and left-without a word to poor Kal. Afterward I asked the IFBB president what Arnold had said to him. “Oh,” said a smirking Weider, “he asked me not to forget his birthday party that evening.”

Shortly before Christmas 1978 I gave up my job at Muscle Builder (three years earlier I had moved with Weider from New Jersey to Woodland Hills, California) in favor of newspaper reporting in the politically volatile Caribbean. But I kept in touch with bodybuilding via Muscle & Fitness-Muscle Builder renamed to suit the times. It seemed the sport had finally arrived. The Olympia was no longer the only contest that offered cash. Now there were grand Prix events with purses totaling more than thirty thousand dollars.

Lou Ferrigno as The Incrediable Hulk

Several bodybuilders were on television, as actors in commercials and as mythical heroes. Lou Ferrigno was the Incredible Hulk. Frank Zane was in “Hart to Hart,” Roger Callard in “Wonder Woman,” Robby Robinson, Franco Columbu, and Dave Dupre in “Streets of San Francisco.”

Female bodybuilding was beginning to take off. Lisa Lyon was spread all over Playboy as “the new shape in women.”

Yes, Joe Weider’s dream of a bodybuilding industry was finally being realized.

From stories in People and the Village Voice I deduced that Arnold had signed to star on television with delightsome Loni Anderson in a Hollywood version of the tragic life of Jayne Mansfield. And latter-day Louellas had him waiting patiently in the wings while movie moguls vacillated over the making of Conan the Barbarian, in which he was to have the lead role.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian

In August 1980 I returned to the United States to cover the ground-breaking Miss Olympia contest for my newspaper and found myself at the Philadelphia Sheraton, seated next to the boy wonder himself. He appeared larger than I’d seen him in years, but he assured me that since he’d already scaled bodybuilding’s highest peaks so often, the thought of further conquests offered no fresh excitement. No amount of money could tempt him out of retirement. His one remaining ambition was to establish himself as a serious actor in the Clint Eastwood mold, hot enough to attract million-dollar offers.

Clint Eastwood

Arnold admitted that he’d been taking regular workouts at World Gym in Santa Monica, but that was only because his role as Mickey Hargitay, Jayne Mansfield’s Hungarian Mr. Universe husband, required him to look like a champion. He’d continued to work out after completing the Mansfield project because movie director John Milius wanted him in contest condition for Conan the Barbarian, which was scheduled to go before the cameras in November or December in Spain.

He said he’d be in Australia on the date of the 1980 Olympia (to be held at the Sydney Opera House), but he swore he wouldn’t be among the expected fifteen or sixteen contenders. He’d be there because he’d been contracted by CBS Television to do color commentary on the contest.

Arnold wasn’t the only celebrity at the Philadelphia Sheraton. Also on hand as Guest posers in this first-ever women’s professional world bodybuilding championship event were several of the current Mr. Olympia favorites. For the gamblers in the audience, how the champs shaped up in Philadelphia figured as a preview of the results of the upcoming Sydney competition.

Frank Zane

Frank Zane had been Mr. Olympia three years running and was determined to surpass Arnolds six-in-a-row record. If it seemed Frank carried a little more around his waist than was good for him, well, there was certainly enough time in which to shape up for Australia. Frank was famous for his ability to peak precisely on time.

Danny Padilla

Danny Padilla, though only five-foot-three, had not let anything prevent him from rising to the top of his profession. He’d already toppled giants on the way to his Mr. America and Mr. Universe victories. His symmetry was unsurpassed, his arms and calves among the best in bodybuilding. His workouts had gone particularly well since he’d left California and returned home to Rochester, New York. While not yet quite in winning form, Danny was pleased with his condition. He would cede nothing to the larger but lesser rivals making their appearance on Olympia day.

Boyer Coe - 1980 Mr Olympia

Boyer Coe was bigger than he’d ever been. A Lafayette, Louisiana, native, Coe had deliberately avoided events organized by the IFBB until Arnolds first Olympia promotion in 1976. Before that Coe simply didn’t trust the IFBB. He’d made AAU Mr. America in 1969 and NABBA Mr. Universe in 1973. In 1978 Coe had found cause to complain about the Olympia, but he blamed neither Arnold nor his partner, Jim Lorimer. He blamed only the judges. Somehow they had neglected to score him during the last round of the contest. Arnold had apologized afterward, calling Coe a good sport for accepting Zane’s victory despite the judges oversight. Boyer Coe was a fine Southern gentleman.

Mike Mentzer - 1980 Mr Olympia

Mike Mentzer had never counted Arnold as a friend. Jack Neary, a onetime Muscle & Fitness staff member, once offered this explanation: “Arnold sees Mentzer as an upstart, a person who has suddenly gained status and wealth in the sport by way of a formidable physique and a superior intellect. Arnold sees Mentzer as a threat to his lofty position . . . the threat may be very real, for it was Mentzer who, during his seminars, often pointed to the fallacies in the very methods that catapulted Arnold to the top. . . . ”

Mike Mentzer at the 1976 Mr Universe Contest

Yes indeed. Seemingly from out of nowhere Mentzer had won both the IFBB Mr. America (1976) and Mr. Universe (1978). He had moved from his native Philadelphia to California at Joe Weider’s invitation and in no time become a hot Mr. Olympia prospect. He had access to Muscle & Fitness and made full use of the magazine. In 1979 he came close to beating Frank Zane for the Mr. Olympia title.

There were few at the Sheraton who didn’t expect Mentzer to go all the way in Sydney. His abdominals stood out under his California tan like etchings in the breastplate of a Roman centurion. And thanks to arduous practice with a noted Los Angeles choreographer, his posing had improved considerably.

I did not attend the 1980 Olympia. Even if I had, I could never have anticipated the outcome. To be honest, I stubbornly refused to believe the initial reports from Sydney. It took several confirmations to convince me that the winner was not Frank Zane or Mike Mentzer or Danny Padilla or Boyer Coe. No, not even Albert Beckles of London, nor Canada’s Roy Callender, nor California Adonis Tom Platz, nor the Lion of Lebanon, Samir Bannout.

I wouldn’t have questioned news of a win by any of those; they were all star bodymen in a wide open contest. The fact was, the man who grabbed the winner’s check hadn’t even been listed among the contenders until literally the last minute. Who else? Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Cripes! The last time we’d met he’d sworn off ever competing again!

The Sydney decision was unquestionably the most controversial in the history of the Olympia. There were complaints about Arnolds last-minute entry. An argument between Arnold and Mike Mentzer had come close to uppercuts. According to several witnesses, scores of fans overheard Arnold remark to Mentzer that the reason he’d failed to win in 1979 was that his belly was almost as big as his mouth. Fighting talk!

Mike Mentzer Dispute with Arnold at 1980 Mr Olympia

There were rumors of a fix. Several of the contenders pointed to the fact that the majority of the judges were close pals of Arnolds. Most disturbing of all was the report that Arnold had been unable to complete his acceptance speech because of nonstop booing from the gallery. What a shock that must have been for the most pampered ego in bodybuilding!

Arnold - 1980 Mr Olympia Winner

It was almost unthinkable. In all his life Arnold had never known the castrating jolt of the public’s rejection. He had rubbed shoulders with the great-dined with heads of state, including both Golda Meir and Anwar Sadat. More than once he’d been a White House Guest, celebrated by presidents Ford and Carter.

1980 Mr Olympia - Arnold Speech

Yes, his unique position among men had been acknowledged by world leaders. He surmounted barriers both racial and political; wherever he went the powerful cleared the way to allow him easy passage. The most beautiful and desirable women openly canvassed his attention. And now this!

It was all too evident that a prophet truly is without honor in his own country, or, in this case, a paragon in his own sport. After an absence of five years he had returned to his bodybuilding roots only to be booed by mindless yahoos who dared to be rude when they should’ve been on their feet applauding. Peons! He’d honored them with his presence, and they’d repaid him with barbarous howls. With insults. Ingratitude. And all this while the CBS television cameras rolled. While Maria looked on with her obsidian Kennedy eyes!

1980 Mr Olympia - Marie Shriver


The fallout really hit the fan upon the return of the other Olympia contenders to the United States. A brooding Mike Mentzer told reporters the contest in Australia had been a travesty. He had trained long and hard for the event, dieted until he thought he’d die. Never again! The Olympia had proved unworthy of such torturous regimes as he had endured in six months of Spartan preparation.

Mentzer announced that, he and his friends had received word that the ‘80 Pro Universe, which Arnold had contracted to produce in Columbus a few weeks after Sydney, was also fixed. Arnold, he said, had already chosen the winner – his good friend from Germany, Jusup Wilkosz. If it proved true that Arnold would be promoting the Olympia again in 1981, Mentzer said he for one would boycott the event.

Jusup Wilkosz and Arnold Training

The target of Mentzer’s venom admitted to reporters that he might have been in better form for earlier Olympia's. He even agreed that in Australia he was probably a good fifteen percent below the usual Schwarzenegger standard. But then he wasn’t competing against himself. When someone suggested his latest victory was undeserved, Arnold firmly drew the line. He was certainly good enough to stop those who had taken him on in Australia.

His decision to compete in the Olympia had been made almost on impulse, he said. Normally he required at least five months to prepare. For this last outing, however, he had trained all of six weeks, and even then he had not started out with the Olympia in mind. He’d been shaping up to play Conan when best friend Franco suggested he should take another shot at the title just for the hell of it.

Franco Columbu and Arnold - 1980 Mr Olympia

Initially, Arnold had resisted the idea. But when other persistent voices joined Franco’s, he found himself seriously entertaining the possibility of another Olympia victory – his seventh. He thought it might be fun putting young Turks like Mike Mentzer in their place, braggarts who dared during gym debates to suggest he was over the hill, who were forever trying to belittle his achievements.

The thought of losing had never occurred to him. Neither had the consequences of winning. He’d awoken one morning with the decision to compete again firmly fixed in his mind. It was like six years before, when he’d found himself in the grip of an overwhelming resolve to be a movie star. Yes, just like that. The need consumed him, and Arnold knew it would be pointless to resist.

He’d kept his Olympia plans secret because he was afraid that if something went amiss – if he pulled a muscle maybe and was forced to change his mind about the contest – people would form the notion that he’d lost his nerve. Besides, he had good reason to believe the leading contenders would all chicken out the moment they discovered his intention. There’d been talk that Frank Zane had bruised his balls in a training accident and was reconsidering his Olympia plans. Arnold didn’t want to give him a real reason to pull out.

Girlfriend Maria Shriver had not encouraged his bodybuilding comeback – not at first. She reminded him that he’d already been Mr. Olympia six times, that there were far better things to do with his time learning a new language, for instance. But Arnold’s mind was made up, so Maria gave in. She threw the full weight of her support behind his efforts to break his own Olympia record and accompanied him to Australia.

When someone suggested that it was the Olympia prize money that had tempted him out of retirement, Arnold laughed. His own business ventures had already made him rich. He owned a square block in Denver that by itself was worth ten million dollars.

As for Mike Mentzer’s threat to boycott the 1981 Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia contests, that elicited a Schwarzenegger shrug. Mentzer wasn’t expected in Columbus anyway. Chris Dickerson was the only one who’d been invited to pose at the Universe, and long before the Sydney affair he had informed the promoters that a previous engagement stood in the way of his appearing. If Mentzer and friends chose to stay out of the Olympia, that was their prerogative. America was still a free country.

It was bruited about that Franco Columbu had participated in a conspiracy to hand Arnold his seventh Olympia crown on a platter. The rumor took sustenance from the fact that both Franco’s airfare to Australia and his hotel arrangements had been paid for by promoter Paul Graham, a longtime friend of both Arnold and Franco. Several of the title contenders had complained about Franco’s behavior in Sydney. He’d allegedly walked onstage during the contest in full view of the judges and other officials to towel the sweat off Arnold’s body, thereby making it less difficult for the rusty competitor to hold his poses.

Franco dismissed these allegations as nonsense. He agreed that in Australia his friend had not been at his all-time best, that he’d been in far better condition for the 1974 and 1975 Olympias, in which Franco had also competed. Even so, Franco left no doubt whatsoever that he considered Arnold more than adequately equipped to wipe out the opposition in Sydney. For example, there were the many obvious flaws in Mike Mentzer’s physique – he was too boxy. And while Mentzer’s posing had improved, it was still not up to the standard expected of a Mr. Olympia aspirant.

Franco had not always been so eager to defend Arnold publicly. In 1975 he claimed that Arnold’s victory in South Africa had been arranged in advance of the Olympia. In 1976, even though Franco won, he maintained that Arnold had done his utmost to guarantee victory for Frank Zane.

1976 Mr Olympia - Franco Columbu

There had been other clashes. For instance, during an interview filmed for Pumping Iron, someone had suggested to Arnold that Franco was on the verge of toppling him from his Olympia perch. Arnold had retorted with a contemptuous “What! Franco is a baby. He comes to me for advices. ” The line had greatly angered Franco, although not nearly as much as it upset his wife, Anita. But then Arnold and Anita had never been bosom buddies.

According to persons who ought to know, Anita had rescued Franco from Arnold’s bullying clutches when the two men shared a Santa Monica apartment. A successful chiropractic doctor herself, Anita had redirected Franco’s modest ambitions, persuading him to enroll at a chiropractic college. In due course the couple had set up a practice in Westwood, with several movie stars and Los Angeles politicos among their clientele.

So yes, Arnold and Franco had had their differences. But only a fool would attempt to come between them. Some invisible umbilical cord linked their souls, and not even Anita, with all her allure, had been able to permanently break the ties that bound the two men to each other.

Barely six days before the 1981 Olympia contest, Arnold took time from a hectic book promotion tour to dine with his longtime English friends Wag and Dianne Bennett, who were on a short visit to Los Angeles. Arnold had become very touchy about matters relating to his public image of late. If in the old days he’d crowed about his marijuana usage and other private idiosyncrasies to Playboy and Rolling Stone, in recent months he’d done his best to compensate.

There were no more stories about how he’d caused an overzealous follower to anoint himself with axle grease to enhance his muscularity. Arnold had become the consummate politician yearning to be everyone’s big brother. He’d taken to preaching the gospel of love and peace throughout the United States – at ghetto gatherings, in state penitentiaries, and aboard naval vessels such as the aircraft carrier USS Nassau.

He was over the whole Australia brouhaha. The dinner conversation rambled familiarly over reckless times in Munich and London. But by the time the party had polished off their huge chunks of creamy cheesecake and the last bottle of Johannesburg Riesling, attention turned to the foreseeable future, the evening tapering off with cups of piping hot café espresso and a forward look at the 1981 Olympia prospects.

By Arnold’s account, Franco Columbu had first hinted at a comeback of his own when they were both in Australia for the previous year’s Olympia. At the time, Arnold had not taken him seriously. When Franco repeated his threat while they were both filming Conan in Spain, Arnold knew that more trouble was headed his way.

Franco Columbu - 1981 Mr Olympia

By mid June Franco was well into his war exercises. He began by working like a man possessed on those areas of his anatomy where he’d always been weakest: his biceps, his calves, his triceps. For three months he resisted the urge to train his back – his lats had always responded easily to the slightest stimulation. Franco burned up surplus energy by sculpting his abdominals and forearms and by carefully building up the vulnerable left thigh that he’d injured in an excruciating accident during a televised strongman contest shortly after he’d been crowned the 1976 Mr. Olympia.

In August Arnold and Franco lectured together at a seminar in Philadelphia. Both were showered with love by fans who had adulated them for more than a decade. When Franco posed the applause was deafening. However, it was Franco’s courage that merited special recognition. His physique was hardly up to the old standard.

No matter, when Franco stood at the mike at the end of his routine, you would’ve sworn he’d just been declared Mr. Olympia a second time.

“Sank you,” he said in his gritty Sardinian accent. “Sank you. You like ser posing?” And when the crowd roared its approval, he said, “Good. I put it togesser in ser dressing room.” More wild applause. “I tell you what,” he continued. “You sink maybe I compete in ser Olympia?”

Compared to this scheming Italian, Marc Antony was a first-grader in the art of crowd manipulation. Franco had sensed an opportunity to recruit two thousand voice votes for his Mr. Olympia crusade, and he wasn’t about to pass it up.

“Yeah!” came the wholly expected reply. “Francooo! Mr. Olympia!” Implicit in the response was a promise to stand by Columbu in Columbus.

“Right!” responded the object of their affection. “Now I take zem by ze neck!”

By early September when Arnold resumed his book promotion tour, he’d begun to entertain the notion that Franco might well be among the first five finalists come October 10. It was a thought pregnant with ambivalence, of course. For while Arnold had always wished Franco well, he couldn’t help thinking that Franco Just wanted to do what Arnold had done – stage a successful comeback. But victory in Columbus could carry a high price tag, and not just for Franco.

Arnold told the Bennetts he had not set eyes on his ambitious friend since concluding his tour. Franco had removed himself to Hawaii. Nevertheless, mutual friends had assured Arnold that before Franco left Los Angeles he’d already done such things to his body as would guarantee him a place among the first three finalists in the ‘81 Olympia.

Arnold looked forward to his fifth Olympia promotion, but there was no escaping the anxieties that clung to his soul like blood-suckers from the moment he realized Franco seriously intended to carry out his Olympia threat. Both Arnold and his business partner feared that, thanks to Franco, their reputation as bodybuilding’s premier promoters would be on the line. The well-known ties of friendship were certain to raise questions. However, there was consolation in the fact that the IFBB had recently assumed full responsibility for the result of the contest. Federation officials were picking the judges.

It seemed to Arnold that lately there was a conspiracy to make him the scapegoat for every imagined bodybuilding contretemps. Well, he was not one to shy away from criticism. He finally decided there was nothing to be gained from worrying about people who would blame him for wrongdoing of one sort or other, no matter how the contest turned out. Wag and Dianne Bennett’s timely arrival in LA provided a rare opportunity to relax with friends who were genuine.

Mike Mentzer and Boyer Coe had remained rock steady in their resolve to boycott the ‘81 Olympia. As a direct consequence of their efforts to land Arnold with a lemon, Joe Weider assigned me the task of writing several features to counter the adverse publicity and to allay widespread fears that there’d be no Olympia contest to speak of in 1981. (Yes, I’d been made an offer too good to refuse, so there I was, on Weider’s editorial staff once more.)

By the time Arnold returned home from filming Conan in Spain, much of the previous year’s animosity had faded, and several of the Olympia regulars had promised faithfully to be in Columbus on October 10.

But not Frank Zane. He had made it abundantly clear soon after The Sydney Affair that he would definitely not be among the ‘81 contenders. He gave two reasons, both personal: (1) he wanted to train for a full year without the pressures associated with contest preparation, and (2) he wanted to devote more time to Zane Haven, the health resort he’d established in Palm Springs with his wife Christine. It was Zane’s contention that after some six or seven assaults on the Olympia, his physique held no further surprises for the judging panel, nearly always comprised of the same faces. In his own best interests he’d undertaken to make conspicuous adjustments to his famous body before entering it in another contest.

He dismissed outright all suggestions that he was supporting the Mentzer-Coe boycott. Concerning Sydney, Zane confessed to being angry when he first realized Arnold had entered the contest, “but then [Arnold] seemed in such poor shape it was pathetic.” He said he couldn’t help wondering why in hell Arnold had chosen to put his reputation on the line – the man certainly didn’t need the money.

Frank Zane and Arnold - 1980 Mr Olympia

Tom Platz, on the other hand, had always admired Arnold, and the turn of affairs in Sydney had done nothing to change that. After the contest, while nearly everyone else was busy throwing boulders in Arnold’s direction, Tom had thrown only bouquets. He told a television interviewer, “Arnold is bodybuilding. He opened many doors for the rest of us. Before Arnold there really was no such thing as professional bodybuilding.”
Afterward, Tom had refused to support the proposed boycott of the succeeding Universe and Olympia events. In fact, he went to Columbus fully expecting to win the Universe. When the winner’s check went to Germany’s Jusup Wilkosz instead – exactly as had been predicted by Arnold’s detractors – Tom was shattered. But he turned his mind to sunnier things. Privately he resolved to leave no room for failure in the upcoming Olympia.

He took to doing repetition squats with up to 600 pounds. He consumed 6000 calories a day, went to bed at nine each night, awoke at five-thirty, breakfasted on a frozen banana or yogurt before heading for the gym. Seen through the eyes of his live-in girlfriend, Tom’s was a dull existence. But his goals superseded ordinary considerations.

1981 Mr Olympia - Franco Columbu - Tom Platz - Danny Padilla

Before each workout, while eating his frozen banana, Tom visualized himself squatting with over 800 pounds, dipping with weights in excess of 200 pounds – yes, impossible feats, but the psychological exercises worked for him. By the time he arrived at the gym for his morning workout, even the heaviest barbells were manageable. Self-hypnosis had become an important part of Tom’s preparations. In Australia his bodyweight had been just 195 pounds – too light, he’d later decided. For the 1981 Olympia he planned to weigh 245!

Roy Callender - 1981 Mr Olympia

Roy Callender had come a long way since 1976. He was no longer susceptible to the ranting disparagements of envious title pretenders. His grand Prix victories against the likes of Chris Dickerson had given Roy good reason to believe the Olympia was within his reach. He’d learned from experience that California training was what suited him best, so he’d left wife Maggie and their baby daughter behind in Montreal while he underwent the revolutionary transformation into prime Mr. Olympia meat.

For three months he trained six days a week, twice daily for six hours. He worked out with an intensity seldom seen even at Santa Monica’s World Gym. Everyone said he’d allowed his characteristic Caribbean affability to ooze out with his sweat, that he’d lost his sense of humor, that he’d become almost inhuman. But if Roy heard, he paid no attention. There were other things on his mind – like the fish he planned to fry in Columbus.

Danny Padilla - 1980

Danny “the Giant Killer” Padilla did not share Roy’s feelings about California. He’d said good-bye to the Santa Monica bodybuilder’s lifestyle shortly before the Sydney Olympia and returned to New York. As far as West Coast bodybuilders were concerned, Danny had retired. It seemed a pity. Several commentators had remarked on the similarities between Danny and Arnold. Danny was shorter, that was the only difference, said the experts.

Samir Bannout

Samir Bannout was one of the 1980 Olympia veterans who’d left Sydney unruffled by the results. Long before the emcee had announced Arnold the winner, Samir had turned his mind to the future. He left Australia with fresh determination to conquer the devils that had taken possession of his soul soon after he won the 1979 IFBB Mr. Universe.

Samir took to training at Gold’s Gym in Venice and at World Gym. He shared workouts with Roy Callender and Tom Platz, but nothing he saw in their development was sufficient to make Samir run. War was nothing new to Samir. He’d known rough times in his native Lebanon; he was a survivor. Those who made jokes about his chances in the 1981 Olympia were in for a rude awakening.

1981 Mr Olympia Lineup - Chris Dickerson far right

At forty-one Chris Dickerson was one of the oldest Mr. Olympia campaigners. An amateur opera singer, he once remarked that he felt like bodybuilding’s Jackie Robinson – an opener of doors, so to speak. He’d made history in 1970 when he became the first black to win the AAU Mr. America title. It was an achievement in which he took obvious pride. Explaining how he’d achieved the feat that had stumped several black bodybuilders before him, Dickerson said, “I wanted very much to be Mr. America. I wanted to prove that a black man could win the title. I figured that if it meant not being able to wear an Afro hairstyle, well, that was a small price.”

He said that he’d made a point of never showing up at contest venues in the company of a large number of blacks during his Mr. America campaign. He’d discovered that blacks hanging together bothered the AAU’s judges, nearly all conservative types to whom any hint of black power was downright frightening. “There was nothing Uncle Tom-ish about my strategy,” said Dickerson. “I simply did what I had to do to be AAU Mr. America.”

In 1981 he’d earned a lot of money, despite two losses – to Boyer Coe and England’s Albert Beckles. Chris Dickerson had every reason to expect more on October 10.

Joe Weider had learned enough in thirty years to avoid making predictions about bodybuilding championships – publicly, at any rate. With thousands of dollars riding on titles these days, the old Master Blaster had grown frustratingly guarded in his pronouncements. So it was with some surprise that I heard him say Franco looked ready to pull off a coup on Olympia day. Joe didn’t actually say Franco would win, of course. It seemed to me he stopped just short of that, which piqued my curiosity. “Joe, ” I said during a discussion of Muscle & Fitness coverage of the Olympia. “Do you really think Franco stands the slightest chance of winning?”

And he said, “Well . . . ”

And I said, “C’mon, what about his legs? They’ve never been the same since his accident.”

And he said, “Don’t misunderstand me. I think Franco is under- estimating the competition. He’s done an amazing job on his upper body. I think he should wait another year, but don’t count Franco out. Not yet!”


The morning we left for Columbus it was my good fortune to drive with Joe to Los Angeles International Airport. Also sharing our flight were Roy Callender, all dressed up in his brightest World Gym sweatsuit; a similarly attired Samir Bannout; former Mr. America and Mr. Universe Ken Waller; Steve Davis; and Anita Columbu, wife of Franco, who was already in Columbus.

Anita said she was just as surprised as everyone else by her husband’s decision to return to the Olympia stage, even though she’d been given advance notice by an LA psychic. Anita’s skepticism had taken strength from the fact that Franco had re-injured his by now famous leg during the shooting of Conan. True to character, however, he had taken this mishap as just another test of his courage. Instead of forcing him out of the Olympia, the injury had hardened his determination to compete.

Three months earlier, IFBB president Ben Weider had sat down with the federation’s general secretary, Oscar State, to choose the team that would judge the ‘81 Olympia. This was in keeping with the decision following the Sydney Olympia to have the IFBB rather than the promoters take responsibility for the results of its various contests. (When Arnold won in Australia, it was before a judging panel selected by promoter Paul Graham.) Nevertheless, the promoters were still required to stage a show commensurate with the established high standards of the IFBB-and to foot the bill.

Arnold and his partner were expected to supply round-trip airline tickets and hotel accommodations for judges and contenders, some of whom normally resided in Japan, Australia, Britain, and the Caribbean. The bill at the Columbus Sheraton alone would amount to some sixty thousand dollars. Then there were the other expenses – the fee for use of Veterans Memorial Auditorium, telephone calls, security, stagehands, etc. Not to mention the Mr. Olympia prize money!

But in all the time he’d promoted the event with Jim Lorimer, Arnold had never lost money. From the beginning Arnold had struck a deal with CBS television that brought in more than thirty thousand dollars each Olympia. Add that money to the sums paid by various sponsors, and it came to a nice bundle indeed. No wonder the Olympia purse had swelled to fifty thousand dollars since 1975.

1981 Mr Olympia - Franco Columbu

Sadly, the Sydney controversy had muddled the Olympia fishing banks. CBS had paid their money and filmed the show, but then later decided not to broadcast it, as was their prerogative. CBS had also notified the IFBB that they would honor their three-year contract and pay the usual amount in 1981, but the television company wouldn’t be filming the event. So millions of fans were to be disappointed as a consequence of Sydney. And Arnold would cry all the way to the bank.

IFBB president Ben Weider had every reason to be particularly careful about the choice of judges in 1981. A reprise of the Sydney affair would wreak havoc with Weider’s personal reputation and with the now fragile image projected by the IFBB. With Oscar State’s assistance, Weider chose as judges Jacques Blommaert of Belgium, Jim Manion of Pittsburgh, Dominic Certo of New York, Winston Roberts of Montreal, Sven-Ole Thorsen of Denmark, Doug Evans of Wales, Franco Fassi of Italy, Abdul El Guindi of Egypt, and Mrs. Reiko Matuyama of Japan. By Weider’s personal estimate, they were “all people of proven integrity.”

Roger Schwab of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, was appointed head judge, replacing Bill Pearl, whose fall from grace was never officially explained. Unofficially, the word was that Arnold and Pearl had had a falling out over a statement by Pearl to the Australian press following the ‘80 Olympia.

Bill Pearl - 1980 Mr Olympia

Pearl told reporters in Sydney that Arnold’s victory suggested a stagnation in bodybuilding since 1975, which was most definitely not the case. And Arnold and Pearl had clashed at the Universe contest the recrowned Mr. Olympia had staged in Columbus shortly after his return from Australia.

Pearl had introduced a new judging system that proved unpopular with judges and contenders alike. The fans had booed it roundly as well. Afterward, Arnold’s comment to Pearl was, “I want to thank you for f**king up my show!” The other man promised then and there never again to serve in a Schwarzenegger production.

Yes. And then several weeks before the 1981 Olympia, head judge Roger Schwab wrote a letter to Ben Weider asking, “Is the IFBB willing to allow two people who have been accused of inaccurate judging in the past year to judge the most prestigious physique contest in the world? Can we afford anything less than the very best in this year, which is so crucial to the prestige of the Olympia?”

The two accused “less than the very best” judges were Sven-Ole Thorsen of Denmark and Egypt’s Abdul El Guindi. The first had allegedly abused his position on the judging panel for the 1980 Mr. International by voting with “premeditated prejudice” against Andreas Cahling, the eventual winner. Thorsen was said to have favored his friend Ulf Bengtsson, giving him a perfect score, while the majority of the judges placed Bengtsson fourth. And Abdul El Guindi had given fellow Egyptian Esmat Sadek a perfect score that did not sit well with the rest of the judging panel.

Ben Weider had reported Thorsen suspended from judging international events until such time as the IFBB deemed him fit to resume jury duties. So what was he doing on the 1981 Olympia panel?

“As designated head judge,” wrote Schwab, “I am committed to officiate this competition in the highest possible manner. It is my feeling that the finest judging panel should serve this historic event. I recognize the IFBB’s desire to have an international panel, yet I feel that only the most qualified judges should be called upon to serve, regardless of international considerations.”

One week before the Olympia, Schwab received Ben Weider’s assurance that the federation shared his concern. As it happened, Thorsen had “redeemed himself by judging honestly and correctly in London. ” How Thorsen found himself on the London panel at a time when he was under suspension … well, that was something the IFBB president neglected to explain. Anyway, he further assured Schwab that at the ‘81 Olympia, Thorsen’s score sheets would be “closely scrutinized.”

Weider convened a special meeting at the Columbus Sheraton on the evening of October 9. Most of the Olympia contenders attended. With Oscar State at his side, the IFBB president reiterated most of what he’d earlier written to his head judge on the subject of the Olympia judging panel. He assured the gathering that he was determined to protect the IFBB’s good name and would tolerate neither prejudice nor incompetence. He invited the contenders to voice any complaints they might have. There were none, not even after Weider reminded them that it was reluctance to speak up in time that had resulted in “the Sydney misunderstanding.”

The Columbus contenders seemed concerned only with how the prize money was to be divided. Carlos Rodriguez of Tucson, Arizona, recommended that the purse be shared among the first ten finalists, instead of the first six, as was now customary. At that point Chris Dickerson remembered he had a pressing appointment and excused himself. It was finally agreed that the money would be distributed among the first eight. The awards for first, second, and third places would remain unaltered, but changes would be made in the amounts received by the other finalists.

A final effort by Ben Weider to extract complaints concerning the next day’s judging panel failed. No one challenged the credentials of Japanese Weider agent Mrs. Matuyama, who had at least once been a house Guest of Franco and Anita Columbu. No one brought up the matter of Sven-Ole Thorsen. No one questioned the competence of Doug Evans, who had never judged in America. No one challenged Franco’s longtime friend Franco Fassi, nor, for that matter, El Guindi. So it seemed a simple matter of proceeding with the next day’s events in Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

Veterans Memorial Auditorium was little more than a patriotic dream in 1945 when the Columbus city fathers first proposed a structure to memorialize the armed forces from Franklin County who had fought in two world wars. A $4.5 million bond issue was passed to replace the aging Memorial Hall with a modern, versatile sports arena, convention site, and theatrical showplace. But it wasn’t until November 11, 1955, after numerous adjustments that cost another $1.25 million (in a day when $1 million was still a lot of bucks!), that the present building opened to the public. The theater boasted ten first-class dressing rooms, a stage that measured 135 feet wall-to-wall, sixty sets of lines, two spotlights, and an excellent amplification system.

The auditorium’s forty-five hundred seats were all filled by an unusually quiet audience a full half hour before the scheduled ten A.M. judging of the Mr. International contest that preceded the Olympia. The fans had come from all over the United States and Canada, with Australia on their minds’. For a full year they’d been bombarded with conflicting reports about what had really happened at the Sydney Opera House. They were determined now to see for themselves if indeed the IFBB and its promoters were capable of the sort of desecration eyewitnesses from down under had suggested.

Oscar State took the mike. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to start judging the Mr. International.” The warm-up contest was not without its own interesting history. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, it was Eddie Sylvestres baby until the famous 1973 Mexican standoff involving bodybuilding’s two leading men of the day, Sergio Oliva and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Soon afterward the IFBB suspended relations with Sylvestre and handed the Mr. International over to favorite son Arnold the promoter.

The 1981 audience’s reaction couldn’t have been more encouraging for the event’s contenders. Roger Schwab did his best to officiate by the book, and Oscar State, punctilious as ever, kept the overeager contestants in line. Of course Oscar received his usual quota of good-natured boos.

By the time the Mr. International was halfway over, the shadow of Sydney had receded into the distant past. The fans could hardly wait for the day’s main course, the 1981 Mr. Olympia. But first there would be a brief intermission.

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