A little over 50 years ago, bodybuilding was barely a sport. Joe Weider – the father of modern bodybuilding – was determined to change this and Mr. Olympia was born.

Of all the major contests at the time, none represented his vision of the sport. Weider wanted to create a contest for all of the previous winners of Mr. Universe, and give them a chance to earn prize money from competing, just like professional athletes in other sports.

The most popular bodybuilder of the time was Larry Scott. Having already won Mr. America, Mr. World, and Mr. Universe, Weider believed that Scott’s popularity would be the key to bodybuilding growing as a real sport, and he was right. At the Brooklyn Academy of Music in September 1965, Scott became the first ever Mr. Olympia. The competition quickly became the biggest and most prestigious bodybuilding contest in the world, and in September Phil Heath took the crown as the champion of the 50th tournament.

PHIL HEATH

Just over ten years ago, there was a young man playing college basketball and studying IT and business admin. At six percent body fat he might have been lean, but weighing in at just 83.9kg (185lbs), he would have been dwarfed by competitive bodybuilders. On Saturday 20th September 2014 at the age of 34, that same boy lifted his fourth consecutive  Sandow trophy. He might not be in the history books yet, but in securing his most recent victory Phil Heath is on his way to becoming one of the greatest bodybuilders of his generation.

His ascension to the very top of the bodybuilding world has been meteoric. After finishing his basketball career he started weight training and quickly added 13.6 kg (30lbs) of lean muscle to his frame. He won the first ever bodybuilding competition he entered in 2003. Two years later Heath was beginning to make waves in the world of professional bodybuilding, when at the age of just 25 he won the NPC USA championships.

At this point in his career he had his fair shares of critics, who suggested that his frame was too small, and his clavicles too narrow for him to succeed. He ignored all that they said and focused on packing mass onto his back and deltoids to thicken his frame. Now he has silenced his doubters, winning bodybuilding’s most coveted title Mr. Olympia three years in a row, and set himself up for a very successful career in bodybuilding.

But how does he compare to the all time greats of the competition?

LEE HANEY

Lee Haney dominated the sport during the 1980s, bringing to the stage a full and muscular physique, combined with razor sharp conditioning. He was bigger and more muscular than his predecessors, but never sacrificed his condition in the quest for more size. Between 1984 and 1991, Haney won eight Mr. Olympia competitions in a row, breaking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s record of seven Olympia wins in the process. He retired unbeaten in 1991, having narrowly pipped newcomer Dorian Yates to that year’s post.

RONNIE COLEMAN

Bursting onto the stage in 1998, Ronnie Coleman came from nowhere to beat Flex Wheeler and take his first of eight Mr. Olympia titles. He dominated the sport until 2005, winning all of the successive contests before retiring undefeated. This was due to his incredible muscularity. He was much bigger and more muscular than the bodybuilders of the 1980s and early 1990s, peaking at a massive 130.2kg (287lbs).

He was famous for his great stage presence and personality, along with his well known sayings while he was training in the gym, which included ‘Lightweight baby!’ and ‘Ain’t nothin’ but a peanut!’

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER

The most famous bodybuilder of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger almost single handedly made the sport popular. He took his first Mr. Olympia title in 1970, going on to win every crown in a row until his retirement in 1975. After a number of movie roles, Arnie made a comeback in 1980.

None of his fellow competitors were aware that he was returning to the stage, and even on the plane to the venue, people thought that he was involved in commentating or judging, rather than competing. He won again, making it his seventh title. It was one of the most controversial decisions in the history of the Mr. Olympia contest, but one that secured Arnold’s place in the bodybuilding hall of fame.

DORIAN YATES

In many ways, British bodybuilder Dorian Yates completely redefined the sport of bodybuilding. Taking his first Mr. Olympia title in 1992, Yates was the biggest bodybuilder that the sport had ever seen. At his heaviest, he weighed a massive 116.6kg (257lbs). This kind of muscularity blew both spectators and competitors away, and Yates dominated the Olympia for six years.

He was renowned for his ‘blood and guts’ style of training, which pushed his body and physique to its limits. Unfortunately this eventually took its toll, and Yates retired after tearing his tricep just a few months before he won his sixth Sandow trophy in 1997.

JAY CUTLER

Another massive bodybuilder of the modern era, Jay Cutler was Ronnie Coleman’s greatest rival. He pushed Coleman hard but took second place in every Olympia in which he competed, until 2006 when he finally knocked Coleman off the top spot. He held onto this title in 2007, but lost it in 2008 when Dexter Jackson claimed the Sandow trophy. In returning a year later to emerge victorious, Cutler earned the distinction of being the only bodybuilder in history to reclaim the Mr. Olympia title after having competed as title-holder and not won. He is also only one of three bodybuilders to win the title in non-consecutive years.

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