The Mr. Olympia contest has served as an extraordinary battlefield for top bodybuilding competitors and has helped shape many legendary physiques during the five decades of its celebrated existence. Through each of the different eras that have defined its evolution, the once modest contest has grown to the greatest professional bodybuilding competition on the planet, thanks to the hard work of the bodybuilding visionary Joe Weider and of course, the memorable achievements of all contestants who’ve left their mark on this sport throughout the years.
As anyone with a good enough memory or an internet connection knows, Mr. Olympia (and professional bodybuilding in general) has changed quite a lot since its beginning in 1965. Who can forget the 1969 Mr. Olympia, when a young Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger came into the bodybuilding scene and challenged Sergio Oliva? 1977 was another year of big surprises: Frank Zane won his first Olympia title with his small but perfectly proportioned and conditioned frame and his unmatched talent for posing, and all future contestants, regardless of how big they were, would follow his lead.
However, superior aesthetics couldn’t rule over pure size forever and soon enough, Lee Haney became the torchbearer for yet another new breed of bodybuilding champions such as Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman who sought after the perfect combination of serious mass and pleasing symmetry. And the rest is history.
But what exactly gives this show the ability to constantly propel the sport of bodybuilding forward, other than the prestige itself? It’s the element of rivalry, of course. The Mr. Olympia contest has showcased an exciting series of rivalries that pushed competitors further than they ever thought they could go. Regardless of how you personally feel about working under pressure, the truth is that rivals have the power to bring out the very best in us by raising the bar and making us face our flaws and missteps. The best rivals supply each other with focus, motivation and productivity, and most importantly, the audacity to try new daring things.
So what better way to commemorate fifty years of athleticism, fortitude and strength than a recap of the greatest bodybuilding rivals who have given us on-stage moments worth remembering and have inspired competitors of all generations to become better and grow bigger? These are the guys who are responsible for putting up some of the greatest shows in the history of bodybuilding!
#1. Phil Heath vs. Kai Greene
These two have been butting heads over top bodybuilding titles for several years now and their rivalry is as strong as the parallel between their careers – both Heath and Greene started out with Pro League titles, with Heath winning the Colorado Pro in 2006 and Greene winning the same title in 2007. Since then, these giants have clashed numerous times and their rivalry has escalated both via words and poses.
Six-time Mr. Olympia winner Phil Heath has eye-grabbing size and detailed muscle separation in a proportional package and three-time Arnold Classic winner Kai Greene has an impressive amount of lean mass and world-class conditioning with a wider V shape and fuller quads than his rival. Greene hasn’t succeeded at dethroning Heath so far, but it’s a fact that his rivalry with The Gift has consistently pushed them both beyond the limit and will probably continue forcing them to up their game in future contests.
#2. Rich Gaspari vs. Lee Haney
At the beginning of the 80’s, Lee Haney and Rich Gaspari were training partners and good friends. In 1984, Haney won his first Mr. Olympia title at the age of 24, while Gaspari won the NPC Nationals, gaining his IFBB pro card and an opportunity to go up against his mentor at the 1985 Mr. Olympia. The next year, 22-year-old Gaspari placed third at the contest, and the following three years he was runner-up while the Sandow collection of his mentor grew bigger.
Gaspari put up a fierce fight by taking his dieting and training to the extreme and achieved an impressive definition, despite never quite reaching Haney’s size and structure. Haney would go on to become an eight-time Mr. Olympia winner, while Gaspari had to satisfy himself with three runner-up placements.
What made their battles so great and exciting to watch was the way each of them pushed the other to maximize his potential and the rivalry transformed into a lifelong friendship fueled by mutual respect. “If anyone knew my habits, it was Rich,” recalled Haney. “He was one of the better competitors and I used to call him ‘Rich the itch,’ because he made me my best and brought out the best in me.”
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