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Alongside Ronnie Coleman, Lee Haney is one of the most successful bodybuilders in the world. Winning 8 Mr Olympia titles in a row from 1984 to 1991.
His rise from the amateur ranks to winning his first Mr Olympia just 4 years later can only be described as meteoric. That sort of thing rarely happens in bodybuilding.
His retirement at the top of his game, is slightly surprising as he could potentially have won even more (though the rise of Dorian Yates as a bodybuilder would have made that interesting).
Lee Haney really does come across as an awesomely friendly and relaxed guy, when you read interviews with him he is ridiculously charming, and his charitable work is legendary. A true gentleman of the sport, and a great competitor too.
Lee Haney was born in Fairburn, Georgia in 1959 but grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Lee fell in love with bodybuilding from a very young age. According to an interview he did with the Atlanta Magazine, he “wanted to be Samson or Hercules from the age of six” and at 10 years old asked his parents for a set of weights for Christmas .
He also owned a Charles Atlas book on bodybuilding, and would always search for bodybuilding magazines while out shopping.
He says that his dad built him a T-Bar row when he was just 14 years old, welded it himself and Lee used it constantly. He credits that early T-Bar rowing for his incredible lat development.
His first gym was a local YMCA and while there he met a man named Danny Rogers who would become his mentor.
Danny was just a regular gym goer but he definitely knew his stuff, teaching Lee about training his back properly, and giving him lots of advice on the fundamentals of bodybuilding.
According to Lee, Danny would follow his career throughout the years, and was a very supportive guy, he eventually started his only multi-vitamin supplement business called Jungle Jim .
At 16 years of age (in 1975) Lee Haney participated in his first bodybuilding competition the 1975 Mr South Carolina. According to Lee he did so in a set of blue and red K-Mart underwear.
Around this time Lee made a big decision about his future when he decided to concentrate on bodybuilding. He was currently on a football scholarship at a college, but decided that he had to make a decision on whether to stick with football or concentrate on bodybuilding.
Once he made up his decisions he got help from his guidance councellor, who helped him get a scholarship to another college (Spartanburg Methodist College) while continuing his bodybuilding.
This move worked very well for Lee who managed to graduate college, and in 1979 at just 19 years of age Lee won the Teen Mr America competition.
After winning his first title, Lee would not compete again for a further 3 years. In this time he worked on building his body up, adding a lot of size and definition, and ensuring that when he did next compete he would blow the competition out of the water!
Lee earned his pro card in 1982 after winning 3 amateur competitions that year.
In 1983 he travelled to England and came second in his first Grand Prix, then came first in the Las Vegas Grand Prix, and second in the Grand Prix’s in Sweden and Switzerland. He won the 1983 Night of Champions, and came third in the 1983 Mr Olympia competition (behind Samir Bannout, and Mohamed Makkawy) . He also came third in the World Pro Championships to cap off a magnificent year.
From 1984 through to 1991 Lee Haney concentrated on one event, that was the Mr Olympia competition, and doing so led to him becoming the most successful bodybuilder (joined with Ronnie Coleman) in the competition’s history.
The 1984 competition was held in New York and Lee beat Mohamed Makkawy into second, with Germany’s Jusup Wilkosz coming third. 1983’s champion Samir Bannout only managed 6th.
1985’s competition was held in Brussels and Lee defeated Albert Beckles into second, and Rich Gaspari into 3rd. In 1986 Lee defeated Gaspari again, and the same result occurred in 1987 (Labrada came 3rd). In 1988 Lee beat Gaspari for a fourth time in a row. 1989 saw Lee Labrada push Haney all the way, with Haney just coming out on top, with the same result occurring in 1990.
1991 was the last competition that Lee Haney won before retirement, beating Dorian Yates of England into second. Yates would then dominate the 90s winning 6 consecutive titles before also retiring.
You might think that retirement was a strange decision for someone who was at the peak of their power, but Lee Haney has always been a humble man.
He wanted to be there to raise his kids Olympia and Joshua, and spent his time writing books, hosting a very successful radio show, opening a charity Summer Camp for children, and just generally being an incredibly nice guy!
Lee Haney will go down as one of the most successful bodybuilders in history, one who walked away from competing at the top of his game, and relatively injury free.
He led a career without controversy, dominated some of the biggest names in bodybuilding history (Gaspari, Labrada etc), and then turned his hand to writing, presenting, and became a successful entrepreneur.
If you are looking for a blueprint of how to become a successful bodybuilder then Lee Haney can show you the way.
No bitter rivalries, no controversy, insane success, happy family, well run charity, post-career success, what more could you ask for?
He will also be remembered for having one of the best upper backs in the history of the sport, and he is probably the last bodybuilding champion to have a physique that the public actually wanted.
As incredible as Yates’, Coleman’s, Cutler’s physiques were, they were seen as freakishly big by many members of the public. Whereas Lee Haney had the quintessential bodybuilding physique. Hercules and Samson would have been proud!