It would be inaccurate to call Lee Priest the most controversial figure in bodybuilding, but controversy is definitely a word that springs to mind when thinking about his career.
Australia’s greatest ever bodybuilder was never afraid to tell the truth as he saw it, and that definitely must have ruffled some feathers. Considering he now has a lifetime ban from competing in any IFBB competition.
In a career that has spanned 24 years, Lee has competed in every major event that there is in both IFBB and NABBA. He is one of the youngest bodybuilders to ever win his pro card, receiving one at the age of 20.
Lee Priest was born in Newcastle, Australia in 1972. His mum was a bodybuilder and he clearly got his interest in the sport from her, competing in his first competition at just 13 years of age (only one year after beginning training).
Lee Priest Bodybuilding Achievements
He won his first event in 1986 before he had even turned 14! He continued to compete as a teenager, winning many competitions before winning the IFBB Mr Australia at 17 years of age.
He won the competition two more times, at 18 and 19 years old, he then competed in the Niagara Falls Championships where he came 9th and won his pro card.
In his first year as a pro (1994) he came 7th in the IFBB Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, 4th in the IFBB Ironman Pro Invitational, 12th in the IFBB Night of Champions, and 7th in the IFBB San Jose Pro Invitational. Nothing too spectacular until you remember that Lee was just 20 years old at the time!
The years 1995 and 1996 involved a 9th place in the Arnold Classic, with some 3rd, 4th, and 5th place finishes in some IFBB invitational competitions.
In 1997 he really stepped up his game competing in 10 competitions including a 5th place in the IFBB Mr Olympia competition. Lee was just 25 years old at the time, beating Ronnie Coleman who managed 9th.
In 1998 he managed a 7th place finish in the Mr Olympia, followed by an 8th place finish in 1999.
By 2000 he had come 5th in the IFBB Night of Champions, and 6th in the Mr Olympia. 2002 saw him come 2nd in the IFBB Ironman Pro Invitational, and win his first IFBB competition the San Francisco Pro Invitational. 2002 was also the year he managed 6th in the Mr Olympia, capping off a great year for him.
In 2005 he won the IFBB Grand Prix Australia and came second in the IFBB Ironman Pro Invitational.
He finally won the Ironman Pro the next year (2006), he also won the Night of Champions, New York. After this he was given a lifetime ban from competing in any IFBB event. The reason? Competing in a different federation.
The ban was lifted in 2008, but in that time Lee had torn his bicep, in 2010 Lee failed to renew his Pro card.
In 2012 Lee found out that he had been banned for life by the IFBB. Most fans of bodybuilding tend to be of the opinion that Lee was unfairly treated, but that his honesty and controversial ways did not help him.
In 2013 Lee won the NABBA Mr Universe title, as of 2017 Lee is retired from the sport.
One thing that everyone can agree is that Lee Priest is an honest man, but in the real world being completely honest all the time can get you into trouble.
Particularly when you are a bodybuilder discussing performance enhancing drugs.
On the one hand, it is obvious that every professional bodybuilder takes steroids (and many other drugs), and it must be difficult for an honest person to stand there and lie.
On the other hand, telling the truth about your own drug taking reflects on your fellow bodybuilders.
This can put them into a difficult position themselves. Do they follow suit and tell the truth, risking the ending of their bodybuilding careers, their source of income? Would they be risking prison?
Alternatively, do they continue to lie – even when it is obvious to everyone that they are doing so?
His lifetime banning from the IFBB is ostensibly regarding his failure to renew his Pro card, and participating in a rival’s competition. But it is just as likely due to his honesty about drug use, which the IFBB would want to distance themselves from.
Lee Priest's Legacy
Sadly Lee Priest’s career looks to be completely over, he’s banned from the biggest competitions in the world, he’s injured, and the fire that took him so far in his early twenties seems to have gone out.
But this should not detract from the fact that Lee has had a fantastic career, one that has brought him a lot of success.
Very few bodybuilders have made as big an impact on the sport at such a young age as he did.
The outspoken Australian will be missed by his huge fan base both in Oz and across the world, as much as the IFBB might dislike his honesty, the fans loved it.
Talk to any follower of bodybuilding and they will say that Lee Priest is one of the nicest guys around.
His long term personal ambition according to his Bodybuilding.com profile is “To live long enough to see a bodybuilding show judged correctly” . This tells you everything you need to know about his honesty, the controversy surrounding him, and why he’s a fan favourite.
Lee also has had a successful career driving cars, winning the Southern California Drag Racing Championship in 2006 (in the same year that he won the Ironman Pro and Night of Champions).
One thing that we all can agree on is that the sooner Lee Priest recovers from his current injuries and gets back into bodybuilding the better.
Hopefully he will get that opportunity because this is a guy who has lived and breathed the bodybuilding lifestyle since the age of 12 years old.