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Mr Olympia is a bodybuilding competition held every year by the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness (IFBB).
It has been running since 1965 and was first won by Larry Scott, who also won the 1966 contest before retiring.
But with all due respects to Larry Scott, the competition really kicked off in 1967 when it was won by Sergio Olivia.
In this article we will be assessing the top ten winners of the prestigious Mr Olympia Title, this won’t be a straightforward “who won the most” articles. Instead it will look into several different factors, yes number of wins is important, but we will also look at what the winner did for Bodybuilding, and whether they achieved mainstream popularity.
We will also look into other factors that make the individual stand out.
As with all lists of this type, this is based on personal opinion and is therefore subject to much debate.
Just because the winners are in this order, it does not necessarily mean that number 1 is a better bodybuilder or person than number 8. It just means that in this author’s humble opinion they are the best winner of Mr Olympia.
Winner #10. Chris Dickerson (United States)
Though Chris only won one tournament (1982) and is perhaps not as well known as some of the other more illustrious names, he absolutely deserves to be on this list.
Not only was Chris the first openly gay Mr Olympia, he was also its oldest winner.
There are many who feel that Chris was screwed out of the 1980 tournament, which was won by Arnold and is widely regarded as the most controversial win in the tournament’s history. Arnold had only decided to compete the day before the tournament.
When he won it was announced to a chorus of boos from the audience. If Arnold had not entered, it is unquestionable that we would be talking about the two time winner Chris Dickerson.
The 1982 tournament was held in Wembley, London. The tournament favourite was Tom Platz but he tore his bicep with just 6 weeks left before the competition, he had it surgically re-attached and still managed to come 6th.
Some would argue that this diminishes Chris’ victory, but when you consider the fact that he beat Frank Zane into 2nd you’ll realise how tough this competition was.
Chris is also one of only two bodybuilders to have won Mr Olympia (1982) and the Masters Mr Olympia (1994). He still trains regularly today at the age of 77.
Winner #9. Franco Columbu (Italy)
Born in Sardinia in 1941, Franco Columbu has won Mr Olympia outright on 2 occasions, but he also won the Lightweight competition (back when there was a heavyweight and lightweight division) on two other occasions – losing out to Arnold Schwarzenegger each time.
So while technically there are only two wins on his record, he has won the competition four times.
But it wasn’t just Bodybuilding in which Franco excelled, he also won powerlifting titles in Italy, Germany, and won the European title. He achieved this with a bench of 238kg, a squat of 297kg, and a 340kg deadlift (all at a bodyweight of 84kg).
You can also add Amateur Boxing Champion of Italy to this incredible list of achievements. Franco excelled at everything he put his mind to.
Franco also had some success as an actor, having small parts alongside his friend Arnold in Conan The Barbarian, The Terminator, and The Running Man. Franco also became a chiropractor who qualified in 1977.
The competitions which he won included the 1974 (lightweight), 1975 (lightweight), 1976 (overall), and 1977 (overall). He famously won the 1981 against a weakened competition – many bodybuilders had boycott the tournament after Arnold’s controversial 1980 win, but this should not diminish Franco’s victory.
The truth is that on the day he won he was the best bodybuilder on the planet (anyone boycotting would not have been in shape), so was a deserved winner.
Winner #8. Frank Zane (United States)
Frank Zane was born in Kingston, Pennsylvania in 1942. He competed in 10 Mr Olympias over the course of 11 years, winning 3 in a row.
He was one of the big bodybuilding names who boycotted the 1981 competition due to the controversy of 1980. Not only did he win 3 Mr Olympias but he also came second on three occasions, 3rd on one occasions, and 4th on three occasions. Meaning that between 1972 and 1983 he was never out of the top four bodybuilders in the world.
What made Zane so good though was he managed to bring back aesthetics, he was never an overly-large bodybuilder, and weighed in at 84kg during competitions.
This was a switch from the concentration on bigger bodybuilders that had occurred before him, and very different to the massive bodybuilders of the last 20 years or so.
Frank has stayed immersed in the industry ever since and has written numerous books on the subject of fitness and nutrition, while he has also helped many men and women realise their bodybuilding dreams.
Winner #7. Jay Cutler (United States)
Born in Massachusetts in 1973 Jay Cutler has won Mr Olympia on four occasions, come second on six occasions, and competed in 13 separate competitions.
Compared to Frank Zane who we looked at before, Jay is a completely different type of bodybuilder, weighing in at 118kg for competitions (34kg heavier). He has sold a number of bodybuilding DVDs and has published one book on the subject.
Jay won his first Mr Olympia in 2006, defeating Ronnie Coleman after having come second to him in the previous 4 tournaments. He then won the 2007 tournament before coming second to Dexter Jackson in 2008, he regained his title in ’09 and won again in ’10. He came second in 2011 and had to miss 2012 through injury. He last competed in 2013 where he came 6th.
Winner #6. Sergio Oliva (Cuba)
Seen by many (including Arnold himself) as the most genetically perfect bodybuilder in history, it seems that politics held Sergio back from greatness – rather than the competition.
Born in Cuba in 1941, Sergio fought against Castro’s forces. After the war he became a weightlifter, but defected to the United States during a competition in Jamaica.
After that he became the second ever Mr Olympia (after Larry Scott) in 1967. He won it again in 1968 and in 1969 where he beat Arnold into second place (the last person to do that in a bodybuilding competition).
He was banned from the 1971 competition due to a disagreement between governing bodies, but was allowed to showcase his physique. Arnold himself said that Sergio was the only person who could have beaten him that year.
Another dispute led to him boycotting the tournament for 12 years before returning in 1984, in that tournament he managed to reach 8th place. Who knows how many titles he could have won if not for politics.
Sergio was perhaps the most respected bodybuilder in the world, with Arnold in particular claiming that he was in awe of him.
The Cuban had one of the smallest waists in bodybuilding and legs that were actually bigger than his waist. Considering his size, he also had an aesthetically pleasing look which really set him apart from other “large” bodybuilders.
The only reasons Sergio is not higher on this list are his lack of popularity with the general public, and his lack of titles. He only managed 3, but potentially could have won a lot more.
He never really broke into the film scene like many other more famous bodybuilders, nor did he capitalise on his success with books or training videos. Which is a shame because he could have taught a lot.
Winner #5. Dorian Yates (United Kingdom)
Between the years of 1992 and 1997 Dorian Yates was the best bodybuilder on the planet, winning 6 consecutive Mr Universe tournaments.
Yates could potentially have won even more, if injury had not hampered him. His last tournament in 1997 was won despite tearing both his biceps and his triceps and he retired immediately afterwards.
What’s really interesting about Dorian Yates is his stratospheric rise from starting his workout journey in 1983 to winning Mr Olympia just 8 years later.
His entire bodybuilding career lasted only 12 years but in that time he became the fourth most successful Mr Olympia contestant of all time.
Dorian used High Intensity Training to achieve his impressive physique, and got his results with much shorter workouts than his predecessors. Though one could argue that the increased intensity could have resulted in his injury-hit career. What cannot be questioned though is the effectiveness of his training program.
Winner #4. Phil Heath (United States)
Having Phil Heath at number four is a controversial choice, as many would say that he is on target to be the most successful bodybuilder of all time.
And with the increased popularity of bodybuilding due to social media and brand new television deals, he could potentially become as big a name as Arnold. But this article is being written before the 2017 competition and he hasn’t won it yet!
So let’s not be premature, he has won 6 consecutive titles and if he wins 7 or 8 or even 9 (which is completely possible) then a 2021 version of this list might have him at number one. But right now? He’s just not as big a name as the three gentlemen above him, nor has he reached their level of success yet.
Phil Heath was born in 1979 in Seattle, Washington. He started bodybuilding at age of 22 and became a pro-bodybuilder in 2005. He won his first title in 2011 and has won every competition since. He has a famous rivalry with Kai Greene which has pushed both lifters to new heights.
Winner #3. Lee Haney (United States)
Born in Georgia in 1959 Lee Haney is (alongside Ronnie) the most successful Mr Olympia contestant of all time.
He won 8 consecutive titles from 1984 to 1991, and won 8 out of the 9 competitions he participated in (coming 3rd in 1983). What’s quite amazing is that Lee retired at the age of 31, so could potentially have won more competitions if he had continued (Arnold won his 7th at the age of 33).
Lee first competed in 1983 losing out to Samir Bannout and Mohamed Makkawy, but the next year in New York he took the title for himself.
Winner #2. Ronnie Coleman (United States)
While Ronnie Coleman has the same number of titles as Lee Haney, and seems to be very similar in his faith (both are devout Christians) he just places slightly higher for a couple of reasons. 1) Besides winning 8 titles he also came 2nd and 4th in 2006 and 2007, 2) His larger than life personality has probably brought more people into the bodybuilding culture than any other modern lifter.
Ronnie won his first title in 1998, beating out Flex Wheeler after Dorian Yates had retired through injury. He was a surprise winner, and was not expected to make the top three but narrowly beat Flex to take his first title. In ‘99 he beat Flex again this time by a greater margin, and continued to dominate until finally losing to Jay Cutler in 2006.
Ronnie always believed in lifting as heavy as possible and mostly stuck to free weights rather than machines. What he’ll mostly be remembered for though is his amazing charisma, one of the nicest guys in the industry. Yeah Buddy!
Winner #1. Ben Pakulski (Canada)
Just kidding ….
It’s obviously Arnold!
Winner #1. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austria)
Seven titles out of eight competitions, a movie career that involved some of the biggest films of all time, and a successful political career.
It was Arnold who put bodybuilding on the map, and his departure was something that the industry still hasn’t fully recovered from in terms of popularity.
No matter what any bodybuilder tells you, they want to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold’s first Mr Olympia was in 1969 where he lost to Sergio Olivia, he then beat Sergio in a Mr World competition for the first time in 1970, and never looked back. He won in 1970, 71, 72, 73, 74, and in 1975 which featured in the incredible documentary “Pumping Iron”.
He retired after 1975, but came back in 1980 to win again, five years after his last victory.
As has been mentioned in this article previously, Arnold’s career was not without controversy, and there are a number of bodybuilders who may feel that his name helped him to the 1980s victory more so than his physique.
But the truth is that this one man from Austria has done more for bodybuilding than anyone else, and is rightly regarded as a living legend.