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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

FORGOTTEN BODYBUILDERS: Roy Callender


I started lifting weights when I was 13. This new world of training and bodybuilding was a very exciting and interesting one, but the amount of information available to me, in the early eighties, was very limited. Pretty much all that I had was Joe Weider’s monthly Muscle & Fitness magazine and a few bodybuilding books. The bodybuilding books were mostly “how to” books, or covered the history of bodybuilding. Very instructive and very interesting but hardly up to the minute, so that left Muscle & Fitness to fill the void.

I remember that as David, my 15 year old brother, paid for the magazine he had first read of it. I would sit pathetically watching him flick through the pages, my excitement rising as he neared the end, only to have my hopes dashed as he then went back to the beginning to read every article in full!

The first major contest that I ever encountered (in M&F) was the 1981 Mr Olympia contest...and I devoured every word and assimilated every photograph on those sacred pages. Never mind the Mr O was held in October of the previous year, and the article covering the contest was in the February ‘82 issue, for me this was breaking news!

When I Google the ‘81 Olympia now, I am amazed at how I remember so many of the individual photos. Nearly 40 years later I can remember every curve, every sinew and every vein on those (to me,then) unbelievable bodies. The 1981 Mr Olympia is etched into my memory for ever.

The (very controversial) winner was Franco Columbu, followed by Chris Dickerson, and a single point behind him, Tom Platz. Three very famous bodybuilding names. Anyone with even a passing interest in the history of bodybuilding, will at least know something about each of our top three competitors. And in fourth place...Roy Callender!

Who? Who indeed! Fourth place in the ‘81 O, and just three years earlier, in 1978, he took third! What a fantastic achievement, and yet he is pretty much all but forgotten when it comes to listing the bodybuilding greats.

Callender was born in Barbados 1944 and came to England in ‘67 to study law, but the lure of the bodybuilding life saw him neglect his studies and drop out, much to the disappointment of his mother. In 1968 he entered, and won, the Mr United Kingdom title. Moving back to Canada in ‘71, Roy retired from bodybuilding and had a two year attempt at wrestling. That not working out, he returned to bodybuilding in ‘78 and promptly won the Canadian Championships. Roy competed regularly until 1987, along the way amassing an impressive array of contest wins, including the IFBB Professional Mr Universe in 1979.

So why has Callender’s physique failed to capture people’s imaginations enough to keep him at the forefront of bodybuilding lore? It’s a tough question.

Essentially he had everything — nicely proportioned muscle, good size, pleasing shape, and at 5’8” he was a decent height to boot. His bone structure too, was fine; smallish hips and broad shoulders. Look at the two photos below and it’s hard to see an obvious fault, his chest, back, shoulders and arms all fit together very pleasingly. I suppose you could point to his legs and calves, but for those days (late 70’s to early 80’s) legs were of secondary importance to the dominating focus on the upper body. (Although that was in the process of a shocking change in the form of the earthquake that was Tom Platz’s lower body.) Anyhow, you don’t place third and fourth in the Olympia without bringing something substantial to the posing dais.

Perhaps the issue was that he did not have that one specific attribute, that one special quality that made him stand out from his peers. Arnold had his biceps, Platz had his legs, Franco had that outrageous split between his upper and lower pecs, Louie had his enormous height, and Nubret had the hips of a twelve year old boy! Zane is possibly the only top bodybuilder of that era who did not have a stand out body part, but no one, but no one, had his shape, and put it all together quite like he did. Every one of these “greats” had the whole package PLUS their own uniquely memorable feature, and that, seems to have been Roy’s weakness. In essence, he lacked a quality of drama that would have made his body more memorable.

I have always remembered and admired Callender and had his poster (below) up on my wall for years. I used to look at his chest and arms and dream of looking just like him. Never quite managed it.

Thank you, Roy.


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