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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

Haney vs Samir in ‘83?

I remember as a teenager, when seeing this photo of Lee Haney and Samir Bannout for the first time, how fascinated I was by it. I was still formulating my idea of what the perfect muscular body should look like, and as Samir had won the Olympia in ‘83, and Lee had won it in ‘84, these two guys epitomised the modern bodybuilding ideal of that time. Lee and Samir have such contrasting physiques. Lee is 5’11 and Samir is 5’8 - only 3 inches - but that translates into a major height difference on stage. One of bodybuilding’s eternal battles is the Tall Man vs the Short Man. Think Arnold vs Franco, Haney vs Labrada or Gaspari, and Yates vs Shawn Ray. Can a good short man ever beat a good tall man? It does not happen very often. Franco at 5’2 is the only really short Mr Olympia, and he had to wait until Arnold retired in ‘75, to get his shot at victory the following year.  

Apart from their height, Lee had the typical physique of a black bodybuilder - high calves and smallish legs with narrow hips and waist, but with a tremendous V shape, a back that just kept on getting wider. Brian Buchanon and Tony Pearson (below) epitomised this amazing look.  

Samir on the other hand, had a typical white guy’s physique - bigger lower body, but wider hips and waist, and therefore not such a dramatic taper. We have seen this battle played out many times at the very top of the bodybuilding game, think Arnold and Sergio, Coleman and Cutler, Haney and Strydom. At that time Tom Platz (below) best exemplified this sort of body, with his never-seen-before (or since!) enormous legs and blocky waist.  

Let’s get back to the photo of Samir and Lee. As my physique resembled Samir’s rather than Lee’s, it made sense for me to admire Samir more, because I could, in theory, end up with a body more similar to his - and what a remarkable physique he had. He was not the biggest, he was not the tallest, but boy, did he have beautiful shape, perfect proportions, impressive size and exquisite muscular detail. At the 1983 Mr O he arrived with a package that few other bodybuilders have ever been able to rival. (In fact he never again achieved this amazing level of conditioning.) Like Zane, his every pose was perfectly executed, and he had a number of poses that were “his”, that no one could emulate, something I have always thought of as one of the signs of a great champion.  

With the benefit of hindsight he was one of the very last bodybuilders to combine such a dry appearance (his skin seemingly shrink-wrapped on to his muscle) whilst still looking pleasing, and natural, and HUMAN!!! It was only a few years later that Rich Gaspari (below) stormed the Olympia stage with his mind- boggling ripped-up look that launched the trend towards looking more alien than human - the look that is, unfortunately, the standard of today.  

And what of “Total-Lee Awesome” Lee Haney? I was discussing this photo with my friend and client Sean, and we were in disagreement over when the pic was taken. I think it was the ‘83 Olympia, which Samir won and where Haney came third, and Sean felt it was at the ‘84 O, won by Haney with Samir coming in sixth. In ‘83 Lee was 24 and competing in his first Olympia, Samir was 28 and competing in the Olympia for the fourth time, with nearly ten years of competitive bodybuilding already under his belt. Although there were only four years between them, Samir had pretty much peaked, whilst Lee still had much growing and improving ahead of him. What I’m trying to say is that ultimately this comparison is only valid at THAT moment, because by the end of his career Lee was a superior bodybuilder to Samir - as is evidenced by his eight Olympia crowns. In fact Lee would add a further 20 lbs of pure competitive muscle by the time he retired in 1991. Back in the early ‘80’s, however, their physiques were pretty evenly matched. I feel that Lee had a natural structural advantage over Samir with his height and narrow hip structure, but Samir had the advantage of having trained for longer, and had more muscle maturity and “finish”, a polished and detailed look that is so hard to obtain. It seems that both guys knew this and, as we can see in the photo, played to their strengths, with Lee raising his chest high to emphasise his height and size and Samir dropping his rib cage to bring in as much muscular detail as possible. This is not the first time we have seen a scenario such as this played out on the bodybuilding stage. In the book Pumping Iron, the author, Charles Gaines, observed the difference between Arnold’s and Louie’s physiques by using a fantastic analogy. Basically what he said was, that, whilst Arnold’s physique was a sculptured, chiselled and polished work of art, Louie, who had brutal chunks of muscle, looked as though he had had his muscle slapped onto him with a shovel. To a much lesser degree with Samir and Lee, in ‘83, this analogy applies to them too.  

In other words, winning in bodybuilding requires a total package. Size, proportion, symmetry, shape, detail, presentation - every one of these aspects has to click together with the others, to create the complete physique. If we look one last time at the photo of our two competitors, our two heroes, although it is a very close run thing, at that time, I would give the nod, by a (literal) whisker, to the Lion of Lebanon, Samir Bannout.  

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