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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno


I started lifting weights in 1980 when I was thirteen years old, five years after the above photo of Arnold was taken at the 1975 Mr Olympia in Pretoria, South Africa. Funnily enough, at about the same time, and when I was beginning to develop an interest in bodybuilding, Arnold was making his competitive comeback. Having retired in 1975, Arnold returned to win the 1980 Mr Olympia for a record seventh time in Sydney, Australia. His 1980 Olympia win was one of the most controversial in the Mr O’s history, because Arnold was not at his best after such a long competitive hiatus. His comeback was in part to promote his new movie, Conan the Barbarian, but also to remind the rest of his bodybuilding colleagues — who he thought had lost respect for him and his place in the bodybuilding firmament — that he was still Numero Uno.  

The 1983 Mr Olympia, Samir Bannout, who did not need any reminding just who bodybuilding’s number one son was! At the ‘80 Olympia, Arnold had a very public falling-out with one of bodybuilding’s new breed of modern-age bodybuilder, Mike Mentzer. While Arnold represented the 1960’s and 70’s bodybuilders, with their high-volume training and classically-proportioned physiques — which emphasised upper-body mass — Mentzer, and the likes of Tom Platz etc., were the new breed of high intensity, Heavy Duty guys who developed every muscle-group to the max.  

Tom Platz and Mike Mentzer (top) embodied the modern-era bodybuilder with their uncompromising approach to building mass.  The previous year at the ‘79 Olympia there were two weight classes. Mentzer won the over-200lbs class, while Frank Zane won the under-200lbs class and, for the third year in succession, the overall title. Mentzer, however, came into the ‘80 Olympia feeling confident of overall victory, because weeks earlier, while tanning outside by his pool, Zane had had an accident when the chair he was sitting on collapsed — he cut his urethra on the edge of the pool, causing massive internal bleeding, and after he was released from the hospital he had lost a lot of muscular weight and was not looking his best.  

Zane’s incomparable combination of size, proportion, shape and symmetry.  So the scene was set for a clash of the two eras — modern body-types vs old: volume training vs high-intensity, and most of all, a clash between two of the sport’s biggest personalities and egos. Imagine Mentzer’s shock on seeing Arnold at the weigh-in, ready to compete! Arnold had told everyone that he was training hard again to be in shape for his Conan movie, he had however, been secretly planning on entering the contest all along. (Even though we all love and admire Arnold, we have to acknowledge that every now and again, he can be a bit of a slippery fish.) I mentioned previously that the pair had argued at the pre-contest meeting, mostly over the legitimacy of Arnold’s late registration. This exchange was brilliantly captured on camera, and demonstrated how much Arnold’s personality still dominated the whole psyche of competitive bodybuilding.  

Arnold was obviously not at his best, and many of his entourage and fans could see it. It did not help the mood of his camp that the night before the contest, the heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes was shown on TV. Ali, the undisputed king of boxing, was embarrassed in his loss to Holmes. Ali lost his championship belt, and many wondered why he had continued to box way past his prime. The comparisons between this world championship bout and the upcoming Mr Olympia contest were strikingly apparent. Had Arnold Schwarzenegger, the "Muhammad Ali of bodybuilding", made a big mistake in choosing to compete again, just as the real Ali had begun to destroy his reputation as the Champ in suffering a humiliating defeat? Arnold himself was unperturbed by all this, and was convinced that he was making the right choice with his competitive comeback. Ever the showman, he used all his charm and cheeky charisma to dominate the Olympia stage on contest day. His height, his beaming smile, and all his tricks of the trade (and actually having the best physique on the day, in my opinion) meant that he eventually went on to be crowned the 1980 Mr Olympia — and with it, history will forever record that Arnold Schwarzenegger won a record breaking seven Mr Olympia titles.  

Arnold Arnold makes history at the Sydney Opera House, winning the 1980 Mr Olympia.  Many of his fellow competitors were unhappy with the results, and threatened to boycott future Olympias. Mostly these threats came to nothing, but Mentzer, who had finished in fifth place, took the placings badly and never competed again. In fact he never fully mentally recovered from the feeling that he had given the contest his all and was a victim of politics and conspiracy. In the years that followed, he drifted in and out of the bodybuilding scene. Despite running a successful personal training business and writing several bodybuilding/philosophy books, there were many rumours of amphetamine abuse and episodes of schizophrenia. He died on June 10, 2001, aged 49 — found dead in his apartment, due to heart complications, by his younger brother and fellow bodybuilder Ray Mentzer. Two days later, Ray died, from complications from his long battle with Berger's disease at the age of 47.  

Mike and Ray Mentzer  But what of our original “Arnold at the 1975 Mr Olympia“ photo? No controversy here, no funny business, no harsh words and recriminations — certainly no slippery fishiness! No — here we see Arnold in all his glory. The undisputed king of bodybuilding, universally loved and adored. Here we see the man who (along with Joe Weider) dragged bodybuilding from the fringes, from the freaky to the mainstream, into the light of respectability. When we look at Arnold on that stage in Pretoria, we don’t just see his huge chest and peaked biceps — we see bodybuilding itself. Arnold is bodybuilding and bodybuilding is Arnold. From the Ancient Greeks to the present day, he represents the muscular ideal, the beauty and glory of the male physique. There have been bigger bodybuilders, leaner and stronger, some who even went on to eclipse his seven Olympia wins. But none have had the presence, none have had the joy, that fierce joy, the supreme confidence and satisfaction that he took from bodybuilding, and then shared with us. And that is why we are mesmerised. That — is what we see when we look at that simple pose, that fleeting moment, his gift, given to us more than 40 years ago. ——————————————————— When I was a schoolboy I cut the photo out, and glued it onto one of my pencil cases. I can remember sellotaping it down every time it came a little unstuck or ripped a bit. By the time I had finished school it was almost impossible to see the image of Arnold through the multiple layers of tape. I did not care. I knew every inch of that amazing photo by heart. Throughout my bodybuilding life, I never forgot that image, and as you can see below, a fair part of my life was spent trying to emulate it.  

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