Mr. Olympia is the title awarded to the winner of the professional men's bodybuilding contest at Joe Weider's Olympia Weekend - an international bodybuilding competition that is held annually by the International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness (IFBB). Joe Weider created the contest to enable the Mr. Universe winners to continue competing and to earn money. The first Mr. Olympia was held on September 18, 1965, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, with Larry Scott winning his first of two straight titles.
The record number of wins is eight, held by Lee Haney, (1984-1991), and Ronnie Coleman (1998–2005). Phil Heath currently holds the title. The film Pumping Iron (1977), featured the buildup to the 1975 Mr. Olympia in Pretoria South Africa and helped launch the acting careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. There is also a female bodybuilder crowned, the Ms. Olympia, as are winners of Fitness Olympia and Figure Olympia for fitness and figure competitors. All four contests occur during the same weekend. From 1994 to 2003 and again in 2012, a Masters Olympia was also crowned.
The 1965 and 1966 Mr. Olympia were won by Larry Scott, a famous bodybuilder of the time. Scott subsequently retired after his 1966 victory.
Harold Poole holds two Mr. Olympia distinctions. One is that he is the youngest ever competitor to have participated in the Olympia. In 1965 he competed in the first Mr. Olympia at the age of 21. The other is that he was the only man to compete in all three of the initial Mr. Olympia contests. He was runner-up in the 1965 and 1966 shows.
The 1967 Mr. Olympia, won by Sergio Oliva, heralded a new era in bodybuilding competition. At 5 ft 9ins and 240 lbs Oliva, nicknamed "The Myth", displayed a level of muscle mass and definition, including a "V" shape of a large and a well-formed upper-body that tapered down to a narrow waist, unlike anything seen in prior competitions. His upper arms measured nearly 22 inches and his chest measured at 55 inches, which tapered down to a reportedly 28 inch waist and two 31 inch legs. Oliva would go on to win the Mr. Olympia competition in 1967, 1968, and 1969 - where he would defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger 4 to 3, marking Schwarzenegger's first and only loss in a Mr. Olympia competition.
Schwarzenegger defeated Oliva at the 1970 Mr. Olympia after finishing second the year before. At 6' 2" and 240 lbs, he was able to match Sergio Oliva for size in his upper arms, chest, and back. However, contest judges deemed that Schwarzenegger's extra definition and muscularity over Sergio Oliva were substantial enough to award him the title. Schwarzenegger successfully defeated Oliva again in 1972.
Schwarzenegger went on to win the next three Mr. Olympia competitions, including the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition, which was highlighted in the 1977 docudrama Pumping Iron and featured other notable bodybuilders such as Lou Ferrigno, Serge Nubret, and Franco Columbu, who would go on to win the 1976 and 1981 competitions. Columbu's win proved height disadvantage could be overcome. Up until that point the taller competitors had won, but Columbu, who stands about 5'4" (≈1.63m), won by showcasing a combination of mass and hardness that had never been seen before.
After winning the 1975 competition, Schwarzenegger announced his retirement from competitive bodybuilding; this was also depicted in Pumping Iron.
Frank Zane won the 1977, 1978, and 1979 competitions. While not as physically massive as previous competitors such as Schwarzenegger, Oliva, or Ferrigno, Zane developed his physique to highlight symmetry aesthetics and definition. As such, Zane was able to defeat opponents who exceeded his own muscle-mass but lacked his level of muscular definition.
In 1980, Schwarzenegger came out of retirement to win the Sandow trophy yet again. Schwarzenegger had been a late entry into the competition, and his competitors did not know of his intentions to compete. The following year, Franco Columbu was victorious. Chris Dickerson won the 1982 competition, Samir Bannout won the 1983 competition, and Lee Haney won the 1984 competition. This was the start of 8 straight titles by Lee Haney.
Haney retired from competitive bodybuilding after his last Mr. Olympia victory in 1991.
Having placed 2nd to Haney the previous year, Dorian Yates won the competition six straight times from 1992 until 1997. He retired after his final Olympia victory. Dorian is given credit for revolutionizing the sport during his reign as Mr. Olympia by combining larger mass than seen before with what was dubbed "granite hardness". Subsequently, judging in professional bodybuilding competitions started placing greater emphasis on muscle mass, with many bodybuilding traditionalists commenting that muscle mass had now become the most important factor to winning, even greater than that of symmetry, aesthetics, and proportion.
Yates retired from competitive bodybuilding after his 1997 victory. Flex Wheeler seemed to be the heir apparent but Ronnie Coleman surprised everyone with a new improved physique in 1998, winning 8 consecutive titles.
In 1994 Joe Weider decided to add a separate Masters Olympia competition for professional bodybuilders to continue to compete at the highest levels in their later years.
Ronnie Coleman won the Mr. Olympia competition eight consecutive times, tying the record set by Lee Haney. Coleman returned in 2006 to defend his title but instead placed second to Jay Cutler, who won his first title after five consecutive years of finishing second to Coleman. Cutler successfully defended his title again in 2007. Coleman came in fourth place and announced his retirement from competition. In 2008, Dexter Jackson defeated Jay Cutler and became Mr. Olympia. In 2009, Jay Cutler became the third Mr. Olympia in history (the others being Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu) to reclaim the title and the only Mr. Olympia in history to reclaim the title after having it lost, by returning on stage and defeating the reigning champion Dexter Jackson who placed third in 2009.
In 2010, Cutler returned to claim his 4th Mr. Olympia title, becoming just the fifth competitor in Olympia history to win the title more than 3 times. In 2011, Phil Heath defeated Cutler for the title, beginning a winning streak that would last through the present day. Since 2012, the Olympia has been dominated by the rivalry between Kai Greene and Heath, with Greene taking 2nd place and Heath 1st for three years running. The 2015 Olympia Weekend will take place from September 17th through September 20th at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
In 2011, days after the conclusion of the 2011 Olympia Weekend, Chairman of the IFBB Professional League Jim Manion amended the qualifying rules as follows:
- 1. Top four in each division at the Olympia.
- 2. Top three in each division at the Arnold Classic/International.
- 3. Top two in each division at the New York Pro.
- 4. 1st place at all other competitions, even the Amateurs World Championship Competition.
The IFBB Professional League and Mr. Olympia, LLC may offer special invites.