Bodybuilding in the Olympics!
As I watch the 2014 Winter Olympic Games from Sochi, Russia, I can’t help but think how great it would be if bodybuilding was finally accepted in the Olympics. This was a lifetime ambition of the late IFBB President Ben Weider and it still seems a distant pipe dream.
I started attending the Mr. Olympia contest each year in the late 1970’s when it was held in Columbus, Ohio and promoted by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer. Ben Weider would always open up the evening by making a speech to the sold out audience. Ben’s first and most important message was about the progress he was making in getting bodybuilding accepted into the Olympic Games. Weider seemed obsessed with this lifelong ambition of his and you had to admire his tenacity and enthusiasm in making this goal a reality.
Ben Weider is credited for making the International Federation of Bodybuilders into one of the largest sporting organizations in the world. For decades, Weider tirelessly traveled the world, adding more countries under the IFBB banner. In the beginning, the organization was not truly represented by most of the world, but Weider worked very hard to change that. His famous line was, “Bodybuilding is Nation Building.”
In 1975, the IFBB chose the unusual venue of Pretoria, South Africa as the location of the Mr. Universe (World Championships) and the Mr. Olympia. Weider wanted to transcend the ugly appearance of apartheid in South Africa by holding a sports championships in which black athletes would be judged fairly in the middle of this very racist country.
In 1976, the Mr. Universe was held in Montreal, Canada, the same city in which the 1976 Winter Olympics was held. That year, the IFBB chose the title World Championships over the Mr. Universe in order to better conform to the Olympic standards. The contest was no longer held in height classes but now switched over to weight classes, again to better align itself with the Olympic Games.
The IFBB World Championships was the event that was closest to the Olympics. Each country in the IFBB would send over a team of athletes (one for each weight class) to compete against other amateur athletes from all over the world. The awards presentation would mimic the Olympics by having the winners stand on a podium and receive gold, silver and bronze medals.
Each year, the IFBB would hold their World Championships in exotic locations around the world. In 1977, the contest was held in Nimes, France; 1978, Acapulco, Mexico; 1979, Columbus, Ohio; 1980, Manila, Philippines; 1981, Cairo, Egypt; 1982, Bruges, Belgium; 1983, Singapore; 1984, Las Vegas, Nevada; 1985, Gothenburg, Sweden; 1986, Tokyo, Japan; 1987, Madrid, Spain; 1988, Brisbane, Australia; and 1989, Paris, France.
By 1981, the IFBB was starting to make headway in their goal of being accepted into the Olympic Games. Bodybuilding was allowed as a participation sport in the World Games, an international sporting event that was held every four years the year following an Olympic Games. Bodybuilding was also allowed to participate in the World Games in 1985, 1989, 1993 and 1997.
In 1986, anticipating the controversy surrounding the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, Ben Weider decided to start drug-testing the IFBB World Amateur Championships. All of this was in an effort to help convince the Olympic Committee to accept bodybuilding as a legitimate sport and eventually be invited to join the Olympic Games.
Another positive aspect of the sport of bodybuilding in the 1970’s and 80’s was the television coverage it received. I can remember watching the IFBB Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions on such prestigious sports shows as ABC’s Wide World of Sports, NBC Sportsworld and CBS TV. When cable television began getting bigger in the 1980’s bodybuilding competitions were featured on ESPN in a larger format, sometimes being presented in 60-90 minute broadcasts compared to the shorter footage allowed on the network shows.
Back then, bodybuilders were actually treated as athletes. I remember watching the 1977 Mr. Olympia contest on Wide World of Sports. As each competitor came out to pose, the television correspondent would announce them with introductions like, “Next up is Frank Zane, 5’9” and 185 pounds. Frank is a school teacher from Venice, California.” The bodybuilders were real people with jobs who were participating in a bodybuilding championship just like other athletes who compete in sporting events like the Olympics.
In 1990, the IFBB was even prepared to start drug testing all the professional competitions as well as the professional qualifying competitions (the Nationals, the USA and the North America) in an effort to clean up the sport and present a sport that would be conducive to being accepted into the Olympic Games. However, after only one year of drug testing all the big events of the year, the IFBB decided to forego drug testing because of the negative reaction of the fans and even most of the competitors themselves.
So, here we are in 2014. Ben Weider, the original IFBB President who pushed so hard to get bodybuilding accepted into the Olympic Games, passed away in 2008. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the President of the Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001, a man who was courted by Ben Weider and shown the red carpet treatment at all the big IFBB events in an effort to have bodybuilding considered as an Olympic sport, also passed away in 2010.
Bodybuilding, as a whole, is now looked upon by the world at large as a “freak show” and not a legitimate sporting event. Most of the top bodybuilders are seen not as athletes but as freaks, possessing physiques that are normally only seen in comic books with muscles so large and unrealistic that they don’t even resemble a human being anymore.
How could bodybuilding ever achieve Olympic recognition in its present incarnation? Is there a way that the IFBB could finally get accepted into the Olympic Games? Believe it or not, I think it can happen. Here’s how:
1.Create a new division of bodybuilding. This may sound sacrilegious but look at how many new divisions have been added to the NPC and IFBB over the last 15 years. After the addition of Women’s Bodybuilding in 1979, the sport of bodybuilding remained that way for a long time featuring ONLY Men and Women’s Bodybuilding competitions. However, in 1995, the IFBB added Fitness competitions to its line-up. In 2001, Figure competitions were also added to the mix. In recent years, there have been more additions including Bikini, Men’s Physique and Women’s Physique.
I would suggest adding another division of bodybuilding itself. It can be called “Classic Bodybuilding” and it would be judged under a specific list of guidelines. These new judging rules would include special attention paid to symmetry, shape, definition and posing.
2. Drug Test the New Division! In keeping with the guidelines of the Olympic Committee, this new division of bodybuilding would have to be strictly drug tested. The Olympic Games are tested by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) so the IFBB should also employ the same agency to drug test their competitions featuring Classic Bodybuilding.
The drugs that would be tested for would include anabolic steroids, growth hormone, diuretics and any other drugs that fall into the banned substance list for the Olympics. We all know that there is no foolproof test for making competitions completely drug free and there are no doubt many Olympic athletes who are finding methods to use drugs but somehow pass the drug tests. That’s not important. What is crucial is that the bodybuilding competitors in this division are strictly drug tested and they must pass those tests to be eligible to compete.
3. Bring Back the Points System. Back in the 1970’s and part of the 1980’s, the IFBB used a points system to judge their major competitions. The judges awarded each competitor a series of points (maximum 20 points) in all three rounds of judging.
After some very controversial results, particularly in the 1980 and 1981 Mr. Olympia competitions, the points system was eventually replaced with the placement system. The placement system involves each judge giving the competitor the place they think they should take in the contest (a “1” is given to the first place competitor, a “2” is given to the second place competitor, etc.) instead of points.
Although the placement system is much easier to use, the points system would be more in line with the judging used in Olympic events like figure skating, snowboarding and gymnastics. After an athlete in one of these events completes their routine, they are not given scores like first, second, third, etc. Instead, they are given a score based on points.
The points system would probably not cause as much confusion with the judges when used in amateur competitions (even a world international competition) as they would with professional events. If the judges were instructed to give the highest scores (19 and 20’s) to those competitors who really displayed physical excellence and give lower scores accordingly to those competitors who showed flaws in their physiques, the scores would probably be much more accurate.
4. Use Three Rounds of Judging. Also in accordance with Olympic events, the Classic Bodybuilding judging should involve three separate, distinct rounds of scoring. Each round of judging will be scored separately and will add up to the final score and contribute to the final placings.
The first round of judging will be the Symmetry Round. In this first round of judging, the competitors will be scored on a combination of shape, symmetry and muscle proportion. The aesthetic qualities of a bodybuilder are assessed during this first round. In order for a bodybuilder to place high in the Symmetry Round, a bodybuilder will have to have a small waist with wide shoulders; the legs would be proportional to the upper body. The bodybuilder would not be judged only on conditioning and muscle size. The emphasis would be on the aesthetic and symmetrical qualities of the physique.
The second round of judging would be the Muscularity Round. The judges would look for primarily muscle mass and definition in this round because the competitors would be compared doing the mandatory poses.
The third round of judging, believe it or not, would be the Posing Round. This means that the judges would actually judge each competitor’s posing routine. How the individual competitor structures and performs their posing routine will be assessed by each judge. This will bring the artistic element to the sport of bodybuilding, similar to other subjectively judged sports in the Olympics like figure skating and gymnastics. Obviously, the judges would be looking at the best physiques for the highest scores, but someone who is trailing the lead competitor could pull ahead or gain more points if they perform a better posing routine than the other bodybuilders in their class.
By instituting this new division of Classic Bodybuilding into the IFBB, the sport of bodybuilding would have a much better chance of being included in the Olympic Games. The current IFBB President Rafael Santoja could join forces with Arnold Schwarzenegger and push for Olympic recognition for the sport of bodybuilding. The professional level of bodybuilding would not need to change with the addition of this new division and Classic Bodybuilding could still have a great chance to be included in the Olympics. It could happen!