If there was ever a year when bodybuilding finally arrived, 1977 was the year. In January of 77, the movie "Pumping Iron" was released in selected theaters throughout the country. This docudrama introduced the strange world of bodybuilding to an unsuspecting public that knew little about exercise at the time and even less about muscles.
The star of "Pumping Iron" was the charismatic and confident Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although audiences couldn't pronounce his name, his overdeveloped body and winning smile quickly won over everyone who watched the movie. Whether he was psyching out unsuspecting opponents, pumping up his biceps to immense proportions or explaining the real reason why he liked working out, Arnold put a happy and inviting face to a sport that was previously full of misconceptions and myths.
Later in the year, Arnold released his first book, "Education of a Bodybuilder". His frequent talk show appearances, promoting both his book and the movie "Pumping Iron", began to create an interest in this strange subculture of bodybuilding. It was the beginning of a worldwide interest in fitness and muscles.
The biggest title in bodybuilding, the IFBB Mr. Olympia contest, was up for grabs in 1977. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who held the title for six consecutive years, was now the promoter of the Mr. Olympia contest with his partner Jim Lorimer. The Schwarzenegger-Lorimer team had successfully promoted their first Mr. Olympia contest one year ago in the midwestern town of Columbus, Ohio.
That contest was considered a major success in the bodybuilding world. Drawing a record number of competitors, the 1976 Mr. Olympia was presented with a sense of prestige and class that was never seen before in a bodybuilding competition. The stage design, prize money and audience attendance was far beyond what any previous Mr. Olympia contest had ever experienced.
Franco Columbu, Arnold's best friend and frequent training partner, finally won the Mr. Olympia title in 76. Always a bridesmaid to Arnold's dominating victories; Franco achieved his lifetime best condition to defeat Frank Zane by one point in the Under 200 Pound Class before winning the overall by a wide margin over Ken Waller, the winner of the Over 200 Pound Class.
After the success of the 1976 Mr. Olympia, many top contenders in the professional bodybuilding world were looking forward to competing in 1977. The biggest name in contention, as well as the biggest man onstage, was Lou Ferrigno. After his disappointing third place finish in the 1975 Mr. Olympia, Lou stepped away from the sport in 1976. He contemplated becoming a professional football player, actually trying out for the Toronto Argonauts team in 1976. Although he was definitely big enough, Lou was not ready for the speed and complexity of pro football.
To demonstrate to the world that bodybuilders were actually athletes, Lou decided to enter the ABC-TV Superstars competition. The popular television show featured athletes from a variety of sports competing in athletic events that were different from what they normally competed in. Although Lou finished the event in seventh place, he did win the Rowing event and, in the process, showed the world that bodybuilders were not musclebound and slow but were, in fact, highly functional athletes who could hang with the best professional athletes in the world.
In early 1977, Lou decided to finally make the move from Brooklyn, New York to sunny Southern California. With an invitation from Joe Weider, the publisher of Muscle Builder/Power and one of the most powerful men in the world of bodybuilding, Lou made the decision to train for a full year in the Mecca of Bodybuilding and finally realize his vast genetic potential. At only 26 years old, Lou knew that he was still growing and he was nowhere near his peak yet.
Under the watchful eye of Joe Weider (at least according to Muscle Builder/Power magazine), Lou planned on making improvements to his back and calves, increasing his muscle mass and coming into the Mr. Olympia bigger and more ripped than ever before. At 6'5" and 275 pounds, no one was going to be bigger than Ferrigno!
As impressive as Lou Ferrigno was, he was not the one everyone was betting would take the Mr. Olympia contest in 1977. Robby Robinson was widely accepted as the most genetically gifted bodybuilder in the physique world since Sergio Oliva stepped on the scene. With a combination of thick muscle mass and incredible shape and aesthetics, Robby was a star in the making ever since he won the IFBB Mr. America two years earlier. His tiny waist was capped by some of the widest lats in bodybuilding and the best bicep peaks since Schwarzenegger.
Robby also easily won the Mr. World and his class at the Mr. Universe in 1975. Experts questioned how Ken Waller possibly beat Robby for the overall at that show, feeling that the location of the contest, in apartheid Pretoria, South Africa, played a major role in Waller's victory.
Regardless, Robby came back in 1976 to win the middleweight and overall at that year's Mr. Universe contest in Montreal, soundly defeating rising star Mike Mentzer. Robby also served notice to all Mr. Olympia competitors by winning the Mr. International contest on the same night that Franco won the Mr. Olympia in Columbus. Standing next to Franco for pictures at the end of the show, it was obvious that Robby was a future Mr. Olympia winner whenever he decided to enter the contest.
Robby was a machine in the gym, taking full advantage of his incredible genetic potential by training hard six days and week and NEVER getting out of shape. Robby was contest ready 365 days a year and he seemed to be getting bigger and harder each month. Muscle Builder would feature new pictures of Robby each succeeding month during 1977 and the changes in his physique were incredible. Each issue of Muscle Builder magazine featured a bigger and more ripped Robby month after month. What would he look like when he finally stepped onstage at the Mr. Olympia?
Robby was a trend setter for not only possessing the best physique in bodybuilding but also for his unique workout wear. He would regularly work out in torn t-shirts and tank tops and just tie the torn rags together to create his own shirt. His physique was getting bigger, harder and more ripped each month and he looked like he was literally growing out of his clothes.
Not that Lou and Robby were the only contenders for the Mr. Olympia contest in 1977. Ken Waller, "The Big Red Machine", was returning to the Mr. O after winning the Over 200 Pound class the year before. Not known for his off season consistency, Waller surprised the regulars at Gold's Gym in Venice, California by his dedicated workouts all year long. Waller was looking bigger than ever and was riding an infamous wave of celebrity due to his appearance in the film "Pumping Iron". Whenever Ken Waller would guest pose at a contest that year, the audience would routinely boo him and yell, "Where's Mike Katz's t-shirt?" in reference to the scene in "Pumping Iron" where Waller hid Katz's shirt in an attempt to psych him out before the 1975 Mr. Universe.
Ed Corney was planning on making an impact at the 1977 Olympia also. After a very disappointing showing in 1976, Corney was also inspired in 1977 by the release of "Pumping Iron". Not only was Ed one of the most frequently featured bodybuilders in that movie, as both Arnold's training partner and runner-up to Franco in the 1975 Mr. Olympia Under 200 Pound class, but he was regarded as the Best Poser in the sport and art of bodybuilding. It was actually Ed Corney who graced the cover of the book Pumping Iron and was also featured on the poster for the movie in 1977. Corney had no idea what was in store for him when he finally got onstage at the 1977 Mr. Olympia but he was in for the surprise of his life.
Popular AAU bodybuilders Boyer Coe and Dennis Tinerino made the decision to switch organizations and compete in the IFBB. Boyer competed in his first Mr. Olympia in 1976, placing third behind Franco and Frank Zane. Dennis won the 1975 IFBB Pro Mr. Universe but decided to compete in his first Olympia in 1977. Both Coe and Tinerino were popular AAU Mr. America and Nabba Mr. Universe winners and were considered two of the best bodybuilders in the world. Credit promoter Arnold Schwarzenegger for convincing both Boyer Coe and Dennis Tinerino to make the switch to the IFBB.
Frank Zane was the unlikely dark horse as the pick to win the 1977 Mr. Olympia. Although Zane placed second to overall winner Franco Columbu by one thin point in 1976, pre-contest talk centered around Robby Robinson and Lou Ferrigno in 1977. Zane was one of the world's best and most popular bodybuilders for the last ten years. He defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe and was a two time winner at the Nabba Mr. Universe contest in London, considered by some to be the best bodybuilding contest in the world. However, Frank was not considered massive enough to be a Mr. Olympia winner.
Frank Zane had a unique look in the bodybuilding arena. Definitely not one of the biggest competitors, Zane's incredible aesthetics and shape made him stand out from the rest of the bodybuilders. All of his bodyparts were in proportion and flowed together in a look that often brought comparisons to a Greek God. While Lou Ferrigno looked like he could knock down a brick wall with his immense bulk, Zane looked like he was carved out of marble.
Zane was a statistician in the world of bodybuilding. He previously made his living as a math teacher before he decided to retire from that profession and put all his energies into bodybuilding. Zane's analytical mind mapped out a 12 month game plan that would allow him to make the improvements he needed to his already perfect physique so he peaked exactly on October 1st, 1977 in Columbus, Ohio. While others raved about Ferrigno's immense size or Robby's freaky physique, Zane was quietly at work in the gym sculpting his masterpiece.
One of the most cerebral bodybuilders in the world, Zane kept detailed training and nutrition diaries from year to year. As long as he was doing more this year than at the exact same date as last year, he was on track to victory. Now a full-time bodybuilder, Zane did not have to divide his energies between teaching and training, as he had done in previous years. This year was all about the Mr. Olympia.
To accentuate this attitude, Zane changed his marketing strategy. When advertising his mail-order training booklets, Zane used the headline "The Year of Zane". His attitude was 100% positive and he often used meditation and visualization to see himself as the winner of the 1977 Mr. Olympia. A proponent of the Carl Jung philosophy, Zane even began recording his dreams every night to interpret what his subconscious mind was telling him.
The stage was set for the 1977 Mr. Olympia. With the release of "Pumping Iron" and Arnold's book Education of a Bodybuilder, ABC-TV's Wide World of Sports was on hand to film all the action and bring this new sport of Bodybuilding to the American public. With Franco Columbu sitting out this year, who would be the new King of Bodybuilding? Stay tuned for Part 2!
John Hansen is a former Natural Mr. Universe winner and the first Natural Mr. Olympia champion. He is the author of the book "Natural Bodybuilding" and writes a column each month in Ironman Magazine. For information on John's Natural Olympia Fitness Getaways in Tampa, Florida, visit his website at www.naturalolympia.com. Check out John's blog on www.ironmanmagazine.com.