That Juliette Bergmann was a pioneering personage in the early years of women's bodybuilding is undisputed. And almost from her earliest years as a young entrant in local Dutch contests, few would argue that she was destined to become a full-fledged phenomenon becoming what many felt was the most symmetrically sound physique in the history of the sport. One thing is certain, Juliette Bergmann stands as a graphic illumination as to how blessed genetics, years of progressive-resistance weight training and special attention to specificity exercises can craft an extraordinary superstructure capable of winning a Ms. Olympia crown.
Born in 1958, Bergmann was 24 when she entered the Ms. Randstad contest in 1982. It would be the first victory (as a lightweight) of many in a long, distinguished and interestingly abbreviated competitive career. Through 1982, '83 she entered a half dozen contests – never winning, but never placing worse than third. It was a period of time that she remembered as her time of learning how to best present herself on stage and more importantly how to train with consistency and strict movements in the various lifts she needed to further cultivate her physique. Her genetics supported the effort and she improved quickly.
After winning the 1984 Dutch Nationals, she encountered her first introduction to the international level and it was a sobering wake-up call. She placed seventh in the lightweight class at the 1984 IFBB European Championships. But 1985 would be her break-out year, and in quick succession she won the Dutch Nationals for the second time followed by lightweight victories at the IFBB European Championships and the IFBB World Amateur Championships.
Suddenly the entire world was taking notice… and not just of Bergmann's impressive physical gifts but how the Netherlands had become a runaway train in producing outstanding bodybuilders that included Erika Mes, Ellen Van Maris, Peggy Ouwerling, Hannie Van Aken, Winnie DeVries, Joyce Paardekam and Ina Lopulissa to name a few. Several – in a country that was roughly the size of Ohio – would move on to the pro ranks and the Ms. Olympia.
The Ms. Olympia – An Itch That Bergmann Couldn't Scratch
After winning the World Amateur Championships in 1985, Bergmann got the opportunity to enter the Ms. Olympia. It would be her pro debut. And competing in her first pro event she found herself mired in 15th place. The experience was not unusual as many outstanding competitors over the years found themselves finishing in disappointingly low placements. In fact, Iris Kyle had a carbon-copy finish in her debut as a pro. After winning the overall NPC USA title in 1998, Kyle made her debut at the 1999 Ms. International and logged a 15th-place finish.
But for Bergmann the 1986 competitive season was altogether different. After her 15th-place finish at the '85 Ms. O, she bounced back in a big way by winning the 1986 IFBB Pro Worlds. She also added another world title by winning the IFBB Pro World Mixed pairs crown with partner Tony Pearson. Later in the year she finished second at both the Ms. International and Los Angeles Pro Grand Prix. But the Ms. Olympia remained difficult for her as she fought to elevate herself to a sixth-place finish. In 1987 she saw her Ms. O placing drop to ninth. And 1988 was an even tougher pill to swallow as she landed 13th. Exhausted from the myriad guest posings and travel during this time, Bergmann called it quits after a 15th-place finish at the IFBB Pro Worlds in 1989.
She had become a worldwide bodybuilding celebrity in constant demand. Her appearance on magazine covers was frequent to say the least. She was seen often on MuscleMag International, Muscular Development, Muscle Training Illustrated, Women's Physique World and Female Bodybuilding from the mid-80's to the early 90's. She was also featured on countless international magazines such as Dutch Ironman and bodybuilding publications from Europe to Asia. She was one of the sport's most recognizable personalities, and most admired due to her stunning structural excellence. Still with all the notoriety, the Ms. Olympia title had eluded her while Cory Everson was enjoying her six-year run as reigning Ms. O from 1984 to 1989 – a reality that Bergmann simply wasn't able to overturn in those prime years.
So, although Bergmann was a Pro World Champion and widely recognized as 'Ms. Symmetry' during her days as a pro in the 80's, her dream of becoming Ms. Olympia appeared out of her grasp.
With the coming of the 90's Bergmann stepped aside from the competitive side of the sport. She was missed by a large fan following who had grown to love her feline qualities and exotic appearance as she moved across a stage with a level of grace that blended so well with her voluminous musculature. The wrap on Bergmann's contest results – especially at the Ms. O – was that she simply didn't achieve the muscular hardness to show the separations in her muscle groups that so many of the competitors of those days banked on to earn top placings.
A dozen years would pass, and throughout that time Bergmann had become more of a legend whose persona would bring immediate recollections among fans as to her glory days as one of bodybuilding's 'special' competitors. To those who had viewed Bergmann's physical qualities through her years as a competitor, most fans couldn't have cared less where she placed. She was a rare jewel and was admired as such. But during her time away she steadfastly noted that she never stopped training, and was still sought after as a guest poser. Bergmann also noted that she had even performed her bodybuilding performances in circuses throughout Europe. And all the while she continued to be involved in bodybuilding as an IFBB judge at major events at both the amateur and pro levels.
With A New Millennium Comes Bergmann's Rebirth
The 90's had brought a stunning change to women's bodybuilding. It was a decade of evolution that saw considerably more muscle added to the frames of the champions as well as to those who aspired to the championship level. Lenda Murray and Kim Chizevsky dominated most of the 10 years leading up to 2000 at the Ms. Olympia. But with the coming of a new millennium, a remarkable story in the name of Juliette Bergmann came along with it.
The legendary Bergmann had decided to make a comeback, and in 2001 she was invited to compete at the Olympia. A primary change while she was in her state of active hibernation was that the Olympia now had weight classes which was ideally suited for the diminutive Bergmann body. At 5’3” she had never weighed more than 135 pounds and easily qualified as a lightweight. Few gave her any chance at all of doing well, let alone challenging for an Olympia title. But in a class where her fellow competitors were of comparable size, and given her still remarkable structural balance and muscle shapes that were as good as the day she left competitions in 1989, she won her class.
What happened next is and certainly will continue to be the most amazing accomplishment in bodybuilding's rich history. Juliette Bergmann moved on to a posedown with the heavyweight winner Iris Kyle. Even though the two came from different generations as bodybuilding shelf-lives go, Bergmann had been away for 12 years, while Kyle was still in the infant stages of what would become a historic pro career of her own. Coincidentally, both Bergmann and Kyle had placed 15th in their respective pro debuts, and here they were posing down for the Ms. Olympia crown.
Bergmann got the judges’ vote. This was the same Juliette Bergmann who had finished 15th in 1985, 6th in '86, 9th in '87, and 13th in '88, returning to not just compete, but to win the overall Ms. Olympia crown. She was 43. And not finished just yet. In 2002 and '03 she once again won her lightweight Ms. O class before bowing to heavyweight winner Lenda Murray who was making something of a successful return herself. Then at 45, Bergmann decided to hang up her competition bikini for good. She said at the time, "All my goals and dreams in bodybuilding have come true. What more could I achieve?" Indeed, what more? Her physical transformation was complete. But did she enter the Olympia with the idea of settling 'unfinished business' after years of harsh placings? "I didn't enter with those intentions at all. I just wanted to put myself in the best shape possible and see where I would fit in."
And She's Not Finished Just Yet.
What does one do after all your bodybuilding goals have been achieved? All Bergmann has done since 2003 is to continue to serve as an IFBB judge; serve as the Dutch Federation President; inaugurate a Juliette Bergmann Cup contest in the Netherlands; serve as a member of the IFBB Executive Committee; be selected to the Dutch Bodybuilding Hall of Fame and, fittingly, be inducted into the IFBB Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2009.
As if winning the coveted Ms. Olympia titles weren't enough, perhaps her sheer visual presence on stage will put an exclamation mark on her Olympian status. 'Ms. Symmetry' stands alone at the pro level as a fitting example of how, when all the stars of genetics and dedication to a chosen sport are aligned, a level of physical magnificence can be achieved – and Juliette Bergmann has come as close as anyone to the long held Grecian Ideal of physical perfection.