With the 2020 Olympia coming up in a couple weeks what better time to talk about the history of bodybuilding and the Olympia starting with Eugen Sandow.
Bodybuilding History Timeline
By Josh Bittman
To understand bodybuilding you need to take time to look back at the history of it how far it has come in the past century. Bodybuilding in the modern evolution started in the 1890’s with Eugene Sandow; who is crowned at the Olympia every September as a world champion. Cultures as a whole started looking at the weight lifting and strongmen as a chance to issue challenges to each other by seeing who could out-lift the most on many levels. This is where power lifting competitions exemplify this challenge and competition at its finest. Nevertheless, symmetry was not a concept known at this point in time, but was soon to have emergence with Eugene Sandow. Sandow himself started in Europe as a strongman before traveling to America in the 1890’s.
Sandow promoted bodybuilding and also published the first magazine of the time promoting the sport called, “Physical Culture”. Sandow happened to suffer a brain hemorrhage when he tried to pull a car from a ditch to show his prowess in physicality. Sandow had the chance to judge the first bodybuilding contest before his untimely death. The first show was called “The Great Show” in 1891. Prize money back then was $2,500 and a gold Sandow statue. Judging criteria was laid out so that points would be awarded for showing more than just size, they included; general development, balance of development, condition and tone of muscle tissue, general health and condition of the competitors skin. The first Sandow statue went to a man named William Murray of Great Britain. After this bodybuilding competition, it became increasingly more popular.
This was the time when the cartoon “Hey Skinny…yer ribs are showing!” became popular. We have all seen this cartoon at some time, where a skinny guy with a cute girl on the beach is picked on by the big guy with muscles. The big guy kicks sand in the wimp’s face and then he takes his girl. This has become the stigma over the years for the big guy. This has been known as the most successful advertising campaign in history. By the end of the 1920’s we had barbells, dumbbells and other exercises that led to more muscular development in present day. On the California coast from the 1930’s to the 1970’s you would see weight lifting on the beach become increasingly popular; where at the top of the list is muscle beach in Venice.
Competition intensified when the Amateur Athletic Union brought in Mr. America in 1939; where the participants would demonstrate athletic skills and were advised to get in the best possible shape to help their chances of winning. John Grimek the first Mr. America was advanced in muscle development and won the award the second year as well. He became a new idol; one where the fitness role takes a new direction in physical development and improvement overall. Steve Reeves and Clancy Ross were both big time names during this time; although some still were skeptic about the sport of bodybuilding.
Early world known names include the greats, Frank Zane, Bill Pearl and Sergio Oliva. Ben Weider the figurehead for present day bodybuilding was the influence in forming the IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilders) in 1946. The competition that is known to all at this time is the Mr. Olympia started in 1965 by Weider and the IFBB. The 1960’s would mark the time the biggest bodybuilder in history comes to light. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1967 started his reign with winning the Mr. America title and dominated the bodybuilding world where he would go on to win the Mr. Universe five times and Mr. Olympia an astounding seven times. Bodybuilding grew in the 1970’s Arnold and other stars like Zane, Draper and Feriggno. While the muscular body gained in popularity, the gym world gained momentum and people realized this is a very lucrative business to be in.
The 1970’s brought dominance for bodybuilding and the IFBB. The federation decided to make bodybuilding a legitimate sport when enough competitors in over 100 countries became known. By this time bodybuilding had become a multibillion dollar industry. Currently we have seen many major names come into the world of bodybuilding such as Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris as well as Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. Right training and dieting have become central to everyday life for more than four billion of the world’s population. Competitive bodybuilders are at their all time largest, finding new ways to increase muscle size as well as finding this can be a career choice. In the 1980’s we had the chance to see steroids come to the light and put a black eye on the sport of bodybuilding. The physiques improved due also to advances in training and strategies. We saw Lee Haney win seven Mr. Olympia awards with his physique around 240lbs and be larger than any other bodybuilder at that point where we now see many pushing close to 300lbs. When Haney retired he had beaten down Arnold’s records and many believe to be the largest name in bodybuilding. We now have very public figures in bodybuilding such as reigning Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, former king of bodybuilding Ronnie Coleman and Gunter Schlierkamp who moved his way into the world of film. Bodybuilding competitions continue to be popular and inspirational to many fans.