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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Olympia Journey – Know About the Golden Era of Bodybuilding

Published 03/11/2023, 12:00 PM EST

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The iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger inscribed his name on the golden pages of bodybuilding and became a perfect example for many generations. He set foot in the fitness industry in his teenage years and transfixed everyone with his incredible flair. At just 20, the Austrian created history by becoming the youngest bodybuilder to win the reverent title of Mr. Universe, and since then, he has been unstoppable. From having 7 Mr. Olympia titles to his name to establishing the roots of modern bodybuilding, the Terminator has come a long way. 

Let’s take a look at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s journey of becoming the demigod of the bodybuilding world.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s memorable Mr. Olympia debut

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After lifting the trophy of Mr. Universe in 1967, the Austrian made his debut on the momentous podium of Mr. Olympia in 1969. At just 22, he astounded everyone by posing his meticulous persona on one of the biggest platforms of bodybuilding. Nevertheless, the Mr. Olympia contest, which was first established in the year 1965, turned 4 in the same year as the Austrian’s debut on the stage. The competition was held at the ‘Brooklyn Academy of Music’ in New York. 

Interestingly, there were only two contenders who competed against each other on the 4th anniversary of the event. First was the Cuban-American bodybuilder, Sergio Oliva, who already made it to the headlines by winning the title in 1967. More so, he scared away any potential challengers the following year, and as a result, the 1968 Mr. Olympia went unopposed. That’s how incredible Cuban bodybuilding legend Sergio Oliva was. However, the 1969 Mr. Olympia scenario was different. A new bodybuilding superstar was on the horizon and girded up his lions to challenge Oliva for the title. That 2nd contender was none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Standing at 6’2’ and weighing 240 pounds, Schwarzenegger made his presence known to the bodybuilding world by giving tough competition to ‘the Myth’. However, in the most anticipated clash of titans, Oliva went on to defeat the Austrian Oak by lifting the 1969 Mr. Olympia trophy. Nonetheless, the very next year of his debut, the Terminator kick-started his journey of becoming the king of bodybuilding.

The time when Arnold Schwarzenegger won his first Mr. Olympia title

In the year 1970, the Austrian made an incredible comeback on Mr. Olympia’s rostrum. The competition was held at ‘the Town Hall’ in New York City, with a multitude of spectators in attendance. This time, Schwarzenegger was not in the mood to win anything less than the distinguished title. Standing with his head held high and the stature crafted with accuracy, the Terminator posed an uphill battle toward his on-stage rivals, Sergio Oliva and Reg Lewis.

Schwarzenegger thundered through his routine expeditiously and left the crowd spellbound. After their ultimate showdown, the results were announced – Sergio Oliva secured 2nd place on the podium, whereas, Reg Lewis stood in 3rd position, and the crowd hailed the newly crowned champion – Arnold Schwarzenegger. Following this, the icon went on to win six more Mr. Olympia titles and became one of the greatest of all time.

The journey of Schwarzenegger’s seven title wins

After his momentous triumph in the 1970 Mr. Olympia, the Austrian Oak continued his winning saga and added five more titles (six consecutive) to his wall of fame. In 1971, Schwarzenegger was declared the winner of Mr. Olympia after his competitors, Franco Columbo and Sergio Oliva, were disqualified from the event. His winning spree continued until 1975 when he decided to retire from bodybuilding to pursue his career in acting.

Nonetheless, as he set the then-new benchmark for the bodybuilding industry in the ‘pumping iron’ era, Schwarzenegger decided to return to his beloved arena for the one last time. Henceforth, in 1980, the Austrian took home his 7th Mr. Olympia title.

How did Arnold Schwarzenegger give rise to the modern bodybuilding era?

Following his appearance on Mr. Olympia’s stage in 1969, the world began to see bodybuilding through the Austrian’s lens. With his top-notch routines and never-seen-before fitness training, the Terminator helped the sport to propel in many ways. The next big thing that bodybuilding fandom witnessed was when he made a splash in the fraternity in 1970 after winning the first of many Mr. Olympia trophies. This was the dawning of a new era for Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Nonetheless, after his momentous triumph in 1970, he already became a force to be reckoned with. From featuring in the iconic Joe Weider’s ‘Muscle & Fitness’ magazine to elevating bodybuilding and fitness to new heights, Schwarzenegger was making waves in the industry. The fans and enthusiasts went crazy over new and modified workout regimens, and hence to date, Schwarzenegger’s extraordinary routines are followed by millions. He revolutionized the bodybuilding sphere as it is presently recognized.

Schwarzenegger’s top Mr. Olympia competitors

Though Arnold Schwarzenegger is recognized as the king of bodybuilding, he was challenged by many great bodybuilders in his golden days. One of his top competitors was none other than Lou Ferrigno. In the initial years of his career, Ferrigno trained with the Austrian and won his first bodybuilding accolade in the form of the Mr. Universe title in the year 1973. However, in 1974 Mr. Olympia, Ferrigno gave a tough contest to Schwarzenegger in the race toward the title but finished second. The following year, the Terminator once again trounced his on-stage rival and stood atop the podium.

The second on the list was Mike Mentzer. With his tough stature and stringent physique, Mentzer indeed made many heads turn his way. After making a pro-debut in 1979, he caused a stir by finishing first in the heavyweight category. However, the following year, Schwarzenegger returned to the podium, and Mentzer finished fifth in the Men’s open category.

Recognized for his symmetrical physique and aesthetic muscular prowess, Frank Zane is one of the most prominent bodybuilding prodigies. Having won 3 Mr. Olympia titles from 1977-1979, Zane made a great influence on the bodybuilding industry. However, in 1980, Schwarzenegger made a comeback and ended the Chemist’s winning streak. 

The Cuban-American professional bodybuilder, Sergio Oliva, was the only man who ever beat Arnold Schwarzenegger to claim Mr. Olympia’s title. Sharing his experience from his first ever Mr. Olympia, the Austrian stated, “then for the first time, I saw Sergio Oliva in person. I understood why they called him the Myth. It was jarring as if I’d walked into a wall. He destroyed me”. However, the following year, Schwarzenegger began his journey as the reigning Mr. Olympia champion and trounced Oliva in 1971 and 1972.

Total prize money Schwarzenegger received from all his Mr. Olympia wins

Since the inception of Mr. Olympia in 1965, the prize money has seen a 4000% increase in its value. Larry Scott, who won the first-ever title of Mr. Olympia, received $1000 as the cash prize. Following the event’s first anniversary, the competition saw a midget of change in its value. Thus, the Austrian went on to win around $1000 each year after finishing first in the competition. However, in his 7th Mr. Olympia, the Terminator received a hefty amount as the reward. Here’s the breakdown of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s prize money from Mr. Olympia over the years.

1970 – $1,000

1971 – $1,000

1972 – $2,000

1973 – $750

1974 – $1,000

1975 – $2,500

1980 – $25,0000

Why did Arnold Schwarzenegger retire before winning his seventh title?

Following his triumph in 1975 Mr. Olympia, the Austrian decided to pursue his interest in acting, and hence he left his beloved arena and entered the Hollywood entertainment industry. Though he already made his debut in the cinema through films like ‘Hercules in New York’ (1970) and ‘The Long Goodbye’ (1973), he left bodybuilding for working full time as an actor. In 1976 he played the protagonist in the movie ‘Stay Hungry’. Nevertheless, he drew attention and boosted his popularity through the 1977 movie ‘Pumping Iron’.

Read More: “I’m Sorry Arnold”: Mr. Olympia Icon Rubbished Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1980 Win Against Chris Dickerson Claiming Him to Be Undeserving

However, in 1980, the Terminator made a comeback on Mr. Olympia’s stage and stunned everyone. He was then preparing for his 1982 movie ‘Conan the Barbarian’. Answering the speculations surrounding his comeback, Schwarzenegger stated, “we’re going to start shooting the first few scenes (of Conan) in October, and so I really wanted to be muscular because the idea was that Conan was very muscular, heroic looking guy, and that I should be in top shape…the closer I came to this competition more people started speculating on the idea that I would be competing and the more I started thinking about the possibility. And so around 3 weeks or 2 weeks ago I decided, well, I think it would be a kind of an interesting challenge to do something in 8 weeks that most of the guys do, preparing a year or two years in advance”.

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Schwarzenegger’s journey after retiring from the top bodybuilding event

After bidding goodbye to bodybuilding, the Austrian started his journey of becoming an action superstar. He earned global recognition for his acting prowess after playing the lead in the superhit film franchise, ‘The Terminator’. Not just that, the Austrian received a hoard full of reviews for his 1985 thriller film ‘Commando’ and 1987 sci-fi ‘Predator’. Interestingly, the 7x Mr. Olympia champion went on to marvel in Hollywood by gracing the cinema screens with his blockbuster performances. Nevertheless, the Terminator left the entertainment industry in 2003 after he set foot in the world of politics.

via Imago

Politics is yet another field in which the Austrian earned a treasure trove of success. He served as the governor of California from the year 2003 to 2011. However, after completing his term in office, Schwarzenegger once again joined his favorite venture and hit the resume button on his vocation in acting. Since then, the 7x Mr. Olympia champion has given a series of blockbusters to the industry. From bodybuilding to acting to politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger came a long way, and he indeed achieved every milestone there is in each of the professions he chose to pursue.

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Written by:

Purva Jain

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Purva Jain is a senior sports writer for Essentially Sports. With her expertise in surfing, Purva has a deep passion for the ocean and a love for the thrill of big waves. Author of ‘Gold and Brown’, ‘Chasing the North Star’ and ‘Light Beneath the Shadows’, Purva idolizes Kelly Slater, taking to heart his famous quote, "There's always a wave you want to surf.
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Edited by:

Simar Singh Wadhwa