Could Arnold have been the Greatest Olympian of All Time?
In the world of bodybuilding many would consider seven Mr. Olympia wins a hallmark to be proud of, an honor that few men are able to achieve. Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the top of his game from 1970 to 1975 becoming one of the youngest Mr. Olympia Champions of all time and maintaining a win streak against worthy competition. And then, when Arnold was still on top, he left the sport behind to pursue other projects, namely an acting career that would prove to bear fruit and bring him accolades outside of bodybuilding. There’s no doubt that winning six Sandows in a row was a considerable achievement, winning a hotly contested seventh in his 1980 comeback. But one has to wonder, was Arnold at the height of his power when he decided to walk away? Could he have been an all time great – winning more champions in a row than the likes of Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman? If Arnold competed from 1976-1980 could he have conquered all those Olympia competitions and been known as the greatest bodybuilder of all time?
Arnold’s combination of shear size and physique was rivaled by past foes Sergio Oliva and Lou Ferrigno, both of whom left competition before and around the same time as Arnold respectively. It’s just as simple to say that if Oliva and Ferrigno continued to compete that Schwarzenegger’s chances at winning the title would have been in jeopardy. But Arnold wasn’t just winning based on his physical attributes, but also his strategic and calculating mind. He used his confidence and presence to intimidate Ferrigno and even Columbu during his 1975 Olympia victories. He was already the champ coming into the 1975 competition and as the saying goes, you have to beat the champ to be the champ. Arnold carried with him an aura of invincibility as if a victory was always a forgone conclusion. It’s this presence that helped to convince not only the judges but his competition that he was best man competing on stage. It’s no stretch of the imagination that he could have carried this aura into future competitions.
While he won the 1976 Mr. Olympia, Columbu had come in second place next to Schwarzenegger in the previous year’s competition. Though a budding talent in his own right, Columbu may have fallen to Schwarzenegger in ’76 if the Austrian remained in the same form as 1975. Frank Zane, the 1977, 1978, and 1979 overall winner may have also fallen prey to the Austrian based on two factors. Arnold’s size and his well structured, defined physique. He was not only a large man, which is more eye grabbing, but Arnold also had the ripped and detailed physique that one would look for in an Olympia champion. Zane was indeed no slouch and likely would’ve given Arnold a run for his money. Zane had defeated Schwarzenegger in 1968 at the Mr. Universe competition, but the argument can be made that the young Austrian was still coming into his own at that point. 1970 to 1975 was no doubt Arnold’s prime years of competition. No doubt it would’ve been an interesting battle to see which man would’ve came out on top during both their primes. Mike Mentzner is another name that comes to mind of men who could have given Arnold a great challenge. Mentzner was the heavyweight Olympia winner though he lost out to Zane. Mentzner had the bulk to rival Schwarzenegger, but it’s conceivable that Schwarzenegger’s height along with his own bulk would’ve given him an edge.
Which brings us to the controversial year of the 1980 Olympia competition. Arnold had not competed in professional bodybuilding for five years and in reality probably didn’t deserve to win. But what would’ve happened in 1980 had he stayed in shape and was still an active competitor? By that time many different things would have to be factored in. Arnold’s length of active competition, the opposition, and really just his motivation. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Arnold would’ve fallen to the likes of Zane and Mentzner in the 1978 and 1979 competitions let alone the 1980 event. It’s no secret that Arnold was bodybuilding royalty by 1980, which many sight as the reason for his win that year. In all likelihood Arnold would’ve likely lost the 1980 competition as he perhaps should have all those years ago. Against monsters like Chris Dickerson, Zane, and Mentzner, Arnold faced some of the most talented bodybuilders of the era all on the top of their game. Without the stigma of being a budding Hollywood star on the rise, perhaps the judging would’ve been conducted in an altogether different manner. But really it’s anyone’s guess. It’s why these questions are posed in the first place, for one to wonder on the possibilities.
It’s all speculative on whether or not Arnold would’ve still been at the top of his game through the late seventies to take at least an additional three or four trophies. What can’t be denied is the Austrian Oak’s natural gifts and his credible background against high level competition. Perhaps it’s only speculation, but it’s an idea that has merit.
Cover photo courtesy of Wallpapers81