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The History of Bodybuilding’s Messy Journey to the Olympics

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Bodybuilding really deserves a spot in the pantheon of Olympic sports activities. It dates to the original Olympic Video games of the traditional Greeks, which impressed the fashionable Olympics. Between aggressive events, the ancients put on impromptu physique exhibits for the general public

Larger ideals also referred to as me to the Olympics. The IOC and the games are about far more than sports. Pierre de Coubertin, the French aristocrat who founded the ICO and revived the Olympics in 1894, promoted athletics for the great of the world’s younger individuals and to convey them together in a spirit of pleasant, clear, sportsmanlike competition. The video games have been meant to encourage peace, mutual respect, and understanding. The identical Olympic spirits reigns inside the IFBB…’ (1)

Ben and Joe Weider, Brothers of Iron, 2006

Written in 2006 by Ben Weider — the co-founder of the International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness — simply two years earlier than his passing, the quote above might sound strange on first viewing. Few would rely bodybuilding as a potential Olympic sport, or indeed, even contemplate the prospect of physique exhibits at the Games. In our minds, the Olympics is predicated on feats of power, agility and endurance. Bodybuilding can seem an odd and incoherent match. Regardless of our disbelief, it was this very concept which drove Ben Weider for several many years and continues to drive the IFBB. Apart from his position within the IFBB, which he helped to co-found together with his brother Joe in 1946, Ben was one of the few enthusiastic supporters of the concept bodybuilding should grow to be a bona fide Olympic sport.

Why Ben and why this dream? Part of the rationale bodybuilding is what it’s as we speak stems from the Weiders’ imagination and willpower. Collectively, Ben and Joe Weider helped revolutionise bodybuilding as a sport, opening it up to the plenty and galvanizing innumerable lifters. They created the Mr. Olympia contest, oversaw a magazine empire counting a number of highly read bodybuilding journals, ran a multi-product supplement chain and helped to popularise stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Such was Joe’s eager eye for stardom that he was christened the ‘Grasp Blaster’ and the ‘Coach of Champions’.(2) The Olympics marked yet one more mountain ready to be climbed. Bodybuilding’s journey to the Olympic stage continues to be, nevertheless, ongoing. With that in mind, at this time’s article highlights the Weiders’ several decade try and convey bodybuilding to the Olympics earlier than evaluating the game’s present relationship with the Olympic Video games as we speak.

The Odd Couple: Bodybuilding and the Olympics

Before discussing the Weiders’ makes an attempt to determine bodybuilding as an Olympic sport, an obvious objection arises. Is bodybuilding truly a sport? It is dependent upon what your understanding of sport is. 

In one of many first giant scale research of sport itself, Allen Guttman defined trendy sports activities along seven key factors. The first of those, specifically that it is secular, rational, specialised and open to all, does accord with bodybuilding.(three) Anyone can do it, it’s based mostly on rationalised activities, it requires a degree of specialization and it isn’t a spiritual ritual or type of worship. The place bodybuilding falls down on the sporting entrance largely comes right down to Guttman’s remaining standards of quantifiable data and bureaucratic rule making.(Four) Guttman would later cite the importance of fun in sport as nicely but, given you’re studying BarBend, I think all of us agree lifting weights might be enjoyable and just like play. 

The guts of the bodybuilding drawback is that it is an inherently subjective sport. Bodybuilding is a sport, in any case, the place a person can win the Mr. Olympia contest despite many others believing that the winner had a subpar physique in comparison with different rivals.(5) Bodybuilding is a pursuit during which totally different judges apply totally different metrics to the perfect body and bodybuilding is an activity with unclear definitions relating to the right physique. As an activity, the game is inherently outlined by its subjectivity. 

The 100-meter dash is goal by its very nature: whoever passes the finish line first wins. Bodybuilding is never so simple and this has typically been the most important objection to its Olympic inclusion.

Equally problematic is the doubtless scandalous nature of the game. Within the first instance, bodybuilding features half bare men and women flexing their muscular tissues to the applause of an assembled audience. For fitness center goers, bodybuilding might make a sure amout of sense but for most of the people, bodybuilding has, for many many years, been seen as a wierd and fringe activity.(6) It was because of this that Ben Weider petitioned the President of the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC), Lord Killanin, over bodybuilding’s Olympic inclusion in the 1970s, he was advised bluntly that it wouldn’t happen over Killanin’s ‘lifeless body’.(7) For these in search of to keep the Olympics respectable, like Killanin, bodybuilding seemed totally out of bounds.

The elephant within the room is, in fact, the difficulty of steroids. Regardless of repeated and increasingly intricate steroid scandals, the IOC takes a agency and lively stance towards performance enhancing medicine of any sort. John Truthful’s work on weightlifting and bodybuilding discovered that anabolic steroids first infiltrated bodybuilding in the mid-twentieth century.(8) Since that time, using steroids has increased exponentially. Together with bodybuilding within the Olympics provides the IOC and the IFBB two decisions

  • permit natural bodybuilding exhibits on the Olympic stage, or
  • permit athletes on performance enhancing medicine to compete. 

The primary choice raises query marks about how well-liked such a contest can be. The second sort of contest threatens one of many Recreation’s most important tenants: drug free and truthful competition. The obstacles are giant but remarkably, bodybuilding has slowly, but certainly, made progress in the direction of the Olympic stage.

Ben Weider’s Unattainable Dream

For those skeptical of Weider’s intentions and certainly, his opening quotation, Nigel Crowther discovered that the primary male physique exhibits did date back to Historic Greece.(9) Just like the bodybuilding exhibits of in the present day, these Historic Greek exhibits have been open to athletes from across age teams and, at occasions, have been open to men and women. So the exhibits do have an historic Greek lineage. Turning to newer occasions, we’ve already coated the primary bodybuilding exhibits of the early 1900s which have been an undoubted success. Given this history and the fact that weightlifting came to the Olympics in 1896, it appears unusual that the first dialogue of Olympic bodybuilding got here in the 1960s. The Weider brothers have been pivotal on this change.

[Related:The Untold Story of the First Weightlifting Competition]

A part of this modification comes from the organization of bodybuilding during this time mid-twentieth century. John Truthful’s work on the Mr. America contest highlighted the unusual and disorganized world of American bodybuilding.(10) From 1939 to the early 1960s,  bodybuilding was was centered around one competition: The Mr. America contest. 

Organized and promoted by the Novice Athletic Union, the competition was a mix of weightlifting and bodybuilding. Underneath the supervision of Bob Hoffman, the founding father of York Barbell, bodybuilding was very much a secondary sport. To be Mr. America, contestants have been evaluated on their our bodies but in addition their athleticism — sometimes demonstrated by means of lifting weights — and even their character. 

Beneath the AAU, bodybuilding was the afterthought of Olympic weightlifting. It was one thing to be tolerated however not often praised. This modified as bodybuilding turned more and more fashionable. Extra males competed in the contests and new entrepreneurs, just like the Weiders, entered the sport. Returning to John Truthful’s research, the Weiders first came to the scene in 1945 once they shaped the IFBB, however they didn’t really make an influence till the 1960s.(11) The obvious example of this was in fact the Mr. Olympia contest, first hosted in 1965. In contrast to the Mr. America contest, which judged rivals on power, seems, and character, the Mr. Olympia contest was solely a bodybuilding competitors. For sure, it grew drastically in reputation and influence in america quickly after. 

By the top of the 1960s, the Weiders’ IFBB organization counted 43 totally different member states.(12) Where the AAU’s remit was simply the USA, the Weiders have been worldwide. Globally, the one bodybuilding competitions of benefit have been the Mr. Universe and the Mr. World contests, the latter which was hosted by the Worldwide Weightlifting Federation (IWF) from the early 1960s. When the IWF discontinued its Mr. World competition in 1969, the Weiders jumped on the opportunity to additional their international significance by internet hosting their own international exhibits. Talking that yr, Ben Weider revealed that 

I saw in worldwide sporting circles the type of status that the unusual bodybuilder want to have. We have been prepared to give up our authority and set up a democratic group with correct elections and government to realize these aims.(13)

In a bid to realize these aims, Ben worked diligently with the then secretary of the IWF, Oscar State, to attract up a brand new constitution for the Weiders’ IFBB. At an IFBB assembly in 1970, the new constitution was handed among IFBB members. Far from a unnecessary piece of bureaucratic administration, Ben’s work with Slate marked the beginning of Ben’s Olympic objective.(14) As secretary of the IWF, Slate had an intimate information of what the IOC seemed for when reviewing new Olympic sports activities. As a worldwide entity, with a rigid and properly drafted constitution, the IFBB might subsequent transfer in the direction of the IOC. 

[More from the author: The Untold History of the Barbell]

bodybuilding fellaIstvan Csak/Shutterstock

The Quest for Olympic Gold

Buoyed by the brand new IFBB structure, the Weiders made their first main attempt to hitch the IOC. In November 1970, the IFBB utilized to the Common Meeting of Worldwide Sports activities Federations (GAISF), the group chargeable for overseeing international novice sports activities.(15) Simultaneously, the Weiders entered their IFBB into the International Council of Bodily Schooling and Sport, a UNESCO group.(16) It wasn’t the IOC, however it was a pivotal start line toward Olympic standing. At the GASIF congress in 1971, the IFBB was accepted for full membership and was thereby welcomed into the broader worldwide sporting fold. It was the primary time that the IFBB had been accepted by a broader sporting physique. The GASIF congresses have been also vital in bringing together members from the IOC and the IFBB.

At the 1971 congress, for example, Ben Weider met with the Hungarian delegate and IOC member, Dr. Arpad Csanadi, about his intention to use for IOC status.(17) Csanadi, impressed with the IFBB’s software to the GASIF, inspired Weider to apply to the IOC. It was the first time an IOC member had entertained Weider’s plans and undoubtedly encouraged him to push on. The following yr, on the GAISF Congress, Ben met with Avery Brundage, the top of the IOC and Baron Killanin, Avery’s eventual successor, about becoming a member of the IOC.(18) Nothing was promised however Weider was clearly impressed. After the journey, Weider claimed that ‘the IFBB had made extra international progress than it had made prior to now twenty-five years.’(19)

Despite Weider’s optimism, broader sporting considerations prevented further progress. By the mid-1970s, the IOC froze the number of sports in the Olympics. Officers felt that too many Olympic sports have been crowding one another out, that crowds have been cut up and that television figures would fall in any extra sports entered the Olympic fold. For the IFBB, it meant that Olympic entry, in the intervening time, was blocked. 



Overcoming the Limitations

With a direct route to Olympic membership shut off, the Weiders started a circuitous, decade lengthy path to get IOC recognition. Much of this was a continuation of labor already happening, particularly with the GAISF. 

From the mid-1970s, the Weiders took a number one position in establishing an alternate sporting occasion to the Olympic games. The result of their and the GAISF’s efforts have been the World Games, which started in 1981.(20) The World Games turned a short lived stop hole for those international sports activities not welcomed by the Olympic games. Importantly, the World Video games were not the only avenue the Weiders focused. Within the late 1970s, the Weiders approached the Asian Games and Pan-American Games about turning into members. Despite the fact that they fell on the first hurdle, the Southeast Asian Video games accepted bodybuilding for its regional video games in 1979.(21) 

Fortunately for the Weiders, bodybuilding continued to impress officials outdoors the IOC. In 1985, the Olympic Council of Asia, which oversaw the Asian Video games, accepted the IFBB’s software for a full inclusion in the Video games.(22) Slowly other organizations adopted go well with. In 1994, the Pan American Sports Organization accepted bodybuilding into the Pan American Games. After the Pan American Video games, bodybuilding was introduced into the Central American Games, the Caribbean Games, the Middle East and the Pan-Arab Games.(23) 

At this level, it’s essential to notice that while bodybuilding was accepted into these games, it took a very long time for an actual bodybuilding contest to be held in these Video games. How lengthy? The primary bodybuilding contest within the Pan American Games was in 2019!(24)

Regardless of the prolonged wait, bodybuilding’s status was enhanced via its inclusion in these games for one easy cause. All of those regional games are IOC affiliates. There was thus a hope that bodybuilding’s inclusion in such games would ultimately result in an Olympic platform. This explains why in 1996, after securing recognition from these regional contests, the IFBB once extra utilized for Olympic recognition.(25) Stressing that bodybuilding was now a ‘bona fide sport’ because of the regional games, a robust petition was made for bodybuilding’s inclusion. Considerably realistically, the IFBB bid wished for ‘demonstration sport’ status, which meant that bodybuilding can be recognised as a sport but wouldn’t but be an official one.(26)

Remarkably, this strategy worked. In January 1998, the IOC’s Government Board granted recognition to the IFBB. Immediately the then president of the IOC, the Marqués de Samaranch, faxed Ben Weider a replica of the good news:

Pricey Mr. Weider, Pal,

It is my pleasure to tell you that the Government Board of the Worldwide Olympic Committee determined yesterday, in its meeting in Nagano, to grant recognition to the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) as a Recognized Federation, pursuant to Rule 29 of the Olympic Charter…

…. Lastly, I should wish to take this chance to congratulate you for all of the efforts made to be able to attain this aim, and to welcome you into the Olympic Household.(27)


Bodybuilding and the Olympics As we speak 

In 1998, it seemed like Ben Weider’s unbelievable dream may truly happen: bodybuilding would develop into a world sport at the Olympics. 

Progress did, nevertheless, stall. From 1998 to 2002, the IOC’s enthusiasm for bodybuilding waned considerably. Reflective of this was the IOC’s determination in 2002 to withdraw its official recognition of bodybuilding.(28) 

This didn’t stop efforts at full inclusion. In the interim, the IFBB has labored strenuously to realize full Olympic states, turning into affiliated with the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa, the Affiliation of Pan American Sport Federations (ACODEPA) and roughly 90 separate Nationwide Olympic Committees.(29) In 2006, Rafael Santonja succeeded Ben Weider’s successor as IFBB president and has continued Ben’s efforts.

As mentioned previously, the first IFBB competitors on the Pan American Video games was held in 2019. Speaking on the event, Santonja clearly and explicitly said that his vision for bodybuilding is strictly the identical as Ben Weider’s specifically, full Olympic standing.(30) 

Whether or not or not this can occur is anybody’s guess. Within the build as much as the 2020 Olympics there were a collection of not unrealistic rumours that bodybuilding may be included as an indication sport. Likewise the IFBB’s affiliation with the Pan American Games, the OCA, and quite a few nationwide Olympic committees points to a growing familiarity and appreciation for bodybuilding in worldwide sports activities. 

We’ve got yet to see bodybuilding in the Olympics however there’s each cause to consider that in the close to future, we might have a Mr. Olympia and a Mr. Olympic. From Ben’s pipedream within the 60s to 2019, quite a lot of progress has already been made. 


  1. Weider, Joe, Ben Weider, and Mike Steere. Brothers of Iron. Sports Publishing LLC, 2006, 71.
  2. Ibid., 1-10.
  3. Guttmann, Allen. From ritual to report: The character of recent sports. Columbia College Press, 2004, 54. 
  4. Ibid.
  5. Truthful, John, “The Intangible Arnold: The Controversial Mr. Olympia Contest of 1980”, Iron Recreation History, 11.1 (2009): Four-22.
  6. Steele, Ian H., Harrison G. Pope Jr, and Gen Kanayama. “Competitive Bodybuilding: Health, Pathology, or Both?.” Harvard Evaluate of Psychiatry 27, no. Four (2019): 233-240.
  7. Hatfield, Frederick C., “Bodybuilding as an Olympic Sport”, Sportscience Information Mar-Apr (1998): Four. 
  8. Truthful, John D. “Isometrics or steroids? Exploring new frontiers of power in the early 1960s.” Journal of Sport History 20, no. 1 (1993): 1-24.
  9. Crowther, Nigel B. “Male «Beauty» contests in Greece: The Euandria and Euexia.” L’antiquite Classique (1985): 285-291.
  10. Truthful, John D. Mr. America: The tragic historical past of a bodybuilding icon. University of Texas Press, 2015.
  11. Ibidl., 93-126.
  12. Woycke, James. Esprit de Corps: A History of North American Bodybuilding. Western College, 2016, 117.
  13. Ibid., 117.
  14. Ibid., 118.
  15. Webster, David, and Doug Gillon. Barbells and beefcake: Illustrated historical past of bodybuilding. DP Webster, 1979, 141-142.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Woycke, Esprit de Corps, 119; Oscar State, “The I.F.B.B. Congress & “Mr. Universe” Contest”, Muscle Builder, 16. 2 (1975): 28. 
  18. Truthful, Mr. America, 217. 
  19. Roach, Randy. Muscle, smoke, and mirrors. Vol. 1. AuthorHouse, 2011, 175.
  20. Woycke, Esprit de Corps, 119-120.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Weider, Weider, and Steere. Brothers of Iron, 290. 
  23. Ibid. 
  24. Mike Rowbottom, “President Rafael Santonja – constructing a body of opinion to take IFBB in the direction of the Olympics”. Inside the Games. Out there at: 
  25. Woycke, Esprit de Corps, 120.
  26. Ibid. 
  27. Kevin Grech, “THE TRUTH: Ben Weider dedicated his life for the IFBB to earn Olympic Recognition”. Evolution of Bodybuilding. Out there at:
  28. Rowbottom, “President Rafael Santonja.”
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.