By Randy Roach – Chapter 1: Bigger Than The Sport?
In 1981, Charles Gaines and George Butler released a revised edition of their landmark publication “Pumping Iron.” When writing on the bodybuilding comeback of Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest, Gaines made a reference that bore a relative significance to his subject at hand. Twenty-eight years later, John D. Fair would draw upon this same reference in his extensive 2009 article in Iron Game History Journal of Physical Culture, “The Intangible Arnold.” Both men wrote on the irony in timing of Muhammad Ali’s comeback against Larry Holmes that took place on October 2, 1980. This match was only two days before Arnold would once again take centre stage after a five-year layoff from competitive physique competition. Fair went one step further by quoting Arnold on the comparative relevance between his situation and that of Muhammad Ali:
“You hear the stories of the old guys, the former champs, coming back and getting wiped out by the new guys. And it was happening to Ali right before my eyes. Just like me, he decided to come back one more time. I could see he was making a mistake and for a split second I had to wonder if I’d be making the same mistake by entering the Olympia the next day. Would I be risking my legend? But it was only for a split second.” (Muscle & Fitness (M&F), Feb/1981)
Obviously there was some similarity for Arnold to draw upon, but this quote would have more relevance had Arnold actually been comparing apples to apples. The annals of professional sport are filled with tales of both heroic and disastrous athletic comebacks, spurred most often by money, fame, ego, or any combination of the three. The driven, returning athletes soon discover whether time, the sport, or both have passed them by.
In 1991, Olympic champion swimmer Mark Spitz was still competitive with, and in some cases surpassed, his seven Olympic gold medal performances 20 years earlier at the 1972 Munich Games. He demonstrated that time had not necessarily passed him by, but he was still two seconds short of any qualifying times for the Games in Barcelona, Spain in 1992. For Mark Spitz, the sport had simply evolved beyond his legendary performances. Also in the early 1990s, Swedish tennis sensation Björn Borg attempted a comeback after a nine-year absence. He chose to opt out of the latest in graphite equipment for his traditional wooden racket that brought him five consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1976 through 1980. Borg soon learned that the sport’s technology and time had both passed him by. Three-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) winner Royce Gracie experienced the evolution of the UFC when he returned after 11 years in 2006 to be soundly defeated by then champion Matt Hughes.
In the case of Muhammad Ali on October 2, 1980, he had only been away from the ring for less than two years, since regaining the prestigious heavyweight boxing title for an unprecedented third time when he beat Leon Spinks in their rematch in 1978. Nonetheless, this did not at all impede Larry Holmes from showing Ali that Father Time had in fact caught up with him and as incredible as “The Greatest of All Time” had claimed to be, he was not bigger than the sport itself. When analyzing the circumstances surrounding Arnold Schwarzenegger and his 1980 comeback, he, more than any of the above-mentioned athletes, came closest to making the claim: bigger than the sport!
In Arnold’s quote, he stated that for a split second he wondered whether he was making the same mistake as Ali in coming back with the potential of being wiped out by the competition. In the case of Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes, Ali did not control all the variables and Holmes was allowed a fair venue in order to demonstrate the natural progression of boxing without polluting the sport. Schwarzenegger’s opposition would not be granted such an opportunity. Furthermore, with the timing and the circumstances of physique competition in 1980, the controversy surrounding Arnold’s comeback definitely brought various levels of disruption to both the emergence of competitive bodybuilding and a number of careers at the time.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Randy Roach is the author of the 3-volume book series “Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors.” The books entail a comprehensive history of bodybuilding and all its related issues such as diet, supplements, weightlifting, fitness, strength training, drugs, and even global politics. The emphasis on nutrition intersects historically with the fitness industry and the general public. Many facets of this intriguing history are revealed for the first time, as well as an amazing cast of characters whose diets, philosophies and even idiosyncrasies alone make for a fascinating read.
Upon its completion, the over 15-year-long project will most likely breach three quarters of a million words through extensive interviews, research and analysis. Volume I was released in June of 2008 at 562 pages followed by Volume II in November of 2011 at 728 pages. Volume III, being released in a series of smaller books, launched Part 1 late in December of 2015 at 208 pages.
Reaction to these publications has been extremely favourable with endorsements coming from both the general reader and professionals in the field. David Epstein of Sports Illustrated commented on the “unbelievably extensive research”. Veteran industry writer, George Coates stated, “If Volume II is only half as good as Volume I, it will still be terrific! I must have read Volume I at least six times and I’m still amazed at the clarity and content throughout.” Paul Solotaroff of Men’s Journal and Rolling Stone called Volume II “a riveting, panoramic read”.
Industry experts John Kiiha and Bill Hinbern, called Book 1 of Volume III, “Outstanding”, and regarding the subject matter, Joe Rork stated, “Randy’s presentation is the best I have seen all these later years.”
Randy Roach has been active in the muscle building industry for over 40 years. Sixteen of those years have been spent in deep research of bodybuilding’s historical past digging up the secrets of training, diet, supplements and drugs. Before losing his eyesight, his 15 years as a computer programmer and technical writer in both the museum and environmental engineering fields has trained him in rationalizing large amounts of information making Randy perfect for this job. He has been published in three different fields. Randy now makes his living as an author and private health and training consultant in his home in Ontario, Canada. He is also the co-host, along with Tamas Acs, for their weekly podcast, “The World of Muscle” at www.theworldofmuscle.com.