They’re Pumped Up for Shot at Olympics : Bodybuilding: After 44 years of lobbying, enthusiasts might finally get a vote by the IOC.
The contestants in the bodybuilding competition parade onto the platform, their well-oiled bodies shimmering in the lights.
Lee Lebrada, six-time Mr. Olympia, flexes his arms to impress the judges.
Displaying the posing technique that enabled him to win the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, Shawn Ray elicits gasps from the audience when the veins in his legs pop out like rivers.
But Lebrada’s superior definition earns him the gold medal.
Then, flashbulbs explode like fireworks when the female contestants file onto the stage for the final posedown.
Clad in a red bikini, Cory Everson dazzles the crowd with her grace. Everson, a five-time Ms. Olympian, easily wins the gold medal, beating Anja Langer of West Germany.
Could this scenario take place in the 1996 Olympic Games?
If Ben Weider, president of the International Federation of Bodybuilding, has his way, it will. Since founding the federation 44 years ago, he has lobbied to have bodybuilding become an Olympic sport.
But when Weider approached Lord Killanin, former president of the International Olympic Committee, Killanin rebuffed him.
“He gave me a four-word response after we made our first application to the IOC,” Weider said: “ ‘Over my dead body.’ ”
Weider persisted, and Walter Troeger of West Germany, chairman of the IOC Program Committee, which determines Olympic events, favors adding bodybuilding to the Games.
“I’ve supported it for four or five years, but I’m just a member of the IOC, and it’s a matter for the IOC executive board,” Troeger said. “There are several questions which have to be considered. There’s still the definition of sport in our Olympic movement. Is bodybuilding a sport or not?”
Troeger believes the IOC could vote on whether to add bodybuilding at its meeting in Tokyo in September.
However, Anita Defrantz, an IOC member from Los Angeles, doubts that bodybuilding will be accepted.
“As you might imagine, (getting Olympic recognition) is a rather long and difficult task,” she said. “You have to show that there are 50 countries that have a national championship, and there has to be a certain number of world championships with five continents participating.
“And then you have to look at the other issues. For example, some sports have drug abuse problems, and this might be one sport that would fit into that category.”
For Weider, 64, it has been a long road.
“I must have a strong personality because I’ve been rejected all these years and I keep coming back for more,” he said. “It’s been my lifetime goal to get bodybuilding recognized as an Olympic sport.
“And I think I’m very, very near. The International Olympic Committee has great respect for bodybuilding. We’re recognized by 72 Olympic committees. That means that half the Olympic committees in the world recognize us.
“I’m hopeful it will be (accepted as an Olympic sport) this year. In the past, they’ve just rejected us outright. They were hoping I would go away and disappear. But I didn’t give up.
“The last three years, the vibrations from the IOC have been more positive, and I know quite a few of the board members support us. I find (IOC President Juan Antonio) Samaranch very understanding. Although he’s a tough administrator, he’s a person who looks to the future and he’s very sympathetic. I figure we should have Olympic recognition before the end of the year. They know I’m not going away.”
Perhaps the primary hurdle to gaining IOC recognition was the perception that bodybuilders used anabolic steroids while training.
But the federation has undertaken a testing program to curb the use of drugs.
Contestants are tested before and after all meets, with the results analyzed by IOC-approved testing laboratories.
When the drug testing started eight years ago, Weider estimated that 30% to 35% of bodybuilders used steroids.
But at the European Championships in Leningrad two months ago, only one of the 132 contestants tested positive for steroids.
“Only when they recognized how serious we were did people stop taking steroids,” Weider said.
The testing program undertaken by the federation has drawn praise from Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOC Medical Commission, who wrote a letter in support of it.
“I don’t know of too many other sports that have made the massive efforts to clean up steroids that we have,” Weider said. “We use only IOC labs for testing because local hospitals don’t have the techniques to pick up oil-based steroid usage within the last eight months.”
The federation also has expanded its drug-testing program to professional bodybuilding.
Ray, who won the Schwarzenegger event, had to return $60,000 in prize money after he was disqualified for testing positive for steroids.
“The pros didn’t think we would (start drug testing),” Weider said. “But they’ll have to get off steroids if they want to continue. It’s not only the image of the sport we’re concerned with, it’s the health of the athletes. Bodybuilding is not body destruction.”
Weider also ran into resistance from traditionalists on the IOC who don’t think bodybuilding is a sport.
But Weider makes a persuasive argument in its favor.
“It doesn’t make sense to see a skier jump off a huge hill and break his neck or crack his spine,” Weider said. “Where’s the sport in that?
“Where’s the sport in one fellow punching out another guy or making him punch drunk? What’s the value of swimming so fast or jumping so high or throwing things so far? Sport is sport. And if you like the sport, it’s a sport.”
That bodybuilding competitions are determined by judging was also a stumbling block to Olympic recognition, because the IOC doesn’t want another sport that might be subject to judging controversies, as are figure skating and gymnastics.
But the federation has upgraded its system, monitoring the judges to ensure that they don’t show favoritism at international competitions.
And after making a presentation to the IOC, during which he showed a five-minute film of Schwarzenegger extolling bodybuilding, Weider thinks he may have overcome the barriers to IOC acceptance.
Although the IOC has relaxed its rules to include professional athletes, pro bodybuilders would not be allowed to compete in the Games.
“Bodybuilders in Asia, Africa and the South Pacific are still developing, but they’re not first class yet,” Weider said. “Why would they want to send someone to the Olympics when they knew some pro was going to walk away with the title?
“If you were a bodybuilder, how would you like to compete against Lee Haney? I don’t think for the foreseeable future that we will have pros in the Olympics.”
But with the winner of the Mr. Olympia contest earning $200,000 in prize money, in addition to lucrative endorsement contracts, professional bodybuilders are likely to concentrate on the big-money contests rather than the Olympics.
After being released from the Canadian Army at the end of World War II, Weider returned home to Montreal, where his brother, Joe, the Quebec champion, introduced him to bodybuilding. While Ben trained to keep fit, Joe trained to compete.
But bodybuilding was without a governing body. Individual promoters were free to stage their own competitions using their own rules and judges.
The Weiders decided to form the International Federation of Bodybuilding.
“One of the most difficult things was to create a sport out of an activity that no one really accepted,” Weider said. “Bodybuilding was seen as a freak show. People couldn’t understand why someone would want big muscles.”
After forming the federation in 1946, Ben Weider promoted his first competition in Montreal. He put himself on the line, renting a hall without any guarantee that he would be able to sell tickets.
“I didn’t have five cents to my name,” he said. “But the fellow gave me the hall on credit. One hour after I rented the hall, I went out and had the tickets printed. And the next day, I was distributing them to clubs.”
The competition was a success, attracting a sellout crowd of 1,400. More than 500 fans were left standing outside the theater.
Weider hasn’t stopped since.
The next year, he expanded into the United States. From there it was off to Europe, where England, France and Belgium joined the federation. Its membership totals 132 nations with the recent addition of China and the Soviet Union.
Although the Soviets and other Eastern Bloc countries at first rejected bodybuilding, Weider eventually persuaded them to join the federation.
It was also difficult to get China on board, but bodybuilding soon became a big draw there, with 12,000 attending a 1986 contest in Beijing.
Normally, women are not permitted to wear bikinis in China; however, the government rescinded the rule for contestants.
The Mr. Universe contest, the federation’s world championship, is rotated among member nations. It will be held in Malaysia this year and returns to the United States in 1992. Columbus, Ohio, will stage the event on Columbus Day.
Joe Weider, publisher of Muscle & Fitness magazine, created professional bodybuilding with the Mr. Olympia contest in 1965, when Larry Scott earned $1,000 as the winner. The 1990 champion will receive $200,000.