The Greatest Mr. Olympia MEMORIES
Muscular Development|December 2020
Ron Harris and Giles Thomas have both been to their fair share of Mr. Olympia contests. Which ones stand out most in their minds, and why? For this Olympia Special issue, we got those special memories.
GILES THOMAS AND RON HARRIS

GILES

Meeting the GOAT

Ronnie Coleman, of course. It was my very first Olympia all the way back in 2001. Ronnie Coleman – at that time – had previously won three Sandows (1998-2000) and was looking to secure his fourth. Traveling over from the UK with a friend, we were attending as fans. The year previous, I’d shot and reported on the 2000 British Grand Prix in Manchester for a British publication. Ronnie won that show but took fierce opposition from the first very real clash between him and Jay Cutler. Ask fans when the first real battle between Jay and Ronnie was and most will say, “Oh that’s easy bro, the 2001 Mr. Olympia was when Jay stepped his game up.” Incorrect. In the 2000 Olympia, Jay rose to 8th place from the year previous when he placed outside of the top 10. He was moving up, yes, but not really any kind of serious threat to Big Ronnie who handily steamrolled his way through fellow competitors Kevin Levrone (2nd) and Flex Wheeler (3rd). No one really expected Jay to lose a drastic 14 pounds from Las Vegas to come into that show in Manchester post-Olympia to take a mighty impressive 2nd behind Ronnie.

Anyway, I’ve digressed a tad here. Attending the Meet the Olympians a day before the Mr. Olympia, I took with me some 10” x 8” prints of the photos I had taken at the 2000 British Grand Prix. I queued for Dennis James, Marcus Ruhl, Jay Cutler, and finally, Ronnie. Thing was, the queue for Ronnie was so long – it went out the door, even after most of the other pros had met and greeted (and left) all their eager fans.

Clutching proudly a set of Ronnie Coleman photographs I’d taken and had especially printed to give to my heroes in Las Vegas that year, I gulped at the prospect of queueing quite that long to give Ronnie his gift. With Ronnie was a dozen or so of his all-female family members, daughters, sisters, and relatives. They were easily identifiable as they all wore Ronnie t-shirts. Going up the side of the table, I called to two of his crew. Both came over and I asked if they could give my stage photos of Ronnie to Ronnie, but not to disturb him as he was engaging with his many fans.

“You want Ronnie to sign these?” one of them asked. “No, no, these are FOR Ronnie, I took them last year when he won in England and thought he might like a set to keep,” I replied. “Wait here one second,” she said to me as they walked over to Ronnie. One leaned over to a sitting Ronnie and as she pointed over to me clearly telling him the situation, I felt awkward at the misunderstanding, the queue of fans starting to glare at me by this point in time. Ronnie stood up, walked over, asked my name and thanked me for the photographs.

“Wait here one second please Giles,” he said and went back across the room to his table, signed a photo of his own to me, walked back over, shook my hand, thanked me again, then went right back to doing what he does best. Being the GOAT (greatest of all time) with his fans. That was a very special memory for me and one I’ve since thanked him for, several times.

RON

1991 Orlando, FL: End of an Era

They say there’s nothing like your first time, and man is it true. I was 21 years old and fully obsessed with bodybuilding, a super fan who had only recently taken down the taped-up photos of stars like Rich Gaspari, Lee Haney, Mike Christian, and Lee Labrada from my walls. I was working for American Sports Network, and the company was producing the one-hour ESPN special for the 1991 Mr. Olympia. I was backstage and on hand for all the athlete interviews. I’d been working on the American Muscle Magazine show since January, so I’d already seen some of the competitors in person and met a few. I’d even been on set to film Lee Haney’s workout video a few months prior for his new Twinlab supplement stack. But this would be the first time I ever saw most of the men on stage. The show took place at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel in Orlando in a cavernous ballroom. It was backstage that I got my first glimpse of the new British guy, Dorian Yates. I’d seen photos of him winning the Night of Champions earlier in the season, and was anxious to see if he would really be Haney’s biggest threat as many were predicting.

Dorian was fully covered up in his blue warm-up suit that would later be dubbed by Peter McGough “The Tardis,” named after the interdimensional teleporting phone booth from the “Dr. Who” series on BBC. It truly was an illusion, because my first thought was, “this Yates character doesn’t look very big at all. Haney will make him look like a child.” I assumed Lee’s toughest opposition would come from Lee Labrada, who had taken a controversial second place the year before in Chicago, the only year the O ever tested for steroids. I also figured Shawn Ray and Gaspari would be up there, along with Vince Taylor, who had been third in 1989 and missed ’90.

Special mention needs to go to one of the IFBB’s security workers at the show, a big man from Texas with 22-inch arms bulging out of his IFBB Staffpolo shirt: Ronnie Coleman. Weeks later he would win the IFBB World Championships and earn his pro card. At the show, which back in those days took place all in one day, it was Dorian who matched up best with Haney. At the same height of 5’11”, Yates was about 235 to Haney’s 250, but his width, mass, and grainy condition were impressive to behold. In the end, Lee won his eighth consecutive Mr. Olympia title and announced his retirement during his victory speech. He was only 31 years old. Unlike some others, Lee moved on with his life and never again graced a stage.

Meanwhile, the writing was on the wall. Dorian Yates had arrived, and the bodybuilding world understood that it would not be those other men who chased Lee for years that would likely be next in line for the throne – it was to be the new bloke, Dorian. The reign of Lee Haney had come to a glorious end as he stepped down at his career best. The era or Dorian Yates was about to begin.

GILES

Backstage at the 2002 Mr. Olympia

Attending as a fan the year before, this year I was returning as a fully-fledged media guy. I’d been writing, shooting and reporting for British magazines at that point for seven years, but now I also had my own bodybuilding dedicated website (forums, galleries, etc.) that was essentially an online magazine. With some help from fellow British media chaps, the great photographer Kevin Horton and with strings pulled by the legendary writer Peter McGough, I managed to get my press credentials granted. This sure was a huge step up from the year previously I had attended as a fan. With that lanyard hanging around my neck I was now allowed literally ALL access. Anywhere I wanted to go, security would glance down at my pass with my name on and was waved right on through, no hassles whatsoever. I liked it. So where do you think I enjoyed most? Well, given that you read the sub-title heading I’ll assume you already know – backstage!

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENTView All

TO THE MAXX!

MAXX ‘THE DESTROYER’ CHARLES IS READY TO MOVE UP IN 2021!

9 mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021

TOP 5 PRE-and POST-WORKOUT SUPPLEMENTS

Seeing the best bodies in the world in Muscular Development, in print and online, tends to motivate the aspiring bodybuilder to train harder and with more focus.

7 mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021

WHAT BODYBUILDING IS ALL ABOUT?

Bodybuilding is a highly demanding sport. Disciplined diet, exhaustive exercise, sacrifices in personal matters, and financial demands make the iron sport an extreme one.

7 mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021

The True Low-Carb, Ketogenic Diet: What Went Wrong?

FAT ATTACK

8 mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021

SERGIO OLIVA JR.: 2021 WILL BE MY YEAR

This son of three-time Mr. Olympia Sergio Oliva never holds back. Best of all, he can dish it out and take it too, which is why many other pros avoid engaging with him at all. Sergio only competed once in 2020 with a resonating fifth place at his first Arnold Classic, the first time we’d seen him on stage since the 2018 Mr. Olympia. I hadn’t spoken with him since shortly after the Arnold, the weekend when the COVID-19 pandemic began turning our world upside down. Since that feels like 20 years ago, it was high time to catch up with this genuine, passionate, and often hilarious bodybuilding star.

10+ mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021

MRE ® - Real Whole Food Protein Shake

Tired of wolfing down shakes that taste like chalk? No worries. These shakes from Redcon1 taste delicious.

1 min read
Muscular Development
January 2021

Ketogenic Diets Inhibit mTOR, Insulin, IGF-1 and Muscle Growth

Nutrition is arguably the most important component of an athlete or bodybuilder’s training regimen.

4 mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021

INSULIN: Bodybuilder Friend or Foe?

Insulin is an extremely anabolic hormone that has the ability to drastically increase muscle protein synthesis, enhancing muscle growth.

5 mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021

BIG IRON

With Big Ronnie Coleman, Eight-Time Mr. Olympia

5 mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021

Clinical use of aromatase inhibitors

Contrary to expectations, medical professionals (such as physicians and researchers) learn from folklore developed within (sub)cultures, or from impassioned pursuits by laymen affected by a specific pathology.

9 mins read
Muscular Development
January 2021
RELATED STORIES

The Right Move

New shops and showrooms bring exciting opportunities for local designers, makers, and arts organizations to sell their wares to home enthusiasts here and everywhere.

2 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

Think Like a Dog, and “Shhh!”

Meemo’s Farm, a prime bird hunting destination in north-central Michigan, was the setting for dog trainer Ronnie Smith’s “Foundation Seminar,” a two-day introduction to the “Silent Command System” of dog training. Participants ranged in experience from those working with their first dogs to professional handlers/guides to veteran trainers with more than 40 years of experience.

8 mins read
The Upland Almanac
Spring 2021

ENTERTAINMENT

JERSEY SHORE FAMILY VACATION - Thurs., Nov. 19 on MTV

3 mins read
Star
November 23, 2020

1968 Chevelle SS396 Vintage Drag Test!

As the lights come down, you squeeze the engine toward six grand, slide your leftfoot off the clutch, stab the loud pedal between the last yellow and the green, and bang!— 375 horses (a 425 Performance Rating via NHRA’s new system) launch you off the line for a near record run. Right? Wrong! At least that’s the way it was on every run we made with this month’s drag test vehicle, a ’68 Chevrolet SS396 Chevelle hardtop.”

3 mins read
Hot Rod
January 2021

DERBY CITY

It might not have been LaborDay, but the BMX world was anxious to finally return to the longtime Louisville tradition. ...and it was well worth the wait!

6 mins read
PULL Magazine
November/December 2020

ORANGE SLICE

The Cutting of a True Citrus Classic

7 mins read
Street Trucks
October 2020

Gettin' ROWDY

Yes. Rowdy is his real name. As his dad tells us, they’d first considered Rogue, but while watching a PBR rodeo, they saw a cowboy named Rowdy go eight seconds - and instantly thought that was a cool name.

6 mins read
PULL Magazine
October 2020

CORNHUSKER Nationals

Between the third and fourth straight at Star City BMX there is a small marsh, lined with tall cattails and filled with tadpoles.

5 mins read
PULL Magazine
October 2020

YELLOW STONE

Tripping Out in All The Right Ways

3 mins read
Drive!
August 2020

HIDDEN & FORGOTTEN

Hidden since 1974, Ronnie Belletieri’s 1969 Dodge Daytona is set to undergo a full OE restoration.

5 mins read
Hot Rod
July 2020