1971 Mr. Olympia: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ben Weider

The 1971 Mr. Olympia was supposed to be the decider. After Sergio Oliva defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1969 Mr. Olympia and Arnold took the Olympia title from Sergio in 1970, their third Olympia duel was set up as the clash of titans. It wasn’t to be. Instead, Arnold won his second consecutive Mr. Olympia in 1971, this time unopposed. The contest was literally no contest. But it’s a unique and important event in bodybuilding history, the great What if?, an almost-clash when politics won out, the fans lost, and two mythical legends appeared on the same stage but not at the same time. Grab your passport and hop in the time machine. Let’s journey to Paris over a half-century ago for the 1971 Mr. Olympia.


DATE: September 25, 1971

LOCATION: The Palais de la Mutualité theater, Paris, France. This, the seventh Mr. Olympia, was the first held outside New York City and the only one, to date, held in France. It was co-promoted by Serge Nubret, then the IFBB vice-president, and Joe Weider.

THE OLYMPIA BEFORE: Two weeks after defeating him in the AAU Mr. World, Arnold Schwarzenegger beat reigning Mr. Olympia Sergio Oliva in New York City in the 1970 Mr. Olympia. The only other competitor, Reg Lewis, was third.

THE OLYMPIA AFTER: In one of the greatest Mr. Olympia contests ever, Arnold Schwarzenegger defeated Sergio Oliva (2nd) and also Serge Nubret (3rd), Frank Zane (4th), and Franco Columbu (5th). Many still contend Sergio should’ve won.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, 24, USA. The defending champ.

DISQUALIFIED SERGIO OLIVA, 30, USA. The three-time champ (1967-69) trying to regain his crown.


1971 was the year the Weider brothers, Joe and Ben, and their IFBB turned up the heat on their rival bodybuilding organization, NABBA. The previous year, the Weiders had sent a contingent of their sponsored bodybuilders, including Arnold, to the NABBA Mr. Universe, where they dominated. Arnold won the 1970 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe; Frank Zane won the 1970 NABBA (amateur) Mr. Universe. In 1971, the Weiders began taking the opposite approach and forbid bodybuilders from competing in NABBA or other organizations with penalties of one-year IFBB suspensions. The NABBA Pro Mr. Universe (previously and arguably still then bodybuilding’s top title) was held in London just one week before the 1971 IFBB Mr. Olympia and IFBB Mr. Universe were held jointly in Paris, just 300 miles away. It was very tempting for bodybuilders to do both elite European shows. Arnold was steered away from that temptation.

Sergio, who was then working with Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones, no friend to the Weiders, was steered towards it. Controversially, Sergio Oliva lost the 1971 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe to Bill Pearl (neither was in peak shape). A week later, Sergio showed up in Paris only to be told he could not compete and was banned from the IFBB for a year. (Three others who intended to compete in the IFBB Mr. Universe were also banned: Franco Columbu, Roy Callendar, and Ken Waller.) After issuing a letter of apology, Sergio Oliva was allowed to guest-pose in the 1971 Olympia.

mr olympia 1971
Arnold wins the 1971 Mr. Olympia unopposed. With promoters Serge Nubret (left) and Joe Weider.


As with other Mr. Olympias of this era, the 1971 Olympia was held in conjunction with the IFBB Mr. Universe. Thankfully so, since the professional Olympia (open to previous amateur Universe winners) had yet to have more than four competitors. In 1968, Sergio Oliva had won unopposed. This year, with Oliva banned, Arnold Schwarzenegger was unopposed. So it was good thing for the fans that the amateur Mr. Universe featured 54 athletes from 37 countries. Albert Beckles won.

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Albert Beckles (center) winning the 1971 IFBB Mr. Universe.

As for the Mr. Olympia, it was essentially a posing exhibition for 246-pound Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was bigger but smoother than the year prior. He must’ve known for a week he’d have no competition, so why stick to the strictest diet? The Universe and Olympia featured a 21-piece orchestra, which likely played classical music as Arnold rolled through his poses, and the sold-out crowd of 1789 in the audience in the Palais de la Mutualit√© cheered.

mr olympia 1971
Arnold strikes a not-so-sharp rear lat spread.

But Arnold wasn’t the only one in this posing exhibition. Barred from the Mr. Universe, Arnold’s best friend, Franco Columbu, guest-posed.

And, barred from the Olympia, Sergio Oliva also guest-posed. As always, The Myth looked mythical with his tiny waist, ham-like arms, and, by the standards of the day, colossal quads. But, like Arnold, he was blurry. Had Arnold and Sergio competed as they appeared that day, the nod probably would’ve gone to Arnold, who was still sharper than his rival. The better unanswered question is: What would’ve happened had both been at their best? The bodybuilding world had to wait a year for that question to be put before the judges, and, when it was, at the 1972 Mr. Olympia, many disagreed with the answer.


The following account by Bob Hise appeared in the April 1972 issue of Muscle Builder magazine. Because the Mr. Olympia was no contest, the article is mostly about the Mr. Universe and the section on the Mr. Olympia, subtitled: “OFFICER OLIVA MAKES AN UNEXPECTED APPEARANCE,” is mostly about the former Mr. O who didn’t compete.

Sergio Oliva, recently appointed to the Chicago police department, filed an application to enter the Mr. Olympia show in July. Naturally it was accepted, but when he made known his intentions to enter a non-sanctioned contest, his IFBB application was returned. Ben Weider pleaded with Sergio not to disqualify himself by entering this unsanctioned event. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, begging for competition, told Sergio six weeks in advance that the IFBB would not let him in but Oliva, prodded by his patron, Arthur Jones of Florida, would not listen. He went to London and was refused at Paris. Heartbroken, Sergio did not realize the now-official status of the IFBB demanded it bar him. Oliva was very steamed up to appear before this muscle-hungry crowd in any capacity, however. He pleaded to go on as an exhibitor and after some deliberation the request was granted, only after sending a letter of apology to the IFBB Congress.

1971 mr olympia
Sergio Oliva was huge but smooth at the 1971 Mr. Olympia.

And what a performance he gave! No matter how often one sees Sergio the reaction must always be the same-absolute amazement. He tore the place apart. His magnetism and charisma even exceeds Arnold’s. He makes fans on cue in the tradition of Grimek, Scott, and Reeves, for he is a physique buff’s dream. He provides more than just an incredible body and posing display. He is an indescribable complete show in himself and awed the fans from start to finish.

1971 mr olympia
Sergio Oliva guest posing at the 1971 Mr. Olympia.

Sergio was in as good shape as I’ve ever seen him. But he makes too many concessions to bulk-madness. Apparently he refuses to train properly because a lack of muscle-density holds him back from being totally unstoppable. Arnold and Columbu are definitely in his class. With greater density to complement his awesome size, shape, and proportion, Oliva would be peerless. If Sergio would hit California this summer and pick up some more tips from Joe Weider, who originally brought him to prominence, he might easily regain Mr. Olympia in 1972.

mr olympia 1971
Arnold strikes his trademark twisting double biceps. His delts and arms were stupendous.

Only in the Mr. Olympia event did this fantastic night falter. Defending champ Arnold Schwarzenegger charged through his paces unopposed. Without Sergio or Columbu breathing down his broad back, Arnold appeared relaxed. He was far superior to his 1970 shape to this viewer (meaning ultra-fantastic) and only direct comparisons with the others would have determined the best built man of all time. The fans wanted The Great Posedown III, but gladly settled for Arnold solo. Maybe next year.


September 25, 1971 / Paris, France

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger ($1000)

mr olympia 1971 arnold schwarzenegger
Arnold counts his $1000 winnings with Serge Nubret and Joe Weider.

See also: The 1969 Mr. Olympia and The 1975 Mr. Olympia