The 1975 Mr. Olympia has been overshadowed by Pumping Iron and its focus on Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it remains a fascinating contest for what that documentary did and did not cover. Staged in apartheid South Africa with a lineup loaded with legends, the 1975 Mr. Olympia came down to a one-point decision—the closest in Mr. Olympia history. Was it the right outcome? Here’s the rest of the story.
1975 MR OLYMPIA: WHAT TO KNOW
Date. November 8, 1975
Location. Burgers Park Hotel, Pretoria, South Africa
The Olympia Before. In 1974, Franco Columbu defeated Frank Zane in the lightweight class; and Arnold Schwarzenegger, at his biggest, beat Lou Ferrigno (2nd) and Serge Nubret (3rd) in the heavyweight class. Then Arnold bested Franco for his fifth straight Mr. O title.
The Olympia After. In 1976, Columbu defeated Zane (2nd), Boyer Coe (3rd), Ed Corney (4th), and Bill Grant (5th) in the lightweight class; and Ken Waller beat Mike Katz in the heavyweight class. Then Columbu bested Waller to become Mr. Olympia.
Pumping Iron. The 1975 Mr. Olympia was captured in the classic 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, and that movie, with its focus on mostly Arnold but also Ferrigno and Columbu, has colored our impression of the contest ever since, obscuring the fact that Nubret beat Ferrigno in the heavyweight class and Schwarzenegger squeaked by Columbu for the overall win in a 4-3 decision.
Apartheid. The IFBB Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia were held in apartheid South Africa at a time when the country was banned from the Olympics, World Cup, and other international sports competitions and desperate to project a favorable image to the sports world. Concessions were made and much money was paid to bodybuilding officials by South African officials. Though Blacks were otherwise banned from the host hotel unless they worked there, an exception was made for Black bodybuilders, like Serge Nubret and Al Beckles, who were allowed to stay, dine, and compete in the Burgers Park Hotel.
Record Lineup. With nine competitors, the 1975 Mr. Olympia sported the largest lineup until the 1979 Mr. Olympia, which had 10.
Arnold’s Retirement. In his victory speech, Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his retirement from competitive bodybuilding, with six consecutive Mr. Olympia wins, but he came back in 1980 to, controversially, win his seventh Olympia title.
1975 MR OLYMPIA LINEUP
UNDER 200 POUNDS
The Barbados-born winner of the 1971 Mr. Universe was making his Olympia debut. Al Beckles, who went on to have a lengthy and successful pro career, was noted for his high-peaked biceps and consistent conditioning—most visible in his hilly back. (Beckles also competed in the 1975 Mr. Universe, held the day before at the same location, and finished second in the Universe medium class behind Robby Robinson.)
The Sardinian-born winner of the 1970 Mr. Universe was in his 4th consecutive Mr. Olympia. Franco Columbu finished second (out of three) in 1973 and won the two-person under-200 class in 1974 before losing the overall to his best friend, Arnold. (He went on to win the Mr. Olympia twice: 1976, 1981.) In addition to his phenomenal strength, Franco was noted for his superb chest and back.
41, USA (Turned 42 one day after contest.)
The winner of the 1972 Mr. America and Mr. Universe was making his Olympia debut. Corney was noted for his proportional physique and masterful posing. As Arnold says of Corney at the 1975 Olympia prejudging: “That’s what I call posing.”
Deiana won the short class of the Mr. Universe in 1971 and 1973. This was his first Olympia and final bodybuilding contest.
For Grant, who won the 1974 Mr. World, this was his Olympia debut. He had excellent biceps and a good upper body, but his legs lagged. Grant is usually left off the placings for this contest, and he did miss the prejudging after missing a flight. However, as he has explained, Grant was prejudged alone; and he appeared onstage with the other lightweights in the evening show and in Pumping Iron.
Zane won the 1968 Mr. America and three Mr. Universe titles: 1968 (over Arnold), 1970, and 1972. He previously competed in the 1972 and 1974 Mr. Olympias. (He went on to win the title three times: 1977-79.) Frank Zane was noted for his classically proportioned physique, but his conditioning was off at this contest.
OVER 200 POUNDS
23, USA (Turned 24 one day after contest.)
Ferrigno won the 1973 Mr. America and the Mr. Universe in 1973 and 1974. This was his second Mr. Olympia and, afterwards he focused on acting and didn’t compete in the Olympia again until 1992. At 6’5” and 268 lbs., Lou Ferrigno was easily the biggest competitor.
The Guadeloupe-born winner of the 1970 Mr. Europe tall class (he lost the overall to Columbu) was in his fourth straight (and final) Mr. Olympia. His legs were undersized, but Serge Nubret had one of the most aesthetically pleasing physiques of all-time.
The Austrian-born Schwarzenegger was a five-time Mr. Universe. Schwarzenegger first entered the Mr. Olympia in 1969 and won his first Mr. Olympia title in 1970 at only 23. His victory at this contest was his sixth straight Mr. Olympia win. (He won a seventh title in 1980.) Arnold, at 6’2”, was noted for his biceps, chest, back detailing, and calves. However, he had slimmed down for his role in the movie Stay Hungry, which shot earlier in 1975, and only prepared for this Olympia for three months. So, at 235 lbs., Arnold was undersized and a little smooth when compared to previous years.
1975 MR OLYMPIA EYEWITNESS REPORT
The following report by Armand Tanny appeared in the April 1976 Muscle Builder magazine. We disagree that Corney “came uncomfortably close to winning” the lightweight class or that Arnold “never looked better in his life.” Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see what was reported in the #1 bodybuilding magazine then, such as downsized Arnold being referred to as “sleek.”
On the second night of the Championships the Mr. Olympia contest also drew a capacity crowd. The greatest bodybuilders alive came from across the earth to put their muscles on the block for this event.
Franco Columbu, U.S.A., took the under 200-lbs. Mr. Olympia title. He displayed his overwhelming mass with a dynamic posing routine. It’s doubtful if Franco could have packed another ounce of muscle on his body. He had everything it took to win, a steely-hard mass with perfect tone, yet, Ed Corney, U.S.A., came uncomfortably close to winning. Ed’s magnificent posing routine held the audience enthralled. It impressed on other contestants the need for, and the advantage, of presenting muscle with maximum power and high style.
Once again, Arnold Schwarzenegger took the Mr. Olympia title in the heavyweight class (over 200-lbs). Sleek and powerful, he performed as smooth as a racing machine. He never looked better in his life. Had he been anything less he would have fallen to Serge Nubret who came on strong, every pose perfect, glittering with muscle. Lou Ferrigno, big beyond compare, obviously tried to lean his excessive bodyweight on the lighter, more defined Arnold and lost his chance.
The highlight of the contest had to be the posedown between Schwarzenegger and Columbu for the over-all Mr. Olympia title. Highly trained performers both of them, having given dual posing exhibitions on many occasions, they battled pose for pose, this time for real, in their deadly aim for the title. In a scary decision Arnold edged out the smaller Franco by a vote of four to three.
1975 MR OLYMPIA: ARNOLD VS. FRANCO
The 1975 Mr. Olympia came down to a surprisingly close duel between Arnold Schwarzenegger and his best friend, Franco Columbu. Downsized Schwarzenegger nearly lost to Columbu, who was at his best ever. Arnold sported superior arms and calves and, at 6’2”, a more aesthetically pleasing physique. Columbu had the edge in chest, back, and deltoids, but, at 5’5” and bow-legged, he could sometimes appear blocky in comparisons with the reigning champ. It was an apples versus oranges decision (four judges chose Arnold, three chose Franco), but a good case can be made that Franco Columbu, forever chasing Arnold, finally showcased the superior body on this day in South Africa and deserved the title that he won the next year, after Arnold retired.
1975 MR OLYMPIA RESULTS
UNDER 200 POUNDS
1. FRANCO COLUMBU — 181 points
2. Ed Corney — 176 points
3. Albert Beckles — 172 points
4. Frank Zane — 170 points
OVER 200 POUNDS
1. ARNOLD SCHWARZNEGGER — 191 points
2. Serge Nubret — 178 points
3. Lou Ferrigno — 173 points
ARNOLD SCHWARZNEGGER — 4 points
Franco Columbu — 3 points
All photos: YouTube screenshots of “Pumping Iron”
See also: The First Mr. Olympia