Lee Haney receives massive audience adulation as he takes an eighth Olympia title and his “place in history,” but Dorian Yates in his Big O debut comes Oh so close to over-shadowing the Awesome One in a Disney World muscle shoot-out that proved pro bodybuilding—IFBB style—ain’t no Mickey Mouse sport!
INTRIGUE AND CONJECTURE ON THE ROAD TO DISNEY WORLD
After the trauma of last year’s drug-tested Mr. Olympia (when the star of the show was undoubtedly Dr. Bob Goldman’s spectrometer readings) the bodybuilding community hoped for a quietish sort of tussle for the 27th staging of the event created by Joe Weider in 1965. But quiet periods in bodybuilding are about as common as the Duke of Edinburgh punching a time clock, and fate had other plans.
For a start, there was the reality of 13 IFBB pros having defected to the new pro outfit in town: the WBF (World Bodybuilding Federation), instituted by WWF (World Wrestling Federation) head honcho Vince McMahon. Whatever the PR messages sent forth, the truth was that at the commencement of the year, McMahon’s initiative loomed as the biggest threat to the IFBB dominance of the pro scene since the Montreal-based organization’s 1945 inception. With the WBF having held its inaugural “contest” on June 15, and the WWF and McMahon becoming embroiled in a drug scandal, the potency of the threat became somewhat diluted.
But still, the IFBB couldn’t afford a lackluster Olympia in ’91. They had to produce an event that not only rammed home the message that pro bodybuilding—IFBB style—was sport in its purest form, but that from an entertainment point-of-view they still had the muscle-pulling power to attract the necessary sponsorship and fill the 4000-seater Walt Disney World Dolphin theater. With such a healthy Mr. Olympia flagship, a true sporting flagship, the IFBB would reinforce the feeling that all the WBF had going for them was a recklessly controlled checkbook.
And the juxtaposition of money and sport produced the second component that would ensure the 1991 Mr. Olympia contest contained a dormant capacity for explosive controversy. The reason revolved around Lee Haney, who was going for a record-breaking eighth Sandow statuette, the annexation of which would relegate the great Arnold Schwarzenegger to second billing in the Olympia Hall of Fame. But surely Haney’s pursuit of a “place in history” would engender a demand for tickets rather than produce the grounds for potential polemic disturbances.
But closer scrutiny of the scenario reveals that earlier this year the seven-time Mr. Olympia signed a mega-bucks contract with the Twinlab supplement corporation. The New York-state based company had a mighty altercation with the Weider Health & Fitness company over the refusal to allow Twinlab ads in the world’s highest circulation bodybuilding/fitness mags, Muscle & Fitness and Flex. How would the Weider company, with its intrinsic IFBB connection, feel about an eighth Haney win of the IFBB’s premier event, enabling their rivals to splash the information to all and sundry that the greatest bodybuilder in history—greater than Arnold—owed it all to commodities other than Weider products? Added to the fermenting cocktail was the rumor that, subsequent to an eighth win, Haney would be offered a WBF contract that he just couldn’t refuse! Again, how would the IFBB/Weider Health & Fitness combine feel about their money-bags rivals being able to honestly boast that they had bodybuilding’s greatest exponent?
Mindful of these considerations, experienced voices during the run-up to the Orlando bash would tell you that Lee Haney would just not be allowed to win the 1991 Mr. Olympia, irrespective of the physique he presented for adjudication on September 14! Against that backdrop, the fact that the Awesome One won his “place in history” in a contest in which a riot wouldn’t exactly have broken out if the runner-up had taken the top spot should be proof enough to throw out of court those who talk of clandestine strings being pulled to guarantee the “right” result. But shucks! It was a good story while it lasted.
With reference to the “Stop Haney” movement, the last person who wanted to breathe life into it was the seven-time Olympia winner himself. That he had signed with Twinlab couldn’t be denied, but queries concerning his possible enlistment to WBF ranks were swiftly brushed aside. My enquiry, prior to the contest, as to whether his business activities elsewhere affected his confidence in regard to receiving a fair deal from the IFBB met the following response: “I have no worries on that score whatsoever! Throughout all my IFBB experiences, I’ve never felt threatened. I know that people who run the organization are men and women of the highest integrity; they’re the best….So no there’s no question in my mind that 100% integrity will be maintained for this contest.”
Persuasive sentiments, but cynics would argue that, with the 1991 Mr. Olympia yet to take place, you wouldn’t expect Haney to say anything else. But the fact that Lee Haney articulated the same testimonial during his victory speech sounded the death knell for the conspiratorial storyline that had wended its way through 1991.
Already fueled with the desire to eradicate the sourish taste of his 1989 and 1990 Olympia forays by producing a physique worthy of taking a “place in history,” sources close to Haney say the Big O incumbent was more than aware of the repercussions of Dorian Yates’ Night of Champions victory in May. The prospect of a competitor matching him for overall size was a new adventure, and so preparations for Florida took on an even greater intensity. Whatever position awaited Lee Haney in Orlando on September 14th, he was determined to go into, or just miss out on, history with an awesome bang!
WHEN THE TALKING STOPS AND THE WALKING STARTS
At 2:15 PM on Saturday, September 14th, 1991, 27 competitors walked out to form a line across the stage of the expansive Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel to dispute the 27th staging of Joe Weider’s Mr. Olympia: The number 27 being a pure coincidence, not an elaborate mathematical adornment. There are no free lunches for Olympia entry: 26 competitors had earned their passage via the qualifying competitions that had taken place in the preceding 12 months. Plus there was the one wild card invitation, allowed annually: this year’s recipient being Mike Matarazzo.
With Haney drawn #4 and Yates #17, this particular duo were on opposite sides of the stage. The champ looked across inquisitively as the debutant introduced himself to the assembled gathering with a lat spread: a form of greeting that met with huge audience endorsement. Indeed, until the latter stages of the contest, the name Yates was to consistently produce the most clamorous audience acknowledgement. Offstage, the Awesome One is now regularly seen wearing spectacles, and he adopted a squinted gaze as he completed his first-ever, in-the-flesh examination of his potential nemesis.
Yates, in turn, had allowed himself a perusal of the physique whose head wore the crown, although, true to his game plan, he had desisted from appearing too eager to tilt his head in Haney’s direction. A good champion—and Haney is a great champion—leaves no competitive stone unturned, and Yates had been warned that in his role of newcomer some Haney psych-out tactics may come his way. The Briton took the view that such gamesmanship only works when the intended recipient gives off an aura of “victim.” Such vibes, he confirmed, wouldn’t emanate from him, and he resolved that at all times during the contest he would give no scope for his actions to be interpreted as subservience.
That not only the 27 Olympians were eager to see what the day would bring was born out by an unprecedented 3000 spectators assembling for the prejudging. They knew the real competition, the real sporting clash, would take place in the afternoon, and as true fans they were determined to be there to witness history being made, or unmade. First impressions were that Haney and Yates were the biggest men onstage. Haney appearing, perhaps, wider but softer; Yates rock-hard, bigger and thicker than New York.
The contestants were ordered forward in groups of four to go through their relaxed turns. Thus Haney found himself in the first group called, and as he went through the 360-degree maneuvers he was sweating profusely. As Yates came center-stage with #14, #15, and #16, a buzz spread through the audience, as many for the first time were treated to the proportionate, densely, teak-hard, and cut physique that is the Yates trademark. Of the other pre-contest favorites: Shawn Ray looked lighter than his  Arnold Classic victory, the decreased bodyweight not enhanced by razor-sharp cuts. Lee Labrada was bigger in certain areas, arms and thigh sweep, but his chest lacked thickness. As for Vince Taylor, the immediate impact he caused was that his upper torso was unoiled. Notoriously nervous, the assumption was that Vince had mistimed his backstage preparations.
ZERO HOUR AND COUNTING
As 2:25 PM, head judge and promoter Wayne DeMilia barked out the first comparison: “Lee Haney, Lee Labrada, Dorian Yates.” The crowd whooped in anticipation as the two behemoths moved towards each other. Unfortunately—and unforgivably for a Disney World event—the scriptwriter had forgotten to remind Lee Labrada that his role was one of a supporting nature, and the [Mr. Olympia] runner-up in ’89 and ’90 stood between the two heavyweights marooned as if in the valley of the giants. The crowd would have to wait for numbers 4 and 17 to stand delt-to-delt.
The second comparison saw Yates standing between Lee Labrada and Shawn Ray, and with the Englishman overwhelming both for size and condition, their conflicting candidatures for number one contender spot were already fatally damaged. The third comparison comprised of Haney with Labrada and Taylor either side of him, whilst calls four and five were for Yates to line-up with Schmidt and Labrada and Labrada and Gaspari respectively.
Another call (Schmidt, Ray, and Taylor) and then at 2:35 PM the Awesome One and The Shadow finally stood next to each other with Haney taking center spot, with Yates to his left and Schmidt to his right. Yates quotes his height at 5’10”, Haney sites being an inch taller, but it was clear that both hairlines shared the same altitude. Either Haney’s been doing too many squats or Yates’ propensity for hanging leg raises has brought forth an unexpected bonus! The opportunity for closer analysis proved that Haney had slightly the greater width and a more classical sweep above the waist, without Yates being unduly embarrassed by the upper torso comparison. In contrast, the owner of Birmingham’s Temple Gym completely overwhelmed the reigning champ in terms of the contours exhibited throughout the lower structure. The Englishman carried superior mass, much greater thigh sweep, and was way ahead on hamstring and calf development.
Thus from an overall perspective, the awarding of this round to Yates would not have been outrageous. But the old adage states that to take the crown from the champ, the challenger must knock the incumbent out. In truth whilst Dorian’s credentials had pushed the champ towards the ropes in this round, the killer punch on September 14, 1991, was not available. Which is to Haney’s credit, because had he shown up in his 1989 and 1988 shape (1990 and it’s drug-tested scenario can be disregarded), he would surely have found himself trailing groggily in Yates’ slipstream.
Whether the judges saw it that way was not clear at the time. What was clear was that, already, the day’s top check of $75,000 would be disputed only by these two contrasting super-heavyweights. And whilst their differing skin pigmentation would allow the battle to be described as a “black and white affair,” the same was certainly not true of the destiny in the final decision. Hindsight shows that judges awarded the relaxed round to the sitting tenant of the Olympia throne. And not for the first time Haney had cause to thank the genetics with which his upper body had been endowed.
Commencing at 3:10 PM, it took 46 minutes to get the Olympia’s largest ever field of 27 through the competition’s individual compulsory poses segment. Referring to notes taken at the time (I took them from Chris Lund, and I’ll keep cracking that joke until somebody laughs), here’s an initial impression of each contender [in the eventual top six]:
1. Sonny Schmidt
Slightly heavier than his second-place showing at last May’s Night of Champions, and seemingly not quite as ripped. Lat spreads—front and rear—knockouts, as is the sweep to his outer thighs. I’d previously tipped Sonny to crack the top six, and he didn’t disappoint.
4. Lee Haney
Upper body more full and powerful-looking than recent years. Arms (a problem area in days gone by) bigger than for some time. Thighs cut, but lacking the mass to balance the upper torso. Rear lat spread deserves a pilot’s license, although the wide expanse on view lacks for detail. The champ’s obviously come into this contest prepared for a war.
5. Vince Taylor
Ripped and classy physique containing no fatally lagging muscle areas. Back separation is best and deepest of contest. Vince (who pulled out of last year’s Olympia due to cramping) began to cramp up so badly backstage after his individual compulsories that for a nervous few minutes it seemed that history may repeat itself.
7. Lee Labrada
Lacking the deep cuts and hard vascularity of previous years. Arms and outer thighs more developed, but lats (from front) bereft of distinctive Labrada sweep: the overall effect damaging symmetry. The postmortem must be that, despite an increased bodyweight, he didn’t arrive at the 1991 Olympia with an armory as competitive as his previous tilts at usurping the Animal Kingdom [the name of Haney’s Atlanta gym].
8. Shawn Ray
It seemed to me that Shawn had fallen between the conflicting two stools of size and cuts, the result being that he didn’t display outrageous size or blinding cuts. That being said, his full-bellied musculature and shape present formidable credentials, and his rear lat spread and feathered thighs make impressive viewing.
17. Dorian Yates
The Englishman came out to the biggest cheer thus far. Since his Night of Champions win, he’s packed on another five pounds, the 240-pound final product being noticeably improved by: more delt width and thickness, more upper back thickness, larger arms and chest, with taper improved by waist being more streamlined and lower lats considerably thicker. The audience cheered its way through each compulsory, the anticipation for him and Haney to mix it mano-a-mano growing with each pose.
THE BIG BEEF!
The previous assessments were born out as at 3:56 PM Wayne DeMilia, with suitably dramatic nuances, drawled out the names of those required for the first call-out of the compulsory comparisons: “Lee Haney, Vince Taylor…and…Dorian Yates!” The crowd of 3000 went into what I then thought was a frenzy, but I was later to learn I hadn’t heard anything yet!
Haney took center position with Taylor on his left, as Yates took the long walk to occupy the berth on the reigning champ’s right. Britain’s best-ever bodybuilder had added the extra poundage from New York strictly in the interests of taking Haney on for mass, and he placed himself almost against, and touching, the man he had committed himself to shadowing for the previous four months. As they went into the first compulsory—front double biceps—I felt Dorian, in his zeal to illustrate his dimensional compatibility, had gotten too close to Haney and was guilty of cramping himself for space, the result being he was unable to really open up on several of the poses. Throughout the seven comparisons, I didn’t change my view. Here’s how I recorded those comparisons as my powers of telepathy screamed at my fellow countryman [Yates]: “Get away from him, and open up!”
Front double biceps: Haney
Front lat spread: draw
Side chest: draw
Rear double biceps: Haney
Rear lat spread: Haney
Side triceps: Yates
Abs and thigh: Yates
Thus, as far as moi (sometimes referred to as the president of the Dorian Yates fan club) was concerned, Haney had clearly won that set of comparisons, and the omens didn’t look good for British hopes. With the audience whistling and stamping their feet, Haney and Yates returned to their lineup positions, and there they stayed until the last callout of the round some 25 minutes later.
GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL!
At 4:25 PM on Saturday, September 14th, 1991, the 3000 muscle devotees present in the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel theater witnessed bodybuilding’s equivalent of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, High Noon, and Rocky’s I, II, III, IV, and V all rolled into one! A callout involving Francis Benfatto, Thierry Pastel, and Achim Albrecht had just been completed as Wayne DeMilia shuffled up and down the judges’ desks asking who they now wanted to look at. For once, the judges and the audience were as one, the only comparison anyone wanted to see required only two protagonists. DeMilia duly summoned: “Lee Haney and…Dorian Yates!”
The two athletes slowly emerged from their positions on either side of the line to begin the longish walk to center stage. The “frenzy” referred to earlier now faded into a quieter entity, as the crowd bayed in drooling expectancy of this ultimate mano-a-mano clash. Haney approached the center, his head slightly bowed and shot a glance mixed with a half-grin in Yates’ direction. The Englishman’s stony expression duplicated his condition: this was war and he wasn’t about to be beguiled by his adversary’s good ole boy smile.
The combatants came closer, their strides purposeful and deliberate as they ominously made their way to centerstage. Smiles and other such friendly gestures were banished from sight, as each concentrated, unblinkingly, on the whites of the other’s eyes, like a pair of gunslingers who knew this particular town was just not big enough for the two of them! The duelists reached their assigned positions: Yates to Haney’s left. And the 1991 Mr. Olympia contest was about to reach its shrieking crescendo. Again, the challenger chose to get close to the seven-time champ, and my patriotic heart feared the worst. With that premonition of impending disaster for my fellow Brit, this is how I recorded the second comparison:
Front double biceps: draw (But hold on, Dorian should have lost this one?)
Front lat spread: Yates (Jumping teres major! Nobody’s out-lat-spreaded Haney since kingergarten, and then it took the janitor to do it!)
Side chest: Yates (Oh my God! Is this happening?)
Rear double biceps: Haney (A strange relief, in that the assessment meant that I wasn’t looking at this set of comparisons through “Yates-colored glasses.”)
Rear lat spread: Yates, just, but call it a draw (He’s done it. He can’t lose the last two comparisons.)
Side triceps: Yates (He’s winning this going away.)
Abs and thigh: Yates (The raw-boned kid I first saw as a novice six years ago has just taken Lee Haney apart!)
I’ve endured some pretty boring experiences at bodybuilding soirees—even Mr. Olympia disputes—but spectacles such as the one that had just taken place will live in the memory forever, and makes up for, and makes one forget, all the tedious episodes. To the deafening accompaniment of an inspired crowd howling, stamping, and venting its gratitude at witnessing, and being part of, the greatest muscle showdown of all time. Haney and Yates had flexed their all in a head-to-head “no prisoners taken” brutal war of Olympia attrition, in which seven poses had taken a full four minutes to complete. And when Wayne DeMilia eventually signaled “enough,” Yates had won the round and Haney had big, big trouble in Disney World!
THE EVENING OF HIS CAREER
Lee Haney chose to use the theme from Excalibur for his posing routine: the same music he had used for his first Olympia success back in 1984. Dorian was correct in his earlier rating of Haney being no Fred Astaire in the choreographed round, but tonight (in front of a sellout crowd of 4000) the Olympia supremo was inspired by the music that evoked the history and the emotion of what he was trying to achieve. Physically, he also appeared even fuller in the upper body than he had been in the afternoon, and the defending champ posed as he had never posed before! It was a fully charismatic performance, a nerve-tingling presentation from a competitor who was fighting for his sporting life. And as the last bars of his chosen soundtrack faded away, with its interpreter hitting most musculars to every part of the theater, the audience was on its feet to applaud a champion who was just not ready to have his “place in history” denied.
Before the seething muscle masses had time to catch their breath on came Vince Taylor to give one of the most entertaining posing routines ever seen: his performance, guided by a voice-over, calling for him to mimic the robotic destruction of Lee Labrada and Shawn Ray before he himself fell victim to the might of Lee Haney. That Vince’s display achieved the dual distinctions of thoroughly entertaining the audience and impressing the officials was authenticated by the Florida resident taking second place in this round. But If I were an advisor of Vince’s, I would tell him to—in competition—forget the respect he has for the man he openly calls his idol, and desist from being publicly reticent about his ability to beat the Awesome One.
Utilizing the theme from Conan the Barbarian, Dorian Yates’ routine can best be described as functional, and I, for one, felt he wasn’t as sharp in the evening as he had been earlier. Lest you decipher that observation incorrectly, it’s akin to saying Haney now had a 39-ton truck hurtling towards him instead of a 40-ton one! Being unaware of how well Haney had posed, Dorian still had the earlier evaluation imprinted in his mind that this contest would be decided during the posedown. He wasn’t to know that by then the game would be up, and Haney would have already taken possession of his “place in history.”
THE SHADOW STALKS THE AWESOME ONE TO THE “BITTERSWEET” END!
Despite the previous assumption, the fact that the contest was still considered close was underlined by the final posedown six not being assembled in strict numerical order. Instead, it was arranged that #17, Yates, be positioned next to #4, Haney. Thus, during the final compulsory comparisons, Yates was exactly where he wanted to be: right next to the defending champ. Whether the owner of seven Sandow statuettes was as keen on the same location was—based on future movements—a debatable matter. Insiders say Haney was far from certain of dispatching this new foe to a secondary role; and others say that wife, Shirley, was really worried right up to the final whistle.
Whatever the truth, suffice it to say that when the free-for-all segment of the posedown commenced it was Haney who—after 10 seconds—broke ranks and moved away from Yates! The champ took up a position in the middle of the year’s most muscular scrum, leaving Yates at the end of the line, where the Briton remained for the next 15 seconds. Then, after taking a long look down the line, he crashed his way past Taylor to hit a lat spread next to his awesome quarry. The two traded a few shots before Haney again decided to go walk-about to end of the line.
The six-man huddle was swarming back and forth along the stage, before Haney regained center spot, with Shawn Ray acting as a buffer between him and Dorian. The debutant wasn’t where he wanted to be. So he walked around Ray in an attempt to be adjacent to Haney, but found there was no gap to allow him access. Thus, he did what any bodybuilder worthy of the soubriquet The Beast of Briton would do: He simply barged an unsuspecting Shawn Ray out of the way to take occupancy of the desired territory! Within that imposition, Dorian Yates proved that when push comes to shove he’s ready to go a step further, and the crowd roared their support of his actions.
The Shadow’s hunger to trade shots with the man who had ruled the roost for seven years was now blatantly manifest, as he swapped most musculars with the one who stood between him and the Olympia title. Lee Haney knew he couldn’t move away from his pursuer a third time. He had to stay put and slug it out. And slugging it out was exactly what occurred when Haney (in the midst of throwing his arms out wide as a prelude to hitting a front double biceps) caught Yates a glancing blow to side of the temple. One has to say with certainty that the contact was purely an accident, but one also has to say that perhaps it was fortunate that the incident materialized whilst the posedown was in its death throes rather than in its infancy!
THE LAST HURRAH!
At the conclusion of the posedown, all fury spent, Haney put his arms around Yates, who responded likewise. The two had fought down to the wire, in the process forging a genuine respect. Although the reality was that Dorian Yates had been a Lee Haney admirer for several years preceding their Orlando confrontation. The awarding of the placings six to three (Schmidt, Ray, Labrada, Taylor) followed swiftly to leave sole possession of the stage to Lee Haney and Dorian Yates. As they waited, the former commented to the Olympia newcomer: “Just me and you now, bub.”
The declaration of the runner-up position really represents confirmation of the actual winner. Therefore, Wayne DeMilia’s announcement that “the check for $50,000 goes to the second place winner: Who is it?…Dorian Yates” was cue for the crowd to erupt in ecstatic applause for Lee Haney, the man who had made them witnesses to history. The sustained acclaim was loud, warm, and genuine. And such a reception has not always been accorded to Haney in the country of his birth (last year he was booed by those who resented him equaling Schwarzenegger’s record). But tonight he was their darling. At last, Lee Haney found “love and eight” on an Olympia stage.
As for our own Dorian Yates? It’s somewhat bizarre, and probably totally ridiculous, to feel acute disappointment on behalf of a competitor gaining a second place in his first Mr. Olympia baptism! But in a sporting environment, being beaten out of sight into second place is often easier to digest than the experience of losing a close decision. And the decision was close! Many will share the view that whilst Dorian Yates had the best bodybuilding physique at the 1991 Olympia (the judges rubber-stamped that by awarding him the muscularity round), Lee Haney had the most Olympia experience, and that was the component that won him his well-earned plot in posterity.
But that the 1991 Olympia was a true sporting contest in every sense of the phrase is a question above, and beyond, dispute. In the tradition of Ali vs. Frazier and of Becker vs. McEnroe, these two modern giants of bodybuilding, Lee Haney and Dorian Yates, slugged it out toe-to-toe with no quarter asked for or given, until the final bell signaled the end of hostilities the likes of which a bodybuilding stage had not played host to before. And if at some future time, anybody ever tries to tell you that bodybuilding is not a true sport simply refer them to Haney vs. Yates, Mr. Olympia contest, Orlando, 1991!
1991 MR. OLYMPIA SCORING (Top 6)
|Round 1 (relaxed)||Round 2 (muscularity)||Round 3 (posing)||Round 4 (posedown)||Total|
1991 MR. OLYMPIA RESULTS
September 14, 1991 / Orlando, Florida
1. Lee Haney ($75,000)
2. Dorian Yates ($50,000)
3. Vince Taylor ($30,000)
4. Lee Labrada ($25,000)
5. Shawn Ray ($17,000)
6. Sonny Schmidt ($12,000)
7. Francis Benfatto ($8000)
8. Thierry Pastel ($7000)
9. Achim Albrecht ($6000)
10. Rich Gaspari ($5000)
11. Ron Love
12. Bob Paris
13. Robby Robinson
14. Renel Janvier
15. Nimrod King
The last 12 finishers were not placed. They are listed alphabetically.
Geir Borgan Paulsen
The final 17 finishers shared $15,000 in prize money: $882.35 each.
This article first appeared in a slightly longer form in the British bodybuilding tabloid Pumping Press under the title “Lee Haney Finds Love and Eight in Disney World!” written by the late Peter McGough with photos by Kevin Horton.
To read about Haney’s first Olympia win, check out: The 1984 Mr. Olympia