From world records to shocking deaths to contests-during-Covid, we look back at the year that was in muscles, strength, and fitness.


Unfortunately, the biggest stories of 2021 were dismal.

🦠 The first was the persistence of the COVID-19 PANDEMIC, which continued to impact the fitness world. It was reported in August that 22% of U.S. health clubs and gyms had permanently closed during the pandemic, with a collective revenue loss of nearly $30 billion. Bodybuilding and lifting events were cancelled, moved, rescheduled, and/or downsized. For example, the Arnold Classic was held in September (not March), with only a few events and no expo. And, speaking of Arnold, the muscle world’s greatest icon suffered a backlash for his “Screw your freedom” comments regarding anti-vaxers and anti-makers. Some in our community lost their lives to Covid. Some, including bodybuilding legend Flex Wheeler, were hospitalized but pulled through.

⚰️ The other biggest story is also, sadly, a repeat: the HEART-RELATED DEATHS of bodybuilders way too young. This was brought home when 37-year-old 212 Olympia top competitor George Peterson and 46-year-old 2018 Mr. Olympia Shawn Rhoden died a month apart. Somethings need to be done (ideas include a heart health education program and blood test and blood pressure contest requirements) or this story will, sadly, keep getting retold with different names. (Story on pro bodybuilder mortality)



Mr. Olympia 🏆 Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay wasn’t at his best, but he won his second Sandow in a lackluster Mr. O. 🥈2nd: Brandon Curry 🥉3rd: Hadi Choopan (Full story)

2021 Mr. Olympia
Choopan, Curry, Elssbiay / YouTube

212 🏆 Derek Lunsford / Classic 🏆 Chris Bumstead / Men’s Physique 🏆 Brandon Hendrickson / Wheelchair 🏆 Harold Kelley / Ms. Olympia 🏆 Andrea Shaw / Women’s Physique 🏆 Sarah Villegas / Figure 🏆 Cydney Gillon / Fitness 🏆 Whitney Jones / Bikini 🏆 Jennifer Dorie / Wellness 🏆 Francielle Mattos


🏆 Nick Walker, 27, won the A.C. with two-time and defending champ William Bonac unable to compete. 🥈2nd: Iain Villaire 🥉3rd: Steve Kuclo (Full story)


🏆 Tom Stoltman of Scotland won his first WSM title. 4-time winner 🥈Brian Shaw was second. (Full story)


🏆 Rebecca Roberts of Wales won her first WSW title.


🥇China dominated weightlifting once again, winning seven gold medals. Americans performed well with two women medaling 🥈🥇and a 21-year-old man finishing fourth (no American guy has medaled since 1984). 🥇Georgian super-heavyweight Lasha Talakhadze continued to break his own records with literally no competition. Full story here. (Full story)


🌎 RAW BENCH PRESS Julius Maddox broke his own record again, benching 782.6 lbs. (355 kg). Profile of Maddox here.

🌎 DEADLIFTS 7 of the 12 men’s divisions saw new world deadlift records, including 986.5 lbs. (447.5 kg.) in the 242 class by Poland’s Krzysztof Wierzbicki. And 5 of the 10 women’s divisions also saw new world records, including, repeatedly, by three women in the unlimited division. Ultimately, Tamara Walcott pulled the biggest women’s deadlift ever: 636 lbs. (288.5 kg.).

🌎 POWERLIFTING TOTAL Weighing 396, super-heavyweight Daniel Bell broke the 2600 barrier, totaling 2607 lbs. (1182.5 kg.), raw with wraps.

Daniel Bell world record
Bell squats 500 kg. (1102 lbs.) on his way to a 2607-lb. total / Instagram

🌎 WEIGHTLIFTING The Georgian GOAT, Lasha Talakhadze, set and broke his best-ever marks three times this year, upping the record total from 485 to 488 to 492 kg. His record snatch is now 225 kg. (496 lbs.) and record clean-and-jerk is now 267 kg. (588.6 lbs.).


🎬 Super muscles and super strength continued to rule at the box office. SUPERHEROES occupied five of the top six spots with Spider-Man: No Way Home running away with the title. The only non-Marvel movie in the top six was F9: The Last Saga with John Cena, whose stock is rapidly rising, providing the muscle previously supplied by The Rock.

🎬📺📱🎤 Speaking of DWAYNE JOHNSON, he was everywhere from Jungle Cruise in cineplexes to Young Rock and Red Notice on TVs to the world’s second most popular Instagram account to his lines in the Tech N9ne song “Face Off” that became a ubiquitous meme: “It’s about drive, it’s about power.” No one since Arnold has done more to mainstream massive muscles than The Rock.


📷 JIMMY CARUSO, 95, photographer, took iconic Arnold photos in the ’60s & ’70s  

💪🤼‍♂️ MELISSA COATES, 50, bodybuilder, won a pro bodybuilding title, pro wrestler  (Tribute)

💪🏆 CHRIS DICKERSON, 82, bodybuilder, 1982 Mr. Olympia, won 10 pro shows, 2nd in 1980 & 1981 Mr. Olympias (Tribute)

💪🎬  DAVE DRAPER, 79, bodybuilder, 1965 Mr. America, 1966 Mr. Universe, iconic cover and product model, actor (Tribute)

Dave Draper death
Betty Weider and Dave Draper in a typical Weider beach shot

🏋️🌎 ERNIE FRANTZ, 86, powerlifter, won 1974 World Championships 181-lb. class, 9 master’s world records, co-founded American Powerlifting Federation   

💪🏆 JENNY LYNN-POWELL, 49, figure competitor, 2006 & 2007 Ms. Figure Olympia, won 12 pro figure titles (Tribute)

📷🎬  GEORGE BUTLER, 78, director, photographer, directed documentary Pumping Iron (1977) and shot photos for book (1974) of same name (Interview)

💪 JOHN MEADOWS, 49, bodybuilder, popular trainer/nutritionist

💪 MATT MENDENHALL, 61, bodybuilder, perhaps best amateur to not go pro (Tribute)

🤼‍♂️ PAUL ORNDORFF, 71, pro wrestler, “Mr. Wonderful” in ’80s

💪 GEORGE PETERSON, 37, bodybuilder, won 2 classic pro shows and a 212 pro show

💪🏆 SHAWN RHODEN, 46, bodybuilder, 2018 Mr. Olympia, won 6 pro shows, 2nd in 2016 Olympia (Tribute)

🏋️🥇🌎 YURY VLASOV, 85, weightlifter, 1960 heavyweight Olympic champ, 4-time World Champ, 34 world records


Five questions for 2022:

❓ Will Brandon Curry or William Bonac win the Arnold Classic again?

❓ Can Julius Maddox become the first human to bench 800 raw?

❓ Can Lasha Talakhadze become the first human to total 500kg. in weightlifting?

❓ Will Big Ramy secure his dynasty with a Mr. Olympia three-peat?

❓ Will the world, and the fitness world, return to something like normal?