My First Mr. Olympia Competition
Gold’s Gym in those days was still fresh and original and a wonderful place to train. So twice a day I’d meet up with Arnold and train hard six days a week. It was chest and upper back Monday and Thursday mornings and low central back and abs for afternoons; Tuesdays and Fridays were thighs in the mornings and calves and abs afternoons; Wednesdays and Saturdays was delts and triceps in the mornings, biceps, forearms, and abs afternoons. It was tiring — I slept 10 hours a night, sunbathed at Venice beach for a few hours every day, took lots of supplements, ate steaks and vegetables. We practiced posing after workouts and took photos with Arnold, Betty Weider, and Dave Draper for Muscle Builder Magazine with Artie Zeller. I loved this lifestyle and was willing to teach to earn money to live on. In those days there were no sponsorships or money for endorsements. Arnold had the best deal from Joe Weider, $150 a week,an apartment near the gym on Santa Monica beach (my pad was 2 blocks away), a Volkswagen, and a box of supplements every week. I wanted the same deal, but Joe said no. But he was kind enough to give me free advertising in his magazine even though I never got paid for endorsements. “I’m building your reputation by putting your photos in the magazine and on my protein labels”. Indeed, he was right, but I would have liked to just be able to train full time like Arnold did. Not only did I have to teach to earn a living, but I was going to Cal State Los Angeles to earn my life teaching credential. Looking back, I don’t know where I got all the energy, but I do remember being tired. No wonder.
We got some heavy workouts. Five weeks before the Universe Arnold and I did a squatting workout together. This was how I got my bodyweight up and increased my strength all over. We started working up in weight doing 10 reps with 135, 185, 225, 275, 315, 365 and then it was 405 on the bar. Arnold’s turn, he did 8 reps: my turn 10 reps. I had a better mechanical advantage for squatting. After the workout I went down to Venice Beach with Christine and took photos. Looking at them the next day I couldn’t believe how smooth I had become in my quest for heavier bodyweight. I weighed 208 with 27- inch thighs with only 5 weeks left until the competition. Concerned about my lack of definition I went to the gym immediately and found myself doing forced reps on preacher curls. Hanging over the bench on the last rep my lower back went out and I doubled up in spasm. Dick Tyler, who wrote most of Muscle Builder in those days, was a chiropractor and I went to see him. One day at his office I saw Reg Lewis (a former IFBB Mr. Universe), who said in the presence of Arnold, “What you have done, you’ve ruined your physique, you’re too big, especially your thighs”. Afterwards Arnold told me, “Don’t pay attention to that guy, he doesn’t know anything.” But I was concerned. Injury couldn’t stop my workouts, there wasn’t much time and I had to get defined.
Every morning I was at the Venice Beach weight pen doing 4 sets of 25 hanging knee ups. It hurt at first but my lower back gradually stretched out. I had trouble getting up from a lying position at first and my training partners helped me. I work a rubber waist band and a lifting belt to keep the low back warm. After a week I began running every day and practicing lots of posing. I was getting more and more muscular and managed to make an amazing transformation in just 5 weeks. That’s the value of photos, with seeing that above before photo I wouldn’t have realized my condition and would not have been able to transform into the lower photo in the time needed.
Christine was training hard for the Ms. Olympia contest to be held in Essen Germany along with the Mr. Olympia. She was in great shape and as we flew to London, I knew she would win. I won Pro Mr. Universe without too much difficulty and received not the trophy I expected but a bigger tin and wooden trophy which looked good in photos. Appreciating the gesture but not the prize, I left the trophy backstage, took the name plate, and headed for Heathrow Airport to catch a flight to Essen. Arriving in Essen we found out that the Ms. Olympia prejudging had already taken place. But we were told the judging would be on Saturday, not Friday night. Arnold agreed and convinced the judges to hold another prejudging. Christine won easily with 12 first place votes out of 13. It seemed in the bag.
I was in even better shape for the Olympia than for the Universe. In this contest was Arnold, Sergio Oliva, Serge Nubret, Franco Colombu. Night before the show we sat around together at a restaurant, all of us, amazed at how many Pepsis Sergio drank. “His stomach is really in his pecs” Arnold joked. Arnold was a prankster in those days, here he is sawing Artie Zeller (Artie couldn ‘t keep his mouth shut after that) at Dave Draper’s workshop. But he was all business at this contest, his 3rd Olympia. This photo was taken a week before leaving for London — you can see how big my thighs were compared to everything else, and that’s why my bodyweight didn’t go over 200 in later years, my focus was catching the rest of my body up to my thighs.
So, we went to the prejudging at the Essen show, and everybody was impressed by Sergio, he was in great shape. Arnold still hadn’t peaked yet, but I knew he would look better for the evening show. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought third place would be in order. Serge Nubret looked great standing there and in all poses with arms down, but when he put his arms overhead, he lost his taper, and his legs were underdeveloped. They gave him third and I got fourth. Franco Colombu was fifth. “Next year I get them all by the neck” Colombu told me afterwards.
The announcer spoke in German and we didn’t know what was going on. Christine came out with the women and did her routine as part of the competition but when the Ms. Olympia awards were presented, she wasn’t announced and they gave the trophy to a French girl with abs, the announcer telling the audience that Christine was there to give an exhibition. Arnold told me what happened, and I wanted to withdraw from the competition immediately, but he said “No, do your posing routine or the contest promoter won’t pay you”. So, I did and after posing went over to the microphone and told the audience I was withdrawing from the competition because of the unfair treatment they had given Christine. I left the stage, and the announcer told the audience in German “Zane has withdrawn from the competition because he feels he is not in good enough condition to compete with these champions”.
No one told us what was said, and I didn’t learn of it until a year later when a Belgian official told me. What had happened was after the women’s prejudging which Christine won, the French delegation threatened to withdraw their 200 delegates from the contest if they let Christine win. To make matters even worse we spent the following week touring France under the sponsorship of Serge Nubret who was behind it all. At exhibitions I gave he would chatter away in French after both of us posed, I can imagine what he said. But we knew nothing of any of it and enjoyed Bordeaux, Tolouse, and Paris in blissful ignorance of what had taken place.
After Paris we flew to Munich to join Arnold and Albert Busek who at that time had a beautiful gym where we trained. We attended Octoberfest and drank beer at Hoffbrau Haus, staggered around the festivities, visited the site of the 1972 Munich Olympics, drove many miles with Arnold and took the tram to the top of Zugspitze, and then flew to Manchester , England to do an exhibition. There was no one at the airport to pick us up. Finally, Harold Wrigley the organizer showed up, dropped us of at a boarding house where he showed us to a room the size of a closet and said, “If it was good enough for Bill Pearl it’s good enough for you.” After I gave my posing exhibition, the promoter was nowhere to be found but finally I got him to reluctantly pay me 60 pounds. “Why this shabby treatment, I just won Mr. Universe” I said to Christine, “We should have stayed in Munich.”
From London we flew back to California, picked up our cat from the Draper household, and returned to teaching school. It was the beginning of the school year and some of the teachers were showing a bit of resentment, nicknaming me “the guest celebrity” because of the time I’d missed. I thought of retiring from teaching to become a true professional bodybuilder, but it didn’t happen until 5 years later.