Harold Poole: Stars of the Olympia

Harold Poole: In the early 1960s, racism was still very much a part of the bodybuilding world.  The sport, which at that point was dominated by the AAU and the Mr. America contest, had an ideal to which competitors had to match.  A single pimple could be the deciding factor in a competition, so when a difference was as glaring as skin tone, whiteness seemed to forever prevail over anyone dark-complected.  It was for this reason that one bodybuilder, Harold Poole (b. 1943 d. 2014), turned to the IFBB for a solution.

At 5’10” and 210-220 pounds, Poole is not a mass monster by today’s standards, but in the early 60s few men carried more muscle than Poole who were even close to as lean.  The tragedy, however, lay both in the fact Poole was ahead of his time in terms of conditioning and the fact he was only half white.  Frustrated with winning the Mr. America’s Most Muscular award, but second overall, Poole switched from AAU to IFBB and won Mr. Universe that year (defeating the following year’s Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott).  A year later, in 1964, Harold Poole became the first black Mr. America (the AAU didn’t have a black winner until Chris Dickerson six years later).

Harold Poole made three efforts to take the Olympia crown, and in doing so was the first person to take second three times and the youngest person to ever compete in the Olympia (he was 21 in his first Olympia).  Tragically, he was unable to take the crown, but he ended up parlaying a job working the door for a strip club into becoming a disco owner, gym owner, and a personal bodyguard for the progenitor of the “heroin chic” look, Twiggy.

Poole remained active throughout his life, acting as a martial arts instructor and a gym owner throughout.  Though a planned comeback in 2007 didn’t materialize, Harold Poole did train hard and do martial arts until health issues sidelined him in 2010.  Not a bad run for the guy most in the crowd claimed was the real winner of the 1966 Mr. Olympia.

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