Stars of the Olympia – Shawn Ray

Shawn Ray: Though he is now likely known more for complaining about bodybuilding than he is for having competed in the sport, Shawn Ray was one of the most prolific competitors of the 1990s, as well as one of the most successful.  Well known for having always been “the bridesmaid, but never the bride,” Ray placed in the top five at the Mr. Olympia competition for twelve consecutive years from 1990 to 2001, and finished second twice in that span.  He could not, however, ever crack the glass ceiling to the top of the podium, as Ray diminutive stature always found him passed up by the judges for competitors carrying more mass.


At 5’6” and 205-215 pounds, few gym-goers would refer to Ray as small, but in modern bodybuilding parlance, he’s too small even for the 212 class at the Olympia, whose perennial winner Flex Lewis cuts from 225-235 to compete.  In spite of that fact, Ray more than held his own onstage in the 1990s, as the smaller competitors with insane aesthetics certainly had a place among the world’s best in the years prior to the true mass monsters.  Ray was often joined onstage at European shows by even smaller competitors, most notably the pocket-sized Italian competitor Flavio Baccianini, who at 4’10’ and 150 pounds was certainly the smallest competitor to ever grace the Olympia stage.

Ray’s success lay in his polished presentation and incredible aesthetics, which mirrored those of his idols, former Mr. Olympia Chris Dickerson and the modern Steve Reeves, Bob Paris.  Combining those two things onstage with perfect conditioning and a flawless physique propelled Ray to the cover of Flex Magazine more times than any other lifter, but in spite of his polish and presence, he couldn’t grab the top spot away from far larger competitors like Lee Haney and Dorian Yates, whose mass so dwarfed Ray that he hardly even seemed to be onstage during direct comparisons.


Eventually, the frustration of competing with larger men took its toll on Ray’s psyche, and he became perhaps the most toxic competitor ever backstage.  Complaining incessantly about “gifts” given to certain bodybuilders and the fact that large waists were forgiven for huge bodies, Ray become the gnat in the bodybuilding world’s ear, and he saw his placings consistently drop until he finally retired after 5 years of disappointing placings beginning in 1997.  Ray then took his harangues online and continues to criticize the sport even today, as he promotes his own event in Hawaii, cementing his status if not as the one of the greatest never to win a Sandow, as one of the sport’s greatest critics.


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