A Short History of Bodybuilding Federations

If you’re like most people, you think that bodybuilding began in the 1960s with the advent of the Mr. Olympia competition, but its roots go back far, far further than that.  The earliest recorded physique exhibitions date back to the ancient Olympics, during which impromptu exhibitions would occur between events.  Fast forward past the strongmen of yore and circuses, and you will arrive at the first bodybuilding contest, held in London in 1901.

 

Eugen Sandow (after whom the Olympia Sandow trophy is named) organized “The Great Contest” in London’s Royal Albert Hall, which was the culmination of two years of qualification rounds for the event. Though it was not the first modern bodybuilding show or the first in Britain, it was designed to be the contest to end all bodybuilding contests.  This ended in the show being oversold, which caused a riot outside as enraged fans vented their displeasure with their fists.  The trophy for the winner was a statue of Sandow sculpted by one of Britain’s most famous and prolific sculptors of the era, which was then the basis for the NABBA Mr. Universe and the Mr. Olympia trophies.

 

A similar contest was held two years later in the US, awarding the equivalent of $30k to the winner in the US, organized by the Weider of the early 20th Century, Bernarr BacFadden.  To give a bit of perspective, the Olympia didn’t pay out that much until 1984, eighty years later.  Bodybuilding exploded in popularity due to these two contests, and the AAU began holding the Mr. America contest in 1939.

 

The Mr. America contest remained arguably the premier bodybuilding contest in the United States until the late 1970s, when the organization’s racial biases and unwillingness to change with the times caused its popularity to precipitously decline, and by the 1990s the AAU ceased holding bodybuilding events.  Other organizations at the time were the massive and powerful NABBA, which held the Mr. Universe contest that was eventually usurped as the premier international bodybuilding contest in the early 1980s, and the WBBG, which was a major competitor to both the IFBB and NABBA until it folded in 1980.

 

Since the 1980s, the IFBB has essentially been the only game in town.  Though contested briefly by the WWE’s short-lived bodybuilding organization the WBF for two years in the 1990s, the IFBB has completely dominated the competitive landscape of bodybuilding for almost four decades, which leads you to believe their athletes have always been the best in the world despite the fact that has only been the case since Rocky 3 was in theaters.

 

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