How Larry Scott, the First Mr. Olympia, Changed Bodybuilding Forever

Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman boast eight Mr. Olympia titles apiece. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Heath won seven during their long and successful careers in bodybuilding. The history of the Mr. Olympia contest is also a roster of bodybuilding legends — but only one man holds the distinction of winning the first Mr. Olympia, That man is Larry Scott.

Scott won the inaugural Mr. Olympia contest in 1965 and returned in 1966 to do it again before retiring from the sport forever a champion. He is the man who helped legitimize the early years of the Olympia, and was also at the forefront of training and nutritional innovations that are still in use today.

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But how “good” was Scott? Schwarzenegger himself called him a “great ambassador” for the sport. Bodybuilding writer Rod Labbe claimed that Scott set a physique standard for future generations, while Joe Weider praised Scott as a man who transformed his body from a slender, weak physique into one of the sport’s finest bodies. (1)

In Scott’s own words, he transformed himself from a 98-pound weakling to bodybuilding perfection. His life, and impact, spoke to his tenacity and determination.

Early Life

Born in Idaho in 1938, Scott found himself excluded from contact sports at an early age. His size prevented him from playing football (it was too physical) and basketball (he was too short). (2)

Instead, Scott turned to gymnastics. It was there that Scott first excelled competitively and, in time, where he first entered a formal gym. Scott entered the weight room for the first time in earnest at age seventeen and spent three months lifting weights in the hope of improving his size and strength.

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There was just one problem — little to no progress came, despite Scott’s hard work. Unperturbed by his apparent failures, Scott redoubled his efforts rather than abandoning them. Recognizing that his fast metabolism was hampering his quest for size, Scott began to ingest an enormous amount of calories, allowing him to increase his lean body mass by 20 to 30 pounds. (3)

In 1959, Scott entered the Mr. Idaho bodybuilding contest, where he took first place despite some initial reservations. Writing much later, Scott would note in the future that bodybuilding contests at the time were “far from the norm…no red-blooded American male would be caught dead oil and a pair of skimpy underpants and posing.” (4)

Shortly thereafter, Scott enrolled at a trade school in California and moved across the country. In his own words, the gyms in California were simply better, and he wanted to take his physique to the next level. (5)

Upward Momentum

Scott set about completing his education while immersing himself in all that California had to offer. By the 1960s, Los Angeles was well-known as a hotbed of physical culture.

Splitting his time between college, a part-time job in a bike repair shop, and training, Scott continued to compete in bodybuilding. (6) In 1960 he competed in an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Mr. California contest, which he won. The following year, Scott won the AAU Mr. Pacific Coast contest. Around this time, Scott joined forces with Rheo Blair and Vince Gironda, both of whom would go on to strongly influence the trajectory of Scott’s career.

Blair was one of the most innovative supplement manufacturers of the era. His dairy-based protein powders were highly sought after, and he was renowned for his prowess as a bodybuilding coach. Blair was also praised for his ability to help trainees shed weight while maintaining muscle.

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Blair began to advise Scott on his diet and soon used Scott in his advertising. This gave Scott additional income while simultaneously enhancing his own public profile. Gironda, on the other hand, worked with Scott on defining his physique. Known as the “iron guru”, Gironda’s specialty was not in producing so-called mass monsters, but rather in creating symmetrical and defined physiques.

In this regard, Gironda was the perfect coach for Scott. By the early 1960s, Scott’s physique had transformed, but Gironda was not impressed. Gironda told Scott that his body simply wasn’t ready for the “big titles” yet. (7) Thus began a training partnership between the two which pushed Scott to the top of the sport.

With Blair handling his nutrition and Gironda his training, Scott was placed right in the middle of two of the century’s most brilliant bodybuilding minds. In 1962, he won the Mr. America title and in 1964, the Mr. Universe title.

Speaking to Rod Labbe of Iron Man magazine, Scott recalled his own self-image:

“I saw an athlete who’d achieved outward perfection: tanned, muscular, seemingly confident and charming — and he was spiritually dead. My dreams — what I’d once thought so important — meant nothing. But what could I do? I was Mr. America and had to set a good example.” (8)

Strengthened by his religious convictions, Scott continued to pursue his upward trajectory.

Mr. Olympia Successes

In 1965 Joe and Ben Weider announced that their bodybuilding federation, the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), was introducing a new event — the Mr. Olympia competition. At the time, the biggest show in bodybuilding was the Mr. America, which had been hosted by the AAU since 1939.

Notably, in the Mr. America contest, winners couldn’t compete again after they’d won. In promoting the Olympia, Joe Weider compared former Mr. America winners to legendary military commander Alexander the Great who believed there were “no more lands left to conquer.” (9)

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Held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, the first Olympia was an exciting moment in the sport, but also a very small affair. However, Scott’s notoriety had grown and he had already established something of a reputation for himself.

“As soon as he stepped out of the wings, the auditorium exploded with thunderous applause. It was deafening…a roar…and flashbulbs flooded the stage with so much light that it seemed as if the sun had rose,” said the Weiders in their-post contest report.

The crowd’s jubilation led to the unanimous declaration that Scott was to be crowned the inaugural Mr. Olympia. The “World’s Greatest Bodybuilder.” (10)

With promises that next year’s show would be even bigger, the Weiders set about promoting the Olympia through their magazine network while Scott continued training and monitoring his diet.

The following year, Scott returned to the Olympia face off against Chuck Sipes, Harold Poole and a very young Sergio Oliva. Oliva, judged by many to be one of the most impressive bodybuilders of all time, was only beginning his IFBB career.

Scott, although only 28, was coming to the end of his. Regardless, Scott proved triumphant once again in 1966 and won the Olympia a second time. (12) In Joe Weider’s words, the title-holder was, “in the best shape of his life and was clearly the choice of the audience.”

Then, Scott did something unthinkable — he announced his retirement. Later citing his admiration of boxer Rocky Marciano, Scott wanted to retire from the sport when he was still at the top. Scott had also grown weary of the constant need to be physically perfect and the allure of fame, both of which had been testing his faith. (13)

Scott spent his post-competition years as a coach, entrepreneur, and speaker within the fitness industry. A few weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Scott was invited by Arnold Schwarzenegger to guest pose at the 1978 Mr. Olympia, where he reportedly received a six-minute ovation from the crowd. (14)

Larry Scott’s Bodybuilding Workouts & Nutrition

Few bodybuilders had the privilege of working with both Blair and Gironda outside of Larry Scott. He became the poster boy for both Blair’s nutritional programs and Gironda’s training expertise.

For Blair, Scott was his star client. From 1964 onward, Scott began appearing in Blair’s advertisements. When asked to comment on his diet, Scott cited an “all-Blair diet” when it came to supplementation:

“I was using from 11/2 to 2 cups of Johnson’s Protein per day. I would mix it with cream and milk. I used about 2/3 of a quart of cream a day along with the milk to make my desired consistency. I took this protein-cream mix three times per day. I would eat 6 to 8 times per day. I would have breakfast, then a snack at 10AM, and then lunch at noon, then another snack at 2:30PM, then dinner plus the protein-cream drink. My evening meal is eaten after I work out.” (15)

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Scott also claimed to eat six times a day, with three of these meals revolving around Blair’s supplements:

“Instead of 3 large meals, I eat 5 or 6 smaller meals a day. The feedings always include animal proteins.” (16)

While Blair undoubtedly helped Scott build the muscle mass needed to win the Olympia, Scott’s endorsement of Blair’s supplements made them some of the most highly sought-after products in bodybuilding. (17) It also helped to normalize the new practice of using protein supplements.

The same mutually-beneficial relationship existed between Scott and Gironda. Like Blair, the two became close confidants. (18) Together, the duo helped popularize a number of different specialized exercises to truly bring out the definition of the arms and deltoids.

Scott was often credited with having some of the best arms in bodybuilding. He later wrote a book called Loaded Guns which detailed his life, training, and dietary habits. (19)

Scott and Gironda relied on classic movements like the preacher curl to build up the biceps. However, they also employed a series of highly unique movements such as triceps kickbacks with a barbell in lieu of dumbbells, or Scott’s patented palms-out shoulder press with dumbbells. (20)

Scott and Gironda’s nuanced and creative approach to the rigidity of most standard bodybuilding exercises likely contributed to Scott’s successes on the competition stage.

Conclusion

Larry Scott was, in a way, the progenitor of professional bodybuilding. He was the first man to ever win the Olympia contest, and was also the first athlete to ever bag back-to-back victories. There’s a case to be made that Scott retired prematurely and, in so doing, he may have denied fans the opportunity to witness some truly historic rivalries on the big stage.

Regardless, his story is as close to a true rags-to-riches tale as they come in the sport. Born with “unremarkable” genetics, Scott fought tooth and nail to turn his physique into a world-class statue of physical perfection. In his retirement, he sought to make up for the ground he’d lost in other areas of his life during his bodybuilding career. By all measures, he succeeded.

References

1. Steve Chawkins, ‘Larry Scott Obituary,’ Los Angeles TimesMarch 13, 2014. https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-larry-scott-20140314-story.html
2. Irvin Johnson, ‘Larry Scott’, Ironman Magazine, 24, no. 2 (1965): 23-27.
3. Johnson, ‘Larry Scott’, 23-27.
4. Chawkins, ‘Larry Scott Obituary.’
5. Chawkins, ‘Larry Scott Obituary.’
6. Erin Alberty And Nate Carlisle, ‘Larry Scott Obituary,’ The Salt Lake TribuneMarch 13, 2014. https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=57661795&itype=CMSID
7. Alan Palmieri, , Larry Scott: The Legend, Self-Published, c. 2008, 2-4.
8. Chawkins, ‘Larry Scott Obituary.’
9. Dimitris Liokaftos, . A genealogy of male bodybuilding: from classical to freaky, Routledge, 2017, 78.
10. ‘Here Is The Great Contest Picture Story You’ve Been Waiting For’, Muscle Builder15, no 10 (1965), 68. https://www.joeweider.com/2012/06/13/mr-olympia-report-1965/
11. Chawkins, ‘Larry Scott Obituary.’
12. ‘Mr Olympia Report, 1966,’ JoeWeider.com, https://www.joeweider.com/2012/06/13/mr-olympia-report-1966/
13. Chawkins, ‘Larry Scott Obituary.’
14. Alberty And Carlisle, ‘Larry Scott Obituary.’
15. Alan Palmieri, , Rheo H. Blair and Blair Protein, Self-Published, c. 2008, 2-5.
16. Palmieri, Rheo H. Blair and Blair Protein2-5.
17. Palmieri, Rheo H. Blair and Blair Protein2-5.
18. Palmieri, Larry Scott4-5.
19. Larry Scott, Loaded GunsSelf-Published, 1992, 45-48.
20. Palmieri, Larry Scott4-5.

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