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Bodybuilding with Joe Peitaro

Lee Haney vs. Rich Gaspari: Legendary Battles on the Olympia Stage

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“It was kind of like sleeping with the enemy.”

That’s how eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney described the situation back in 1983 when a young Rich Gaspari stayed with him and his wife for a period of time after pairing up as training partners. What transpired was a lifelong friendship that still exists and the immediate results were bountiful, as well.

They both won their next respective shows; Haney his first Sandow and Gaspari the NPC Nationals, giving him his IFBB pro card and the opportunity to go up against his mentor. Looking back, Haney saw that as an advantage to his underling, although both parties benefited.

“If anyone knew my habits, it was Rich,” recalled Haney. “(He) was one of the better competitors and I used to call him ‘Rich the itch,’ because he made me my best and brought out the best in me.”

At the 1985 Mr. Olympia in Belgium, Haney successfully defended his title by besting the ageless Albert Beckles and Gaspari, who impressively placed third his first time at the big dance. A year later in Ohio, the man known as the Dragon Slayer improved his placing by one but couldn’t defeat Haney. This would continue in both 1987 in Sweden and 1988 in Los Angeles, with the two friends going head-to-head and Haney standing tall when it was all said and done.

That stretch during the mid-to-late 1980s has gone down in bodybuilding history as one of the best rivalries of all time. It has been spoken about in the same context as Arnold Schwarzenegger – Sergio Oliva, Ronnie Coleman – Jay Cutler and the most recent one-two punch, Phil Heath and Kai Greene.

While there was always mutual respect amongst these other competitors, none had the kinship that Haney and Gaspari shared.

“I love him like a brother,” concluded Haney. “Our relationship has remained solid.”


1985 Mr. Olympia (Brussels, Belgium)

Haney – 1st
Gaspari – 3rd

1986 Mr. Olympia (Colulmbus, Ohio)

Haney – 1st
Gaspari – 2nd

1987 Mr. Olympia (Gothenburg, Sweden)

Haney – 1st
Gaspari – 2nd

1988 Mr. Olympia (Los Angeles, California)

Haney – 1st
Gaspari – 2nd

1989 Mr. Olympia (Rimini, Italy)

Haney – 1st
Gaspari – 4th

1990 Mr. Olympia (Chicago, Illinois)

Haney – 1st
Gaspari – 5th

1991 Mr. Olympia (Orlando, Florida)

Haney – 1st
Gaspari – 10th