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Close but no Sandow!

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The 14 men who finished second in the Mr. Olympia, but never won it.


Nobody remembers who finishes second, so the cliché goes. Don’t believe it. Whoever is runner-up in bodybuilding’s ultimate contest, Mr. Olympia, isn’t just second best; he’s also the presumptive successor to the sport’s standard-bearer and ambassador. That said, 14 men have been there in the contest’s 42-year history, and never managed that last step, while only five have ascended from two to one.

If history is our guide, it’s nearly three times as likely that a second-place "O" finisher won’t eventually win the title than that he will. The inevitability of most heirs-apparent was in error, apparently, and, yet, second best in the world is in itself a spectacular achievement. Let’s celebrate the 14 bodybuilders who either placed second or, when there were two classes from 1974-1979, won their class but not the overall. These are the greats who never reached the summit, but, at least once, climbed higher than any other bodybuilder on the planet - except the one who climbed just a little higher.


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HAROLD POOLE
(1965, 1966, 1967)

Many believe Harold Poole deserved to be crowned Mr. Olympia in 1966. Yet, despite three 2nds, he still ranks as one of the all-time greats.

The crucial things to know about Poole’s runner-up finishes to Larry Scott in the initial two Olympias are that Poole was only 21 for the first and 22 for the second, and, in the latter, Poole lost only because a tie-breaking vote went to Scott, the reigning (and retiring) champ. Poole, who won the 1963 IFBB Mr. Universe (defeating Scott) at 19, was just 23 in his final "O" in ‘67. (At that contest, only the winner, Sergio Oliva, was acknowledged, leaving fans and historians to debate whether Poole or Chuck Sipes deserved the runner-up credit.) In fact, Poole is not only younger than Scott, but he was also born after Sergio Oliva, Franco Columbu, Frank Zane and Chris Dickerson, and the latter won the Olympia 15 years after Poole last entered it!

Of Poole’s three tries at the Olympia title, he contends that Scott was the rightful winner in ‘65, as was Oliva in ‘67. But Poole believes he should have been number one in ‘66, as did many observers. After a seven-year hiatus from the stage, he competed (under the name Damian Poole) in seven IFBB pro contests between 1979 and 1982.

Today, at age 64, he works in Florida as a personal trainer and tae kwon do instructor, and he plans to compete again in the masters division of the Atlantic City Pro on September 12-13. Known for his overall thickness, his trapezius and chest density helped popularize the most-muscular pose, and he remains the youngest man to ever place in the top two of the Olympia.



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CHUCK SIPES
(1967)

Every bit as strong as he looked (and more), Chuck Sipes had to settle for a disputed second to the incomparable Sergio Oliva in 1967.


One of the strongest bodybuilders ever, Sipes, the 1959 IFBB Mr. America and 1960 IFBB Mr. Universe, claimed to bench press 570. In fact, on the same stage on the same day he competed in the ‘67 Olympia, he gave a strongman exhibition in which he busted chains and bent spikes and bars.

Sipes is often cited as having been the runner-up in that Olympia, behind Oliva and ahead of Poole, although placings beyond first were not acknowledged. He subsequently won the 1968 Mr. World and posed competitively until ‘74. An avid outdoorsman, Sipes worked for 20 years for the California Youth Authority, chaperoning juvenile delinquents into the mountains and teaching them about trust and self-sufficiency. Tragically, Sipes took his own life in 1993 at age 60.

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KEN WALLER
(1976)


In a sense, Ken Waller was Mr. Olympia, at least for men over 200 pounds. However, Franco Columbu was the overall Mr. Olympia of 1976.

He’s best known for his shirt-hiding role in "Pumping Iron", but between 1969 and 1976, this former college football player had a remarkable run of competitive success, first in other organizations and then in the IFBB, where he was, in order: Mr. America, Mr. International, Mr. World and Mr. Universe, a progression that culminated in his heavyweight class win at the 1976 Olympia before losing the overall to lightweight victor Franco Columbu.

Waller retired from competition after entering the 1981 Mr. Olympia. Having managed the original Gold’s Gym, he owned his own gym during the 80’s and subsequently worked for X-Treme Activewear (the manufacturer of Gold’s Gym clothing). He’s now 65.


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ROBBY ROBINSON

(1977, 1978)


Even at 61, Robby Robinson displays the kind of muscularity that brought him within a hairsbreadth of bodybuilding’s most coveted title.

With the (temporary) retirement of Arnold Schwarzenegger and, a year later, his successor, Columbu, the 1977 Olympia marked the dawn of a new era, and with his thoroughly modern peaks and valleys, the 1976 Mr. International and Mr. Universe seemed just the man to carry bodybuilding forward. Then Robinson slammed up against the Frank Zane era of streamlined aesthetics. The Black Prince won the "O"’s heavyweight class in ‘77, but Zane took the overall - in essence, an apples-or-oranges result.

Coming into the 1978 contest fresh off high-profile pro victories, Robinson was the early "O" favorite, but Zane took body detailing to a new level while Robinson, who again won the heavies, was not at his best.

Robinson entered the Olympia five additional times, but never bested his two initial placings. He did, however, win the inaugural Masters Mr. Olympia in 1994 and competed until 2001. Today, at 61, he is a personal trainer in Southern California.



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MIKE MENTZER

(1979)


Fans of Mentzer swear that he deserved to be a two-time Mr. O, both in 1979, when he took a surprising fifth. (Boyer Coe was the lightweight runner-up in 1979.)

If the contrast between Zane and Robinson was great, it was doubly so between Zane and Mentzer, for the latter man’s physique was all about roundness and thickness. The ‘77 storyline repeated in ‘79, this time with 27-year-old Mentzer - like Robinson, one year removed from a stellar amateur run - taking the Olympia heavyweight class but denied the overall by a more refined Zane. Just as with Robinson after ‘77, fans were certain Mentzer would bring home at least one Sandow, and he was favored at the very next "O". However, the results of the ‘80 contest were highly controversial, with Schwarzenegger winning and Mentzer, surprisingly, finishing fifth, when many believed he should’ve won. He never competed again, retiring at 28.

Espousing his high-intensity philosophy, he worked as a writer and trainer before his death of heart failure in 2001 at age 49.



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MOHAMED MAKKAWY

(1983, 1984)


Of all the Mr. O runner-ups, as well as its winners, no one ever displayed more grace and artistry than Egypt’s Mohamed Makkawy.


At 5" 3" and 160 pounds, Makkawy remains the smallest man ever to place in the Olympia top four. After success as an amateur, including two overall Mr. International wins (1975, 1977) he had scant impact in the pros until he broke through with two Grand Prix wins in 1982.

Makkawy, like Zane, won with sculptured aesthetics, as his flawless symmetry and masterful poses made observers forget his height and weight. In 1983, he placed ahead of rookie Lee Haney four times, including at the Olympia, where he was second to Samir Bannout. In 1984, it was Haney who relegated Makkawy to "O" runner-up again.

After a fourth-place Olympia finish in ‘85, Makkawy retired at 32, near his peak. He made an unsuccessful comeback in the late 1990’s and today, at 54, works as a personal trainer in Toronto, Ontario.



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ALBERT BECKLES
(1985)


In 1985, Albert Beckles became the oldest Olympia runner-up ever at the age of 47. Amazingly, he continued competing in the IFBB for another seven years.

Like Makkawy, Beckles struggled in the pros for years before perfecting his conditioning in the ’80s. Starting in 1975, he competed in the Mr. Olympia seven times before try number eight in ‘85 produced a runner-up finish to Haney.

The ludicrously lean Beckles was 47 (if as, according to most sources, he was born in 1938), making him the oldest man ever to finish in the top two at the Olympia. He subsequently competed in the "O" five additional times before hanging up his posing trunks - so to speak - in 1992.

Today, Beckles is a personal trainer in Southern California.



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RICH GASPARI
(1986, 1987, 1988)

A former training partner of eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, Rich Gaspari proved to be Haney’s most formidable foe for three consecutive years.

The interesting thing about many of those on this list is the contrast in physique types between them and the Mr. Olympias they couldn’t defeat. This was certainly true of Gaspari, who placed second to his former training partner, Haney, three years in a row.

Not blessed with Haney’s 5′ 11" X-shaped structure, Gaspari nonetheless maximized his potential, filling out his 5′ 7" frame with as much veiny, striated mass as he could muster. He burst onto the scene at 21, winning his class at both the Nationals and the World Championships, before making a similar impact his rookie year in the pros (second in his first show, 1985 Night of Champions, and third in his first Olympia).

Over the next three years, when he was 23-25 and earning first-place checks in other contests, only Haney stood between Gaspari and the Sandow.

He competed until 1996, and today, at 44, is CEO of Gaspari Nutrition.



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LEE LABRADA
(1989, 1990)


Lee Labrada’s perfect proportions and stellar conditioning were nearly enough to overtake Haney twice, despite the challenger’s five-inch height deficit.

Near the end of Haney’s eight-year reign, another short bodybuilder with another very different physique type landed in the runner-up spot. With his perfect proportions, Labrada was one of the most consistent competitors ever to grace a stage.

In 24 pro contests over nine years, he placed out of the top four only in his last one, when he landed in fifth. You always knew what you were getting with the 5′6" Labrada: a classical physique flowing into classic poses - a bigger Makkawy, if you will.

Like the three men who preceded him on this list, Labrada had the misfortune of competing while Haney dominated. He subsequently placed third and fourth in Dorian Yates’ first two Olympia wins (1992, 1993) and retired from the stage in 1995.

Today, at 48, he is CEO of Labrada Nutrition.
 
tkD

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KEVIN LEVRONE
(1992, 1995, 2000, 2002)

Kevin Levrone tops this list as the man to take the most runner-up placings without ever having ascended to the top of Mt. Olympia.

Only one other person has finished second in the "O: as often as Levrone, but Jay Cutler has two Sandows. What’s more, to go with his four seconds, Levrone also finished third three times and fourth three times, giving him a frustrating 10 top-four finishes (he also placed fifth and sixth once each) with no wins.

His initial second came his rookie year, in 1992, at 27, against Yates, and, as with so many others on this list, it seemed inevitable that Levrone would win at least one Sandow. But Yates metamorphosed into unbeatable dimensions the following year while Levrone overcame a pec tear.

Then, during the remainder of Yates’ six-year reign atop bodybuilding and the beginning of Ronnie Coleman’s eight-year run, Levrone battled it out annually for the runner-up spot with the three men who follow him on this list.

Indisputably (in terms of his record) and arguably (in terms of his physique), he remains the best bodybuilder to never win the Olympia.

Today, at 42, the Maryland Muscle Machine lives in California, pursuing an acting career.



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FLEX WHEELER
(1993, 1998, 1999)

Of all the Mr. Olympia second-place finishers, none was more heralded than Wheeler, who was expected by most to take home Sandows in ‘97 and ‘98.

If Levrone didn’t possess the best body to never put a Sandow on his mantel, Wheeler did. He also took the pro ranks by storm, victorious in his first four pro shows (including the 1993 Arnold Classic) at 27 before landing in the runner-up spot behind supersized Yates in the ‘93 Olympia.

Again, it seemed a mere formality that he would one day win bodybuilding’s ultimate title, but an auto accident kept him off the stage the following year, and he wasn’t at his best the two following autumns.

By ‘97, injuries had taken a visible toll on Yates; and Wheeler, winner of the three contests he entered that year, seemed ready to ascend to the top, but he pulled out of the contest under mysterious circumstances 48 hours prior and later admitted he wasn’t emotionally prepared to be bodybuilding’s standard-bearer.

With Yates no longer competing, Wheeler was deemed the heir apparent in 1998, but it was Ronnie Coleman who took a giant leap forward, denying Flex the title by one placing in both ‘98 and ‘99 and two placings in 2000.

Wheeler suffered kidney failure (receiving a transplant in 2003), retired, returned and retired again. Today at 42, he works as a bodybuilding journalist.



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SHAWN RAY
(1994, 1996)

Despite bringing a near-perfect package to bear in both 1994 and 1996, Shawn Ray couldn’t make it past the larger Yates to Olympia glory.


"It’s not going to take a freak to beak a freak: what it’s going to take is a different product," 200-pound Ray said in 1994 before placing just behind 260-pound freak Dorian Yates.

Ray is yet another runner-up who had great success at a young age, including a third-place finish in the ‘90 Olympia at 25. Also, like others here, he was, at 5′ 6", a smaller man repeatedly butting up against competitors who outweighed him by at least 30 pounds and sometimes over twice that much.

Placing in the top five of 12 consecutive Olympias, at various times on various stages, he got the best of all those bigger men - except one. Only Yates stood between Ray and two Sandows, and many contended the latter man should’ve taken that trophy home in ‘96.

His non freakish product never won the ultimate prize, but his 13-year pro career focused almost exclusively on his pursuit of it (he competed only six times outside the Olympia, winning twice) and was marked by consistent excellence.

Since his retirement in 2001, Ray, now 42, has worked as a promoter, endorser and journalist.


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NASSER EL SONBATY
(1997)

Nasser El Sonbaty actually managed to outsize the massive Yates at the 1997 Olympia, but Yates’ superior back gave him the edge, and victory.

When Wheeler pulled out of the ‘97 Olympia, it seemed Ray or Levrone had the best shot at a debilitated Yates. They were third and fourth, respectively, while it was El Sonbaty who nearly ruined the champ’s retirement party.

At 270 (15 fewer pounds than earlier in the year), he outweighed Yates by four pounds with a sleeker waist, but Yates greatest strength, his back, was El Sonbaty’s greatest weakness.

Most observers felt it was neck and neck, but the champ won with straight firsts, proving Ray right: you can’t beat a freak with freakiness - though it proved as successful as any other strategy. Afterward, El Sonbaty declared, "I promise I will win the Mr. Olympia title."

He never did, although he placed in the top six the next three years. He retired from the stage in 2005 and is now 42 and dabbling in real-estate investments.

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VICTOR MARTINEZ
(2007)

Of all the runners-up on our list, Victor Martinez is the one who can still take himself off of it. At 34, he has plenty of opportunity to win the "O" yet.

For four of Coleman’s Olympia victories, Jay Cutler was runner-up, and in 2006 the two men switched places. That’s partly why last year was the first time in a decade that someone new earned the runner-up spot, and was thus elevated to the key role of bodybuilding’s number one contender. Aesthetically pleasing even at 250 pounds, 34-year-old Martinez nearly took the title, losing by a mere four points in a hotly debated decision. Immediately afterward, he said, "You don’t let this get you down. I got work to do next year. Things will go my way, too one day."



source: Ifbb.com


who do you think is gonna be the next one, coming close but will never win it? :wutyousay:
 
MarkoB

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Vic, he had his chance in 2007, now it's "The Gift" time (I hope)
 
tkD

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Vic, he had his chance in 2007, now it's "The Gift" time (I hope)

Are you saying that Victor has no more chances at winning the O? :bball:
 
curtisymoo

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very nice post
informative descriptions
repped!
 
Samoan-Z

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I have to vote ... "The Gift", Vic is done.
 
jnutz19

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i think that its going to be close with Phil and Victor this year.
nice thread tkD thanks bro!!!!
 
P

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Thanks for posting that man. And as for Vic, hate to say it but, I also agree its time for The Gift.
 

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tkD

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Thanks for posting that man. And as for Vic, hate to say it but, I also agree its time for The Gift.

so some of you guys, are saying that Phil is gonna be 2nd, but never win?

cus that's what i was asking:

who do you think is gonna be the next one, coming close but will never win it? :wutyousay:

personally i want Vic to disappear from that list, and Phil to never make that list! so Phil and Vic for Mr O in the next years to come :coolguy:
 
PrinceVegeta

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Vic is the top contender for the Olympia next year no doubt about that! he is the most complete package onstage and he is hungry like fuck!
 
theweapon

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i think that its going to be close with Phil and Victor this year.
nice thread tkD thanks bro!!!!

no way! im scared to see heath this year. the guy grows like we grow hair on our face. ill put all my money on him!!
 

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