Is Bodybuilding Losing its Luster due to the Olympia Qualification System?

by Matt Weik

How many of us can go back in the day and remember when all of the top bodybuilders pretty much entered each competition throughout the year (within reason)? Pretty exciting, right? Now think about bodybuilding today. You have guys like Phil Heath sitting out every competition until the Olympia rolls around. The sport of bodybuilding these days is more of a business than providing entertainment for the fans in my opinion.

“No coach, I only want to play in the Super Bowl.”

Could you imagine if Tom Brady told Bill Belichick that he doesn’t want to play any games this year, he’ll just wait until the Super Bowl to make an appearance since he’s considered one of the best quarterbacks in the game? Now, I understand we are talking about a sport where there is a team playing to make it to the Super Bowl, but for our sport, the Olympia is our Super Bowl. Football fans love to watch their team on Sunday’s and see their favorite athletes take the field and lead their team to a win. It almost sets the stage for the Super Bowl if and when they make it. In my opinion, this is the same way I envisioned the IFBB running the sport of bodybuilding.

Everyone, no matter if they won last year or not, must qualify for the Olympia. Doesn’t matter who you are. So, in my perfect world of how I envision this in my head, that would mean Phil Heath would need to step on stage sometime between January 1, and the final show leading up to the Olympia—AND he must win that show to be qualified to jump on stage at the Olympia. I don’t feel like we should be giving out free passes each year for the Olympia. But that’s just my opinion. I feel as if there should be a rule in place that every athlete needs to do x, y, and z in order to get the invite to the Super Bowl—the Olympia.

While it was cool to see Kevin Levrone on stage last year and the fact that the IFBB gave him an invite, but how did that turn out? Not too good. While Kevin looked good for his age, it was almost a disservice to the sport to have a legend come back and tie for dead last in a line-up that I would say wasn’t stacked. With the absence of Kai Greene, the sport did need someone to step up and draw a crowd for the Olympia and while Kevin did that, come the night show all it seemed like all the air was let out of the balloon as soon as everyone’s eyes caught a glimpse of Kevin’s physique. Again, while it was cool to see Kevin on stage, I don’t feel he did anything to earn the right to be standing up there with guys who worked hard and qualified and weren’t simply given an invite.

How would I change the rules for Olympia qualification?

To start off, if you are curious how the current system works with points and previous standings from the prior year, NPC News Online does a good job of explaining it on their website. You can find the system by going to this website:

While I agree with how they lay it out for the most part, I still don’t believe anything from the previous year should count towards the next year. It’s a fresh year with the start of a new rotation of contests. You don’t take the Super Bowl champ from the prior year and automatically put them in the next Super Bowl. You don’t take the previous NBA champion and put them in the following years finals. You don’t do that in ANY other sport. So, why is bodybuilding any different? In my opinion it makes it boring to not see the top competitors from the previous year’s Olympia on stage until the NEXT Olympia contest.

The business of bodybuilding versus the sport of bodybuilding

Bodybuilding can almost be split into two categories—the business side and the sport itself. You have competitors who while they take the sport extremely seriously, this isn’t their job or career, it’s simply something they love to do. These types of competitors jump up on stage for the entertainment factor and to showcase their hard work, they aren’t there necessarily to collect a paycheck, although I’m sure every competitor up there would love some extra cash for placing well.

But many competitors these days who win big shows also pick up sponsorships that pay these stars a good amount of money for the ability to utilize their image and likeness to promote their brand and products. It’s no wonder why so many competitors sit on the sidelines rather than jumping on stage frequently throughout the year. Do you blame them? If they are basically given a free pass from the previous year to step back on stage at the Olympia, and they have a source of revenue coming in that pays their bills and gives them some disposable income, why beat themselves up and put their body through the rigors of training and dieting? I can’t blame them! Yet, I don’t have to agree with the IFBB allowing this to take place.

Fans pay to park their butts in seats and watch their favorite bodybuilders grace the stage. The fact that fans across the globe only get to see Phil Heath compete once a year in my opinion is BS. He has the ability to train and grow in the extended off-season where others need to diet down several times during the year just to qualify. If Phil is so great and everyone knows he belongs in the Olympia line-up, then forcing him to jump on stage to qualify should be a walk in the park for him, no? Think about it… if you’re the best bodybuilder in the world, you should be able to enter just about any show during the year leading up to the Olympia and take home the win to qualify. Is that so much to ask? I think it would add some excitement to the sport and allow the fans an opportunity to see their favorites bodybuilders in peak condition more than just once in Las Vegas.

I’m sure there are many who will disagree with me and on the flip-side many who feel the same way I do. I love this sport. And I enjoy watching my favorite competitors do battle on stage. Only seeing the top bodybuilders hit the stage once a year for the Olympia is not doing any good for the sport. You can fill more seats, engage more fans, and collect more money when the top bodybuilders are on stage. While I’d love to see the IFBB make a change to the qualification system, I’m only one person with one voice—and quite frankly, I mean nothing to the IFBB.