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The Future Of Olympia Qualifications

  • 7 min read

by Christian Duque

As more bodybuilding contests are added onto the pro circuit it seems that the powers that be want to keep the competitive space reserved for the very best in the world. Given how little we see the top guys in the world competing it seems desperate times call for desperate measures. One tell-tale contest was the 2023 Arnold Classic. It got so bad when it was down to six guys that it was looking like the second biggest contest in the world was going to go belly up. And what’s crazy is that even though the purse was $200k it just didn’t seem to make a difference. The top guys were already locked into the biggest show in the world and they wanted to stay there.

What’s the incentive to give your all – even if $200k is on the line – if it’s just the second biggest bodybuilding show? Then you look at the other contests. They also pay well, but if you’re in the Top 5 there is no real incentive to compete. These guys were considered potential Mr. O’s and they all had big contracts that allowed them to eat, train, and pretty much just lay low year round. Many made appearances at various expos and in-stores because they commanded huge audiences.

It’s not to say that being automatically qualified was a license to be lazy, it’s just to say that it meant these guys didn’t have to compete again. It also gave them the luxury of prepping all year to be at their absolute best at the Olympia. There were some problems with that theory that we’ll delve into a bit. On the other hand, this concept also kept some of the best guys from being seen across the country and around the world. Bodybuilding audiences deserve to see the best guys possible. After all, they’re unlikely to see the Top 3 competing, but why not guys that took 4th, 5th, and 6th? Otherwise the best they’ll see is guys who could be Top 10 on their best day. That’s not exactly the elite of the elite.

The new rules will no longer give Top 5 guys automatic qualifications for the following year’s Olympia. This bombshell news comes after another bombshell move that eliminated the points system. The points system gave guys who racked up enough 2nd’s, 3rd’s, 4th’s and 5th’s the chance to cobble up enough points to get a spot in the Olympia.

When there were some 20-30 guys on that stage it was argued that the Superbowl of Bodybuilding was starting to look more like a charity event. When you have guys up there who no one has ever heard of, that’s a problem. Once the points system was scrapped, the Olympia pool shrunk by more than half. And while the new rule won’t dramatically shrink the number of qualified competitors, it means that every single guy up there deserves to be there. The only guys who will get that automatic qualification would be the Top 3. That raises the bar considerably higher.

At the rate we’re going, will the special invite be the next to go under the chopping block? That’s debatable because it’s not supposed to be given every year and it’s also entirely discretionary. So long as the promoters can keep the use of the special invite down to a minimum, then I’d say it’s safe to stay. But who knows. Guys like Derek took 2nd and Ramy won his first Sandow because of a special invite. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been on that stage to begin with. Perhaps the invite might get indefinitely shelved. I mean imagine how salty Brandon Curry must have been when the guy who beat him in 2020 didn’t even qualify. If Ramy hadn’t been in the lineup, The Prodigy would likely have earned his second Sandow.

Another possibility is that eventually they might stop automatic qualifications for past Mr. Olympias. I, personally, think that would be going too far, but let’s assume we have a new Mr. O in just a couple weeks. Let’s also assume that next year Ramy and Hadi compete. You’d have Brandon, Ramy, Hadi and whoever wins the 2023 Olympia all competing. That’s four guys all there because they won a title once upon a time. That’s a lot of bodies up there by virtue of past achievements. And in some cases, their physiques might be on the downturn as opposed to maintaining or improving.

The fact of the matter is that if Ramy competed again at the 2023 Olympia it’s possible he would have fallen outside of the Top 6. We saw Cutler barely hold on in 2013 and we’ve seen past Mr. O’s like Samir Bannout even fall out of the Top 10.

Do we want Mr. O’s that aren’t even competitive in the Olympia getting automatic qualifications? Again, to each their own, but the fact of the matter is that if the goal is to consistently increase the production value, then that might not be the best look.

On a more realistic note, however, this rule change will ensure that more top guys will compete around the world. There’s far more contests on the schedule and many of them are overseas. Countless fans in South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe love bodybuilding but don’t really get to see the top guys competing. Now they not only have an incentive to compete in qualifying, but they stand to make a few extra bucks in the process as well. Plus, the top guys won’t just compete to compete. They have reputations to uphold and they know how cruel the pundits and trolls on social media can be. Even if there were such a thing as “an easy win” and even if the lineups aren’t that deep, they can’t be seen looking less than stellar. Sometimes winning an easy show spells disaster for an athlete looking to make a name for himself. Remember, it’s not just getting to the Olympia stage, but how you get there. That’s significant as well.

The new rule also will make for a far more competitive lineup. These guys are going to fight all the harder because they’ll want the glory and also because they probably won’t want to prepare. It’ll be interesting if the Top 3 includes two Mr. Olympias. Could you imagine if the Top 3 included three Mr. O’s? Meaning what if Derek won, Hadi took 2nd, and Brandon took 3rd. The Top 3 would be all Mr. Olympias. That would mean that everyone besides them would have to qualify for the 2024 Mr. Olympia. That would be a fine way to break the new rules if I do say so myself. I mean what better way to bring about a revolutionary change than by causing pandemonium. We’d never hear the end of it, at least not until next year when the Arnold Classic invite lists were made public.

Something tells me that there wouldn’t be a mere five or six guys thinking about doing the show. It would draw out a who’s who and the 2024 contest season would be one for the record books.

Nothing makes a person want something more than not being able to get it as easily as before. I believe they call that supply and demand.

The new rule will reduce the number of automatic qualifications, which will undoubtedly increase their value among the best of the best. It’ll be a very interesting year to come. What’s your take on the new rule? Good for the athletes? Good for the fans? Good for the sport?