by Christian Duque
Where should I start when I speak about 1983? Mr. Olympia Samir Bannout. The early 1980s were probably a completely different world than today. Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States, the Cold War was in full swing (although neither side seemed to be the clear winner), and many countries were torn apart by political, ethnic, religious, and / or class boundaries.
In terms of bodybuilding, the sport was in a very interesting transition where the decade started with five different Mr. Olympia winners. In the past decade, the sport has been dominated by three major champions. Arnold won the title six times, Zane three times and Franco once. To be honest, Franco didn't really dominate the decade, but his key role in the Pumping Iron movie made his only Olympic win extremely marketable. However, Arnold and Zane dominated the era.
Ironically, Arnold returned for the 1980 Olympics at the beginning of the new decade and looked good enough to win, but by no means as good as his heyday. Let's talk about this a little. Arnold returned to a sport dominated by Frank Zane, Robby Robinson and Mike Mentzer, not to mention new athletes who also wanted the title. If his return were not enough, Franco decided in 1981 to return. Unlike Arnold, Franco was badly injured and if he had been someone else it would have been very difficult for him to break the top 5. Nevertheless, he won the competition and defeated far better athletes like Chris Dickerson, Tom Platz and Roy Callender, to name a few. By 1982 both Arnold and Franco appeared to be finished, and the new decade was upon us. Although Samir started with 15th place in 1980, he jumped on the placements in 1981 and cracked the top 10 with a respectable 9th place. In 1982 he finished fourth. The 1982 competition winner was the 1981 runner-up, Chris Dickerson. After Dickerson won, he retired and released the throne. That was the beginning for Samir. In this article, I will discuss Samir's arrival, his big win in 1983, and his lasting impact on bodybuilding.
Samir Bannout's interaction with bodybuilding came at a young age when he got to know bodybuilding magazines in his home country of Lebanon. Lebanon is one of the most diverse countries in the Middle East, where Muslims, Christians, Druze and many other religious and ethnic groups live together peacefully. When he started to make profits and compete, he was on the way to international fame and fortune. I'm not entirely sure when he got his famous nickname "The Lion of Lebanon", but it is a title that he has earned and fulfilled throughout his career and beyond. In 1974 he became the youngest competitor in Mr. Universe and was constantly working to improve his physique, posturing and stage presence. That was over forty years ago.
When Lebanon went into total chaos in one of the worst civil wars in the world, many Lebanese emigrated to other countries. The war lasted for decades and caused countless casualties and great devastation. Although Samir lived abroad, he never forgot his home and always worked hard to win great titles in his honor.
After moving to America, Samir was ready to go all the way. He gained professional status by winning his class at the IFBB Amateur World Championships in 1979 and from there started his professional career. He was characterized by full muscles, especially exceptional triceps and a tight midsection, paying attention to posturing, which made him a favorite for photographers. In one of perhaps the best tributes to Lebanon, Samir always showed the Christmas tree in his back – it is the result of real diet and preparation. Back then, the boys suffered to a certain extent, but they didn't suffer insanely during the peak week like today. Back then, the boys were getting ready and never suffered terribly in the past week.
When I talk more about this point, I refer to an interview I recently had with IFBB Pro Vinny Galanti, who said it best. If you have to go crazy on a diet the week before the competition, you haven't done your job while preparing. The entire concept of a peak week is largely a sales tool for coaches. They have to have something they can sell, and it is simply unnecessary for athletes who have been dieting and exercising carefully for 12 to 16 weeks to only punish themselves for a week. People like Samir talked extensively about documentation, articles, and seminars throughout the 1980s and beyond. It should also be noted that these guys today had no access to a variety of fat burners (both conventional and unconventional) or diuretics available to the athletes. There were some secrets, of course, but what was really important back then was self-sacrifice and discipline – two attributes that Samir never lacked.
Although the 1980 Mr. Olympia must have been very difficult for top players like Zane, who had previously won three times, Mike Mentzer and Boyer Coe, it was probably an honor for Samir to finally make it to that point. He finished 15th and will always have the award that he shared a stage with Arnold. When I finished 9th in 1981, I imagined that his displeasure with the Franco victory was probably more pronounced. I also think that this was true for every bodybuilder – whether this year at the O or not. I could imagine that many average fans weren't particularly happy either. To repeat it again, a case could have been made for Arnold's victory in 1980, but there was no such case for Franco in 1981. Apart from that, 1982 offered a very same pitch and even in that same pitch 3x Mr. Olympia Frank Zane in the mix, three things happen. Chris Dickerson eventually won, a multi-year champion couldn't beat an aspiring champion, and Samir saw a third consecutive year in which his rankings improved dramatically. He went from 15th in 1980 to 9th in 1981 and 4th in 1982. This was his moment and when it became clear that Dickerson would not be competing in 1983, Samir had to know that there was nobody but Frank Zane would stand in his way. And even with Frank Zane, Frank was a fighter, and if Frank beat him, it would only be because Frank was better. That being said, it was Samir's time, Samir was ready and he made history in top form in 1983.
Interestingly enough, a new competitor with Lee Haney came on stage at the 1983 Olympics, who looked very impressive and took 3rd place. That being said, Samir was so flawless and innovative that he defeated everyone, including Mohamed Makkawy, Haney and Frank Zane.
The sport changed. The 1970s really ended in 1981; The new decade really started with three new champions. They had Dickerson in 1982, Samir in 83 and Haney in 84. Although Samir dominated in 1983, he could not keep the following year and, despite years of trying, could never regain the title. Each of the three champions above presented a road for sports, if you like, but Haney was the future. The idea that Frank Zane could win the title at under £ 200 seemed plausible even in 1981, maybe 1983, but after 1984 it became less and less realistic. A guy with Zane's physique wouldn't have stood a chance in Yates or Coleman's eras. Dickerson and Samir were 1980s versions of a 1970s look, so even at 100% they had a significant disadvantage over The Totally Awesome Lee Haney. However, I want to emphasize that it wasn't just weight. Haney always pushed for the idea of "mass with class".
For example, at the height of his career, if you took a man like Markus Ruhl who packs his best against extremely dry, torn muscle against someone like Samir (or even Zane), bodybuilding purists would still give the win against the much lighter guys. In the end, the aesthetics and symmetry of the lighter guys would be superior. However, a man like Lee Haney opened the door to a much larger size, paired with symmetry, balance, and condition. But wait, this article is about Samir. Then why am I concentrating on Haney? Well, that's the reason.
Samir's entire game schedule is a big part of the impact and impression he made on bodybuilding. It was a look that I think kept the golden era of the 70s alive as it got smaller and smaller. That being said, Samir didn't drastically change the game plan to win again. If he won, he would win by being the best possible Samir Bannout, striking his characteristic poses and digging deep from his foundations. Other guys were chasing Lee, maybe trying to look and sound more like Haney than Haney, and they probably thought this would guarantee their title.
I always had the feeling that the entire game plan of a Mr. Olympia was completely on its own. Whoever won this title, whether once or 8 times, wears something different. They did it once and they will do it again – that must be the mindset. Samir won once and was the goalkeeper in many ways. His physique was probably the last physique of the golden era of bodybuilding. That doesn't mean that Haney's body wasn't amazing and / or its looks weren't as good, but it was the beginning of the new era. From Haney to Yates to Coleman (and also Cutler), the sport would be dominated by over two decades of pure mass. It was often a crowd with class, but there have been years when I believe that bodybuilding fans would have done anything to get a bannout, Dickerson or Zane back, win the title and bring the sport back to its roots. The introduction of Classic Physique partially met this requirement, but only partially.