The Great Competition

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In 1898, physical culture enthusiasts received the news that the first large scale physique competition would be held in 1901. The person responsible for this competition: Eugen Sandow of course.

Through his magazine ‘Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture’ the latter explained that he was planning this contest with a view to discover the most perfectly developed man in the country (England). After a three year elimination period through regional contests, the top 3 placements of each competition met at London’s Royal Albert Hall to be judged by sculptor Sir Charles Lawes, author Arthur Conan Doyle, and the man himself, Eugen Sandow. An interesting thing to note here, and will surely be discussed in following posts, is the importance of the Royal Albert Hall as a venue for the contest.

In England, and especially in Sandow’s mind, physical culture was linked to the strength of a nation. While promoting physical culture as an important aspect in one’s life, Sandow would often relate exercise to the British army and to the need of the nation to exercise to become stronger as a whole. Now, the Royal Albert. The venue was often used for various spectacles focusing on showcasing the might of the British army. This particular location was no coincidence on Sandow’s part.

During the ‘Great Competition’, Men were judged by their general development, balance of development, condition and tone of the tissues, condition of the skin, and general health. Top 3 winners were each awarded a Sandow statue (gold, silver, bronze), money, and were offered publicity space in Sandow’s magazine. It is also important to note that participants were only eligible to compete if they were pupils of ‘the Sandow Training System’.

These ideals for a competition did not fade after 1901. If you follow bodybuilding today, some of this repeats itself. Although the Mr.Olympia offers one Sandow to the Mr. Olympia winner, it is still interesting to note that the statue is Sandow. Also, despite judging being murky at times, we can all agree that the basis of judging relies on muscle development, balance, tone, symmetry, and overall look – quite similar to what Sandow was looking for (minus the health, the hair, and the skin). Finally, at the professional level, money is involved, magazine space is the name of the game, and there are strict rules on eligibility with the NPC and the IFBB (and of course the AAU prior to that!).

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