Olympians Descend On Las Vegas For Annual 'Super Bowl' Of Bodybuilding
The crowned winner of the Olympiabodybuilding competition in Las Vegas this weekend will reign over the sport for the next year.
Known as the premier bodybuilding event in the world, the event gained notoriety with title-holders like Arnold Schwarzenegger making it into a Hollywood showcase.
But since the heyday of the Arnold, the sport has gotten bigger -- and so have its competitors.
Out of the 200 or so competitors, about 20 will compete for the coveted Mr. Olympia title.
Notably absent from this year's competition, however, is the Ms. Olympia portion of the event. That's not to say women can't compete, as the Olympia event retained some of the women's categories such as physique and bikini. But the pinnacle Ms. Olympia was dissolved in 2014.
The move probably didn't shock anyone more so than Las Vegas resident Iris Kyle. She is the 10-time winner of the Ms. Olympia title -- that's more than Arnold had at seven -- and is regarded as the most successful bodybuilder of all time.
"I am experiencing a void right now," Kyle said. "I no longer have the opportunity to continue my career, something that I chose."
According to Kyle, Olympia organizers didn't give a reason for closing that portion of the event.
"That happens to a lot of people, but you would never think it would come into a sport," Kyle said.
KNPR reached out to the Olympia organization, but they did not comment on the issue.
"I don't think at the time they really gave a reason, there was no press release saying we're discontinuing this because of x,y, and z," said Jeff O'Connell, editor of bodybuilding.com.
It's not the first time a major hiccup was thrown in the Ms. Olympia event. In 2005, women competing in the category were informed by organizers to cut down on muscularity by 20 percent.
It was the one year that Kyle placed second.
"Whatever they meant, I don't know," Kyle said. "In a nutshell, you have to actually take on your own image, stand in the mirror and decide what you want to look like and let the Lord do the rest."
But it's not easy to compete for such titles -- especially if you're a woman.
"We're not accepted by the general public," Kyle said. "If you're on the outside looking in, you're probably going to say, 'Oh my God, she's huge, what is she thinking?'
"But most people I come into contact with love the way I look."
It's the reason Kyle says she shies away from too many outings - choosing to order groceries online and avoid public spaces because the attention on her body can get a bit overwhelming.
Nonetheless, more than 200 of the world's most elite bodybuilding competitors are in Las Vegas this weekend, for the event that draws an upward of 100,000 attendees and spectators.
"It's really the Super Bowl of bodybuilding," O'Connell said.
It would be tough to have an honest conversation about bodybuilding, however, without mentioning the use of pharmaceutical enhancements - or steroids.
"I'd say in competitive bodybuilding today, it's quite prevalent," O'Connell said. "By the time you get to the Olympia stage, where these are the biggest and best competitors in the entire world, I think it's pretty well assumed at this point that you can't compete at this level if you don't take steroids."
O'Connell said the event takes two tracks of categories - those who seek a natural fit body, and those who do take supplements on top of strict diet and exercise.
"It's sort of a freak show, it's sort of a spectacle, and that's not even considered a pejorative term in bodybuilding, that's a compliment," O'Connell said.
For now, Kyle and other potential Ms. Olympians will have to watch from the sidelines.
(Editor's Note: This interview originally aired September 2016)
Jeff O'Connell, Editor in Chief, bodybuilding.com; Iris Kyle, bodybuilder, 10-time winner of the Ms. Olympia competition