Samir Bannout and the golden age of bodybuilding

There's a reason the 1980's is considered the "Golden Age" in bodybuilding history. The sport's champions have included such classic legends as Frank Zane, Chris Dickerson, Franco Columbu - and Samir Bannout. These competitors all had super aesthetic physiques and weren't so huge that younger bodybuilders couldn't aspire to follow in their footsteps.

Big Ramy is an amazing and deserving Mr. Olympia. But there aren't many young bodybuilders in gyms around the world who look at him and say, "One day I'm going to build a physique like that."

There was also a confluence of forces that arose during this period. Muscle & Fitness Magazine was so unexpectedly successful that it was dubbed "the publishing miracle of the 1980s" by the industry. Because Joe Weider was based in Los Angeles and signed most of the top bodybuilders, many of the pros either lived in the area or visited regularly. I and other Weider photographers always photographed them in Gold's gym or studio, which helped Gold's, Venice, earn its reputation as the "Mecca of bodybuilding."

Samir Bannout at Gold's Gym in Venice, the "Mecca of bodybuilding". Bill Dobbins

Since photos in Muscle & Fitness and Flex were mostly taken at the Venice gym, this drew bodybuilders from around the world to train where they could rub shoulders with the champions of the day. In fact, there were so many visitors from abroad, especially in the summer, that I often joked that I felt I needed a visa to work out at the gym.

Samir Bannout works out his legs at Gold's Gym The Lion of Lebanon trained for the Olympics at Venice Gold's. Bill Dobbins

Among the other champions in the gym, one of the most prominent was Samir Bannout, known as "the Lion of Lebanon". Samir left his native Lebanon and emigrated to America, first moving to Detroit, Michigan and later to Santa Monica, California. He began competing at the amateur level, rose through the ranks and eventually achieved IFBB pro status by winning the light heavyweight division at the 1979 IFBB World Amateur Championships. Bannout placed 4th in the 1982 Mr. Olympia contest and returned to him the following year

Munich, Germany, took home the 1983 Olympic title. Bannout weighed 196 lbs. for winning the competition that made him the last Mr. Olympia to weigh under 200 pounds. His victory ended the so-called era of Mr. Olympia "aesthetics," which had originally begun with American Frank Zane's title win in 1977 and refocused on emphasizing bulk and size beginning with the American's victory Lee Haney in 1984 for the first time and after his inaugural win with 7 more consecutive wins for a record total of 8 titles.

Samir poses in green shortsA classic physique displayed in a classic bodybuilding pose. Bill Dobbins

This was the last period in pro bodybuilding before the arrival of the "muscle monsters," champions like Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, and subsequent, really big Mr. Olympia winners. Today Samir would be in the 212 lb class along with Zane, Lee Labrada, Franco Columbu, Rich Gaspari, Shawn Ray, Bob Paris and many other legends of the era. Today, even the "smaller" professional bodybuilders weigh over 212 pounds and have to compete on stage alongside bodies that weigh 270, 290, or even 300 pounds.

Samir Bannout shows his aestheticsFor Samir Bannout, aesthetics are more important than sheer size. Bill Dobbins

"Like any serious bodybuilder," says Samir, "I was working hard to build muscle when I first started training. But crowd for crowd's sake never interested me. Bodybuilding has always been about aesthetic quality and sculptural detail for me. We tend to admire statues of athletes from ancient Greece or the sculptures of Michelangelo, not just because they're muscular, but because all those muscles are so beautifully displayed.”

I have photographed Samir many times on stage and in the gym. Then one day in 1989 we decided to drive to nearby Marina Del Rey and do some outdoor shots in the great California beach sunlight. Samir wasn't in the best competitive shape, but he was handsome and you could certainly see the aesthetic qualities that made him a champion. I recently remembered this photo session and looked for the images in my huge photo library.

Samir Bannout in Marina Del Rey Samir Bannout in Marina Del Rey, 1989. Bill Dobbins

The color slide film used turned out to be Kodachrome 25 which produced very high quality and distinctive tones. The only problem is that these frames, when mounted on cardboard slide mounts, sometimes ended up with the edges slightly cut off. But still it is obvious that these pictures are worth sharing with Samir's many friends, fans and admirers. For one, they make it clear why the early 1980s were considered the golden age - and why.

As champions get bigger and heavier, there's a growing nostalgia for a time when aesthetics and quality were more important aspects of a champion physique, and sheer bulk just wasn't that big of a factor.

Samir Bannout sits on the sea cliff Samir and surfing. Bill Dobbins

Story of Samir Bannout's Bodybuilding Competition

2011 IFBB Pro World Masters Bodybuilding 11th Place

· 1996 Master Olympia 6th Place

· 1994 Mr. Olympia 19

· 1994 Spanish Grand Prix 12th place

1994 Italian Grand Prix 12th

· 1994 Grand Prix of Germany 13th

· 1994 British Grand Prix, 14th place

· 1993 San Jose Pro Invitational 10th Place

1993 Ironman Pro Invitational, 13th place

1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic 13

· 1992 Mr. Olympia 16

· 1992 Grand Prix of Germany 11

· 1992 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic N/A

· 1991 Mr. Olympia 16

· 1990 NABBA World Championships Professional 2nd Place

1990 Pittsburgh Pro Invitational 1st (Winner)

· 1990 Mr. Olympia 8th place

1990 Houston Pro Invitational runner-up

· 1990 Italian Grand Prix 6th place

· 1990 Grand Prix Finland 5th place

· 1990 British Grand Prix 6th place

· 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic 4th place

1989 Mr Olympia 9th

· 1989 Swedish Grand Prix 3rd place

Spanish Grand Prix 1989 (2nd) 5th

· 1989 Spanish Grand Prix 5th place

1989 Dutch Grand Prix 5th place

· 1989 Grand Prix of Germany 5th place

· 1989 French Grand Prix 8th place

· 1989 Grand Prix Finland 6th place

· 1989 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic 4th place

· 1988 Italian Grand Prix 9th place

· 1988 British Grand Prix 10th place

1986 WABBA World Championship 1st

1985 WABBA World Championship 1st

· 1984 World Grand Prix 5th place

· 1984 Mr. Olympia 6th place

Fifth in the 1984 Canada Pro Cup

· 1983 Mr. Olympia 1st place

· 1982 Mr. Olympia 4th place

· 1982 Swedish Grand Prix 2nd place

· 1981 Mr. Olympia 9th place

· 1981 Night of Champions 10

· 1981 New England Grand Prix 6th place

1981 California Grand Prix, 7th place

1980 Pittsburgh Pro Invitational N/A

· 1980 Mr. Olympia 15

· 1980 Night of Champions 10

· 1980 Pennsylvania Grand Prix 7th place

1980 California Grand Prix 4th place

· 1979 World Amateur Championship, 1st Light Heavyweight

1979 Canada Pro Cup, N/A

· 1979 world best, 1st amateur

· 1978 Mr. International, 2nd middleweight

· 1977 Mr. International, 2nd middleweight

1976 Mr. Universe, middleweight 12th

1974 Mr. Universe, Middle Class 7th (Youngest contestant)

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