Who is the most successful bodybuilder of all time? If measured by Olympia titles then the answer isn’t Ronnie Coleman or Lee Haney. In fact, the most successful bodybuilder is not even male. Rather, the bodybuilder with the most Olympia titles is none other than Iris Kyle, holding a whopping 10 overall wins and a further two heavyweight titles. Read on for Bodybuilding Legends – Iris Kyle!
Born in 1974 and hailing from Michigan, Kyle claims to have started weightlifting when she moved to Orange County, California where she was surrounded by fit, healthy people. Inspired, she joined the local gym (though was somewhat intimidated like most new members) and started training, eventually being hired by the same gym.
Iris Kyle: Wins the Long Beach Muscle Classic (1994) — Her First Contest at age 19
A largely male presence in both the sport and its participants did not deter Iris from digesting large amounts of contemporary bodybuilding magazines; including Flex and Muscle & Fitness. She eventually managed to apply this knowledge at aged 19, winning the 1994 Long Beach Muscle Classic – her first contest.
Iris Kyle Placed 4th at Her First Ms. Olympia Attempt
Earning her IFBB pro-card at the young age of 22 in the heavyweight class (and by winning the overall in the NPC USA Championship), she placed 4th in her first attempt at the Ms. Olympia title in 1999 and 5th in 2000.
Her path to the top of the Olympia podium was not straight and simple. Between 2000 and 2005, the Ms. Olympia had a weight class system – divided into Heavyweight and Lightweight – with the top two from those categories competing head-to-head until a winner was decided.
Whilst Iris was able to win the Heavyweight class in 2001, she failed to claim the overall, losing out to Juliette Bergmann. It wasn’t until 2004 that Iris would claim the title, before losing it in 2005 to the Venezuelan Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia.
Iris Defended the Ms. Olympia throne from 2006 to 2014
Nevertheless, Iris was able to reclaim the throne in 2006, and incredibly went on to successfully defend it until 2014 when she decided to retire from bodybuilding. It was also in 2014, the final Ms Olympia.
Retirement from competing doesn’t mean Iris is taking it easy. She regularly guest poses at a number of events, including the Japanese classic (named after her) and likewise trains ex-boyfriend and fellow bodybuilder Hidetada Yamagishi.
Why was the Ms. Olympia Cancelled?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why the Ms. Olympia contest was dropped from the Olympia weekend. For a long period of time, the contest had polarised audiences with some celebrating the extreme muscularity of the competitors and many more deriding the athletes as ‘ugly’ or ‘manly’ due to the side-effects of using PEDs (with increased testosterone exaggerating male sex-traits).
A reduction in its following and the diminishing prospect of sponsors and media attention presents a financial reason as to why the IFBB opted to cancel it. But the cancellation of the Ms. International (which Iris Kyle won seven times) from the Arnold Sports Festival in 2014 suggests a wider decision to move away from the women’s most muscular contest.
The Rise of Figure, Bikini, Physique & Fitness Contests…
Is it sexism? Or an attempt to use the more feminine Women’s categories (Figure, Bikini, Physique and Fitness) to draw a crowd?
In 2005 the IFBB introduced the ‘20% rule’, demanding that female athletes decrease their muscularity by 20% – their view of female bodybuilding becoming more apparent in the process. Some bloggers speculate that the lack of ‘sex appeal’ contributed to the cancellation of the Ms. Olympia contest, arguing that the muscular women were not reflective of the beauty of bodybuilding (a somewhat misogynistic explanation).
Low to zero financial return for holding the Ms. Olympia would be a valid reason for cancelling the contest, but for the competitors, it was still a stab in the back, with one athlete launching a gender discrimination lawsuit against the city of Columbus, Ohio (where the Arnold Classic is held). Even more bizarrely (and perhaps frustratingly for many of the athletes who have missed their chance at the title) the Ms. Olympia contest is set to return in 2020, with the now 46-year old Iris Kyle aiming to return for an 11th win.