Bodybuilding can often seem massively US orientated, with the majority of pro-contests and pro-athletes residing there along with the rest of the industry. But for Juliette Bergmann, she broke that mould, establishing herself as Ms. Olympia, an IFBB judge and the most successful Dutch bodybuilder in the world. Find out more about her in Bodybuilding Legends – Juliette Bergmann!
Juliette Got Serious at a Young Age
Born in Vlaardingen, south Netherlands in 1958, from a Dutch mother and Indonesian father, Bergmann’s childhood was marked by loss, with the athlete losing two of her brothers at an early age which forced her to take a more responsible role within her family.
Applying this newfound sense of responsibility, she cites this trauma as the primary reason for her disciplined, serious mindset. Bergmann began training in 1981, with her now ex-husband to lose weight – not being inspired to compete until 1983 when she attended a contest as a spectator and noted how good the athletes looked.
Juliette Bergmann Qualifies for the European Championship
She would go on to compete in two shows that year, winning both of them and starting herself on a long victorious path. Bergmann competed in her first National Championship in 1984, placing second which qualified her for the European Championship held in Hague, Netherlands.
Following a disappointing seventh-place finish, she contacted a new coach, Jim Lensveld (Vice President of the Dutch National Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation) at a gym one hour away from her home – her willingness to commute that distance daily a testament to her desire to succeed.
Winning Both the National & European Championship & Qualifying for the Ms. Olympia
Bergmann went on to compete again in a National Championship and European Championship, winning first place in the lightweight division in both. Following another national championship, Bergmann was invited to compete at the World Championship in Brussels, Belgium.
Despite being impressed by the other competitors and not expecting to place, Bergmann had won the show in the line-up, being brought out for comparison once. This unmitigated success saw her qualify for the 1985, Ms. Olympia.
Whilst having a successful year, the intensity of training and back-to-back contests alongside personal life difficulties saw Bergmann place a low 14th at her Olympia debut, ending 1985 on a low point.
Taking Second Place at the Ms. International
Bergmann entered 1986 renewed, travelling to County, USA, to guest pose. This trip led to one of her more successful runs of shows, with Juliette taking a ‘why not’ attitude to competing in other shows whilst staying stateside. Convinced by her new coach Jim, Bergmann competed in the Ms. International, placing second.
It was at this show that Juliette was convinced by bodybuilder Tony Pearson to compete in the Pro World Championship Couples show. This involved matching up poses across the Atlantic through posting photographs to each other, before meeting up one week prior to the contest to practice in person.
Juliette Bergmann & Tony Pearson Win the Pro World Championship Couples Show
Incredibly, despite the geographical distance, the pair won the show outright, winning the couples and singles respectively – paving the way for a 6th place finish at the 1986 Olympia. 1987 followed with a 9th place at the Olympia, with Bergmann’s low placing being attributed to poor shape and arriving in at 6kg heavier than her usual contest weight.
What followed this was a series of ill-timed and unfortunate events that would plague Bergmann’s competitions. Due to a failed drugs test in 1988 at the Pro-World Championships Bergmann was unable to compete at that show or the subsequent Olympia. In 1989, her father’s death one month before the Pro-World Championship clearly left its mark, leaving the heartbroken athlete in 7th place and influenced her decision to sit out for a year.
Although Juliette aimed to return in 1991, a dog attacked her whilst she was out running, badly breaking her ankle. Surgery managed to reset the bone, but it would be several years before she was able to run and train with her usual intensity – though she still continued to train her upper body whilst in a cast, reportedly being carried into the gym.
Juliette becomes a Dutch Bodybuilding Federation Judge & Opens Her Own Gym
In 1991, she became a judge for the Dutch Bodybuilding Federation and worked on setting up several publications and opening her own gym – establishing herself as a figurehead for female competitors in the sport.
Defeating the Reigning Ms. Olympia: Iris Kyle
However, in 2001, she returned to the stage after twelve years in pursuit of the Ms. Olympia trophy. Competing in the lightweight class, Bergmann defeated the legendary Iris Kyle to win the overall title – marking the only point where a lightweight class winner would win the overall title. She would later try to defend her title in 2002 and 2003, not quite clinching the overall, but winning the lightweight class.