“This sport is not worth dying for” - Ronnie Coleman on health issues in bodybuilding

Ronnie coleman in his prime and the
Ronnie coleman in his prime and the 'King' with his daughter (Image via Instagram/@ronniecoleman8)

Ronnie Coleman is arguably the greatest bodybuilder to ever grace the stage, wiith eight Mr. Olympia titles making him the most-decorated athlete in the history of the prestigious event alongside the legendary Lee Haney. Long after his retirement, Coleman remains one of the most influential figures in and out of the sport.

While the 'King' is known to be an avid advocate for bodybuilding, he is also one of the biggest critics of the culture surrounding the sport. Last year, he joined Bradley Martyn, a celebrity bodybuilder, on an episode of the Raw Talk podcast. On the podcast, he addressed the deaths of many bodybuilders, including that of Cedric McMillan, an American bodybuilder who tragically passed away in 2022. In doing so, Coleman recalled his own experience in the sport while competing for the 2001 Mr. Olympia title:

"When you start dying, this sport is not worth dying for. Not at all. I remember back in 2001, I’ll never forget it like it was yesterday. I woke up the morning of the olympia and I felt awful. I was totally dehydrated, you know, you have to be kind of a little dehydrated to get up there on stage."
Ronnie Coleman backstage at the 2001 Mr. Olympia (Image via Reddit)
Ronnie Coleman backstage at the 2001 Mr. Olympia (Image via Reddit)

Water-cutting is a common practice in sports such as bodybuilding. This is done to remove water from the cells to make the skin thin, increasing the definition of the muscles in the process. As professionals compete at elite levels, the water cuts potentially reach dangerous levels, impacting the health of the athletes. Continuing his story, Coleman said:

"But this morning, I felt awful, I felt real bad. I was to the point where I felt like I was kind of dying. It scared the living hell out of me. I called my nutritionist, and said hey, dude I feel awful. Forget this show, I’m going to the hospital. I’m not going to die for this sport. I’m going to the hospital."


Coleman on regulation in bodybuilding

Death in the sport of bodybuilding is a relatively recent phenomenon due to abuse of various substances such as diuretics. In his time, the regulation was stringent. Coleman said:

"It’s kind of hard, you know when I was coming up, we had one guy die and they started drug testing every show. He died of diuretics of course, you know. So they started drug testing for diuretics every show, and nobody died or nothing, until they stopped. I’ll never forget when they stopped. He died in 1996, I think. (Mohammed) Benaziza, he died on the European tour. I know I wasn’t there, I wasn’t Mr. Olympia back then. They drug tested every single show after that in the IFBB."
Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler face off at the 2001 Mr. Olympia (Image via Instagram/@jaycutler)
Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler face off at the 2001 Mr. Olympia (Image via Instagram/@jaycutler)

According to Coleman, testing for diuretics changed in the sport after one particular event: when Jay Cutler threatened to sue the organization for stripping him of his second-place finish at the 2001 Mr. Olympia. Coleman said:

"When Jay failed the test, they, because Jay told them he was going to sue them. They was like, okay, well we won’t keep testing, and you get the chance to keep your prize money too. We will just do away with the testing. Jay changed that. They didn’t test no more after that."

It may be about time that testing was brought back into professional bodybuilding again after the recent tragedies witnessed in the sport.

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Edited by Sabine Algur
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