Queens of the Stage — Every Ms. Olympia Winner

The biggest event in women’s bodybuilding has a storied past.

For the first several decades of bodybuilding’s existence, competitions existed mainly for men, with contests laden in the male honorific — Mr. Universe, Mr. America, and, of course, Mr. Olympia. Fifteen years after the Mr. O debuted in 1965, Ms. Olympia gave women interested in physique-building a stage to compete.

Then, in 2014, the Olympia canceled the Ms. Olympia due to waning fan interest and falling ticket sales. For six years, women interested in competitive bodybuilding had to find other shows to compete in, such as the now-popular Rising Phoenix competition. But then, in 2020, Ms. Olympia made a comeback, partly thanks to the efforts of promoter Jake Wood (who also founded the Rising Phoenix.)

Fast forward to 2021, and there are now six female divisions at the Olympia — Bikini, Figure, Fitness, Wellness, Women’s Physique, and Women’s Bodybuilding. Combined, the winners of the five competitive women’s divisions at the 2020 Olympia (Wellness makes its Olympia debut in 2021) earned $240,000.

All in all, 12 women have held the highest honor in women’s bodybuilding. Unlike the Mr. Olympia, where there are distinct dynasties involving one champion reigning for several years, the Ms. Olympia has changed hands more often. Here’s a look back at the history of this prestigious competition.

1980-1983 — Three Champions in Four Years

1980 represented a new decade and an exciting time for bodybuilding. Arnold Schwarzenegger came out of retirement to win the Mr. Olympia that year in Sydney, Australia. 1980 was also when the first Ms. Olympia was held in Philadelphia, PA, and Rachel McLish made history as the first winner of this title. She is also the first two-time champion. After losing the title in 1981 to Ritva Elomma, she reclaimed it in 1982.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The following year, the trend in the sport became “bigger is better.” McLish bowed out, and Carla Dunlap would seize the throne. 

1980, Sheraton Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • First — Rachel McLish
  • Second — Auby Paulick
  • Third — Lynn Conkwright

1981, Sheraton Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • First — Ritva Elomaa
  • Second — Rachel McLish
  • Third — Lynn Conkwright

1982, Atlantic City, New Jersey (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Rachel McLish
  • Second — Carla Dunlap
  • Third — Kike Elomaa

1983, Warminster, Pennsylvania (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Carla Dunlap
  • Second — Candy Csencsits
  • Third — Inger Zetterqvist

1984-1989 — The Everson Era

1984 would see another shift in women’s bodybuilding, but the competitors at the time weren’t aware of what was coming. Dunlap was defending her title, and McLish returned with hopes of being the first three-time winner. Unfortunately for both of them, a new contender established dominance.

Cory Everson defeated McLish (who got second place) and Dunlap (who got fourth) to win the title in her first appearance. She then went on to close out the 1980’s atop the mountain.

Everson’s reign saw her take the sport to new heights and enter the cultural mainstream, being featured on numerous TV shows and even the movie Double Impact starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. She retired following her sixth title in 1989.

1984, Place des Arts, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

  • First — Cory Everson
  • Second — Rachel McLish
  • Third — Mary Roberts

1985, Felt Forum, New York City, New York

  • First — Cory Everson
  • Second — Mary Roberts
  • Third — Diana Dennis

1986, Felt Forum, New York City, New York

  • First — Cory Everson
  • Second — Clare Furr
  • Third — Ellen Van Maris

1987, New York City, New York (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Cory Everson
  • Second — Ellen Van Maris
  • Third — Bev Francis

1988, New York City, New York (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Cory Everson
  • Second — Anja Langer
  • Third — Bev Francis

1989, New York City, New York (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Cory Everson
  • Second — Sandy Riddell
  • Third — Bev Francis

1990-1995 — Lenda Murray Ushers in the ’90s

After Everson retired, a new champion in a new decade was imminent. The question wasn’t if, but who?

Many fans expected the popular powerlifter-turned bodybuilder Bev Francis to seize the moment, but Lenda Murray won Ms. Olympia in the Big Apple. She displayed more muscle than her predecessors, and her posing was second to none.

Fans had hoped for the title to change hands as it did when the Ms. O was first established, but Murray kept a tight grip on the championship for the next six years, tying Everson’s record for the most wins.

1990, Beacon Theatre, New York City, New York

  • First — Lenda Murray
  • Second — Bev Francis
  • Third — Anja Schreiner

1991, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California

  • First — Lenda Murray
  • Second — Bev Francis
  • Third — Laura Creavalle

1992, Arie Crown Theater, Chicago, Illinois

  • First — Lenda Murray
  • Second — Laura Creavalle
  • Third — Shelley Beattie

1993, Beacon Theatre, New York City, New York

  • First — Lenda Murray
  • Second — Denise Rutkowski
  • Third — Laura Creavalle

1994, Atlanta, Georgia (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Lenda Murray
  • Second — Laura Creavalle
  • Third — Debbie Muggli

1995, Atlanta, Georgia (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Lenda Murray
  • Second — Kim Chizevsky
  • Third — Natalia Murnikoviene

1996-1999 — Chizevsky Clinches the Title

While Murray matched Everson’s number of years as champion, she wasn’t able to surpass it (at least not yet).

Following a runner-up effort in 1995, Kim Chizevsky defeated Murray in 1996 to become the new Ms. Olympia. Murray faced her in a rematch the following year, but the freshly minted champ retained her title thanks to her symmetry and definition.

Chizevsky, with help from her coach/husband Chad Nicholls, held the title for two more years before retiring in 1999. She would compete in the Fitness division two years later, from 2001 to 2002. She also took part in the new Figure division for two years following Fitness.

1996, Chicago, Illinois (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Kim Chizevsky
  • Second — Lenda Murray
  • Third — Natalia Murnikoviene

1997, Beacon Theatre, New York City, New York

  • First — Kim Chizevsky
  • Second — Lenda Murray
  • Third — Yolanda Hughes

1998, Prague, Czech Republic (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Kim Chizevsky
  • Second — Yolanda Hughes
  • Third — Vickie Gates

1999, Secaucus, New Jersey, (Venue Unknown)

  • First — Kim Chizevsky
  • Second — Iris Kyle
  • Third — Lesa Lewis

2000 — Two Ms. Olympia Titles

Two significant changes took place at this historic edition of this contest. First, Ms. Olympia was to be held in tandem with Mr. Olympia. Second, two champions were to be crowned.

The Ms. Olympia was split into two divisions — heavyweight (over 135 pounds) and lightweight (up to 135 pounds). The two winners this year did not face each other to determine an overall champion. 2000 is the only year that there are two Ms. Olympia’s.

Heavyweight

  • First — Valentina Chepiga
  • Second — Vickie Gates
  • Third — Lesa Lewis

Lightweight

  • First — Andrulla Blanchette 
  • Second — Brenda Raganot
  • Third — Renee Casella

2001 — The Arrival of Iris Kyle

This year, the Ms. Olympia maintained the two divisions, but the winners faced off to determine an overall champion. Fans in Mandalay Bay saw a magnificent showdown between Iris Kyle and Juliette Bergmann. Kyle’s combination of size and definition was too much for the lightweight winner to overcome, and Kyle won her first (but not last) Ms. Olympia title.

2001, Mandalay Bay Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

Heavyweight

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Vickie Gates
  • Third — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia

Lightweight

  • First — Juliette Bergmann*
  • Second — Andrulla Blanchette
  • Third — Dayana Cadeau

*Overall Ms. Olympia Winner

2002-2004 — Murray is Back!

After five years away from competition, Murray felt she had unfinished business. She wanted her legacy to show she was the winningest bodybuilder of all time. Murray returned to the stage in 2002 and defeated both Kyle in the heavyweight division and lightweight winner Bergmann to finally win her seventh championship.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Murray’s eighth win in 2003 tied her with Lee Haney as the only eight-time Olympia winners male or female (Ronnie Coleman had yet to complete his reign.) 

Unfortunately for Murray, Kyle would get the last laugh. One of the greatest rivalries in bodybuilding history concluded with Kyle taking the title from Murray in 2004 by beating her in the heavyweight division and holding off lightweight winner Dayana Cadeau. After 2004, Murray retired from competitive bodybuilding.

2002, Mandalay Bay Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

Heavyweight

  • First — Lenda Murray*
  • Second — Iris Kyle
  • Third — Vickie Gates

Lightweight

  • First — Juliette Bergmann
  • Second — Valentina Chepiga
  • Third — Fannie Barrios

*Overall Ms. Olympia Winner

2003, Mandalay Bay Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

Heavyweight

  • First — Lenda Murray*
  • Second — Iris Kyle
  • Third — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia

Lightweight

  • First — Juliette Bergmann
  • Second — Dayana Cadeau
  • Third — Denise Masino

*Overall Ms. Olympia Winner

2004, Mandalay Bay Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

Heavyweight

  • First — Iris Kyle*
  • Second — Lenda Murray
  • Third — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia

Lightweight

  • First — Dayana Cadeau
  • Second — Denise Masino
  • Third — Marja Lehtonen

*Overall Ms. Olympia

2005 — Back to the Single Category Ms. Olympia

After five years of the contest featuring two divisions, Ms. Olympia returned to a single group of competitors. Kyle was the favorite to retain the title, but two-time third-place winner Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia showed up in the best shape of her life and managed to knock the defending champ down a step on the podium. 

2005, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia
  • Second — Iris Kyle
  • Third — Dayana Cadeau

2006-2014 — Kyle Makes History and the Ms. Olympia Ends

Kyle returned in 2006 to win her second Ms. Olympia title. She then made history twice over. She would win every year for the next nine years, setting the mark for the most wins in a row. She also retired in 2014 with 10 Olympia titles, the most out of any bodybuilder in any division.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Following her retirement, the IFBB Pro League discontinued the Ms. Olympia due to a lack of interest from fans and decreasing number of athletes participating. It would be six years before the women of bodybuilding would have another Olympia

2006, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Dayana Cadeau
  • Third — Annie Rivieccio

2007, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Dayana Cadeau
  • Third — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia

2008, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Betty Viana-Adkins
  • Third — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia

2009, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Heather Armbrust
  • Third — Debi Laszewski

2010, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia
  • Third — Debi Laszewski

2011, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia
  • Third — Brigita Brezovac

2012, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Debi Laszewski
  • Third — Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia

2013, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Alina Popa
  • Third — Debi Laszewski

2014, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

  • First — Iris Kyle
  • Second — Alina Popa
  • Third — Debi Laszewski

2020 — The Return of the Ms. Olympia 

For most of the year, it was unclear if the Olympia would take place at all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, the Olympia took place in December of 2020. The event also had to be moved from Las Vegas, NV to Orlando, FL in the final month of preparation.

The good news is that the Ms. Olympia contest returned as a part of the biggest weekend in bodybuilding. Rising Phoenix World Champion Andrea Shaw and Kyle were expected to go head-to-head in a battle of past versus future. Two days before the contest, however, Kyle became ill and was not able to compete. Shaw would emerge from the lineup as the new Ms. Olympia winner, introducing a new generation of fans Women’s Bodybuilding. 

Shaw then defended her title at the 2021 contest, in Orlando, FL on the weekend of Oct. 7-10.

2020, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida

  • First — Andrea Shaw
  • Second — Margie Martin
  • Third — Helle Trevino

2021, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida

  • First — Andrea Shaw
  • Second — Helle Trevino
  • Third — Margie Martin

Featured Image: @rachelmclish, @iriskyle, @themsolympia on Instagram