Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) Biography » Rachel McLish: 1958—: Bodybuilder Biography - Exchanged Ballet Shoes For Barbells, Became The First Ms. Olympia, Produced Books, Videos, And Clothing

Rachel McLish: 1958—: Bodybuilder - Became The First Ms. Olympia

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In 1980 the first United States bodybuilding championship for women was announced. McLish decided to enter the Atlantic City competition to promote both her sports club franchise and her ideal of the female bodybuilder. When she walked away with the title, becoming the first American female bodybuilding champion, she vaulted to national fame. However, McLish had precious little time to enjoy her celebrity. She immediately went back into the gym to train for the International Federation of Bodybuilding's (IFBB) first annual Ms. Olympia competition to be held later that year in Philadelphia. The IFBB's Mr. Olympia contest had debuted in 1965 and was considered the most prestigious bodybuilding event in the world. The contest had spawned bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earned the Mr. Olympia title seven times.

At the women's inaugural event IFBB planners were unsure what to expect. They had billed the contest as only one event in a weekend packed with bodybuilding seminars, exercise equipment displays, and health product demonstrations. Schwarzenegger was one of the featured speakers. However, both the media and the public were more interested in Ms. Olympia. "The turnout is fantastic," the event producer told a journalist from Muscle & Fitness. "I have had to turn away almost 1,000 people. And more requests keep coming in!" When McLish and her 20 competitors took the stage it was obvious that she was the one to beat. Her superior physique easily won her the pre-judging contest and at the evening pose-down in front of a packed auditorium, McLish won the title.


After she became the first Ms. Olympia, the fame McLish had experienced following the American championship multiplied exponentially. She appeared on the covers of magazines that focused on everything from fitness to beauty to lifestyle. She was booked on national television shows and was a hot topic on sports news programs. Speaking engagements, training seminars, and photo shoots dominated her life. Her stunning physique graced calendars and wall posters. She had become a new American icon, firmly debunking the myth of the female bodybuilder as unattractive and unnatural. Despite her hectic schedule, McLish continued to train and in 1982 she won her second Ms. Olympia title. She competed in several more competitions, never placing lower than third.


During the 1983 Caesar's World Cup, McLish and the other competitors were the focus of a documentary film crew. Pumping Iron II: The Women was released in 1985 and helped make McLish a household name outside of the bodybuilding world. The film explored the differences between McLish, who epitomized the ideal feminine bodybuilder, and Bev Francis, an Australian power-lifter whose body looked more like that of a man. The filmmaker wanted to answer the question of what the ideal female bodybuilder should look like. It was a timely question and one that McLish had already begun to face. An advocate of overall muscular tone natural to a woman's physique, she had become increasingly disillusioned by the sport's new emphasis on muscle size and the subsequent increase in steroid use by female bodybuilders. McLish was a staunch advocate of natural training and opposed any use of drugs. By the time Pumping Iron II hit the airwaves, she had decided to retire from competition following the 1984 Ms. Olympia contest.

For several years McLish was an outspoken opponent of steroid use. In a 2001 interview with Muscle & Fitness she lamented, "Women's bodybuilding missed the whole point. Pardon the pun, but women's bodybuilding wasn't allowed to grow naturally." Instead McLish looked toward the late 1990s appearance of fitness competitions as the rightful successor to the type of bodybuilding she espoused. Reflecting on this new field she continued, "in a way, this makes me feel like I won, in the long run."


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