“I Think I Went Into Shock”: Dorian Yates Reflects on Winning the 1997 Mr. Olympia With a Torn Triceps

Bodybuilder Dorian Yates won six Mr. Olympia titles throughout the 1990s and, in part, ushered in the “mass monster” era that still influences the sport today. “The Shadow,” as Yates was known for his reclusive nature as a competitor, kept his cards close to his chest — including when he took to the stage in 1997 with most of his triceps torn off the bone.

On Jan. 2, 2024, Yates took to Instagram to recount one of the most harrowing experiences of his career: 

“I was performing a set of lying triceps extensions when I remember hearing a huge BANG! Within the next 36 hours, my whole upper arm swelled up, my triceps were distorted, and my arm bruised,” he wrote in the Instagram post below.

[Related: Try These 6 Unique Bodybuilding Arm Exercises To Spark New Growth]

Despite the setback, Yates went on to win his sixth Olympia in ‘97, edging out runners-up Nasser El-Sonbaty and Shawn Ray. How did Yates pull it off?

How Yates Won the ’97 Mr. Olympia

Yates, 35 at the time, was performing a triceps extension variation when he felt the muscle pop. According to the late bodybuilding journalist Peter McGough in a 2015 article for Muscular Development, Yates was in the “lowest” mood McGough had ever seen:

“I think I went into shock because it was as if, after the initial agony, I couldn’t feel anything. I thought. That’s it, no Olympia. Everything I’ve done this year has been for nothing. It’s over,” Yates told McGough. An MRI conducted after the Olympia revealed that Yates’ triceps was severed from the bone along three-quarters of its length

Yates injured himself on Aug. 31, 1997. That year’s Olympia was set for Sep. 20. To make matters worse, the United Kingdom didn’t have the medical resources or expertise at the time to rapidly assess and treat Yates’ injury. By Sep. 2, Yates resolved to fight through. 

What He Did

With only a few weeks before the biggest bodybuilding show of the year, Yates had to act fast. “I could still use my other arm and train legs…do my cardio and keep my diet the same,” Yates noted.

In the final few weeks of Yates’ competition prep cycle, his focus shifted away from building muscle and toward shedding the last few pounds of body fat to maximize leanness and conditioning. (1)

Yates did not receive surgery on his arm until after the 1997 Olympia. To ensure he could still compete, Yates implemented the following adjustments to his plan:

Stopped all pressing movements; only trained upper body with light weights.

Trained the opposite, uninjured side. Yates remarked on the evidence suggesting that working the non-injured side can help the injured limb recover faster, which has a legitimate scientific basis. (2)(3)

According to McGough, Yates ceased practicing certain poses involving his triceps until the day of competition to avoid further fatiguing his injured triceps.

Yates thoroughly masked the bruising with several coats of synthetic tan and continued to apply ice to reduce the swelling.

[Related: Bodybuilding Is an Art, Which Makes It Hard To Treat Like a Sport]

Yates notes that, on the final day of the Olympia, his physio Stuart Cosgrove withdrew roughly 30 milliliters of blood and fluid from his arm. “I remember thinking, ‘Why me?’ It felt like I was being tested to see if I was worthy or not,” Yates wrote.

After Yates bagged his sixth Sandow — with the crowd in attendance being none the wiser about his injury — McGough regarded Yates as “the ultimate warrior” for his “spirit and soul in the face of the most intense pressure.” 

Despite his win, Yates never fully recovered his strength and size from the injury and ultimately announced his retirement from competitive bodybuilding a year later. Regardless, Yates ended his career on a high note — a true “blood & guts performance.” 

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Chappell, A. J., Simper, T., & Helms, E. (2019). Nutritional strategies of British professional and amateur natural bodybuilders during competition preparation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 16(1), 35. 

Lee, M., & Carroll, T. J. (2007). Cross education: possible mechanisms for the contralateral effects of unilateral resistance training. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 37(1), 1–14. 

Andrushko JW, Lanovaz JL, Björkman KM, Kontulainen SA, Farthing JP. Unilateral strength training leads to muscle-specific sparing effects during opposite homologous limb immobilization. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 Apr 1;124(4):866-876. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00971.2017. Epub 2017 Dec 14. PMID: 29357520; PMCID: PMC5972467.

Featured Image: @thedorianyates on Instagram

The post “I Think I Went Into Shock”: Dorian Yates Reflects on Winning the 1997 Mr. Olympia With a Torn Triceps appeared first on BarBend.


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