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It All Began With Rachel McLish

In sports, athletes frequently do not achieve certain levels until somebody else does it first. It took a long time for a runner to do a four-minute mile and once that was achieved lots more followed suit. Today, high school runners can have that kind of performance. Gymnasts all did a double-something until one of them was able to do a triple-something. Then, they all had to do it. Golf was considered primarily a “skill” sport until Tiger Woods came along, muscled up, and got everyone else working out in the gym. Now, a lot of pro golfers have physiques that obviously owe a lot to weight training.


Just before the Ms. Olympia competition, there was only one female bodybuilder the public knew anything about: Lisa Lyon. Lisa had been on TV, featured in Playboy, and been the subject of a photo book by renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa was not very muscular or ripped, but she was shapely and athletic. And she was an excellent photo model. But her image was not promotable and publishers like Joe Weider were looking for somebody they could present to the general public.


Then along came Rachel McLish. Rachel was sexy and exotic (actually, Hispanic – McLish was her married name.) Prejudging in 1980 was held backstage in private, with the judges sitting at a table a few feet away from the women.

Rachel won the 1980 Ms. Olympia and later was often featured in Muscle & Fitness, Flex, and other major bodybuilding magazines. She appeared frequently on television talk shows, published a popular book called Flex Appeal, and was featured in several action movies.

Rachel McLish was featured in the 1985 documentary Pumping Iron II: The Women which focused on her participation in the 1983 Caesar’s World Cup. She also acted in the movies Getting Physical (1984), Aces: Iron Eagle III (1992), and Raven Hawk (1996). These involved her acting the part of a physically strong woman. She was one of the first women to take such a role. She was also a star in Herb Alpert’s ‘Red Hot’ music video. She co-starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the fitness instructional video Shape Up (1982).

Bodybuilding for men got kickstarted by the popularity of Steve Reeves back in the 1950s and Arnold in the 1970s. In the same regard, the women have Rachel McLish to thank for making the public aware of female bodybuilding and creating an initial fan base that allowed the sport to grow to the success it has achieved.

· 1984 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 2nd

· 1983 Caesars World Cup – 3rd

· 1982 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 1st

· 1982 Pro World Championship – 1st

· 1981 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 2nd · 1980 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 1st

· 1980 Frank Zane Invitational – 2nd

· 1980 US Bodybuilding Championship – 1st


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