Haney was on top of the sport. He wanted to be remembered on top.
Lee Haney crafted a dynasty at the top of bodybuilding in the 1980s. To this day, the superstar’s eight consecutive Mr. Olympia titles (1984-1991) are only matched by fellow fitness legend Ronnie Coleman (1998-2005). Theoretically, Haney, who retired in his early 30s, could’ve vied for more Olympia victories. Instead, he stepped down after 1991.
On Mar. 29, 2023, during a YouTube episode of The Lee Labrada Show, Haney joined the eponymous host to discuss the exploits of his career. Labrada, who was a two-time runner-up to Haney’s title (1989-1990) is likely an ideal candidate to help Haney examine his career in hindsight. The most notable tidbit might have been the icon explaining why he didn’t pursue more Olympia greatness after establishing himself as unprecedented royalty.
Like some elite bodybuilders, Haney described the pressure of maintaining his grip on the sport. From training to a mental battle, Haney said he successfully navigated rough waters for years. He made it clear he didn’t want to continue making such a sacrifice as he weighed his options after his 1991 Olympia triumph.
Part of Haney’s rationale was also about the idea of staying on top and being remembered on top.
“When we’re on top, there’s nowhere else to go but down,” Haney explained of his early decision to retire from bodybuilding. “So, the pressure of how do I stay here? What can I do different to bring a better package? All those things run through your mind and, if you don’t keep it together, that can really create a lot of stress.”
At the same time, while Haney was exceptional, he made clear he didn’t love bodybuilding per se. For a little while, he just had an impeccable dedication to his craft.
“I looked at bodybuilding in such a way that it’s my job,” Haney continued. “I didn’t worship the craft although I wanted to be the best at it. It wasn’t the end of the world as the way I looked at it.”
Ultimately, the 63-year-old Haney clarified that he almost considered retiring after his seventh Olympia victory in 1990. Though, that exit would’ve left the superstar merely tied with Arnold Schwarzenegger for Olympia wins. It took encouragement from Haney’s wife Shirley to keep pushing before he hung up his posing trunks.
The rest was literal bodybuilding history, as Haney would take his eighth consecutive win in 1991 for the Olympia record. The record would remain untouched until Ronnie Coleman’s record-tying eighth title in 2005.
“When I got to the seventh [Olympia win], I thought to myself, seven is a record,” Haney started. “Arnold [Schwarzenegger] didn’t do seven [Olympias] in a row but he did do overall. I had a conversation with Shirley, and she was like, ‘What are you talking about, quit? You gotta do eight. What’s the matter with you?’”
These days, Haney appears to be basking in his retirement. Over three decades since he last stepped on stage, the living legen doesn’t seem to have any reservations about his decision.
Not that he ever did.
“I never regretted having not competed again. As a matter of fact, I never gave it another thought.”
Featured image: @lee_haney_official on Instagram