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Should Reg Park Have Beaten Steve Reeves at the 1950 Mr Universe?

Updated: Mar 29, 2019

Recently Jon Jon Park (son of the late Reg Park) suggested on Instagram that Reg should have beaten Steve Reeves at the NABBA 1950 Mr. Universe in London. He stated in his post, “you can clearly see Reg was more muscular” and that Reg, “had the edge on condition.” About a month later, he posted the same picture and mentioned, “I think it’s evident who was in better shape.”

Bodybuilding is speculated on frequently as it is subjective by nature. The definition of the best built man is inherently different from one individual to the next. The picture Jon Jon posted does seem to give Reg the edge over Reeves. However, it would be hasty to base the winner of a contest on one picture. Especially this picture in which Reg appears to still be tensed while Reeves appears relaxed.

Is it fair to judge a bodybuilding contest one did not attend by pictures? Do they tell the whole story? As Enduring Aesthetics founder and bodybuilding photographer, Daniel Casas, can attest, pictures can be deceiving based on lighting, angles, etc. One photographer can take a great picture of a bodybuilder striking a pose only for another photographer to take a poor picture from a different angle. Indeed, bodybuilding is a sport of deception in that you must display your strengths while hiding your weaknesses. To accurately judge a bodybuilding contest, one must experience it in person. Pictures only tell part of the story.

NABBA was known as an organization that judged contests impartially, especially in its early days. The 1950 Mr. Universe contest was its first major contest and as a new bodybuilding organization it could ill afford to have controversy emerge from it. The contest was adjudicated by six

judges from various international locations and a Chairman of Judges, George Walsh, who was responsible for casting a vote only if a tiebreaker between the six judges was necessary. Here are Walsh’s words regarding the voting:

“Here, before me, I have five completed judging sheets. Two of my judges have found it impossible to separate the American and the Britisher and have recorded a joint vote for each. One has voted outright for Park and two have voted outright for Reeves. If the remaining judge should decide for Park and if none of the others decides to alter his decision the unwelcome task of making a casting vote will descend upon me.

I can hear the deafening applause that is greeting the appearance of Park and Reeves as they display their breath-taking poses before the world's most enthusiastic audience. How I wish I could be sitting up there in the gallery or with my wife and my son in the stalls. I marveled at these two supermen in the ruthless daylight of the afternoon. How much more I would have enjoyed their matchless posing beneath kind and co-operative spot-lighting!

But I am waiting now, for confirmation or retraction from five of my judges and, first of all, it is the confirmation of the previous decisions that I receive.

Now for the last judge who, I see, is approaching me from the wings. If his decision should be for the Britisher it will be my most unenviable task to render a casting vote; and although I am ready to shoulder this responsibility, it is one which I would infinitely prefer to avoid.

I am overwhelmingly relieved! Had it been my fate to have decided between these two great physical culturists I should have cast a vote for Reeves. (It is, I think, fair that I should now make this fact clear.)”

Based on Walsh’s words, Reeves won the judging 4-2. If Walsh himself would have voted Reeves would have won 5-2.

The only question left unanswered is could bias towards Reeves have been involved with the voting? Heading into the 1950 Mr. Universe contest Reg Park was the heavy favorite. So much so that NABBA promoters decided to make first prize the original bronze Sandow given to the third-place winner of the Great Competition in 1901 which was held in London’s Royal Albert Hall. The Great

Competition was the first major bodybuilding competition ever held and was a great source of pride amongst the British bodybuilding community. The 1950 Mr. Universe contest attracted many bodybuilders from international locations and the promoters were determined to keep the trophy in England. Renowned Sandow historian, David Chapman, confirms this:

“Promoters of the 1950 Mr. Universe competition in London were certain that the winner of the contest that year would be English superstar Reg Park, so they offered a tantalizing trophy (believing that it would stay in the country): this was the original bronze Sandow statue that had been awarded to the third-place winner fifty years earlier at the Great Competition.  Much to their surprise and chagrin, the victor that year was a young American, Steve Reeves, and he consequently took the prize back to his home in California.”

With this knowledge, it would be tough to claim NABBA had any bias towards Reeves winning the contest. If any bias was had, it would have been towards Reg. Based on this information one of two things happened, either Reg Park was an incredible disappointment to the judges or Steve Reeves truly outperformed him. Reg looked great in the limited pictures available from the contest so we can conclude the latter took place and Reeves truly awed the judges. It appears the international judges adjudicated this contest fairly.

While based on pictures Reg Park appeared to overmatch Steve Reeves at the 1950 Mr. Universe contest, serious consideration must be given to the judges who were there and saw them perform in person. We know bodybuilding contests are not always judged fairly, but given the

circumstances leading up to the event any edge would have been in Reg Park’s favor. Steve Reeves had to be at the top of his game to win the contest. On the night of June 24, 1950 he was.

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