Jim Manion is on his way to the airport in his home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He’s off to yet another of the seemingly hundreds of bodybuilding, fitness and figure competitions that he attends each year. Jim is President of the National Physique Committee of the USA, the American national affiliate of the 175-country-strong International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness (IFBB).
Jim is also Chairman of the IFBB Professional League. He is known admiringly by friends and colleagues as “The Chairman”. It is in this capacity that he boards the plane to Las Vegas, Nevada. He’s headed to the “Big Dance”; the #1 professional bodybuilding, fitness and figure competition in the world – the Joe Weider Olympia Weekend.
Joe Weider, Trainer of Champions since 1936, friend and mentor, created the Mr. Olympia in 1965. To add to what is often billed as the “Greatest Physique Show on Earth”, Joe created the Ms. Olympia in 1980, the Fitness Olympia in 1995, and the Figure Olympia in 2003. Without a doubt, these four events are the pinnacle of professional bodybuilding, fitness and figure and, despite many other attractions at this annual show of shows, they remain the essence of what the Olympia Weekend is all about … a celebration of the best physiques in the world.
In its 43-year history, the Mr. Olympia has been hosted by 17 cities around the world. For the past 8 years however, Las Vegas, entertainment capital of the world, has been home to the Olympia Weekend; the new “Mecca of Bodybuilding and Fitness”. As Jim settles down for the four-hour flight, he reminisces about his life in bodybuilding, the NPC, the IFBB, and the Pro League.
Jim began weight training at the age of sixteen. He competed from 1970 through 1975 and, during that time, racked up a record of 16 wins including a second-place finish to the legendary "Black Prince", Robby Robinson, IFBB Mr. America, Mr. World and Mr. Universe.
Jim started judging in 1972, one year after winning the Mr. Pittsburgh contest. Since that time, Jim has judged hundreds of competitions, in both the amateur and professional divisions of the IFBB. “Jim’s natural ability to distinguish the oftentimes very subtle differences between the physiques of world-class elite amateur and professional bodybuilders is without parallel”, says longtime friend and IFBB Professional League President Ben Weider.
Every year since its first official annual general meeting in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1970, the IFBB has held an International Congress in conjunction with its Men’s World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships (formerly known as the "IFBB Mr. Universe"). The "Congress", comprising the IFBB Executive Council (board of directors) and representatives from the National Affiliates, debate sport-related issues, enact legislation and make policy decisions aimed at furthering the growth and development of the sport worldwide. A look through the Congress reports tell only part of the story of Jim’s longtime dedication, commitment and service at the international level.
At the 1978 Electoral Congress in Acapulco, Mexico, Jim Manion was the National Delegate representing the USA and was elected IFBB Vice President for North America. At this Congress, IFBB President Ben Weider presented Jim with his first of many awards, the IFBB Certificate of Merit.
At the 1986 Congress in Tokyo, Japan, Ben Weider presented Jim with the IFBB President’s Gold Medal; at that time, the highest award within the IFBB.
At the 1990 Congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Jim was the proud recipient of the “Oscar State Memorial Award”, presented to the most outstanding IFBB official of the year. Said Ben Weider, “Jim Manion is a highly respected individual whose efforts have been responsible for making bodybuilding in the USA so popular and so well organized. Congratulations are extended to Jim on being presented with this well deserved honor.”
At the 1994 Electoral Congress in Shanghai, China, Jim was elected IFBB Assistant General Secretary [with Eric Weider as IFBB General Secretary] in addition to being re-elected IFBB Vice President for North America for a fifth 4-year term.
At the 1999 Congress in Bratislava, Slovakia, Jim received the newly created IFBB Achievement Medal from Ben Weider in recognition of over 25 years of service to the growth and development of bodybuilding and fitness at the national, continental and international levels.
On May 20, 2004, Ben Weider announced a restructuring of the IFBB Professional Division. Speaking of Jim’s appointment as Vice-Chairman, Ben said, "Jim brings an unparalleled wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise to the IFBB Professional Division. He is a dedicated, trustworthy and loyal official – passionate about the sport; well-respected by the business and sport community; and excited about the future development of professional bodybuilding, fitness and figure."
On April 4, 2005, Jim was appointed Chairman of the IFBB Professional Division "Management Team", a committee consisting of 16 individuals with a vast wealth of experience in the bodybuilding and fitness industry.
On November 27, 2005, at the IFBB International Congress in Shanghai, China, the Executive Council and Congress voted to separate the amateur and professional divisions. The former “IFBB Professional Division” became the “IFBB Professional League”, with Ben Weider as President and Jim Manion as Chairman. Ben Weider remarked, “There is absolutely no better qualified person in the world to lead the new IFBB Professional League. As Chairman, Jim’s mandate is to grow the sport and the Pro League worldwide. As he has had for the past 30 years, Jim has my full support.”
Looking back, during the late ‘70s and all throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Jim was an integral part of the IFBB Professional Division and played a key role in the growth and development of professional bodybuilding and later, fitness and figure. During the late ‘90s and early years of the new millennium, Jim served as Director of Professional Judging.
Today, Jim is every bit "The Chairman"; a hands-on leader who’s doesn’t shy from rolling up his sleeves and getting down into the trenches to do the hard work. Under his watch, the number of professional competitions has increased. So too has the total amount of prize money awarded to professional athletes. Jim oversees the day-to-day management and operation of the IFBB Pro League and is therefore intimately involved in formulating the annual calendar of events; in negotiating contracts with event promoters; in keeping track of hundreds of professional athletes, judges and other officials; and in ensuring the IFBB Pro Rules are followed by all members. In addition, Jim regularly attends most professional competitions. All of this is apart from his immense duties and responsibilities as President of the NPC.
Tony Blinn, General Secretary of the IFBB Pro League, has known Jim for over 20 years and says, "Jim’s leadership style is ‘firm but fair’. He’ s a no-nonsence, straight-shooter type of person who, as the saying goes, ‘does not suffer fools lightly’. With Jim, you always know exactly where you stand and this is very refreshing in a day and age when honesty and straightforwardness appear to be rare commodities."
Jim doesn’t give many interviews; doesn’t like to talk about himself or his accomplishments. The comments below are courtesy of a 1997 report that appeared on NPCNEWSONLINE.com, under the heading "Loving What You Do", and hopefully serve to give just a little insight into what Jim is all about …
LOVING WHAT YOU DO
Take away the protective father’s robe, the well-tailored suits that have traveled the world, and the gym clothes that have soaked up countless hours of in-your-face workouts and what is left? A man who loves what he does.
"I’ve met so many great people from all over the world. I’m a people person and I always get great enjoyment by being able to give something back to the sport I love. I always try to make time for anyone who wants to talk to me."
"The sport and the organization are nothing without the people who are in it, and I never want to forget that. I owe a great deal of gratitude to these people, especially my son, J.M., and my wife, Debbie, who help me so much so I can travel and do all the things I need to do to help our organization grow."
"One of the best feelings I get is when I receive letters from people. Just the other day, I heard from some contestants who entered the NPC Wheelchair National Championships. They told me how much it meant that someone really cared about them, and I must say that really touched my heart."
"As president of the NPC [and now as Chairman of the IFBB Professional League], I do a lot of traveling and my wife smiles every time I tell her I’m exhausted from all the traveling. She tells me that no matter where we go or how tired I am, as soon as I walk into that bodybuilding venue and see the athletes and the people, my face lights up and the adrenalin takes over. I guess that says it all."