Sport: Weightlifting & Bodybuilding
Born: June 17, 1910
Died: November 20, 1998
Town: Perth Amboy
John Carroll Grimek was born June 17, 1910 in Perth Amboy. In the bustling industrial port, John’s parents—Slovaks who had emigrated from Austria-Hungary—found other recent arrivals from Eastern and Southern Europe. One of John’s schoolmates was John Otlowski, whose family came from Poland. Otlowski would serve as the town’s mayor for 14 years.
The Grimeks marveled how whatever their son ate seemed to turn instantly into muscle. John took an interest in weightlifting as a teenager. Bodybuilders often commented on John's perfect symmetry and encouraged him to compete. He felt uncomfortable around guys who were always looking at themselves in the mirror, and avoided bodybuilding tournaments.
John stood a shade over 5’8” and weighed around 200 pounds during his lifting and later bodybuilding career. At the age of 19, his pictures began appearing in health magazines, and in the ensuing years he graced the covers of several publications. What was obvious to even the casual observer is that his physique was nearly perfect in a modern sense—beautifully sculpted as opposed the he-man/Johnny Weissmuller bodies on other magazine covers.
In 1936, John was crowned U.S. national weightlifting champion and represented America at the Summer Olympics in Berlin. He finished 9th. In the ensuing years, John worked tirelessly to sculpt his body into what he considered the ideal male form. The result was a massive physique that put other weightlifters to shame. In 1938, he moved to York, Pennsylvania and began training with Bob Hoffman’s York Barbell Club. In 1939, John won his first major bodybuilding title, York Barbell’s Perfect Man competition.
John won the Mr. America title in 1940 and 1941, astonishing the judges who had never seen him in person. Standing next to the other bodybuilders, he looked like an entirely different species of human. He was so far ahead of the sport’s other competitors that several rules were altered to keep him from dominating bodybuilding.
After tWorld War IIr, John won another prestigious title when he was named Most Muscular Man in America for 1946. He traveled to London and defeated Steve Reeves for the 1948 Mr. Universe title. In 1949, the top bodybuilders in America gathered in Los Angeles for the AAU’s Mr. USA competition and John—now nearly 40—won that title, too. He retired from bodybuilding having never lost a competition.
John still traveled to bodybuilding competitions, sometimes as a judge, sometimes as a “guest poser,” and worked for York Barbell as the editor of its Muscular Development magazine. He also wrote for Strength & Health. John was revered for generosity and kindness. He mentored young weightlifters who trained with York, including Tommy Kono, who won three Olympic medals and was world champions seven years in a row in the 1950s. Though no longer a bodybuilding competitor, John continued to train throughout the 1950s and 1960s and remained one of the world’s top weightlifters for his age. He reportedly could squat more than 400 pounds in his late 60s.
John passed away at age 88 in York. One year later, in 1999, historian David Gentle published a biography of John entitled Monarch of Muscledom.