Chester Yorton: The Man Who Defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger

Chester Yorton, better known as Chet, is one of the forgotten legends in bodybuilding. Born in Wisconsin in 1939, Chet’s upbringing was as ordinary as they come. Unlike most bodybuilding legends, his passion for weight training didn’t start at a young age. Throughout his teenage years, Chet played baseball and basketball but was nothing extraordinary in terms of athletic prowess. Chet’s bodybuilding career was sparked by chance.

Chet’s life changed when a friend was driving him home from a night of standard teenage antics. Chet’s friend lost control of the car and crashed into a tree whilst doing over 40mph. Chet’s hips were ripped from their sockets, his thighs were shattered, his forearm was ripped open from wrist to elbow, and glass cut through his left eyeball. Doctors debated amputating Yorton’s leg but instead performed over four hours of surgery, inserting a 5-inch steel plate and eight screws around the bone. A few days later they operated on his other leg. 

Chet faced a long road to recovery. After more surgeries and four months in a wheelchair, Chet was finally on the mend. Chet had never weight trained before but after seeing a set of dumbbells in the corner of his hospital room, he began to train. 

“It was very hard at first as I was so exceptionally weak but gradually I saw a little improvement, and later on, much more of it. I even surprised myself during the next two years by first gaining 55lbs in body weight in the first seven months and then making a total gain of 80lbs. I found myself at 240lbs two years later and in good muscular shape.”

Chet Yorton was hooked on bodybuilding. After leaving the hospital he opened a gym and began to train local bodybuilders. Just two years later he was competing in bodybuilding competitions. Yorton was forced to sell the gym after being drafted into the armed forces, from which he returned after being discharged for having one leg shorter than the other (a consequence of his injuries). 

Chet’s first major win came in 1963 when he claimed the title of Mr. Los Angeles. Chet went on to win the 1966 NABBA Amateur Mr. Universe and the IFBB Mr. America titles. Chet’s other notable win came in 1975 when he secured the title of NABBA Pro Mr. Universe. Below is a list of all of Yorton’s stage appearances. 

  • 1960 Mr. Mid-America AAU: 2nd
  • 1961 Mr. America AAU: 21st
  • 1962 Mr. America AAU: 21st
  • 1964 Mr. America IFBB, Tall: 2nd
  • 1964 Mr. Los Angeles AAU: Winner
  • 1964 Mr. Pacific Coast AAU: Winner
  • 1965 Mr. America IFBB, Most Muscular: 1st
  • 1965 Mr. America IFBB, Tall: 2nd
  • 1966 Mr. America IFBB: Overall Winner
  • 1966 Mr. America IFBB, Tall: 1st
  • 1966 Mr. Universe NABBA: Overall Winner
  • 1966 Mr. Universe NABBA, Tall: 1st
  • 1975 Mr. Universe Pro NABBA, Tall: 1st
  • 1976 Pro Mr. World WBBG: 7th
  • 1979 Pro Mr. World WBBG: 3rd
Chet Yorton vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Despite all of his influence in bodybuilding, Yorton will always be known as the man who defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1966 Mr. Universe contest. Yorton was a force to be reckoned with, but Arnold was the young up-and-comer, and news of his physique was spreading fast. 

Oscar Heidenstam reported on the contest and after seeing Arnold on the day, Heidenstam stated “the lad has the potential to be one of the greatest of all time”. 

Despite the chatter around Arnold, Yorton took first place. Arnold was humble in defeat and believed the judges made the right decision in choosing Yorton as the 1966 Mr. Universe; 

“I have to admit they made the right choice. Chet was almost ten kilograms lighter than me, but his body was fantastically proportioned, his muscles finely worked and hard, and his poses smoother and more confident”.

After a successful career, Yorton moved away from the bodybuilding scene in 1970. Chet was worried about the rising prominence of steroids in the sport and the morality of other bodybuilders. Many competitors at the time sold their bodies and took part in illegal activities to ensure they could live and train without working. Yorton has a strong moral compass and removed himself from the bodybuilding scene. Chet stepped out of retirement in 1975 to take the NABBA Pro Mr. Universe title. 

Alongside his bodybuilding career, Chet also featured in the movies Muscle Beach Party (1964) and Don’t Make Waves (1967), alongside Dave Draper. Yorton married his wife Vicki in 1972, and they had a daughter, Shannan. Many of you will know Shannan’s work as she was the co-creator and formulator behind Quest Nutrition Bars. 

Yorton will forever be remembered as the man who took down Arnold Schwarzenegger, but his influence extends far beyond that competition. Yorton was a huge advocate of natural bodybuilding and returned to competition in 1975 to take part in the first drug-tested show. Yorton proclaimed that natural bodybuilders who prioritize health and don’t break the law for fame are the “real heroes”. 

Chet Yorton passed away in November 2020 from a heart attack, just hours after finding his wife dead. In remembering her father, Shannan said “He was a bodybuilder first and foremost. It was his first love. His passion. It coursed through his veins. It was almost all he thought about”. 

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