John Tristram

David Chapman

Some athletic stars shine continuously in the sporting heavens, and some are merely comets that streak past and then disappear from view. Larry Scott is certainly one of the steadiest lights to ever participate in bodybuilding. In 1962 he won the IFBB Mr. America contest, but the man who won the short category in the same contest was John Tristram, an English-born athlete who showed great promise but whose career was as brief as it was bright.

Tristram was born in 1936 and was raised on a farm in Gloucestershire. There he laid the foundations of a good physique by doing outdoor work, building his legs by cycling over the hilly English countryside. By the mid-1950s the young athlete had served in the merchant marine and moved to New York City, where at age 23 he began serious training at Abe Goldberg’s gymnasium.

It was about this time that he began to compete in bodybuilding. His photos began appearing in physique magazines about the same time, but it was not until he moved to the West Coast that Tristram’s athletic career really took off. Like many other hopeful athletes, Tristram had been drawn to California because of its climate, glamour and gymnasiums. The most experimental of L.A.’s gyms was run by muscle guru Vince Gironda, and it was there that Tristram put on much of the upper-body musculature that was his best feature.

By 1962 the Anglo-American star was nearing the top of his form, and he managed to win both the short division of the Mr. A and the top prize in the Mr. Venice Beach contest. Tristram continued to compete in national and international contests, but he was also building his mind as well as his muscles. In 1963 he was studying modern languages at the University of California at Los Angeles and was interested in “translation by electronic computer method.” Computers were not widely available in the early 1960s, so it shows that the young man clearly had an interest in cutting-edge methods.

Several writers have confirmed that Tristram was as intellectually gifted as he was physically developed, but by the 1970s the athlete’s greatest triumphs were in the past. Tristram placed second in the short division of the Mr. International contest in 1974, but after that his competitive career was effectively over.

John Tristram died of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles in 1985.