Sergio Oliva

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Sergio Oliva
Sergio "The Myth" Oliva
Personal info
NicknameThe Myth
Born(1941-07-04)July 4, 1941
Guantanamo, Cuba
DiedNovember 12, 2012(2012-11-12) (aged 71)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Height5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
Weight245 lb (111 kg)
Professional career
  • 1966 Mr. World
  • 1966
Best win
  • IFBB Mr. Olympia 1967-1969, three consecutive times
  • 1968 uncontested and unchallenged
PredecessorLarry Scott
SuccessorArnold Schwarzenegger
Active1962 - 1985

Sergio Oliva (July 4, 1941 – November 12, 2012) was a Cuban bodybuilder known as "The Myth". He is a 3 time Mr Olympia winner.

Early life[edit]

Oliva was born in Cuba on July 4, 1941. At 12, he worked with his father in the sugar cane fields of Guanabacoa. When Oliva was 16, his father suggested that he enlist in Fulgencio Batista's army. In the absence of a birth certificate, the recruiting officer took the senior Oliva's word that his son was old enough to enlist in the fight against communism.

After losing the war to Fidel Castro, Oliva stayed in Cuba and took to hanging out at the beach. There, he met a fellow beachgoer who invited him to the local weightlifting club. After just six months of training Oliva was doing clean and jerks with over 300 lb and totaling 1000 lb in the three major lifts at a bodyweight of 195 lb, considered a middle-heavyweight.

In 1962, the National Weightlifting Championship for Cuba was won by Alberto Rey Games Hernandez; Sergio Oliva took second place. Because Games received an injury, Oliva was chosen to represent Cuba at the 1962 Central American and Caribbean Games hosted in Kingston, Jamaica.

During his stay in Jamaica, Oliva snuck out of his quarters while the guards were distracted. He ran at top speed until he was safely inside the American consulate. Arriving breathlessly, he demanded and received political asylum. Soon, 65 other Cuban nationals followed him, including Castro's entire weightlifting team and their security guards. Soon afterward, Oliva was living in Miami, Florida, working as a TV repairman.[1]

Life in the United States[edit]

In 1963 Oliva moved to Chicago, Illinois. There he worked at a local steel mill and began working out at the Duncan YMCA. Working 10- to 12-hour days at the steel mill and putting in another 2.5–3 hours at the gym gave Oliva very little time for anything else. Soon the bodybuilding grapevine was abuzz with gossip about a Cuban powerhouse who lifted more than any of the local Olympic champs. Oliva won his first bodybuilding competition, the Mr. Chicagoland contest, in 1963. He was successful again at the Mr. Illinois in 1964, but he lost in 1965 at the AAU Mr. America, winning 2nd place even though he won the trophy for "Most Muscular." In 1966, he won the AAU Jr. Mr. America, and lost at the AAU Mr. America again taking 2nd place although once again he claimed the trophy for "Most Muscular". He then joined the International Federation of BodyBuilders IFBB in which he won both the professional Mr. World and Mr. Universe Contests. In 1967, he won the prestigious Mr. Olympia contest.

Oliva then went on to win the Mr. Olympia title three years in a row, at 5 feet 10 inches and at a contest weight of 225-245lbs. Oliva's 1968 Mr. Olympia win was uncontested. In 1969, he won his third consecutive Mr. Olympia by beating a Mr. Europe, a Mr. International, and four-time Mr. Universe winner Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his 1977 autobiography, "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder", Arnold tells of their first encounter: "Then for the first time, I saw Sergio Oliva in person. I understood why they called him "the Myth". It was as jarring as if I'd walked into a wall. He destroyed me. He was so huge, he was so fantastic, there was no way I could even think of beating him. I admitted my defeat and felt some of my pumps go away. I tried. But I'd been so taken back by my first sight of Sergio Oliva that I think I settled for 2nd place before we walked out on the stage... I never like to admit defeat, but I thought Sergio was better. There were no two ways about it."[2]

However, Schwarzenegger won his first Mr. Olympia title by edging the Myth the following year with a score of 4-3. Oliva was banned from competing in the 1971 IFBB Mr. Olympia because he competed in the 1971 NABBA Mr. Universe. This was extremely controversial because Schwarzenegger had competed for this very same contest the year before and without Sergio to challenge Arnold, some felt that the contest was fixed. "I'd coasted to my second title as Mr.Olympia, in Paris in 1971. The only possible challenger had been Sergio - nobody else was in my league - and he'd been barred from the contest, along with others, because of a dispute between federations."[3] Oliva was permitted to simply guest pose at the 1971, Mr. Olympia. After this setback, Oliva was fiercely determined to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger and prove once and for all that he was the world's greatest bodybuilder.

In 1972, under the High-Intensity Training (HIT) system of Arthur Jones, the designer of Nautilus training equipment, Oliva challenged Schwarzenegger for the 1972 Olympia in Essen Germany. By all accounts, Sergio was in his all-time greatest shape and completely confident he would regain the Mr. Olympia title. Arnold beat Sergio into 2nd place and was crowned Mr Olympia yet again. He said "In Essen, it seemed like all the top Bodybuilders turned up at their very best except for me. Sergio was back, even more impressive than I remembered."[4] "Compared with all of the other Bodybuilders I've ever faced, Sergio really was in a class by himself. I was struck by that again the minute we were onstage. It was so hard to look impressive next to him with those incredible thighs, that impossibly tiny waist, those incredible triceps."[5]

After being disqualified from the 1973 IFBB Mr. International that Sergio actually won[citation needed], he severed all ties with the Joe Weider controlled IFBB and continued competing for other world bodybuilding federations. He won the World Bodybuilding Guild (WBBG), Mr. Galaxy, in 1972 and 1973, the WBBG Mr. Olympus in 1975, 1976 and 1978, the WABBA Professional World Championships in 1977 and 1980, and the WABBA Professional World Cup in 1980 and 1981. After a 12-year hiatus from the IFBB, Oliva was invited back to the IFBB and came out of retirement to compete in the 1984 Mr. Olympia. Finishing in eighth place, "the Myth" still sported an extremely impressive physique and V-taper.

In 1985, at the age of 44, Oliva returned for an attempt at the famed Mr. Olympia title one last time. He could manage just an 8th-place finish, the same as the year before. Robert Kennedy, the publisher of the magazine MuscleMag International, wrote, "Anyone who loves the sport of bodybuilding knows the name of Sergio Oliva, known as ‘the Myth’. I greatly admired him and consider him to be the all-time world's greatest physique. I saw him in competition many times, including his shows against Arnold. There is no doubt that with his wide shoulders and narrow hip structure he was superior to any other Bodybuilder of his generation. Sergio was not only the most aesthetic bodybuilder on stage but also the biggest... Sergio Oliva is considered by most to be the world's most genetically gifted bodybuilder... He set a whole new standard for competitive bodybuilding; loved by millions, revered by many, and feared by some. He was so huge and extremely proportioned that he used to bring chills to his adversaries. This is how he acquired the name of the Myth."[6]


  • He served the city of Chicago as a police officer for more than 25 years.
  • In 1986, Sergio survived being shot by his then-wife Arleen Garrett. He sustained 5 bullet wounds to his abdomen from a '.38' special.[7]
  • His son, Sergio Oliva Jr, is following in his father's footsteps into competitive bodybuilding in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Oliva co-starred with Mil Máscaras in a Mexican wrestling movie in 1975 called El Poder Negro (Black Power), in which he played a super-strong dockworker who runs afoul of the local crime syndicate and helps Mil Máscaras to bring them to justice. His co-star was Venezuelan actress and singer Lila Morillo.[8]
  • In 1977, Oliva starred in a second Mexican action film (this time a wrestling/ western hybrid) called Los Temibles ("The Fearful Ones") aka El centauro negro.[9]


Sergio Oliva died on November 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois from apparent kidney failure. He was 71. He was the first Mr. Olympia to have died, followed by Larry Scott on March 8, 2014 and Franco Columbu on August 30, 2019.[10]


  • During his career he won 20 first place bodybuilding titles.
  • The second bodybuilder to win the Mr. Olympia competition after Larry Scott.
  • The last man to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger in competition and the only bodybuilder to defeat him in a Mr. Olympia contest (1969).
  • 2 Times Mr. International, 2 Times Mr. Galaxy, 2 times Professional World Cup, 2 Times Professional World Championships, 3 Times Mr. Olympus, 3 Times Mr. Olympia.
  • The smallest waist measurement of any Mr. Olympia champion in history at 28 inches, reputedly, and at a bodyweight of 235 lbs.
  • The only Mr. Olympia winner whose thighs measured larger than their waist measurement (29-inch thighs and 28-inch waist).[citation needed]
  • He maintained a 20-inch differential between his waist and chest measurements throughout his entire career; at his peak in 1972, his chest was 58 inches and his waist was only 28 inches.

Bodybuilding titles[edit]

  • 1963 Mr Chicago – 1st
  • 1964 Mr Illinois – 1st
  • 1964 Mr America / AAU – 7th
  • 1965 Junior Mr America / AAU – 2nd + “Most Muscular” trophy
  • 1965 Mr America / AAU – 4th + “Most Muscular” trophy
  • 1966 Junior Mr America / AAU – 1st + “Most Muscular” trophy
  • 1966 Mr America / AAU – 2nd + “Most Muscular” trophy
  • 1966 Mr World / IFBB – 1st in the “Tall” category + Overall Winner
  • 1966 Mr Universe / IFBB – 1st
  • 1966 Mr. Olympia / IFBB – 4th
  • 1967 Mr. Olympia / IFBB – 1st
  • 1967 Universe / IFBB – 1st overall
  • 1968 Mr. Olympia / IFBB – 1st (uncontested)
  • 1969 Mr. Olympia / IFBB – 1st
  • 1970 Mr World / AAU (Pro) – 2nd in the “Tall” category
  • 1970 Mr. Olympia / IFBB – 2nd
  • 1971 Universe / NABBA (Pro) – 2nd in the “Tall” category
  • 1972 Mr. Olympia / IFBB – 2nd
  • 1972 Mr Galaxy / WBBG – 1st
  • 1973 Mr International, Mr Azteca[citation needed] / IFBB (Pro) – 1st
  • 1973 Mr Galaxy / WBBG – 1st
  • 1974 Mr International / WBBG (Pro) – 1st
  • 1975 Mr Olympus / WBBG – 1st
  • 1976 Mr Olympus / WBBG – 1st
  • 1977 Pro World Championships / WABBA – 1st
  • 1978 Mr Olympus / WBBG – 1st
  • 1980 Pro World Championships / WABBA – 1st
  • 1980 Professional World cup / WABBA – 1st
  • 1981 Professional World Cup / WABBA – 1st
  • 1984 Mr. Olympia / IFBB – 8th
  • 1984 Professional Mid-States Championships / WABBA – 1st
  • 1985 Mr. Olympia / IFBB – 8th [11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wayne, Rick (1985). Muscle Wars. St. Martin's Press. p. 95. ISBN 0-312-55353-6.
  2. ^ Arnold the Education of a Bodybuilder by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Douglas Kent Hall, published by Simon & Schuster 1977, page 97 ISBN 0-671-79748-4
  3. ^ TOTAL RECALL by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Peter Petre, pg. 144 (Simon & Schuster 2012) [hereinafter "TOTAL RECALL"]
  4. ^ TOTAL RECALL, pg. 144
  5. ^ TOTAL RECALL, pg. 128
  6. ^ Robert Kennedy, Best Selling Author, Editor, and Publisher of MuscleMag International; Sergio Oliva, Building the Ultimate Physique by Sergio Oliva and Frank Marchante, Foreword (Gras Publishing Company 2007)
  7. ^ "Ex-mr. Universe Turned Cop Shot In Quarrel With His Wife". Chicago Tribune. July 25, 1986. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
  8. ^ Black Power (1975) IMDb
  9. ^ "Los Temibles (1977)". IMDb. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  10. ^ "Sergio Oliva Passes Away". NPC News Online. 13 November 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  11. ^ Sergio Oliva the Myth, Building the Ultimate Physique by Sergio Oliva and Frank Marchante 2007 page 320 {by Gras Publishing company}

External links[edit]

Mr. Olympia
Preceded by:
Larry Scott
First (1967) Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Second (1968) Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Third (1969) Succeeded by:
Arnold Schwarzenegger