This week the bodybuilding community lost one of the best ever, Sergio Oliva.
Sergio died on November 12 and was 71 years old. Known as “The Myth”, Sergio’s biggest claim to fame was the fact that he was the only bodybuilder ever to beat the other great one, Arnold Schwarzenegger (I know, I know, some still say Mike Mentzer beat Arnold in 1980 but that’s a subject for another day.)
When I first started lifting weights, Sergio was a big inspiration and earned plenty of space in the Iron Temple, which is what I called my home gym. My upper arms were always a strong body part for me (not in exercise terms, but in appearance) and the dream of one day having to cut the sleeves just to fit my guns in there kept me going down in the chilly basement. But Sergio’s physique was so perfect and dense, he made me hope that I could even bring my weak limbs into proportion as well. Yet that to was a pipe dream, as that’s what made Sergio “The Myth”. Very few then and now could attain a physique with no visual weaknesses as his muscularity seemed more like a cartoon or airbrushed picture, than something real.
Sergio’s accomplishments are also remarkable because it harkens back to when training and reaching genetic potential determined winners in bodybuilding, not endorsements and pharmaceuticals. That doesn’t mean that Oliva’s and his contemporaries didn’t use anabolic drugs. But the guys had to know what to use (and it’s not nearly as much as what would later be used in the “sport”), how to train and how to eat in a very non-scientific world. Sergio even trained with some of the smartest guys in bodybuilding at the time, Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer, two guys that revolutionized training with an abbreviated lifting method called HIT or High Intensity Training. It was truly a time when bodybuilding led science, not the other way around like we see today.
American’s always want to tell boot-strap-type stories and Sergio certainly has one of his own. He defected from Cuba decades before we started hearing about other athletes coming to America seeking fame and fortune. The Chicago Tribune reports,
“Oliva defected to the United States from Cuba in 1963 at a Pan American Games qualifying competition in Jamaica, bringing the entire Cuban bodybuilding team with him. He came to Chicago in 1963 because “he heard this was where the jobs were,” longtime friend Jack Merjimekian said.”
You can read more about the life of Sergio Oliva here: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-11-14/news/chi-retired-chicago-cop-former-champion-bodybuilder-dies-20121113_1_bodybuilder-arnold-schwarzenegger-memorial-fund