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Remembering Bodybuilding Legend "The Myth" Sergio Oliva

This past November one of bodybuilding's true icons passed. M&F looks back at the training and trials of the sport's original mass monster.

Remembering Bodybuilding Legend "The Myth" Sergio Oliva

“Hey, baby, take a look at this shot!” The taunt came from Sergio Oliva, and the sensitive ears that absorbed it were Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. It was the 1969 Mr. Olympia contest, and Arnold, already victorious earlier that day in the Mr. Universe, had brazenly decided to enter the o for the first time to take on Oliva—winner of bodybuilding’s top crown two years running and widely regarded as bodybuilding’s all-time greatest champion. “I said to myself, ‘Tonight I’m going to wipe him off,’ ” Arnold recalled in his 1977 autobiography, The Education of a Bodybuilder. Then he saw Sergio. “It was as jarring as if I’d walked into a wall…He was so huge, so fantastic. There was no way I could even think of beating him. I admitted my defeat and felt some of my pump go away.” That’s right—bodybuilding’s master of psychology, the man who ran roughshod over Lou Ferrigno in Pumping Iron, and whose name is virtually synonymous with the sport he dominated for so many years was…psyched out!

What giant of a man must it take to make Arnold Schwarzenegger feel small? The only correct answer is Sergio Oliva—the black cuban refugee who owned the Olympia from 1967 to 1969, and remains one of bodybuilding’s most revered veterans. By all accounts, Oliva was the sport’s first “mass monster”—a beast of mythic proportions (hence the moniker “the Myth”), which included 22-inch arms and 30-inch thighs, separated by a minuscule 28-inch waistline. At 5'10" and a competitive weight between 225 and 245 pounds, Oliva invented a pose only he had the size and shape to pull of. Called the “victory” pose, it requires extending the arms straight overhead with fists goosenecked—a shot that tends to make anyone else who tries it look skinny.

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Oliva’s lat spread was so formidable that Schwarzenegger himself, whose lats remain some of history’s most impressive, said he’d never seen anything like them. in his Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, Arnold remembered how Sergio strategized to walk around backstage wearing a long butcher’s coat to hide the goods. “[He had] his shoulders pulled in, looking very narrow…I remember thinking that his back didn’t look very big. But then he lowered the boom: as he walked out into the light on his way to the stage, he said, ‘Take a look at this!’ and he flared his lats.” The effect was somewhat like a giant vampire bat swooping in for the kill.

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