The Trials of Sergio

With victories like these, who needs defeats? Sergio Oliva Jr.'s rookie year was no walk in the park.


Per Bernal


It was 10:20 p.m. as Jon Delarosa and Sergio Oliva Jr. stood waiting as the last two men standing—one of them would be declared winner of the 2017 New York Pro. It was Delarosa’s fifth attempt at the event and Oliva’s first. In fact it was the latter’s pro debut, a status earned when he took the super-heavyweight and overall titles at the 2015 NPC Nationals. Because of the inheritance of one of the most famous and lauded names in bodybuilding (his father, Sergio Senior, was three-time Mr. Olympia, 1967–69, and a leading icon of the sport), his debut was under extreme observation. It was like watching Mickey Mantle Jr. getting into the major leagues. Could the kid handle the burden of one of the most famous names in bodybuilding?

In his stentorian “Live from Burbank” TV announcer voice, emcee Bob Cicherillo rasped out the name “Jon Delarosa!” The runner-up slumped forward in disappointment, the winner sank to his knees and held his head in his hands, his body shaking with emotion.

It should have been one of the happiest moments of Oliva’s life; a dream fulfilled, critics answered. Instead it was the culmination of the most miserable and desperate period of his life. Absorbing the win caused a sense of relief to slowly, slowly envelop him. He digested his present position. At that moment of victory, he had hardly any money to his name. A long-standing sponsor had terminated his contract earlier in the year, and then a prospective new sponsor who seemed ready to make a deal pulled out eight weeks before his Big Apple assignment.

Courtesy of Sergio Oliva Jr.

A synchronized double biceps with wife Brooke.

That lack of income led to the domino effect of the power and services in his Venice, Southern California, apartment being switched off, and the reality was he was so broke he didn’t have a return flight ticket home to California. It gets worse. He married his Australian wife, Brooke, in December 2016, and a few weeks into his prep, she had to return Down Under for a family emergency. Once there she ran into an immigration dispute in which there was a snafu in approving her visa to the U.S., so she couldn’t return. And it gets even worse: Arriving in New York for the contest a few days before zero hour, Sergio contracted an infection and could literally not get out of a chair for two days. In apportioning nicknames, don’t call him “Lucky.” The bottom line was some relief came with the knowledge that the $12,000 first-place check would fill some of his needs.

The aforementioned is one of the craziest stories I’ve ever heard about battling contest prep hurdles, and Sergio, who is so refreshingly honest, opened up in a drama-laden interview in which he spoke his mind and revealed just what the hell was going on.


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