The Physiques and Journeys of Sergio Oliva Sr. and Jr.


Photos of Sergio Oliva Sr. courtesy of Weider Health & Fitness

It seemed all 5,000 fans on the Felt Forum of Madison Square Garden were on the verge of rioting, so great was their disapproval of the decision. The 1984 Mr. Olympia is now best remembered for Lee Haney’s winning the first of his record eight Sandows. That announcement generated only cheers. The jeers came earlier, when 43-year-old Sergio Oliva, the three-time Mr. Olympia, was awarded eighth. The decision was just, but fans didn’t want to consider the Myth a mere mortal.

Because Oliva had a well-deserved reputation for a short fuse, FLEX’s then editor in chief, Rick Wayne, headed to the stage to urge his friend to stay calm. It had been a 12-year journey back to the O and the good graces of the IFBB for Oliva, so Wayne wanted to make certain the beloved legend didn’t blow it in a fit of rage. Wayne encountered Oliva’s wife, Arlene, who held 4-week-old Sergio Jr. She gave Wayne the baby so he could pass Junior to Senior.

“Go to the mic. Make a speech—a thank-you speech,” Wayne encouraged. The crowd was awed into silence as the colossal icon, holding his tiny namesake, approached the podium. In his heavily accented English, the Cuban-born Oliva gave a proud but gracious speech. Its most rousing moment was when he stated, “It no matter what happen tonight—eighth, 17th, or 20th—I forever be the Myth. And I hold in my arm Sergio Jr., the next Myth.” The crowd roared. Only much later would that last part sound like the anointing of bodybuilding’s next chosen one. At the time, it was merely a father acknowledging what mattered most. No one, least of all the senior Sergio, felt that infant could eventually build a physique comparable with the icon many still regard as the greatest bodybuilder of all time. Most likely, he would never again appear on a bodybuilding stage. After all, how do you follow a myth?


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