Sergio Oliva was born in Cuba on July 4, 1941 and started working with his father on the sugar cane fields in Guanabacoa when he was only 12 years old. When he was old enough his father encouraged him to enlist in Fulgencio Batista's army.
Oliva was born without an official birth certificate and the recruiting officer had to take Sergio’s father word that he was 16 years old in order to fight against communism. It was only after losing the war to Fidel Castro that Sergio was introduced to weightlifting for which he had a natural talent.
At 190lbs he was doing a clean and jerk with 300 lbs and was selected to compete against the rest of the world and represent Cuba at the 1962 Central American and Caribbean Games which was hosted in Kingston, Jamaica that year and was a year that would change Sergio’s life forever.
One night he ran out of the compound he was staying in with the Cuban weightlifting team and ran at top speed directly to the American consulate where he immediately requested and received political asylum. Later the whole Cuban team also defected to the USA having seen that he was not captured or punished.
He started in Florida and finally moved to Chicago where he got work as a TV repair man and started training at the local YMCA. He won the first bodybuilding contest that he entered which was the Mr. Chicagoland contest in 1963.
The judges and the competitors had never seen a body so genetically gifted for bodybuilding, which is how he earned the nickname of ‘The Myth’ because his fellow bodybuilders thought he was unbelievable. He won Mr. Illinois in 1964 and continued to train entering a contest again in 1966 where he again won the AAU Jr. Mr. America.
When he joined the IFBB he won both the Mr. World and Mr. Universe contests easily and had already set his mark on bodybuilding history. Although there was no professional bodybuilding on those days he went on to win Mr.Olympia three years in a row and seemed unstoppable beating the great Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Unfortunately Sergio was banned from competing again in the 1971 IFBB Mr Olympia as he had decided to compete in the 1971 NABBA Mr Universe. It is very sad that the next year at the Mr.Olympia in Essen Germany Sergio was confident that he would take back the title from Arnold but Joe Weider had other ideas and switched the judges at the last minute creating one of the most controversial bodybuilding decisions of all time declaring Arnold the winner.
When Sergio passed away on November 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois he was the first Mr.Olympia winner to ever die and although he was only 71 years old his impact on the sport is legendary. He will always be remembered as the myth who took bodybuilding a step farther than it had gone before.
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