Written by Peter McGough
28 November 2012


Why It Has To Be Sergio Oliva

By Peter McGough

sergio olivaThe November 12 passing of three time Mr. Olympia (1967, ’68, ’69) Sergio Oliva at age 71, prompted thoughts of the part genetics plays in the potential development of a bodybuilder. And what exactly is meant by the term “great genetics” when applied to bodybuilding?


First of all, get over the notion that anyone if they train hard enough and exhibit extreme dedication can win the Mr. Olympia title or even become a national amateur champ. What is needed is not merely good genetics, but great genetics. Tiger Woods is super dedicated but his golfing prowess is overwhelmingly down to the fact that he was born with a gift to master the intricate techniques of guiding a ball around a golf course. In tennis, Roger Federer trains like a Titan but he has won a record 17 Grand Slam titles because fate bequeathed him the ability to attain world beating racket skills. Same with bodybuilding: To be a champion you need those great genetics. Being born with narrow clavicles, wide hips, short legs, a long trunk and short muscle insertions is not a resume destined to disrupt Phil Heath’s sleeping habits. So for starters to make it at the top level the favored genetic inheritance is to have a skeletal structure that boasts wide clavicles, narrow hips and waist, limbs that are in proportion and long muscle insertions.

In addition what is then needed is a superior ability to respond to progressive resistance training and accumulate muscle mass. Kerry Kayes, British Masters champion, past promoter of the English Grand Prix and contest prep advisor illustrates that latter point very well: “Imagine that a normal person is born with two bricklayers inside him which help to build muscle. And imagine that a Mr. Olympia is born with seven bricklayers inside him. The normal person may take a load of gear and double his muscle building ability and end up with four bricklayers, which still isn’t as many as Mr. Olympia.” Following on from that rationale it’s a personal contention that it is those less genetically gifted who take the most drugs: But that’s an argument for another time.


Over the decades many names have been thrust forward in discussions concerning best ever genetics. The list includes: Steve Reeves, Bill Pearl, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Danny Padilla, Samir Bannout, Mohamed Makkawy, Lee Haney, Berry DeMey, Bob Paris, Lee Labrada, Shawn Ray, Kevin Levrone, Flex Wheeler, Dexter Jackson, Melvin Anthony, Victor Martinez right through to today’s reigning Mr. Olympia Phil Heath.

But this humble scribe’s belief is that the best genetics ever in bodybuilding were those bestowed on Sergio Oliva, born July 4 1941 in Cuba. The aforementioned prerequisites of ideal bone structure, full muscle insertions and minuscule waist are there to be clearly seen in the timeless shots that The Myth (so named by legendary writer and 1967 Mr. World Rick Wayne) has left as testimony to his greatness. Exhibit A is his signature overhead victory pose that even nearly 50 years after he first hit it has not been equaled. Indeed, how many images of bodybuilders from the ‘60s still draw gasps from the modern community?

It’s a fact that Oliva competed in a more innocent time when even winning the Olympia brought only a $1,000 payday and lucrative contracts were not around. Our subject was content to ply his trade as a laborer in a meatpacking warehouse and later as a Chicago policeman and treat bodybuilding as a secondary endeavor. Rick Wayne writes, “Sergio never fully achieved his potential. His regular diet of beans and rice and anything else that titillated his taste buds remained largely unchanged, even when preparing for contests. As for drugs, in Sergio’s time all that was generally accessible was Dianabol and maybe an injection of unproven worth once a month.” The respected Terry Strand, a state Olympic and powerlifting champion, and former bodybuilding competitor, who knew Sergio from the mid-’60s to his death, backs up that last sentence.

Strand also recalls one of Sergio’s regular pre-workout meals being a pack of Hostess Twinkies and a can of Mountain Dew. (Ironically, Four days after Sergio’s passing Hostess Brands, makers of Twinkies, announced it was going out of business. (Now that is either a staggering coincidence or The Myth must have eaten a ton of Twinkies.)

This is not to diminish Sergio’s accomplishments but just think of the physique he might have built if he had focused 100 per cent on making the most of the greatest bodybuilding genetics ever accorded a human being. But then again, if he had put all other things aside he wouldn’t have been “Sergio.” Let’s just celebrate his memory, cherish his photographic legacy, and be grateful The Myth came our way.


Peter will be back next week and every Wednesday with a new topic looking at the world of bodybuilding like only Peter McGough can do.

Peter will also be a part of TEAM MD at the upcoming MASTER’S OLYMPIA on December 7-8. FOLLOW MD’S COMPLETE CONTEST COVERAGE HERE!

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