Sergio Oliva was born on July 4, 1941, in Guantanamo, Cuba, during the presidency of Fulgencio Batista. As a teenager, after only a year of training, Sergio was able to perform clean & jerks above 400 pounds. These feats caught the attention of the new government after the Cuban Revolution, who selected Sergio to represent Cuba at the upcoming 1961 Pan American Games. During his time in Jamaica representing Cuba at the Games, Oliva sneaked out of his quarters while the guards were distracted. He then ran at top speed until he was safely inside the American consulate. Arriving breathlessly, he demanded and received political asylum. Soon, 65 other Cuban nationals followed him, including Castro’s entire weightlifting team and their security guards. Shortly afterward, Oliva was living in Miami, Florida, working as a TV repairman.
Oliva then went on to win the Mr. Olympia title three years in a row, at 5 feet 10 inches and a contest weight of 225–245 lbs. Oliva’s 1968 Mr. Olympia win was uncontested. In 1969, he won his third consecutive Mr. Olympia by beating a Mr. Europe, a Mr. International, and four-time Mr. Universe winner Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his 1977 autobiography, “Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder”, Arnold tells of their first encounter:
Then for the first time, I saw Sergio Oliva in person. I understood why they called him the Myth. It was as jarring as if I’d walked into a wall. He destroyed me. He was so huge, he was so fantastic, there was no way I could even think of beating him. I admitted my defeat and felt some of my pumps go away. I tried. But I’d been so taken back by my first sight of Sergio Oliva that I think I settled for 2nd place before we walked out on the stage I never like to admit defeat, but I thought Sergio was better. There were no two ways about it.
However, Schwarzenegger won his first Mr. Olympia title by edging the Myth the following year with a score of 4–3. Oliva was banned from competing in the 1971 IFBB Mr. Olympia because he competed in the 1971 NABBA Mr. Universe. This was extremely controversial because Schwarzenegger had competed for this very same contest the year before and without Sergio to challenge Arnold, some felt that the contest was fixed. Schwarzenegger said:
I’d coasted to my second title as Mr. Olympia, in Paris in 1971. The only possible challenger had been Sergio – nobody else was in my league – and he’d been barred from the contest, along with others, because of a dispute between federations.