A retired Chicago police officer who was the only bodybuilder to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr. Olympia competition has died.
Sergio Oliva, 71, a longtime Rogers Park District officer, was found unresponsive by a family member Monday and pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital Evanston, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Oliva defected to the United States from Cuba in 1963 at a Pan American Games qualifying competition in Jamaica, bringing the entire Cuban bodybuilding team with him. He came to Chicago in 1963 because “he heard this was where the jobs were,” longtime friend Jack Merjimekian said.
Oliva studied English at Wells High School to qualify for citizenship, and worked at the Duncan YMCA after stints as a foundry worker and meatpacker. He began competing as a bodybuilder soon after coming to Chicago, and began winning local bodybuilding titles.
While working as a civilian physical education instructor at the Chicago Police Academy, Oliva became interested in becoming an officer and got help from a police captain, Merjimekian said.
Because of his dimensions, including a 60-inch chest, Oliva’s police uniforms had to be specially made.
The titles he won included Mr. World at Montreal in 1966; Mr. Universe at Munich in 1967, 1968 and 1969; Mr. America in 1970; and Mr. Europe in 1981. He defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1968 and 1969 in body-building competitions, including Mr. Olympia.
He won the World Cup seven times, three times in a row.
“He’s the only guy who defeated Arnold in Mr. Olympia,” Merjimekian said.
Schwarzenegger on Tuesday mentioned Oliva in a Twitter message: “Oliva was one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time & a true friend,” Schwarzenegger said. “A fierce competitor w/ a big personality - one of a kind.”
Oliva survived a 1986 incident in which he was accidentally shot during a fight with his wife. He went back to work in the Rogers Park District until retiring about 10 years ago.
Merjimekian said a memorial fund has been set up for Oliva's family: The Sergio Oliva Memorial Fund, c/o Fifth Third bank, 353 W. Northwest Highway, Barrington, IL, 60010.
A memorial service for those who wish to pay tribute to him but did not know Oliva will be scheduled for a later date, his family said.
Family and friends are invited to attend a wake scheduled for Monday, Nov. 19 at Barr Funeral Home, 6222 N. Broadway, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. A funeral mass will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at St. Gertrude Catholic Church, 1420 W. Granville Ave. at 11 a.m.
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