Franco Columbu: The Sardinian Strongman

Franco Columbu, nicknamed the “Sardinian Strongman,” was a legendary figure in the world of bodybuilding. Born on August 7, 1941, in Ollolai, Sardinia, Italy, Columbu’s incredible journey took him from humble beginnings to becoming a two-time Mr. Olympia winner and a close friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the life and accomplishments of this extraordinary man, who left an indelible mark on the world of bodybuilding.

Early Life

Franco Columbu’s love for sports began at an early age. As a teenager, he excelled in boxing and became the amateur boxing champion of Italy. However, his passion for strength training eventually led him to the world of bodybuilding. In the early 1960s, Columbu began training in earnest, and his dedication and natural talent quickly caught the attention of the bodybuilding community.

The Sardinian Strongman Meets the Austrian Oak

In the mid-1960s, Franco Columbu met Arnold Schwarzenegger at a bodybuilding competition in Germany. The two athletes became fast friends and training partners, forging a strong bond that would last a lifetime. They both moved to Los Angeles in 1969 to train at the iconic Gold’s Gym, which was then the epicenter of bodybuilding.

Franco Columbu’s physique stats during his competitive years were as follows:

  • Height: 5’5″ (165 cm)
  • Competition weight: 185 lbs (84 kg)
  • Off-season weight: 200 lbs (91 kg)
  • Chest: 52 inches (132 cm)
  • Waist: 30 inches (76 cm)
  • Biceps: 19 inches (48 cm)
  • Thighs: 26 inches (66 cm)
  • Calves: 18 inches (46 cm)

Achievements in Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, and Beyond

Franco Columbu’s impressive physique and incredible work ethic led to a remarkable career in competitive bodybuilding. Columbu was the winner of the Mr Universe competition in 1970 & 1971, and later went on to win the 1974 & 1975 Mr Olympia (under 200-pound class). Franco claimed the overall Mr. Olympia Title in 1976 and again in 1981. 

In addition to his success in bodybuilding, Columbu was a formidable powerlifter, setting multiple world records in the deadlift, bench press, and squat. His well-rounded strength and athleticism also extended to strongman competitions, where he famously carried a refrigerator on his back during the 1977 World’s Strongest Man competition.

Below is a comprehensive list of Franco Columbu’s bodybuilding competition history:

  • 1966: Mr. Europe (IFBB), 4th
  • 1968: Mr. Universe (NABBA), Most Muscular, 1st
  • 1968: Mr. Universe (NABBA), Short, 2nd
  • 1969: Mr. Universe (IFBB), Short, 1st
  • 1969: Mr. Universe (IFBB), Overall Winner
  • 1969: Mr. Europe (IFBB), Short, 1st
  • 1969: Mr. Europe (IFBB), Overall Winner
  • 1970: Mr. Universe (IFBB), Short, 1st
  • 1970: Mr. Universe (IFBB), Overall Winner
  • 1971: Mr. Universe (IFBB), Short, 1st
  • 1971: Mr. Universe (IFBB), Overall Winner
  • 1974: Mr. Olympia (IFBB), Lightweight, 1st
  • 1975: Mr. Olympia (IFBB), Lightweight, 1st
  • 1976: Mr. Olympia (IFBB), Lightweight, 1st
  • 1976: Mr. Olympia (IFBB), Overall Winner
  • 1981: Mr. Olympia (IFBB), Open, 1st

Acting Career and Post-Competitive Life

Franco Columbu’s charisma and onscreen presence led to an acting career that spanned several decades. He appeared in films like “Pumping Iron,” “The Terminator,” “Conan the Barbarian,” and “The Running Man,” often alongside his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger.

After retiring from competitive bodybuilding, Columbu became a chiropractor, dedicating his life to helping others improve their health and well-being. He also authored several books on bodybuilding, nutrition, and training, leaving a lasting legacy for future generations of athletes.

Remembering Franco Columbu

Franco Columbu passed away on August 30, 2019, at the age of 78, but his influence on the world of bodybuilding lives on. As one of the pioneers of modern bodybuilding, Columbu inspired countless athletes with his dedication, discipline, and passion for the sport. His close friendship with Arnold Schwarzenegger remains a shining example of camaraderie and mutual support in the competitive world of bodybuilding.

In honor of his contributions to the sport, the Franco Columbu Lifetime Achievement Award was established by the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), recognizing outstanding individuals who have made a significant impact on bodybuilding and fitness.

Franco Columbu’s life story is a testament to the power of hard work, determination, and an unwavering commitment to one’s goals. As a legendary bodybuilder, powerlifter, strongman competitor, and actor, the “Sardinian Strongman” left an indelible mark on the world of fitness and sports. By remembering and celebrating his life and legacy, we can draw inspiration from his remarkable journey and strive to embody his dedication in our own pursuits.

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