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Why is it that, if you look at 3X Mr. Olympia Sergio Oliva by himself, in some photos he looks impossibly huge, and then you see him in other photos taken on the very same day, and he doesn’t quite as big? Case in point, this still from Wayne Gallasch’s video of Sergio Oliva taken in 1972 where Sergio looks gigantic. He looks bigger than bodybuilders today who take insulin and growth hormone, as well as what was available in the 1970s:
Above: Sergio looking gigantic.
Contrast the above photo with the one directly below which was taken at the very same photo shoot. He looks much smaller, not that far from a Serge Nubret or a Zane:
Above: Sergio looking big but not gigantic.
Key number one is that Sergio Oliva’s head is smaller in proportion to his body than average, giving him what artists call heroic proportions. Any time you see Sergio Oliva’s upper arms raised near his head he looks ridiculously huge. In a book about Arthur Jones’ Nautilus, author Ellington Darden remarks on an accompanying photo of Sergio saying that if you look closely you’ll notice that his arms are as big as his head. Which is true, but wouldn’t be if you put Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head on Sergio’s body.
Above: Sergio’s arms are as big as his head.
Compare the unaltered photo on the left of Sergio Oliva and Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1972 Mr. Olympia contest with the switched-head version on the right. All of a sudden Sergio(left) looks like a short guy with big arms and Arnold(right) looks like a pin head.
Above: Unaltered photo on left. Switched heads on the right.
Try it again with Sergio standing between Bill Pearl(left) and Dan Lurie(right). The left image has Sergio’s head on all 3 bodies. On Lurie, Sergio’s head looks especially tiny. The image in the middle is unaltered. The right image shows Lurie’s head on Sergio. Sergio gains over two inches of height with Dan Lurie’s head.
Above: Left is Bill Pearl and Dan Lurie with Sergio’s head. Center is unaltered photo. Right is Sergio with Dan Lurie’s head.
The second key to why Sergio looks much smaller in some photographs is contextual. Oliva was listed in the bodybuilding magazines as 5’11”. When I saw him in person when he was only 40, I was stunned. It took me a few moments to adjust to what I was seeing because he was actually more like 5’8″ than 5’11”. I couldn’t immediately process, at the time, how much shorter he was than what the magazines said he was. It blew me away. Schwarzenegger, too, was not as tall as reported but his height was not exaggerated nearly as much as Sergio’s. As a result, when you see Oliva standing next to a six footer he is dwarfed. When you see him alone and, aided by his head proportions, he look gigantic.
Above: Sergio in context with 6+ footers.