Franco Columbu: The Sardinian Strongman

  • Name: Franco Colombu
  • Date of Birth: 7 August 1941
  • Date of Death: 30 August 2019
  • Height: 165 cm (5 ft 5 in)
  • Off-season Weight: 88kg (195lbs)
  • Competition Weight: 84 kg (185 lbs)
  • Arm size: 19 in
  • Leg size: 77 cm (30.5 in)
  • Waist size: 30 in
  • Calf size: 17.5 in
  • Thighs size: 26 in
  • Chest size: 50 in
  • Championships: 3x Olympian

Biography of Franco Columbu: Sardinian Strongman


In his growing age, Columbu was usually beaten up by his parents. At that moment he was weak and helpless.  But with the passage of time his weakness becomes his strength. His fear becomes his strength. He is much serious about body building and once he said: 

I don't believe in bodybuilders using steroids. If a man doesn't have enough male hormones in his system to create, a nice hard, muscular body, he should take up ping pong.

Early Life

Colombu was born on August 7, 1941, in Ollolai on the island of Sardinia, Italy. He was a son of shepherds Maria GraziaSedda and Antonio Columbu. He said in 1982:

 "I was always skinny. Until I was 11, I got beat up a lot. Then one day, I started beating people up. Nobody could touch me." 

He worked as a shepherd while training as a boxer. He won over 30 fights as a boxer before quitting the sport in favor of weightlifting and bodybuilding, stating:

"Boxing's too rough on your face and head.”

He began his career as a boxer, then transitioned into weightlifting, powerlifting, and bodybuilding later on. In 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1981, he went on to win the Mr. Olympia title.

Despite being only 5 feet 5 inches tall, Franco was a formidable opponent despite being far shorter than most of his rivals.

Franco participated in the inaugural World's Strongest Man competition that year. Considering his little stature in comparison to most of his opponents, he finished in fifth place overall. However, he regrettably had a severe leg injury during a race.

Franco was racing with a fridge strapped to his back, sprinting to the finish line. When Franco stumbled, his leg was broken. He participated in the World's Strongest Man competition just once before. The following time Franco competed, it was in the 1981 Mr. Olympia, where he won.


There was a lot of push and motivation from other athletes in the early stages of preparation to encourage one another through demanding sessions. Franco recalls that there were instances when he trained for up to two hours in the morning and another two hours at night.

He wanted greater definition because he was 10 weeks out from the Mr. Olympia competition. He persevered through the workouts and acknowledged that he did get the results he was looking for, but he was rendered immobile afterwards.

“I did look better, but I could barely walk. I was so sore that I couldn’t go to the gym for two days.”

Franco asserts that it is simple to gain weight and that many men are gigantic and have incredible bodies, but few have the ideal proportions. For Franco, this happened years later after much growth in other areas before continuing to develop a fully developed physique.

“First I was known for the chest, then I trained for a few more years and I was known for my lats. It took a while for the whole thing to come together.”

The Sardinian Samson’s legacy

Both inside and outside of bodybuilding, Franco Columbu had a significant existence. His success in altering the public's opinion of "short bodybuilders" continues to have an impact today. After then, people all across the world expressed their sorrow over his loss.

It's difficult to dispute the claim that he once served as the 

"embodiment of the American Dream."

 Nobody anticipated Columbu would be as inspirational as he was when he immigrated to Los Angeles from Italy in the 1970s.

One of the most tragic losses the bodybuilding community has ever suffered, in my opinion. Nevertheless, his legacy will endure as one of the sport's most significant figures and much more.

Marital Life

Frank Columbu was a contented husband who cherished his time with his lovely wife, Deborah Columbu. Maria Columbu was born to the couple, and they delighted in posting pictures of their family on social media. Frank was very private about his personal life, but it is obvious that he held his loved ones in the highest regard.

He also had a love relationship with another chiropractor, Anita Sanangelo. Later, in 1965, he took a trip to Germany for a bodybuilding competition where he eventually met Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Franco Columbu has a close bond with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a legendary bodybuilder. For five and a half decades, the two were close friends and training partners. Even before he declared his candidacy for governor of California, Arnold referred to him as the "Sancho Panza" to his "Don Quixote." 

As a result, they develop lifetime friendships. During his marriage to Maria Shriver in 1986, he also became the godfather of Christina, Schwarzenegger's daughter.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Franco Columbu, and Negrita Jayde.
Venice Beach (1980): Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Negrita Jayde and Franco Columbu



He was carrying a refrigerator on his back when he dislocated his left knee. He received a reported $1 million in compensation (equivalent to $4.5 million in 2021) for the injuries that kept him out of the game for a few years. Columbu competed again in 1981, winning Mr. Olympia, and then he stopped.


One of the most contentious Mr. Olympia shows in the competition's history was in 1981.

Franco Columbu, a great bodybuilder and strongman, took home the 1981 Mr. Olympia title. Bodybuilders on the show with greater physiques than Franco Columbu included Danny Padilla and Tom Platz.


Columbu excelled in a variety of sports. He was an amateur boxer who won the Italian featherweight championship when he was born in Italy in 1941. Later, he would pursue powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. His 655-pound squat, 540-pound bench press, and 755-pound deadlift were his powerlifting career highs. For the most of his powerlifting career, he competed in the 90 kg division.

His greatest success came after he switched to bodybuilding, and he was regarded as a pioneer for shorter and smaller bodybuilders. In his bodybuilding career, he won many titles, including two IFBB Mr. Olympia titles and the IFBB Mr. Universe title. He was the second person to win the title in years other than consecutive ones when he did it in 1976 and 1981. 

Additionally, Columbu would show up at occasions where he was advertised as the world's strongest man. His participation in the first World's Strongest Man competition in 1977 would mark the culmination of his athletic career. Despite suffering a leg injury during the refrigerator run, he came in fifth overall.

After Columbu stopped competing, he went on to become a well-known chiropractor. He also participated in a few film and television ventures. After the inaugural champion Larry Scott and the second champion Sergio Oliva Sr., he is the third Mr. Olympia winner out of the 14 champions to pass away. Maria, his daughter, and his wife Deborah are left behind.


It was tragic and a huge shock when former bodybuilding icon Franco Columbu passed away because he had a healthy lifestyle. The two-time Mr. Olympia was 'always in good shape,' according to the former wrestler, and had no physical issues.

Twenty-three days after his 78th birthday, on August 30, 2019, Columbu passed away while being transported by helicopter to an Olbia hospital after feeling unwell while swimming off the coast of San Teodoro, Sardinia. His wife Deborah, their daughter Maria, and his three sisters, Anna, Gonaria, and Celestina, all survived him. On September 3, a funeral was held in his hometown of Ollolai. On October 6, 2019, a memorial service was conducted in Los Angeles.


Franco loved everything fitness-related, especially anything that included lifting weights and putting his strength to the test. Franco has competed in everything from boxing to strongman events to Mr. Olympia. Don't allow anything stop you if you aspire to be as large and strong as Franco or if you want to achieve greatness.

Even months after suffering a severe leg injury, Franco continued to train for the Olympia, where he won first place. You can develop your own terrific physique if you have the same tenacity and perseverance as Franco.