Columbu was born in Ollolai, Sardinia (Italy). Starting out his athletic career as a boxer, Columbu progressed into the sport of Olympic Weightlifting, powerlifting and later bodybuilding, winning the title of Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981. At 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) in height (some magazines reported as short as 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m)), Columbu is shorter than most of his bodybuilding competitors, but that did not prevent him from achieving widespread success.
In 1977, Columbu competed in the first World’s Strongest Man competition and was in first place in total points during the competition; a remarkable outing, considering that Franco weighed much less than all his competitors. Then came the refrigerator race, which called for a downhill race in which a heavy, bulky, unwieldy refrigerator is strapped to the racer’s back. While ahead, Franco stumbled, and was shown on national television collapsing with a grotesquely dislocated leg. This ended his participation in the World’s Strongest Man contest (in the end, he finished in fifth place). After a court settlement, he received a reported $1 million in compensation for his injury.
It took six hours of surgery to remove all the muscle and fix his leg. Doctors told him he would never walk again, but Columbu fully recovered in three years. After Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback victory in the 1980 Mr. Olympia, Franco followed suit and won the 1981 Mr. Olympia.
Columbu is a long time friend of Schwarzenegger, whom he met in Munich in 1965 and against whom he competed in several international-level bodybuilding competitions. For the Mr. Olympia competitions however, he competed in the under 200 lb (90.7 kg) category, whereas Schwarzenegger was in the over 200 lb category.
The final champion was determined by a pose down between the two class winners. The IFBB has since abandoned weight classes. Arnold and Franco were inseparable during the early to mid-1970s and were training partners. Columbu served as the best man at the wedding of Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver in 1986. Columbu and Schwarzenegger had been encouraged to come to America by bodybuilding guru Joe Weider in 1969; Weider sponsored them with an $80/week stipend and the two European bodybuilders began a bricklaying and patio business called European Brick Works in 1969.
From the time he arrived in America in 1969, Franco Columbu was considered one of the world’s strongest men. He held a number of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting world records. He also performed a strongman act in which he routinely blew up a hot water bottle by inflating it orally, lifted vehicles on stage (while someone else was changing a tire) and deadlifted over 700 lbs for repetitions.
He designed a comprehensive workout for men in 1988 to flatten the stomach, narrow the waist, and eliminate love handles. He is both a chiropractor and a weightlifter and his career parallels that of American weightlifting champion Karyn Marshall, who has used chiropractic therapy to train for competitions and who became a chiropractor herself.
1966: Mr. Europe, 4th
1968: NABBA Mr. Universe (Most Muscular)
1969: IFBB Mr. Europe (Medium)
1969: NABBA Mr. Universe (Most Muscular)
1969: NABBA Mr. Universe (Short)
1969: IFBB Mr. Universe (Short)
1970: IFBB Mr. Europe (Short & Overall)
1970: AAU Mr. World (Pro Short)
1970: IFBB Mr. World (Short)
1970: IFBB Mr. Universe (Short & Overall)
1971: IFBB Mr. Universe (Short & Overall) *Disqualified for selling bodybuilding booklets – considered as a professional*
1971: IFBB Mr. World (Short & Overall)
1974 Mr. Olympia (Lightweight)
1975 Mr. Olympia (Lightweight)
1976 Mr. Olympia (Lightweight & Overall
1981 Mr. Olympia
Champion of Italy
Champion of Germany
Champion of Europe
World’s Strongest Man competition
1977: World strongest man, 5th place (after becoming injured)
Powerlifting Best Lifts
Bench press 525 Lbs / 238.35 kg
Squat (exercise) 665 Lbs / 301.91 kg
Deadlift 750 Lbs / 340.5 kg (in some training sessions, he was reported to have lifted over 780 Lbs / 354,12 kg, all at a bodyweight of less than 190 Lbs / 86,26 kg)
Amateur Boxing Champion of Italy
2009: Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award
Official website: http://www.columbu.com/