Written by Peter McGough
31 January 2018


The Franco Files

Tales of Two-Time Olympia Champ, Franco Columbu



Of all the 13 Mr. Olympias one who seems to not get as much attention as his other 12 peers is two-time (1976, 1981) champ Franco Columbu. Now 75 he is still seen regularly at bodybuilding events with his long time cohort Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he sort of plays Robin to the Austrian’s Batman.

Born in Sardinia, Italy, on August 7, 1941, he started out as a boxer, then powerlifter and finally became a bodybuilder when he and Arnold first met in Munich – where they had both relocated to – in 1965. They hit it off immediately due to their drive and passion for gym work and also for their propensity to enjoy themselves along the way. They both eventually moved to California (Arnold in 1968, Franco a year later) and became leading members of that ‘70s Golden Era. Here are a few tales of Franco, double Mr. Olympia and all round funster



When Joe Weider enabled Arnold to move to California in 1968, the future Mr. Olympia missed the camaraderie of his Munich based training partner. Thus he lobbied Joe to move Franco to California. The fast talking Arnold gave Joe the impression that the 5’5” Franco was of similar size to his 6’2” 240 pound self. He told the Master Blaster, “Franco can deadlift 700 pounds, he’s a magnificent specimen. He pushes me so hard he makes me better. Having Franco in the gym with me will make me a better bodybuilder.”

Joe acquiesced and Franco arrived stateside. After anticipating an Arnold clone, when Joe first saw Franco he is reputed to have said, “What happened, he got caught in the rain?”



In their early Californian days Arnold and Franco shared an apartment. Joe gave them a payment every month, but it was not enough to live on so they started their own bricklaying business to supplement their income. Here Franco as he tells the story of how he and Arnold conspired to try and get Joe to increase their payment.

“When I came to California we were getting some money from Joe. I said to Arnold, ‘Look, we go shopping on Friday and by Tuesday the food is gone. Maybe we should get together with Joe and ask for a raise.’ Arnold said, ‘Good idea! But first to impress Joe you have to deadlift 700 pounds.’ I said, ‘I just killed myself training to win the (1970) Mr. Universe.’ Joe came down to Venice Beach and I deadlifted 700 pounds for two reps, but Joe walked away like he was pissed off.

“We all went back to our apartment and I started to cook steaks and pour the wine, and I said to Arnold, ‘Ask him for the raise now.’ Arnold says, ‘No, give him more wine give him more wine.’ Finally Arnold figured Joe was sufficiently lubricated and he started his pitch to ask for a rise. But Joe could read what he was up to before Arnold got to the point and he snapped, ‘C’mon Franco is a lazy bastard he should have lifted 800 pounds and forget about doing all this monkey business.’ We eventually got a little raise -- about 1%.”



Mike Katz, he of the enormous chest development, was also a member of that Golden Era and Arnold and Franco were of the opinion that he exaggerated the contours of his pecs by constantly walking around with them flexed. One day they hatched a plan to nail whether Mike was indeed over amplifying his pec size.

They invited him for lunch at their apartment and drank two glasses of wine which Franco recalls, “That was plenty to wipe Mike out, so we suggested we all have an afternoon nap but Mike said, ‘No let’s go to the beach.’”

But Arnold and Franco insisted, telling Mike, that after drinking the wine in order to make the muscles grow we have got to lie down for an hour and sleep. So, Mike lay down on the couch and Franco and Arnold disappeared into their bedrooms. Once convinced that Mike was asleep the duo snuck into the lounge. Mike was sleeping soundly laying on his side and as he inhaled and exhaled his chest was as enormous as the waking version, which they has both suspected was a bit of a scam.

Arnold exclaimed, “Look he has that big chest naturally – there’s no way he could fake it when he’s asleep. And look his head is hanging off to the side, he can’t get it on the pillow because his shoulders are so big.”

Arnold and Franco started laughing, which woke Mike up and prompted him to ask, “What are you guys staring at me for?”

Franco replied, “It’s true! You do have a big chest!”

A bemused Mike said, “Well, yeah?”



In a1995 interview I asked Franco to reflect on his two Olympia wins. Here is how he responded.

“In 1975 I lost the Olympia to Arnold but it was very close it could have gone either way. After the contest Arnold told me, ‘This is my last Olympia – everybody is improving so much.’ So for 1976 I trained my butt off because to win you have to show improvement from the previous year, standing still won’t get you the crown. I made substantial improvements and won that year’s Olympia. That remains my most memorable bodybuilding moment. The feeling of being announced Mr. Olympia was incredible. So incredible that at the moment of victory I jumped about three feet in the air. Then I had to take a big deep breath to think about what I had done. What I had done was get to the top, top, top, top!”







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