Tales Of The Sardinian Strongman: In Memory Of Franco Columbu

You’ve heard me say that I don’t like when people call me a self-made man. You’ve even heard me say that you’re part of the reason I could never accept that label.

But I wanted you to know why. From the minute we met in Munich, you were my partner in crime. We pushed each other, we competed with each other, and we laughed at every moment along the way.

When I finally got to America, I was alone. I’d left my family, my country, my whole life behind. So when I asked Joe Weider to bring you to train with me, it was because I knew I wasn’t the same without my best friend. I could thrive without money, without my parents, but I couldn’t thrive without you.

I am devastated today. But I am also so, so grateful for the 54 years of friendship and joy we shared. The pumps, the chess games, the construction work, the meals, the pranks, the life lessons – we did it all together. We grew and we learned and we loved. My life was more fun, more colorful, and more complete because of you.

I will always miss you. But I’ll also know that a part of you lives on in me, in Debbie, in Maria, and in the millions of people you inspired every day you lived. And I will be there for Maria and Debbie, so you can rest now with no worries.

I love you Franco. I will always remember the joy you brought to my life, the advices you gave me, and the twinkle in your eye that never disappeared. You were my best friend.

Love always,


It’s still a shock to everyone in the Bodybuilding community two days later, and most people, especially best friend Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be reeling from the death of former Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu for a while.  In a time where Bodybuilders were as strong and they were muscular, the Sardinian Strongman was most likely as close to the real deal as it got.  He was an athlete from his teen years, starting off as an amateur boxer in his native Italy.  From there he’s competed in powerlifting, bodybuilding and even in the early World’s Strongest Man competitions.  So here are a few quick facts about Franco Columbu:

Franco Had Incredible Lung Capacity

With his athletic background alone, Franco developed plenty of stamina and cardiovascularity.  He could be seen from time to time performing this classic early-era Strongman event, as seen here in Pumping Iron.  This feat requires a strong diaphragm and great lung capacity, a testament to how well conditioned he was compared to many of his counterparts.

He Was Incredibly Strong

Image result for franco columbu deadlift

Franco was just 5′ 5″.  But what you might not understand is that it absolutely worked to his advantage when it came to hitting big numbers on the Squat, Bench and Deadlift.  I address the issue of different body types on my Instagram from time to time.  For taller lifters with longer leverages, the body finds itself working harder to finish a lift than someone of Franco’s size.  Due to his shorter leverages, it was easier for him to complete a heavy set, because the distance the bar traveled between the start and finish points were nowhere near as far as perhaps Arnold.  In fact, Franco is the one who helped Arnold with his own Bench Press numbers upon meeting in Munich, Germany in the mid 60’s.  Franco’s heaviest numbers in competition are as follows:

Squat – 655lbs

Bench Press – 525lbs

Deadlift – 710

The 1977 World’s Strongest Man 

Much like the early days of the then-Gracie owned UFC, in which fighters of various disciplines came together to compete against one another, the original concept of The World’s Strongest Man was for athletes of varying strength related disciplines to come together to see who was the strongest.  Sounded good on paper, minus the fact that this was put together for CBS mainly for entertainment.  In turn, none of the competitors were necessarily trained for the scheduled events.  However, Franco, along with Lou Ferrigno, were the two contestants representing the Bodybuilding community.  As history would show, however, Franco would wind up in 5th place after dislocating his knee in a rather grotesque fashion.  He’d clearly have no choice but to retire from Strongman after that.  But he’s also be perhaps the first man to compete in the holy trinity of strength sports, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding and Strongman.

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