The history of the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus

Arnold Schwarzenegger has deep roots in Columbus culture, dating back to the 1970s when a friendship began between the bodybuilder and a local promoter.

CBUStoday Arnold Sports history

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2001 (left) + in 2023 (right) at the yearly sports festival in Columbus. | Photos via @arnoldsports

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When Arnold Schwarzenegger vows to return — you trust him. Arnold is back, and he’s taking over the Columbus Convention Center from Thursday, Feb. 23-Sunday, March 3 for the Arnold Sports Festival.

As the festival enters into its 36th year of bodybuilding, weight lifting, and fitness, we wanted to look back on the last three decades. Grab your protein shaker, and get pumped for some history.

The beginning

It was 1970 and Columbus was hosting to the Mr. World contest that coincided with that year’s World Weightlifting Championships. Columbus-native Jim Lorimer was promoting the event and he is where our first contact began.

Jim reached out to Arnold about the contest, Arnold accepted, and won. The rest was history. Arnold fell in love with Columbus and promised to return (very on brand) which led to Jim and Arnold promoting the Mr. Olympia competition in Columbus for six times between 1976 through 1986.

CBUStoday Arnold Schwarzeneggar

Arnold Schwarzenegger as he does a light workout in 1975 for a documentary, “Pumping Iron.” | Photo by Harry Chase, Los Angeles Times via Wikicommons

New heights after Mr. Olympia

In 1989, Arnold and Jim were ready to unveil the first ever Arnold Classic in Columbus at the Columbus Convention Center where the festival continues to run to this day. The four-day festival featured competitions for both men and women.

The modern Arnold

In 2006, the Arnold Classic went through a name change and became what it’s known as today — the Arnold Sports Festival. This change also brought many new additions of competitions including all-star cheerleading being added in 2014 and 70 sports and events added in 2016. Through popularity in Columbus, the Arnold has expanded into Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia.

Now in 2024, it features 12,000+ athletes from across the globe, competing in 50+ sporting events. Experts estimate the festival generates a $50 million economic impact on the city each year thanks to visitors + competitors flocking in.