The history of the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio

Prepare for the smell of spray tan, Columbus | Photo by @briankaiser

Prepare for the smell of spray tan, Columbus | Photo by @briankaiser

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When Arnold Schwarzenegger vows to make a return — you simply trust him. And just like his character in each of “The Terminator” movies, Arnold is back and he’s taking over the city from Thurs., March 3-Sun., March 6 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center for the Arnold Sports Festival.

As the festival enters into its 33 year of celebrating bodybuilding, weight lifting, and all things fitness, we wanted to take a look back on the last three decades. Grab your protein shaker and get pumped for some bulked up history.

Bodybuilder Antoni Khadraoui getting his spray tan | Photo by @briankaiser

Bodybuilder Antoni Khadraoui getting his spray tan | Photo by @briankaiser

In the beginning…

It was 1970 and Columbus was playing host 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 with Arnold began.

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

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 and Rich Gaspari + Jackie Paisley were the two overall champions. Both went on to have successful careers in bodybuilding and Rich still calls the win one of his greatest victories to date.

Turn and face the change

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 the popularity in Columbus, the Arnold has expanded into Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia.

The Arnold today

This year looks to be even more exciting for the Arnold as COVID-19 put heavy restrictions on the last two years for non-competitors. This means the popular Arnold Expo is back for three days where visitors can browse through 222 vendors from Fri., March 4-Sun., March 6. There’s plenty to check out next weekend and it’s happening all across Columbus so here’s a quick look at the must-see events:

All about those angles | Photo by @briankaiser

All about those angles | Photo by @briankaiser

Thurs., March 3

  • 8 a.m.-10 p.m. at the Celeste Center at the Ohio Expo: Weightlifting championship featuring lifts of 500+ lbs
  • 7-10 p.m. at the Hollywood Casino: Boxing and MMA fights, including “Guns & Hoses” where local police and firefighters square off in a friendly boxing match

Fri., March 4

  • 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Convention Center: Armwrestling preliminaries where 268 athletes from 12 countries hope to get a hand-up on the competition
  • 3 p.m.-7 p.m. at the Convention Center: The Arnold Strongman Classic will showcase six people doing competitions like carrying an 800 lbs timber frame with $182,000 as the grand prize

Sat., March 5

  • 12-1 p.m. at the Convention Center: Pro Wheelchair prejudging and finals featuring wheelchaired bodybuilders
  • 2-4 p.m. at the Convention Center: Pro Strongwoman where 10 of the strongest women from across the country will compete

Sun., March 6

  • 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Convention Center: Ameatur Strongman men’s and women’s finals where a lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight champion will be crowned

What if I can’t make it?

No sweat — the Arnold is available via Pay-Per-View on Fanmio for all four days.

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