The Arnold Sports Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary. Here’s why it’s the best multisport festival in the world, and getting bigger every year.
It became clear sometime in the 1970s that Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t be stopped—he couldn’t even be contained. A force of nature with a muscular physique straight from Mt. Olympus, Arnold’s ambition went beyond bodybuilding, as he conquered the movie industry, then politics, before hitting it big in book publishing last year with his best-selling autobiography. But through it all, Arnold never forgot his roots.
The first big moment for Arnold the athlete occurred in 1970, when he won the Mr. World contest held in Columbus, Ohio. It was the first time that the young immigrant had bested legendary bodybuilder Sergio Oliva, the reigning Mr. Olympia, and a dominant competitor considered unbeatable at the time. Arnold’s Mr. World triumph would mark the beginning of his long run on top of the sport. After that day in Columbus, Arnold never saw second place (or lower) again. Later that year, he would win the first of his seven Mr. Olympia trophies before retiring from the sport to establish himself as Hollywood’s most bankable star.
That 1970 Mr. World competition was promoted by Jim Lorimer, a former FBI agent turned entrepreneur. Schwarzenegger was so impressed with the professionalism of the contest that he told Lorimer he wanted to work with him in the future when it came time to promote his own show. “I’ll be back,” he told the Columbus businessman (we’re paraphrasing).
Arnold is well known for honoring that whole “I’ll be back” promise, and return he did. He began his partnership with Lorimer, and together they created the Arnold Classic bodybuilding show, a contest that quickly became one of the premier events on the IFBB schedule.
He may have mastered the material realm of financial and career success, but Arnold is also well tuned to the spiritual concepts of patience and loyalty. Instead of ripping the Arnold Classic from its Midwestern roots as it grew in popularity, he and Lorimer stayed put in Columbus, building the event from a single bodybuilding contest into what it is today: the world’s largest multisport event, with more competitions and exhibitions than the Olympics. Then the two partners rechristened the massive fitness celebration the Arnold Sports Festival.
The 2013 ASF takes place the weekend of February 28–March 3, and Lorimer is still at the helm. “This is going to be our biggest year ever, with some great new events,” says Lorimer, whose enthusiasm for ASF grows annually. “We expect well over 50 nations to show up for our amateur competitions alone. We’re exceeding what we had last year, and the response has been very encouraging.”
And if those countrymen don’t travel to Columbus, Columbus will travel to them. The ASF has now gone international, as Lorimer and Arnold have partnered up with promoters in Europe and Brazil to put on shows. The Arnold Classic Europe in Madrid has been going strong for two years, and this spring will see the debut of Arnold Classic Brasil on April 26–28, which will be hosted in fitness-crazy Rio de Janeiro.
No matter what continent the ASF is being held, these shows just keep getting bigger. “We will be having the best and largest Arnold Sports Festival we’ve ever had,” says Lorimer. “We’re expanding considerably. There is nothing that has this many athletes and this many sports anywhere.”
He’s not kidding. For the ASF weekend, Lorimer expects more than 18,000 athletes from 80 nations competing in 45 different events at multiple venues around Columbus. “We have three times as many athletes and twice as many sports as they do in the Winter Olympic Games,” he says. “Our expo will be a 700-booth exposition, through which we will be moving about 170,000 people.”
We Are The Champions
Past Classic Winners To Be Honored Onstage
The Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition has long been the centerpiece of the Arnold Sports Festival. This year, the ASF will bring back all of the Arnold Classic winners to take a bow. Flex Wheeler, four-time Arnold Classic champ, will be joined by three-time-winner Jay Cutler (at right) and 2001 champion Ronnie Coleman on the stage at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, March 2. They’ll be joined by other Arnold Classic winners, including two-time winners Kevin Levrone, Kai Greene and Branch Warren; inaugural champion Rich Gaspari; plus Mike Ashley, Shawn Ray, Vince Taylor, Michael Francois, Nasser El Sonbaty and Victor Martinez.
The only former champion who will be competing in the 2013 Arnold Classic is Dexter Jackson, a three-time winner who will try to tie Flex Wheeler’s record this year. It’s Jackson’s 14th appearance in the show.
In addition to appearing at the Arnold Classic on Saturday night, all previous Arnold champs will attend the Arnold Champions & Legends Sunday Morning Showcase on Sunday, March 3, at the Hilton Columbus Downtown. Gov. Schwarzenegger and Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International, Figure International and Bikini International champions crowned during the weekend will also attend.
Arnold Amateur Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure and Bikini Championships
The emergence of these amateur competitions is becoming the story at the ASF. In short, winners here are tomorrow’s superstars, and we mean tomorrow. Don’t just ask us—ask the NPC and IFBB.
A recent review of past winners will tell you why. Roelly Winklaar won the Arnold Amateur overall and superheavyweight titles in 2009, and has already established himself as one of the top pros in the world. The Arnold Amateur is also the quickest way for top amateurs to earn a spot in the lineups of the Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Figure International, Fitness International and Bikini International. You win the overall title at the amateur show, you get an automatic invite to next year’s pro contest. That’s a big deal, folks.
If you’re a betting man, take the bet that there’s going to be one or several bodies in this year’s group of Arnold Amateur competitors who are simply going to blow your mind.
The Arnold Sports Festival:
Where Stars Mingle—And Stars Are Made
Here’s how you can become famous while in Columbus.
We love our jobs here at Muscle & Body, especially when we set up shop at national fitness shows like the Arnold Sports Festival and the Olympia Weekend. During these events, we conduct our famed Best Body Contests, where hundreds of men and women with fit figures line up to enter and pose for our cameras. Over the next few months, we’ll sift through the best of the best and narrow it down to five men and five women. Finally, you, our trustworthy readers, will vote for your favorites on our Facebook page.
To give you a taste of the opportunity waiting for you at the 2013 ASF Expo, go to the “Achievers” column and meet the winners of our 2012 Olympia Best Body Contest, Abe Cruz and Melissa Hong.
Strongman Colton Leonard on what it takes to compete in these epic battles.
The Arnold Sports Festival hosts both pro and amateur strongman contests that draw thousands who marvel at these mighty behemoths who move enormous amounts of weight in tests of power and agility.
What does it take to be a strongman? Colton Leonard, 24, is an amateur competitor who joined this league of supermen about two years ago. A former high school football star, Leonard suffered a neck injury, ending his gridiron dreams. He switched to bodybuilding and excelled, finishing runner-up at the NPC Teen Nationals. While preparing for a collegiate bodybuilding show, Leonard’s mother passed away, shifting the young man’s focus to personal matters. “Everything kind of came to a halt,” he says. “I needed to find motivation.”
A friend of his who trained for strongman competitions invited Leonard to tag along for a workout. He did and immediately got hooked on throwing around heavy weights.
Two years later, Leonard, who stands 6 feet and now weighs upward of 305 lb, is competing in major amateur contests and on the verge of breaking records. His signature event is the overhead press, where he’s achieved an astounding 405-lb push-press, and a log press of 388 lb. At press time, he was still waiting to see if he had qualified for the Arnold Amateur Strongman. Whether he competes at the ASF or not, he’s a strongman for the long haul—literally.
“It’s a great outlet for competing,” says Leonard, who is sponsored by Cellucor. “Bodybuilding is different because it’s judged, but strongman is as clear as day: either you lift it or you don’t.”
Leonard says the secret to progressing in the sport is keying in on recovery, getting to know what your body can handle through a variety of training disciplines. The goal is to be “a large athlete,” he explains, somebody not just scary-strong, but mobile and fit.
“There’s more cross-training than people would expect,” says Leonard. “It’s important to be in condition, to be fast on your feet. I’m not a powerlifter doing short, specific movements. We need to do agility-type training, with steady-state cardio, to build endurance. We have to be able to last five hours. It’s very functional. I’ll always train this way.”
Rich Gaspari to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award
Of the many special events planned for this 25th anniversary of the ASF, one of the most notable will be the events honoring all the greats who have been an integral part of the sport of bodybuilding. Rich Gaspari, the winner of the first Arnold Classic in 1989, will receive the 2013 Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award. Owner of the successful nutrition company that bears his name, Gaspari set a new standard in physique excellence, and has won numerous titles over his brilliant career, including Mr. America (now known as the NPC Nationals), Mr. Universe and Professional Mr. World. He was also runner-up at the Mr. Olympia three times.
The Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award was established in 2000, making Gaspari the 14th recipient of this tremendous honor. Here are the others.
2000: Joe Weider
2001: Reg Park
2003: Frank Zane
2004: Bill Pearl
2005: Jack LaLanne
2006: Lee Haney
2007: Cory Everson
2008: Ben Weider
2009: Franco Columbu
2010: Sylvester Stallone
2011: Lou Ferrigno
2012: Robert Kennedy
• 50+ DanceSport Challenge
• 5K Pump and Run
• Amateur Strongman
• Art at the Arnold
• Bench press
• Cheerleading and Dance Team
• DanceSport Youth
• Jump Rope
• Mighty Mitts
• Scottish Highland Games
• Survival Race
• Table Tennis
• Ultimate Teen Challenge
• USA Powerlifting
• XPC Powerlifting
• IFBB Events (bodybuilding, fitness, figure)
• Martial Arts (more than 20 disciplines)
Image courtesy of Brent Lalonde.