When the Arnold Classic first came into being in 1989, promoter Jim Lorimer already had a respectable list of accomplishments to his name.
He took the Ohio Track Club – Girls’ Team to a national championship in 1961. That led to his getting the nod to organize the National Weight Lifting Championships and Mr. USA competition in Columbus in 1967, and gigs promoting the World Weight Lifting
Championships and Mr. Universe competition soon followed.
Despite that impressive resume, though, he could never have guessed the heights to which the Arnold, now in its 25th year, would climb: It is the world’s largest multi-sport festival.
Lorimer, now 86, met festival namesake Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1970. Lorimer was running the World Weight Lifting Championships and a Mr. World contest here in Columbus; Schwarzenegger won the latter. Afterward, Schwarzenegger praised the events, saying they were the best he’d ever been part of, and expressed interest in promoting such events with Lorimer when he was done entering them.
That happened five years later.
“In 1975, on a handshake, our partnership started,” Lorimer says.
In 1989, the championships evolved into the Arnold Classic. The next year, Lorimer joined Schwarzenegger on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and they began exploring other competitions to add to the line-up.
“For the last 25 years, every year, we added more sports,” says Lorimer.
First came martial arts, then gymnastics. Now the line-up includes mixed martial arts, archery, fencing, cheerleading, wrestling, Zumba, a strongman contest, gymnastics and much more. The 2013 festival will add Scottish Highland Games.
The 2013 festival is expected to draw about 18,000 athletes representing 81 nations. Experience Columbus estimates the annual financial impact of the Arnold at more than $42 million.
Some of Lorimer’s favorite events include the Arnold Youth DanceSport Challenge, which brings in collegiate dance athletes from throughout the nation – “Unfortunately, Michigan’s been winning,” Lorimer jokes – and Art at the Arnold, in which 50 professional artists paint and draw festival athletes and competitions.
“They’re trying to capture the artistic beauty of these young athletes,” says Lorimer.
Though he has lived in California for many years, Schwarzenegger continues to hold the festival in Columbus because it’s where he won his first world championship.
“His identification with the Sports Festival weekend has been extremely important to its success,” says Lorimer.
On top of that, in no other city would Lorimer and his staff of six be able to find a sufficient volunteer base.
“One of the first questions I ask (other cities’ representatives) is, ‘Do you have 900 volunteers and, more importantly, 100-150 volunteer doctors and nurses?’” he says.
The world is taking notice of the Arnold. A European version of the Arnold has been held in Madrid for the last two years, and 2013 will mark the debut of a South American festival in Rio de Janeiro. Russia, China, Australia and Singapore have expressed interest as well.
“That’s a globalization of the Arnold Sports Festival concept,” says Lorimer.
Garth Bishop is editor of CityScene Magazine. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2013 Arnold Sports Festival will take place March 1-4 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Franklin County Veterans Memorial and 14 other venues throughout the city.
A total of 46 sports and events pack the festival line-up, from the Arnold Classic and Arnold Fitness Expo to the Amateur MMA Festival and Arnold 5K Pump & Run.
Some of this year’s highlights include:
Arnold Scottish Highland Games
Sunday, March 3, Columbus Commons
The first-ever Arnold Scottish Highland Games will consist of five Scottish throwing events, including the caber toss, in which competitors see who can most accurately throw a 19-foot wooden pole so it turns a complete 180 in the air. The games will also feature a Scottish dance competition and performances by pipe and drum teams.
Arnold, Champions & Legends Sunday Morning Showcase
Sunday, March 3, Veterans Memorial Auditorium
Arnold Schwarzenegger will be joined by the winners of several of the festival’s professional competitions to discuss fitness, training, bodybuilding and other topics. There will also be a question-and-answer session and a roundtable discussion.
Arnold Party with the Pros
Saturday, March 3, Hollywood Casino
Columbus’ brand new casino plays host to the annual Party with the Pros, bringing together the top professionals in bodybuilding, strongman, fitness, figure, bikini and other sports for an unforgettable evening of entertainment. Drinks, dancing, music and star-gazing are all part of the fun.
Daily tickets to the Arnold Sports Festival are $10 in advance and $15 at the door, and a package of three one-day tickets is $27 in advance. Some events, such as the Party with the Pros and the Arnold Classic finals, require a separate ticket. Visit www.arnoldsportsfestival.com for more information.