By: Sarah McWilliams
The Arnold Sports Festival is the largest annual multi-sport festival in the United States. Although the original event commenced through a bodybuilding competition, it has since added more than 50 sports to its roster. There are a lot of questions for those first learning about The Arnold Sports Festival. Is it just a bunch of bodybuilders walking around? Why is it in Columbus, Ohio? Will Arnold be there? (Every year!) ATLX sat down with Jim Lorimer, business partner of Schwarzenegger and co-owner of The Arnold Sports Festival to answer those questions and dispel the stereotypes about one of the greatest sports festivals in the world.
To understand The Arnold Sports Festival you have to understand how it all got started. In 1970, Lorimer, a successful sports promoter, was approached about hosting the World Weightlifting Championships in Columbus, Ohio, and he took on the project with the same zeal that has made him successful in the FBI, at Nationwide Insurance, as the founder of the Ohio Girls Track Club, and as the Mayor of Worthington, Ohio. Lorimer, ever the promoter, realized that he needed a big name and a big contest if the event was going to have any success.
He had his sights set on one person in particular. Lorimer knew where Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger worked out at the time and called up Golds Gym in California. Ever the fitness enthusiast, Schwarzenegger told Lorimer that he was very interested, but in the middle of a workout, and would have to call him back. Schwarzenegger ended up participating in and winning the Mr. World title at the World Weightlifting Championships.
After the contest Schwarzenegger approached Lorimer and said, “This is the best event I’ve ever been in. You just handled it like I think events ought to be handled…[I want to make bodybuilding] a professional opportunity for young athletes, and I want to come back to Columbus, Ohio and ask you to be my partner.” Five years later, Schwarzenegger made good on his promise, and with a handshake The Arnold Classic was born, although that official name would not come until later.
The Keys to The Festival’s Success
The first thing on Schwarzenegger’s agenda was to host an event with real prize money. The top prize money he was ever paid was $1,000, but he wasn’t going to host an event like that. He told Lorimer that the first year they were going to pay $10,000 and in three years they were going to pay $100,000 with the ultimate goal of paying at least $500,000.
“And every one of those things has happened,” Lorimer said.
With the overlap in naming rights and other issues in bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger and Lorimer further distinguished their event by formally naming it something no one else could use. In 1989, the event was changed to The Arnold Classic, but it was still strictly bodybuilding at that time. That same year, Schwarzenegger would be asked to become the Chairman of the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, only growing the Schwarzenegger brand and leading Lorimer and Schwarzenegger to come in contact with the leaders of various sports.
At a sports event hosted on the White House lawn, Lorimer was approached by those involved in martial arts. They had heard about the Arnold Classic’s success and asked if they could be involved. That conversation opened up Lorimer and Schwarzenegger’s minds to involving other sports, and the idea snowballed to its current level of 50 sports for 2014. Participants can see sports ranging from cheerleading to hockey to bodybuilding and in 2014 the newest addition, pole sports, where the best pole dancers in the world showcase their strength, beauty, and athletic abilities.
The festival now welcomes over 18,000 athletes and roughly 200,000 attendees annually. In 2014 the festival will host two additional Olympic sports than in the past for a total of 14 Olympic sport competitions. It’s not just the competitions that spectators come to experience. Vendors flock to the expo for a chance at a booth marketing their product to the hundreds of thousands of attendees. The expo hosts major brands such as GNC, Muscle Milk and even restaurants like Subway. The expo floor is packed wall-to-wall with booths every year.
Why Columbus, Ohio?
Why Columbus, Ohio? Well it’s not because other sites don’t want to host it. The Arnold Sports Festival organization has been approached plenty of times with requests to move the event all over the country, but with Lorimer’s roots in the Capital City, he knows that it would be impossible to find the volunteers he finds in The Heart of It All (Ohio’s state motto).
Without the time and energy donated by the volunteers, the event could never have the success that it does. That doesn’t mean The Arnold Sports Festival isn’t spreading across the globe, however. Lorimer has visions of putting the festival on every continent on this planet, and is already getting close to that dream with festivals held annually in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Madrid, Spain. Enter his office and you can see the countdown clocks to each of the three events.
Lorimer has also been in talks with the right people to bring the festival to both Africa and Asia as well. And with Lorimer’s track record, our bets are hedged that he lives to see the day his dream is a reality.
For more information on the Arnold Sports Festival, Check out their website here.