Arnold Sports Festival Welcomes More Athletes Than Olympics

Sponsored content by Experience Columbus

Author: Sarah Beauchamp       

Arnold Sports Festival

Arnold Schwarzenegger greets fans at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus. (Photos courtesy Experience Columbus)

In 1989, after winning the Mr. Olympia contest in Columbus every year between 1970-1975, bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with sports promoter Jim Lorimer, launched the very first Arnold Sports Festival. What began as a small, one-day professional bodybuilding competition in Columbus, with just 24 competitors, is now an international four-day festival that features more than 80 sports and events and draws more athletes than the Olympics.

“We have the greatest competition in the world right here in Columbus, Ohio,” Schwarzenegger said in 2014, when there were rumors the event was changing destinations. “It has been here, it is here, and it always will be here.”

Arnold Sports Festival

This 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Greater Columbus Convention Center commemorates his 1970 Mr. World title.

The festival, which takes place each year the first weekend in March, has become the largest multisport festival in the world, according to Lorimer, CEO of Classic Productions, Inc., “and we look forward to making each of our Arnold Classic weekends bigger and better than ever before,” he said. Five years ago, the event expanded to the 70,000-square-foot Ohio Expo Center in order to host the Arnold SportsWorld Kids & Teens EXPO. Attendees, aged 14 and under, can try more than 20 sports, many led by Central Ohio professional sports teams, and participate in a talent competition and teen fitness pageant.

“A Daily EXPO ticket affords a huge entertainment value for attendees to experience a great variety of sports and events,” Lorimer said. “We are very proud to provide the opportunity for athletes, a majority of them youth, to compete at the largest multi-sport festival in the world.”

The event now draws more than 22,000 athletes from 80 countries and 200,000 visitors, bringing an economic impact of more than $51.9 million. It features 17 Olympic sports, nine IFBB Pro League contests, the Arnold Amateur NPC Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure, Bikini & Physique Championships, and the Arnold Strongman Classic. Some of the biggest events include the Fitness Expo, featuring more than 1,000 vendors and several competitions, and the Arnold Classic, an international bodybuilding championship that’s been around since the festival’s inception. “It’s just amazing how fast it’s grown,” said Matt Lorz, the festival’s spokesperson.

In 2011, the festival began expanding worldwide with the inaugural Arnold Classic Europe in Spain. It debuted in South America in 2013, Australia in 2015, and Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016. “I look forward to continuing my worldwide fitness crusade in 2019,” Schwarzenegger said, “as we again travel to five continents to promote the Arnold Classic multi-sports festival.”

Arnold Sports Festival

Hafthor Bjornsson of Iceland deadlifts his way to his second Arnold Strongman Classic title at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus.