The Arnold: Columbus flexes its muscle as a strength and fitness destination

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From the March 1, 2012 edition

Columbus may never host the Olympics, but we have something bigger, and we don’t have to wait four years for it to come around.

The Arnold Sports Festival, now in its 24th year, will bring 18,000 athletes to town this weekend — pipsqueak gymnasts, hulking bodybuilders and everything in between. That’s almost double the amount of athletes who’ll compete at the Olympics this summer in London, making the Arnold by far the biggest multi-sport event in the United States. In all, 175,000 people will flood the city to work, watch and volunteer.

The Arnold is the crown jewel of Columbus fitness culture, a signature event for the city that brings athletes from 81 countries around the world to compete in 45 sports. Yet when they head home, a thriving, sprawling culture remains. Because of the Arnold and independent of it, Columbus has become a hub for all sorts of strength and fitness sports, home to world-record powerlifters, aspiring Olympians and the fittest man in the world.

Using this weekend’s festivities as a jumping-off point, we’re exploring our city’s vast and varied community of gym rats, supermen and fitness freaks, a network of interwoven subcultures that has us believing Columbus is more than pulling its weight.