Like the necks of its burliest competitors, the Arnold Sports Festival just keeps getting bigger. This weekend’s widespread activities mark the 25th edition of the event that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Columbus promoter Jim Lorimer began with a simple bodybuilding competition back in 1989.
The growth is evident here in Columbus, where a crowd of 175,000 is expected to watch 18,000 athletes throw down in 45 sports and events. New venues are in the picture, from the West Side’s shiny new Hollywood Casino to the glorious Downtown park Columbus Commons. New events too, from speed and power jump-rope to the bagpipe-blaring, sledgehammer-tossing Scottish Highland Games. K-1 kickboxers? You got it. A survival race? You know it. They’re even hosting a live art competition.
Perhaps more impressive is the expansion of the Arnold brand outside Columbus. This April brings the first Arnold Classic Brazil in Sao Paolo, and for the second straight year Madrid will host the Arnold Classic Europe. Next thing you know, the former Governator will be flexing his promotional muscle on what remains of the polar ice caps.
Long before the quarter-century mark, the Arnold transcended the stereotype of bodybuilders bathed in glimmering Scott Stapp oils and musclemen pushing herculean weight (though they certainly still have all that). It is an all-consuming behemoth built from fitness expos and Michelob-Ultra-lubricated industry parties. There is, as the cliché goes, something for everyone.
The Arnold’s reach is widespread enough to include curiosities like competitive jump-rope and the grip strength contest Mighty Mitts — and some of the competitors happen to be from Columbus. Hell, they’ve been hosting a table tennis tourney for 10 years straight, and again, a local’s gunning for that top spot. The bigger the Arnold gets, the weirder it gets, and Columbus is in on the fun.
We spent time with three Columbus residents trying their hands at some of the more outré events in the Arnold catalog, from a young dynamo at the forefront of her sport to a casual amateur refining his pastime to a lifelong lug trying his hand at something new.