Well, to be fair, it never really left. But for the first time since the pandemic hit in 2020, the Arnold Sports Festival is back close to the form that so many participants and attendees have come to love and enjoy.
Starting Thursday, the extravaganza will again take over the Greater Columbus Convention Center and other locales around the city — but this time with spectators in attendance, more sports included and vendors filling the popular Arnold Expo.
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With all the cancellations and scaled-back events of the past two years in the rearview mirror, here’s a look back at some of the great moments in Arnold history as the four-day event begins.
Arnold Classic debuts in 1989
The Arnold started in 1989 as a one-day bodybuilding event that drew a crowd of 4,000 people to Veterans Memorial on March 11.
Fans began arriving two hours early ahead of the 7 pm show, according to former Dispatch reporter Barbara Carmen. Most waited quietly, but Carmen saw a few young bodybuilders unsuccessfully try to muscle their way backstage.
The 4,000 fans, who filled every seat, came from nearly every state, Carmen wrote in her coverage. The cheapest ticket was $25, while those who paid $150 for a VIP pass to all events got a Polaroid snapshot with the big man, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor and bodybuilder who founded the event with Jim Lorimer.
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The photo session was an endurance event in itself, event publicist Mike Lorz told Carmen.
“We took 2,800 photographs, which I think is a Guinness World Record,” Lorz said at the time. “We had two lines, 12 feet apart. Arnold walked back and forth between the lines.”
Schwarzenegger would put his arm around a fan, smile and then pace the 12 feet to the next line, where someone was set for another photo.
Three decades later, “The Arnold” has grown from a bodybuilding show and weightlifting competition into an annual sports festival that contributes millions to the local economy.
World Gym Fitness Expo takes place for first time in 1993
Four years later, the World Gym Fitness Expo, now known simply as the Arnold Expo, was held in conjunction with the Arnold Classic. More than 200 exhibitors displayed exercise equipment, nutritional supplements, diet products and fitness apparel in that first year, drawing 15,000 visitors.
Exercise and fitness professionals also made guest appearances, including bodybuilder Russ Testo, Team Rollerblade, karate expert Robert Fletcher and aerobics champion Nancy Popp.
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The expo’s popularity has since skyrocketed and will feature more than 1,000 booths this year.
Iconic bronze sculpture of Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled
The 8-foot, 600-pound sculpture depicting Schwarzenegger in his 1970s bodybuilding prime was first unveiled in front of Veterans Memorial in 2012 and later moved to the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
The statue was originally sought by officials with Franklin County, which owned the Veterans Memorial venue, according to former Dispatch reporter Tim Feran.
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“The (county) commissioners brought this request to me,” said Lorimer, the central Ohio businessman who founded the sports festival in 1989 with his longtime friend, Schwarzenegger.
Foosball is added to the mix at 2019 Arnold Sports Festival
Table soccer was first introduced at the Arnold in 2019, one of eight brand-new events that year.
The first (unofficial) competition of the Arnold Foosball Championships featured the sports festival’s namesake and Tim Litteral, the event’s chairman.
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When Literal snapped a shot past Schwarzenegger, some people in the room reportedly started to laugh, including a young girl. Schwarzenegger looked over to her and sternly said, “You think that’s funny?” before cracking a big smile, according to an article by former Dispatch reporter Kevin Stankiewicz.
Organizers take inspiration from the tale of Conan at 2019 Arnold Strongman Classic
Fans of the 1982 epic movie “Conan the Barbarian” will be familiar with the curious contraption that was introduced to contestants of the Arnold Strongman Classic in 2019.
The “Wheel of Pain” in the movie is a large grain mill powered by slaves, including the character Conan, played by Schwarzenegger. Hey, why not build a replica, right?
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Rules for the Wheel of Pain during the 2019 and 2020 strongman competitions were simple. Each contestant had 60 seconds to see how far they could push the 20,000-pound contraption. But, the wheels were filled with sand, causing the device to push back.
“That was a wild experience,” Schwarzenegger said in a recent interview. “To just stand there and see the world’s strongest men grinding it out and trying to get this wheel around.”
Monroe Trombly covers breaking and trending news.