When Arnold Schwarzenegger first said, “I’ll be back” to officials in Columbus, Ohio, in 1970, he meant it. Decades later, an event bearing his name, Arnold Sports Festival, returns annually to the city Schwarzenegger believes launched his bodybuilding career in America.
Now in its 29th year, ASF will welcome about 200,000 attendees and around 20,000 athletes competing in 70 sporting events to Greater Columbus Convention Center March 2-5. With an economic impact of $54 million, the festival is billed as the largest multisport event in the world. By comparison, fewer than 12,000 athletes competed in 28 sports at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“There’s no way we could have anticipated the growth of this event when we first started,” says CEO Jim Lorimer.
The Columbus event has been such a hit that the concept has expanded internationally to South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia.
The core events are bodybuilding competitions, tracing back to when Schwarzenegger competed in the 1970 World Weightlifting Championships. As the story goes, the man who would become the Terminator and California’s governor became so enamored with the city he vowed to return one day to plan an event.
In 1975, he made good on that promise, partnering with Lorimer, organizer of the World Weightlifting Championships, to create Mr. Olympia, Mr. World and Mr. Universe contests.