Arnold Sports Festival – The World’s Largest Multi-Sport Fitness Weekend

Arnold Sports Festival – The World’s Largest Multi-Sport Fitness Weekend

The Arnold Sports Festival (ASF) was actually born in 1970, when the young Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger won the Mr. World competition in Columbus, Ohio, vowing to one day return and promote the sport of bodybuilding in the city that awarded him his first major win.

Arnold Sports Festival - Mr World

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sergio Oliva on stage at the Columbus, Ohio Mr. World, 1970.

Schwarzenegger went on to win Mr. Olympia every year between 1970-1975. Between 1976 and 1986, Jim Lorimer and Arnold promoted the Mr. Olympia contest in Columbus six times before founding the Arnold Classic in 1989.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer at the Columbus, Ohio Arnold Sports Festival, 2015.

Today the ASF is the largest multi-sport event in the world.

Arnold Sports Festival logo

The numbers are impressive:

• 200,000 attendees
• 20,000 athletes
• 80 nations
• 75 sports
• 3 days access for $40 with children under 14 free

It’s difficult to express the magnitude of this event, consuming the expanded Greater Columbus Convention Center, Hyatt, Hilton, and ten buildings at the Ohio State Fair Grounds.

The Arnold Sports Festival is the epicenter of fitness and sports inspiration.

Friday morning, Art at the Arnold bought 50 artists to draw, paint, or sculpt athletes over the duration of the festival.

Dancer, Zumba instructor and model Rachel Halversen posed in a custom dress.

Arnold Sports festival 2017 - Model Rachel Halversen

Model Rachel Haverson

Schwarzenegger himself stopped by this event to take selfies, and talk to the artists and athletes.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Arnold taking selfie with artist

Arnold taking a selfie with a lucky artist.

It’s clear the Arnold Sports Festival is personal to the former California Governor, who can be seen throughout the weekend doing more than just presenting prizes – he is the grand ambassador.

Arnold Sports festival 2017 - Arnold and Greg Gustaw sculpture

Arnold admiring a Greg Gustaw sculpture

It goes without saying there will be bodybuilding at the ASF – that’s a given. People have different views of the bodybuilding sport, but there is no doubt that this event brings some of the best of the best.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - 212 bodybuilder

It’s expected that the winners of the Arnold Classic will go on to win Mr. or Ms. Olympia. The Physique and Bikini competitors are exciting to watch, too.

In this image, professional Physique competitors are posing in the Battelle Grand Ballroom.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - professional physique competitors

Physique winner Oksana Balanyuk is a three-time Ms. Olympia, and four-time ASF champion. She exudes fitness even in a dress being interviewed after her win.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Oksana Balanyuk

Physique winner Oksana Balanyuk

Amateurs also compete at the ASF with some champions progressing to professional levels, such as overall Amateur Bikini champion Ekaterina Lapteva.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Ekaterina Lapteva

Amateur Bikini champion Ekaterina Lapteva

There are random moments when competitors are posing in the middle of the Greater Columbus Convention Center Expo floor. Just being around that level of successful athletes was inspirational.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - expo floor athletes

The PCS Pole fitness event returned for its fourth year, and it’s really something to see the athleticism of these contestants.

Pole Fitness is also incredibly elegant …

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Pole Fitness

Amateur pole fitness competitor Ashley Thorbahn wowed the crowds with her artistically choreographed performance, working the stage with the grace of a dancer, incorporating pole acrobatic moves.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Ashley Thorbahn

Amateur pole fitness competitor Ashley Thorbahn

Don’t be fooled by her looks and fitness, because she’s finishing up her education at OSU to become a pharmacist.

The ASF has so many different kinds of events.

Watching strong men swing two 61 pound kettle-bells as many times as possible between their legs, up to their shoulders, and above their heads in 10 minutes was truly a spectacle …

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - strong men

As was experiencing local power lifter Jessica Bowersock squatting 500 pounds, then proceeding to squat, bench, and dead lift 1200 pounds …

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Jessica Bowersock

Power Lifter Jessica Bowersock

And then there was Jujitsu sparing and grappling …

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Jujitsu

… and sword fighting …

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Sword Fighting

… and fencing.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Fencing

There were a variety of yoga demonstrations, including a series of fit senior competitors throwing down some challenging positions.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Yoga

Local Acrobatic Yoga (AcroYoga) experts Lonney Stokes and Julie Wilkes (Seven Studios), wowed the yoga crowds with couples performances. This activity will evolve into a competitive sport.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Lonney Stokes and Julie Wilkes

Lonney Stokes and Julie Wilkes

The Model Search drew strong competition, with both of the winners from Brazil.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Model Search winner Rafael Ferreira

Model Search winner Rafael Ferreira

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Model Search winner Juliete de Pieri

Model Search winner Juliete de Pieri

Associated with the ASF, fight promoter Troy Speakman organized a Friday night MMA event held at Express Live!

Mixed Martial Arts is a fast paced combination of boxing and martial arts with the energy of a street fight.

When you’re in a cage match, you want a real referee keeping things under control like Gary Copland. That’s local Grove City fighter Brian Snider in the blue, who won the fight against Justin Ward in the 175 pound class in the third fight of the night.

Arnold Sports festival 2017 - MMA ref Gary Copland and fighter Brian Snider

MMA ref Gary Copland and fighter Brian Snider

Troy Speakman also hosted a great professional boxing fight card Saturday night at the Hollywood Casino.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Boxing Hollywood Casino

Speakman graciously offered NID ringside access for all the bouts, and it was very exciting to watch them close up and personal – so close you could feel drops of the sweat flying from the boxers at times amidst other exciting encounters.

Arnold Sports Festival Hollywood Casino babes

The main event was a fight between welterweights Sonny Frederickson (15-0) from Toledo, Ohio vs. Gsumana Akaka (36-12) from Miami, Florida.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Welterweights Sonny Frederickson and Gsumana Akaka

Welterweights Sonny Frederickson and Gsumana Akaka

Sonny, a 6’2 left handed (south paw) fighter, made quick work of the fight. By the third round, the fight was declared over when his opponent didn’t respond to the bell and threw in the towel. Sonny is now ranked 25th in the U.S. in his class. Professional boxing is definitely like no other sport.

Sunday offered are rare opportunity to see Bob Cicherillo and Arnold Schwarzenegger interview the big event winners from the ASF.

Listening to the mindset of champions – it’s priceless. There’s a lot to be learned from winners. This year, Arnold’s friend and bodybuilding legend Franco Columbu attended. Columbu is an Italian actor, author, former champion bodybuilder, and World’s Strongest Man competitor.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu

Cedric McMillan was the winner of the Arnold Classic, and he is a great clear talking, straight shooting representative for bodybuilding. McMillan said, “Bodybuilders should be a beacon for the sport.”

Arnold Sports festival 2017 - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cedric McMillan

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cedric McMillan

Arnold told story after story, but his most pressing point was clearly, “You need a lot of people to help you succeed — no one does it alone.” Also:

Life is not about how much you make – it’s about how much you give back.

Arnold Sports Festival 2017 - Arnold on stage

Clearly, this adage has been the pressing historical spirit of the Arnold Sports Festival, which has propelled the event into one of the top promotions in the world.

New ASF President Bob Lorimer has already expressed his desire to “bring the event to an ever larger audience in the future, all while retaining the integrity built by Jim Lorimer and Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

So many special attractions took place, it was impossible to capture them all. If you missed Arnold Sports Festival this year, then you missed a lot.

See you there next year.

Tony Bentivegna

Tony Bentivegna writes reviews, articles and photographs for NID Magazine and can be reached at