The Arnold Sports Festival's Worthington Roots

The Arnold Sports Festival will convene in Columbus this March. While most central Ohioans know of the international national fitness convention-- and, of course, its founder, Arnold Schwarzenegger-- they may not realize that Arnold has a strong tie to Worthington.

Before he was the Terminator or the governor of California, Arnold was a bodybuilder. Born in Austria, he immigrated to the United States in 1968, having already gained recognition after his wins in the Junior Mr. Europe and the 1967 Mr. Universe competition in London.

Meanwhile, in Worthington, Mayor Jim Lorimer had achieved significant recognition of his own in the world of sports. An agent at Nationwide Insurance and a former FBI agent, Lorimer had been elected mayor of Worthington in 1967. The year prior, he'd been selected as one of the top three physical fitness leaders in the U.S. by the national Jaycees. "What other mayor can bench press 350 pounds?" he is quoted as saying in a July 15, 1976 issue of the "Worthington News."

Lorimer had his start in sports promotion when he attended a 1959 U.S. versus USSR athletics competition in Philadelphia. After watching the U.S. women's athletes get trounced by the USSR women, he returned to Ohio to form the Ohio Track Club girls' and women's division. Female members of the club excelled nationally, and members qualified for the Olympics in 1964. Lorimer became chair of the Olympic Committee for Women's Track and Field.

His growing reputation for sports promotion attracted the attention of the bodybuilding community, and he was asked to run the World Weightlifting Championship, which had never been held in the U.S. Lorimer knew that to make it financially viable, a Mr. World contest needed to be part of the competition, and he sought out top bodybuilders to compete.

Schwarzenegger was one of those bodybuilders. With ABC's "Wide World of Sports" covering the 1970 competition in Columbus, Schwarzenegger won, beating out other well-known names in the bodybuilding world, such as Sergio Olivia.

Afterwards, Schwarzenegger told Lorimer it was the best competition he’d ever been involved in, and he made plans to return to Columbus. Those plans materialized a few years later. Schwarzenegger spent the early '70s sweeping major bodybuilding competitions and earning a name for himself across the country, but not earning enough money for his accomplishments. He told Lorimer he wanted to professionalize the sport of bodybuilding, and on a handshake they agreed to collaborate on the Mr. Olympia contest, which was held in Columbus in 1976. Lorimer ran the competition and Schwarzenegger drummed up sponsors and athletes to participate.

The contest was a success, and the beginning of a partnership that has spanned decades. In 1989, Schwarzenegger realized his vision of creating an event with his name on it, and the Arnold Classic was born. The competition offered the highest cash prize in the sport.

In the years following, more sports were added to the annual event, which is now called the Arnold Sports Festival. The largest multi-sport festival in the world, the Arnold draws participants from 80 countries.

Lorimer continued to serve as the event's promoter, forming Classic Productions, Inc., of which he is CEO. His son, Robert, took over as president of the company in 2015. The senior Lorimer was inducted into the Columbus Hall of Fame in 2019, after having served as council member, mayor or vice mayor of Worthington for 52 years.

While the Arnold Sports Festival showcases the physical strength of its participants, the story behind the festival highlights the impressive drive and character of its famous namesake and the man who helped bring the festival here.