On March 1st-3rd, 2013, promoters Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer will celebrate 25 years of their celebrated Arnold Classic event. Starting in 1989, Schwarzenegger and Lorimar began promoting one of the premier bodybuilding events in the spring of that year. After years of promoting the Mr. Olympia, Mr. Universe (World Bodybuilding Championships) and the Pro Mr. World events, among others, Arnold and Jim decided to start their very own contest named, of course, after the most popular name in the history of bodybuilding. The rest, as they say, is history.
For those who don’t understand why such a big event as the Arnold Classic (now called the Arnold Sports Festival) is held in a small Midwestern town like Columbus, Ohio, you have to go back to the beginning. The genesis of the partnership between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer began 43 years ago, in 1970.
Jim Lorimer was an attorney, a former FBI agent, an executive at Nationwide Mutual Insurance, the leading company in Columbus, Ohio as well as the mayor of Worthington, Ohio. In 1967, Lorimer had great success in promoting the AAU National Weightlifting Championships in addition to that year’s AAU Mr. America contest.
Due to his great promotional success three years earlier, Lorimer was asked to hold the World Weightlifting Championships at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus. Although the celebrated Olympic Weightlifting Champion, Vasily Alekseyev, was going to attend, Lorimer felt like he needed to include a bodybuilding championship along with the weightlifting championship in order to draw a large crowd.
Lorimer began inviting the top names in the bodybuilding world to compete at his event. He was going to hold the AAU Mr. World competition in conjunction with the World Weightlifting Championship and offer a cash prize to the winner of $500.00. At that time, professional bodybuilding, with the exception of the IFBB Mr. Olympia contest, was non-existent. The Mr. Olympia, which began in 1965, offered a purse of $1000 in 1966 and that cash prize had remained consistent up to 1970.
Jim Lorimer began calling all the top bodybuilders to invite them to his competition. The current Mr. Olympia, three time champ Sergio Oliva, was a definite must. The “Blonde Bomber”, Dave Draper, was also invited. Boyer Coe, the 1969 AAU Mr. America and the NABBA Mr. Universe winner, was on the guest list. Finally, Lorimer knew that he had to invite one of the biggest rising stars in the sport of bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Lorimer called up the celebrated Golds Gym in Venice, California to speak to the Austrian Oak. The legend goes that Arnold was in the middle of an intense workout when the front desk manager called Schwarzenegger to the phone. As Lorimer began his pitch to invite Arnold to compete in the Mr. World, he quickly mentioned that he was offering a cash prize of $500.00 to the winner. Arnold reportedly cut off the ambitious promoter, telling him, “I don’t care if it’s five hundred dollars or five thousand, I’m in the middle of a workout. Let me call you back.”
When Arnold finally had a chance to speak to Lorimer, Jim told Arnold that he was inviting the best bodybuilders in the world to compete at the AAU Mr. World contest in Columbus, Ohio for a $500.00 cash prize. In addition to the money, Lorimer also offered the chance to appear on national television as ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports was going to be on hand to capture the event on film.
When Schwarzenegger learned the date of the contest, he unfortunately had to decline. Arnold was already committed to compete in the 1970 NABBA Mr. Universe contest in London, England that same weekend. Arnold had won the NABBA Mr. Universe for the last three years and he was planning on adding a fourth title to his list of achievements that year. Since the Mr. Universe contest was going to be held on Saturday in London, there was no way he could make it to Columbus, Ohio in time to compete in the Mr. World event the next day.
Lorimer told Arnold to go to Heathrow Airport in London immediately after the contest on Saturday night and he would arrange a flight to have the Austrian Oak in Columbus, Ohio in time to compete for the Mr. World contest on Sunday. True to his word, Arnold headed to the airport immediately after beating Reg Park and Dave Draper for the NABBA Professional Mr. Universe contest and found a plane waiting for him. Schwarzenegger was joined by Draper, Franco Columbu and Boyer Coe where they boarded a red eye commercial flight out of London to New York. When the four bodybuilders landed in New York, Lorimer arranged for a private jet to transport them to Columbus, Ohio. Coe remembers how amazed he was as they were quickly whisked from the commercial flight to the private jet with a total by-pass of customs.
When Arnold arrived in Columbus, Ohio, he was surprised to see Sergio Oliva in the line-up. Arnold faced Sergio in competition a year earlier and he was defeated by the amazing Cuban bodybuilder. Sergio was the reigning King of Bodybuilding, having won the coveted Mr. Olympia title for the last three years. Schwarzenegger had trained relentlessly for a full year and was planning on beating Oliva in three weeks at the Mr. Olympia contest in New York. He didn’t expect to see him in Columbus, however.
Nicknamed “The Myth” because of his other worldly proportions, Sergio was one of the most gifted bodybuilders in the history of the sport. For all his genetic gifts, Sergio was still prone to making mistakes in a competition. He liked to pump up for competitions for a full hour or two, blowing his physique up to enormous dimensions. However, the longer he was forced to stay onstage, the worse his physique looked as he literally began shrinking in front of everyone’s eyes.
In Columbus, Oliva made the mistake of applying too much baby oil to his physique before he stepped onstage. The bright stage lights, necessary for the television cameras from Wide World of Sports, made Sergio appear too glossy and the excess oil created the impression that he was big but smooth.
When Arnold walked to the posing platform, the 23 year old Austrian was brimming with confidence. After a year of heavy, intense training with his best friend Franco Columbu, Schwarzenegger was bigger than ever before but he appeared cut and defined where Sergio appeared too smooth.
In the posedown, the 6’2” Arnold posed majestically and dominated the shorter Oliva in front of the sold out crowd at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium as well as the TV audience. When the emcee announced the placings, Schwarzenegger was overjoyed as he heard his name in the first place position. He had done it, he had beaten The Myth!
Arnold was in his glory as Bob Beattie from Wide World of Sports interviewed Arnold in front of the television cameras. This was the first time a major television network had covered an international bodybuilding contest and it was Schwarzenegger who was being introduced to an American audience as the champ.
After the contest, Schwarzenegger approached the promoter and expressed his admiration for putting on such a professional event. From the airline accommodations to the sold out auditorium at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium to the unprecedented television coverage, not to mention that this was the event where he beat the great Sergio Oliva, Arnold couldn’t have been happier.
The smiling champ told Lorimer that when he retires from the sport of bodybuilding in the future, he wanted to start promoting professional events. His goal was to raise the prize money for bodybuilding and he wanted to have Lorimer as a partner. He knew that the combination of his promotional skills and Lorimer’s planning and professionalism would make for an unbeatable team.
Even though Arnold had yet to win the Mr. Olympia contest, he was already planning for years down the road when he would retire as the King of Bodybuilding. It’s hard to say if Jim Lorimer took Schwarzenegger seriously or if he quickly forgot the wild proclamations of the new Mr. World winner.
Five years later, Arnold Schwarzenegger defeated the great Serge Nubret and the hulking Lou Ferrigno as well as his best friend Franco to win his sixth Mr. Olympia title in Pretoria, South Africa. The event was recorded by George Butler and his crew for a little movie called “Pumping Iron”.
On his trip back to California, Arnold made a stop in Columbus, Ohio to talk business with Lorimer. Now that he was officially retired from bodybuilding competition, Schwarzenegger was ready to make good on his promise to begin promoting the Mr. Olympia with his new partner. Beginning in 1976, Arnold and Jim Lorimer would start their promotional career with the Mr. Olympia contest and it would be held in Columbus, Ohio. They sealed the deal with a handshake.
One year later, Arnold and Jim changed the sport of bodybuilding by opening up the prejudging to the general public. Up to this time, the prejudging was always a closed event in which only the officials and the press were allowed. The Veteran Memorial Auditorium was filled to the rafters with screaming fans for both the prejudging and the evening show.
At the end of the night, Arnold went to Jim Lorimer’s house and counted up the profits of the contest on a card table in the living room. The new bodybuilding promotional team was very happy as they cleared a $10,000 profit. Arnold tucked his $5,000 share into his cowboy boots and headed back home.
Arnold and Lorimer continued to promote the Mr. Olympia for the next three years. They raised the prize money each year and provided major television coverage from 1977-79 by having the event covered on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. In 1979, they also took on the task of promoting the IFBB World Championships (Mr. Universe) on the same weekend as they promoted the Mr. Olympia.
In 1980, the Mr. Olympia was staged in Australia (a very controversial contest in which Arnold choose to enter) but Lorimer and Schwarzenegger were back in 1981 to promote another controversial edition of the biggest contest in the world. Arnold’s best friend, Franco Columbu, returned to win his second Mr. Olympia and the results were anything but popular.
As Arnold’s movie career took off (“Conan the Barbarian”, his first major hit movie, was released in the summer of 1982), the Schwarzenegger-Lorimer promotional team took some time off. The Mr. Olympia was staged all over the world over the next few years, including London, Munich, New York and Belgium.
In 1986, Arnold and Jim brought professional bodybuilding back to Columbus, Ohio by promoting the Pro World Championships in March and the Mr. Olympia in October. They continued to promote the Pro World Championships in Columbus each March until 1989 when the Arnold Classic was born.
Now in it’s 25th year, the Arnold Sports Festival is the largest multi-sport event in the nation. According to it’s official website, the event welcomes more than 18,000 athletes who compete in more than 45 sports, including 12 Olympic events. More than 175,000 people attend the Festival, including the 700 booth Arnold Fitness Expo, held in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
As you walk through the crowded expo, cheer on the Strongmen and the professional bodybuilders, fitness, figure and bikini competitors, remember where all this magic began. On the same stage that Arnold Schwarzenegger won the Professional Mr. World title 43 years ago, fate brought him together with Mr. Jim Lorimer and our sport has been the better for it.