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Arnold festival features more than 18,000 athletes, 45 sports

Ohio State’s French Field House will hold the first Arnold Track and Field Championships.

The Arnold Sports Festival is the largest multisport event in the nation with more than 18,000 athletes competing in more than 45 sports and events, including 12 Olympic sports.

The sports and fitness celebration has grown every year and is also a proving ground for many prospective athletes. The track and field championship is one of the new events being added in 2011 and one of the 12 Olympic sports being played.

What started as a one-day professional men’s bodybuilding competition in 1989 will have more than 175,000 attendees from more than 70 nations join together in Columbus. The event started Thursday and concludes Sunday.

Co-founder of the Arnold Sports Festival, Jim Lorimer, became intrigued with track and field in the ’60s. He proposed to the Columbus Recreation Department that a four-year Olympic development program be implemented to train top female athletes.

“Lorimer then convinced Ohio State University to allow women to train at their indoor track, otherwise known as the French Field House,” said Arnold’s co-chair and event director, Lori Baldwin.

Under Lorimer’s leadership and coaching, the Ohio Track Club Girls’ Team won the National Championships in 1961.

Lorimer said he believed American athletes — men and women — could be the best in the world in any sport, so he decided to take action.

In 1967, Lorimer ran the National Weightlifting Championships and Mr. America contest in Columbus.

With the success of those events, Lorimer became the chair of the World Weightlifting Championships and Mr. World contest in 1970 in Columbus.

Arnold Schwarzenegger won Mr. World that year, in Columbus, and soon developed a friendship with Lorimer.

Matt Lorz, Arnold Sports Festival spokesman, said, “The duo had an immediate connection, and Arnold made a promise to work with (Lorimer) to promote bodybuilding and sports.”

Arnold’s promise became what is known as the Arnold Sports Festival, which they have hosted together ever since.

The Arnold Track & Field Championship is being held Saturday. More than 1,200 boys and girls from more than 80 Ohio high schools will compete in more than 17 track and field events.

Top student-athletes will compete for one of 10 $2,000 college scholarships presented by the Columbus Rotary and the Arnold Sports Festival.

“The scholarship is being awarded not only to an outstanding athlete,” Baldwin said, “but to a recipient who has a good moral character.”

Other new 2011 events include the Arnold Sports Film Festival, the Bikini International, the Arnold Hockey Challenge and the Kurt Angle World Teen Challenge.

This year there is also an enhanced VIP ticket package, which features, for the first time, an exclusive meet and greet with IFBB professional athletes and early entry to the Arnold Fitness Expo.

The Arnold Sports Festival will be held at Greater Columbus Convention Center, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Franklin County Veterans Memorial, LC Pavilion, Dispatch Ice Haus, Arena Grand Movie Theatre, French Field House and Skate Naked Indoor Skate Park.

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