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The Arnold Sports Festival brings in 170k people for 4-day festival

For the 26th year, the Greater Columbus Convention Center and eight buildings at the Ohio Expo Center housed the nation’s largest multi-sport event: The Arnold.

A new addition to the Arnold this year was the Arnold Kids Fitness Expo.

There, on the Ohio Expo grounds, is where Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the festival Saturday to play pingpong  and face children in several chess matches, one of which was against 8-year-old Emma Cheng. Dozens of fans eagerly tried to catch an autograph, as the “Governator” toured the different halls and booths of the Kids Fitness Expo.

Demonstrations and training were offered in several sports, such as football, chess and fencing. The competitions in archery, cheerleading and dance, pickleball, table tennis and XPC Powerlifting were also held at the Ohio Expo Center.


Powerlifting, a large competition held at the Arnold, is a form of strength competition that focuses on pushing and pulling as much weight as possible in the three big lifts: Bench, deadlift and squat.

Suzanne Witt, 24, is a third-year Ph.D. student at OSU studying chemistry. She is also a competitive powerlifter.

After getting into strength training two years ago, Witt became involved with OSU’s powerlifting club Buckeye Barbell. On Sunday, Witt competed in her fourth USA Powerlifting meet at the Arnold alongside some of her fellow teammates, with the support of John Downing, an OSU alum and current coach of Buckeye Barbell.

“The real reason I lift is because of what it does for me mentally,” Witt said. “Lifting has given me so much more confidence. It has shown me that I’m strong and capable of doing very difficult things. This has translated to other aspects of my life, such as feeling more confident when I have to present my Ph.D. research in front of people.”

Physical talent isn’t all that is shown off at the Arnold, though.


On a large plastic tarp that stretched more than 2,000 square feet, up to 50 painters, illustrators and sculptors had their personal art studios set up in the same spirit of competition found each year at the Arnold Sports Festival.

For the past six years, Art at the Arnold has aimed to combine inspirational visuals of the fitness industry with a wide variety of art forms and styles. Previously selected fine artists, primarily from central Ohio, spend three days participating in a variety of artistic challenges, such creating pieces from live fitness models and athletes, and finding reference material from the fitness events at the Arnold for an all-day studio session.

The event culminated with a full gallery and awards ceremony featuring all the pieces made during the Arnold’s three-day span.

Married couple Kevin Buckland and Pertain Gillespie have been working with the Arnold as graphic designers for 14 years, and decided to bring their passion for fine art to the event as well.

“It took us a couple years to come up with a format that worked,” Buckland said. “But the artists love it, the athletes love it, and the general public gets to see it as well.”

Art at the Arnold is strategically placed at the connection between the hotel and the convention center, so visitors to the convention walk directly past a group of artists, fully immersed in their work, much like the fitness competitors and athletes that compete each year at the Arnold. The pieces are for sale at the discretion of the artist, and many of the athletes and models purchase pieces that feature them during their time at the Arnold that year.

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