The red carpet at the front door of the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion leads bodybuilding nobility-a bevy of beefcakes and more than a fair share of intimidating-looking women competing at the Arnold Sports Festival-to the upper floor VIP area.
Meanwhile, mere mortals hang out on the dance floor at the second annual Party with the Pros. Rumors swirl on whether the late-night festivities on this first Saturday in March will be graced by the pro everyone came to see. "He was here last year," one partier says. Another mentions that he's heard Sly Stallone is supposed to make an appearance as well.
It isn't long before the deejay interrupts the thumping music to confirm the speculation. "It is my pleasure to welcome the governor of the state of California. . . ." The partygoers instantaneously shift in one uniform bubble-each a member of the Facebook paparazzi, brandishing camera phones and point-and-shoots-and surge toward the mouth of the stage.
The Governator emerges not in a skimpy bodybuilder bikini bottom, but in a gray suit with a green tie (he's a sitting politician, mind you). He gives a few remarks, lightly pondering the possibility of running for governor of Ohio amid thunderous cheers and saying, "I'll be back," when asking rhetorically about the future of the fitness fest. He retreats to the VIP area, where he stays for a short while surrounded by watchful security until quietly making his exit.
Soon after his speech, the entertainment commences. The Aerial Cube Duo dances, hangs and spins with a giant rectangle made from what appears to be aluminum tent poles. A dorky-looking thirtysomething in an Orange Crush T-shirt comes onstage and performs the Evolution of Dance-a montage of American dances, from the Twist to the present day Stanky Legg. The performer, Ohio native Judson Laipply, holds claim to the No. 3 all-time most popular video on YouTube with more than 138 million views. Apparently he also works as a motivational speaker. Go figure.
Then there's the Amazing Christopher (yet another performer fueled by YouTube fame), a dancer who straps himself to a contraption that allows four life-sized puppets to mimic his dance moves. Tonight, he pays homage to the late Michael Jackson with "Beat It," "Billie Jean," "Thriller" and the like.
People on the dance floor veer to avoid the undeniably creepy stilt walker with the Joker makeup and silver tinsel wig. There's a clown tossing a giant inflatable blue and red duffel bag like a beach ball. Other performers wear masks. In addition, next door at the A&R Music Bar, Saving Jane, a Columbus-rooted rock band, performs for partiers as well. (The $25 ticket covers entry to both venues.)
So who's the man who made this all happen? Bob Lorimer. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he's the son of Jim Lorimer, founder of the Arnold Classic. Forty years ago, Jim earned the admiration of Arnold Schwarzenegger after inviting the young Austrian to Columbus to compete in the World Weightlifting Championships and Mr. World contest. "When he met Arnold . . . he said to my father, 'When I retire from the sport of bodybuilding, I want to come back to Columbus and be your partner,' " Bob says. "When he did retire from the sport in 1975, he came back and they started Mr. Olympia in 1976, and then we started the Arnold Classic in 1989."
Since then, the event has expanded exponentially. During the 2010 weekend, athletes competed in 44 sports, including archery, cheerleading, table tennis and martial arts. Bob, whose father still heads the festival, estimates the expo brought in more than 180,000 people-a record-and generated roughly $42 million for Columbus.
To celebrate the culmination of the weekend in years prior to 2009, organizers had been putting on a banquet. Bob says he noticed, however, that athletes and spectators would simply eat and leave. "We thought, 'Everybody's so interested in going out; why don't we just have a party?' "
So, with the success of last year's first Party with the Pros-with its fire and ice theme-this year continued with Cirque-us (hence, the cube dancers, among others). And next year? "Maybe Mardi Gras or something," Bob says. "We'll try and change it a little bit each year."
About the 2010 party, he says, "A pro from almost every one of the sports was in attendance. It wasn't just about the bodybuilders."
But plenty of them are around, and they're easily recognizable. It seems near-impossible for many to touch their Volkswagen-sized arms to their sides. Shoulders bypass any remnant of what may once have been a neck and proceed straight into their heads. As for the women, back muscles strain and thighs protrude from beneath tight dresses; contoured calves sit pronounced above three- and four-inch heels. Many of the athletes look as though their heads have been Photoshopped onto their bodies. Several pose for photos.
When it comes to picking out the archers, the table tennis players and their ilk, it is anyone's guess. "The general public wouldn't know who a lot of them are," Lorimer says. "But they were all there."
What about Rambo?
"He was in town. He was running around with Arnold to a number of events. But we don't control any of their schedules," he says.
Maybe next year.
Ben Zenitsky is an assistant editor for Columbus Monthly.