The Legend of the Arnold Classic Sports Festival

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Throughout the calendar year, dozens of cities are graced with a special gathering of fitness enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and icons. Hundreds of supplement companies and other fitness related businesses post up at these gatherings in an attempt to market their products and attract new customers. These massive weekend-long events are known as fitness expos. While these events are a regular occurrence, none of them are more popular, influential, or significant than the annual Arnold Sports Festival. The Arnold Sports Festival takes place over a three day period every year in late February or early March in Columbus, Ohio.

“There’s nothing quite like it,” spectator and amateur powerlifter Cody Wallace said about the Arnold. “Especially for someone such as myself, there is nowhere I’d rather be”. Cody hasn’t quite scratched the surface on his powerlifting career, but now that he’s graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelors in Athletic Training, he plans to take on the concept of competition as a self-coached competitor.

“The goal right now is to earn the right to appear in The Animal Cage,” Cody said. “I know I can work my way up to it, but the open competition inside that steel is intense. Just because it’s an open competition and anyone can enter, that doesn’t mean they should”.

This expo, aptly nicknamed “The Arnold” among fitness enthusiasts, takes place just once a year and is a cornucopia of health and fitness spectators from all over the world. Every supplement label worth their salt promotes their product in a booth at the Arnold, and the event is also the host of two of the most glorified competitions in their respective sports: The annual Arnold Classic for bodybuilding, and the Arnold Strongman Classic. Only the massively epic Mr. Olympia competition is more significant for bodybuilding than the Arnold Classic. Just as well, the Arnold Strongman Classic is considered the second-most prestigious honor in the strongman universe, just below the annual World’s Strongest Man competition.  

The Arnold’s inaugural campaign occurred in 1989 and has been an annual fitness expo ever since. Due to the increasing popularity of the expo and the growing competitiveness of the bodybuilding competitions it hosted, different variations of the Arnold Sports Festival now occur in multiple countries including Australia, South America, Africa, and Europe. Each Expo bares its resemblance to the original Arnold in the United States, but they are less popular and are in some ways considered insignificant compared to the notoriety of the US Arnold. As a spectator and fitness enthusiast, there is virtually no possible way to receive the same experience twice when attending the Arnold. Whether your interest is bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, supplementation, health, and wellness, or any variation or combination of these.

Outside of the professional competitions, numerous other events are held throughout the expo. None of which garner a larger crowd than the Animal Cage. The cage is a presentation created by Universal Nutrition company, founder of the iconic line of Animal supplements. This cage is known for its hostility and intensity. This environment is not for the faint of heart, and only the strongest and most experienced powerlifters take part in its events.

Powerlifting officianatos such as Larry Wheels and KC Mitchell were some of the featured personalities in this cage. Both men were present to watch as one of the most memorable moments from 2018s Arnold Sports Festival occurred. With them was a crowd of over 100 people that gathered around the cage as Powerlifting icon and Animal sponsored athlete Dan “Boss” Green laced up his shoes and put on his pair of lifting straps. Dan began to pace near the deadlifting platform like a shark, finally approaching the weight in a red T-shirt which bore the Animal insignia.

900 pounds. 900 pounds worth of weight held this barbell down, and Dan was about to attempt something virtually unheard of in the powerlifting industry. It wasn’t enough that he was attempting a 900-pound deadlift, but as he approached the barbell, it became apparent that he was not wearing a lifting belt. Belts are generally used during heavy compound movements such as squats or deadlifts, to assist the lifter in pushing outwards with his or her core, as well as offer lower back support. The concept of pulling this weight beltless is virtually foreign.

Dan Green finally planted his feet and circled his straps to the bar. Being that he was utilizing lifting straps, he was setting his grip with a conventional double-overhand technique. He squatted up and down a handful of times. Without warning, he straightened his lower back and began to pull. The roar of the crowd cheering as he dangled 900 heaping pounds of iron from his torso was deafening. Blood began to rush to Green’s head, and his face started to resemble a ripened tomato. After what was surely four of the longest seconds of Dan Green’s life, he locked out with the weight set in his hands. He had done it, and it was determined that it was a good lift. Dan Green has pulled 900 pounds beltless here in the Animal Cage.

Green stood calmly with nearly a half-ton of iron in his hands, with nothing but a pair of lifting straps for assistance and extra support. The crowd continued to erupt along with Green’s peers, and he finally dropped the weight back down to earth, making a gentle thud on the platform compared to the fissures being generated by the spectators. In a moment of pure adrenaline, Green withdrew his blood red Animal T-shirt and threw it over the cage and into the crowd. Whoever caught that T-shirt went home with a piece of powerlifting (and Arnold Classic) history. Dan Green’s phenomenal pull was just one instance of the many incredible feats of strength that the Arnold has to offer.

As large of a man as Green is, he dwarfed by the tremendous masses of humanity that make up the Arnold Strongman Classic. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Arnold Strongman Classic will not include all-time great Zydrunas Savickas, who at 42 years-old is just two years removed from his last Arnold victory. The event was also missing one of its most influential names in Eddie Hall. Eddie was the first person to ever deadlift 500 kilograms, and he is the reigning World’s Strongest Man. Eddie has been saying for years that after capturing that title, he would retire from strongman competition. Based on his absence from the Arnold Strongman Classic, that appears to be the case.

The 2018 Strongman Classic, was still not without drama. The top two competitors were four-time World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw, and Hafthor Bjornsson, who many may recognize as The Mountain from the Game of Thrones television series. Contrary to popular belief, Hafthor is a strongman first and an actor second.

The classic consisted of five events. The first of which was the bag over bar contest, where competitors must hoist a heavy sandbag over a 15-foot bar. The rules were as follows: each competitor was given three attempts, and the heaviest bag over the bar wins. The bags available ranged from 50 pounds all the way up to 110 pounds. Hafthor took first in the event, with Brian Shaw placing right behind him going into the second event.

Through three days worth of the most spectacular feats of strength the world has to offer, it was Hafthor Bjornsson from Iceland that stood tallest through the final event: The Apollon Wheels. In this event, weighted mythological wheels are loaded onto a log press. The competitor must deadlift the log up and maneuver it onto their shoulders, then finally military pressing the log over their head. The strongman who accomplishes the most reps is Declared the winner.

Many attempted to hoist the legendary Apollon Wheels, but only a select few were successful at completing just one repetition. Finally, along came four-time WSM and former Arnold Strongman Classic champion Brian Shaw, who touted his custom M-Frame Oakleys throughout his round in the competition. Shaw cleanly pressed the log over his head and locked out an astonishing three times, giving him the lead in the final round.

While buzz was already generating that Shaw’s three reps were unbeatable, many must’ve forgotten the notorious hot streak that Hafthor was riding all the way through the event. Fresh off an impressive record-breaking performance in the elephant bar deadlift event, Hafthor was determined to claim the Arnold Strongman title for the first time in his career.

The Mountain knew he only needed to press the nearly 400-pound log four times to claim his title. As the log moved swimmingly in his arms and against his chest, it became apparent that Hafthor was the strongest man in the world on that cold March night. He continued to press the weight all the way through to his fourth rep. Hafthor had finally done it. He had defeated Brian Shaw and is now the reigning Arnold Strongman Classic champion. The crowd erupted and praise from the commentators began to pour in, but Hafthor was not done. By demonstrating not just his unparalleled raw strength and power, but his world-class conditioning as well, Hafthor deadlifted the log up and over his head a ridiculous fifth time, just for good measure. The Mountain needed to assure himself that he truly was the strongest man alive with that final rep.

While fitness expos take place on a regular basis and all over the globe, there is not now, nor will there ever be another Arnold Classic. Between the intense rivalries developed through competition, the social gatherings hosted by the industries largest icons, and the biggest collection of sports and supplement brands in the world, The Arnold is a larger than life event that everyone should experience at some point in their lives.

The 2019 Arnold Classic dates have already been confirmed. The event will begin March 1 and run until March 3, through the weekend. Considering the undeniable success of The Animal Cage, it’s reconstruction has already been confirmed on the floor plan. There are already rumors circulating that Dan Green will attempt 900 pounds for a Beltless Double, but no such rumors can be confirmed at this time. Also set to return is the reigning Arnold Strongman, Europe’s Strongest Man, and World’s Strongest Man champion Hafthor Bjornsson, who will be appearing to defend his title. For fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongman competitors, or just the typical run of the mill athlete, there is no greater sanctuary than the legendary Arnold Classic Sports Festival.