By Okon Ekpenyong
Flex Wheeler, a four-time Arnold Classic champion, said bodybuilding and strength competitions are becoming multi-sport events, which explains their success. From March 2nd to March 5th, this year’s Arnold Sports Festival marked the 35th anniversary of the event, with Samson Dauda winning the 2023 Arnold Classis Men’s Open Championship.
On Saturday, March 4th, the memories of Jim Lorimer, co-founder of Arnold Sports Festival, and other bodybuilders who passed away in 2022 and 2023 reminded us that sport is like a family for everybody; no matter the highs or lows, everyone is one.
Africa is producing more Strength competitors and Bodybuilders
While some competitors fought back to retain their titles, others, like Samson Dauda, emerged as the first British Nigerian to win the Arnold Classic Men’s Open Championship on the third night of the 2023 Sports Festival. Dauda walked away with a $300,000 prize check, more than 50% of the previous year’s money.
In his first Mr. Olympia, the most prestigious bodybuilding competition in the men’s category, Dauda finished sixth place. Nick Walker, this year’s runner-up in the Arnold Classic, finished third. The 30-year-old Champion started his career in the sport around 2013, according to Fitness Volt. Andrew Jacked, another Nigerian American born in Lagos as Chinedu Andrew Obiekea, placed third in the Arnold Classic.
While some experts believed Dauda won the competition fairly and squarely, Andrew Jacked won the 2023 ED Best Poser award. The next major competition for Nick, Samson, and Andrew is Mr. Olympia, and all three of these competitors will compete in a fierce fight to win their first Mr. Olympia title.
Dauada and the other Arnold Men’s Classic competitors were judged based on size, symmetry, and muscularity. And to achieve the highest ranking, an athlete must perform the following poses: Front double biceps, Front lat spread, Side chest, back double biceps, Back let spread, Side triceps, Abs and thighs, and Most Muscular.
The Zambia Strongman Federation had seven athletes, and the Liberia Strongest Man Competition had one Liberian. As a result, Bodybuilding, competitive sports, strength sports, and strongman competitions are also becoming popular on the African continent, producing many athletes capable of competing against anyone if given the opportunity.
The Africa Arnold Classic allows athletes from each federation to compete with the best on the continent and travel abroad to compete in other Arnold Classics.
Ramon “Dino” Rocha Quiroz walked away with the Men’s Arnold Classic Physique challenge after placing second in the same event in 2022.
Defending Arnold Classic Fitness champion from 2022, Ariel Khadr repeats as Champion. Kassandra Gillis won the 2023 Arnold Classic Wellness Challenge. Eric Banks dazzled his way to a repeat after winning the Arnold Classic Men’s Physique in 2022. Lauralie Chapados also repeated as a champion for the Arnold Bikini Crown.
Events and Venue
The 2023 Arnold Sports Festival featured Arnold Expo, Arnold showcase, panels, seminars, Angel Fashion Show, Foosball, IFBB Pro League Meet and Greet, and Arnold Party with Pros. Because there were more than fifty sporting events, organizers held some competitions elsewhere besides the Columbus Convention Center, such as Ohio Expo Center and Hollywood Casino.
Strength sports included Armlifting, Armwrestling, Kettlebells, MAS Wrestling, Ninja Classic, Scottish Highland Games, Strict Curl, USA Powerlifting, USA Weightlifting, and XPC Powerlifting. The Strongman Competition, which includes the Arnold Strongman Classic, Arnold Strongwoman Classic, Amateur Strongman, Rogue Record Breakers, and Strongest Firefighter, also shined and drew thousands of spectators during the festival’s four-day run.
“To compete in strength competitions, one must follow a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly workout schedule with precise nutritional plans while paying attention to how your body responds to training to prevent serious injuries that could have a long-term impact,” a competitor said.
Photo Ops and fan interactions
There was a fantastic experience at the Arnold Sports Festival for strength competition fans and supporters, as they were able to interact and take photos with some of the top bodybuilders of today and in the past, such as Hafpor Julius Bjornsson, Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, and others who have contributed to the growth of the sport over the years.
Honoring Past Arnold Classic Champions
On Saturday night, Jay Cutler, Kai Greene, Flex Wheeler, and Rich Gaspari, the MC of the event, were among the 12 previous Arnold Classic winners honored. Cedric McMillan, who passed away in 2022, his name is also mentioned.
Tributes to fallen competitors and organizers
On Saturday night, Arnold Festival organizers paid tribute to fallen heroes in the strength competition, including co-founder Jim Lorimer, former Arnold Classic Champion, and military veteran Cedric McMillian, and former IFBB bodybuilder Murat Gonul. Following a video tribute to Jim Lorimer for his long commitment to Ohio Sports, the Arnold Festival, and being one of the pioneers in bringing professional sports events to Columbus, the crowd stood and cheered.
Four-time Arnold Classic Champion Flex Wheeler
Four-time Arnold Classic champion Kenneth “Flex” Wheeler, this year’s Life Time Achievement award recipient, also paid tribute to Lorimer, calling him a big promoter in the sport.
Wheeler has partnered with multiple organizations that provide patient care, preventing limb loss and enhancing the quality of life of amputees and their families. In 2019, he underwent an amputation on his right leg due to circulatory vascular system problems.
“Often, athletes focus solely on their sport and are unaware that there’s so much more out there because we’re so focused on being the best we can be. Despite being an amputee, I feel at peace and enjoy this part of my life more than ever,” Wheeler said.
As an amputee in sports, Wheeler wants to help other amputees access resources since some of the daily prosthetic legs, arms, and others are expensive.
“I want to bring more awareness to amputees because most amputees cannot walk again because getting the right prosthetic legs is so expensive; for the record, this is my seventeen versions of my legs. If you have a used one, you can’t give it away in this country, but you can in other countries. My team and I are working on establishing a nonprofit organization to assist these individuals,” Wheeler said.
Regarding how the Arnold Sports Festival had evolved from when he started competing until now, Wheeler noted that you couldn’t take a Mercedes from 1965 and expect it to compete with one from 2023; re-evolving is good.
Twelve thousand athletes competed in over fifty sports and events from eighty-plus countries, proving strength competition and Arnold Sports Festival have been re-evolving.
“They’re more open now because it was harder for athletes like me to break into the industry in the past. Therefore, I urge all hopefuls to utilize the resources around them, use good judgment, and follow their dreams,” he said.
MC of the Bodybuilding competition
The MC at this year’s Arnold Classic and other bodybuilding competitions, including Arnold Classic, Arnold Men’s Physique, Classic Physique, Fitness International, Bikini International, Wellness International, Pro Wheelchair, and Arnold Amateur, provided Apex 1 Radio a statement. “Bodybuilding, in general, is for everybody, whether you do it competitively or not.”
Initially, only men competed in Bodybuilding, but now we have more than fifty sports centered around strength. “Every category, from bikini to boyshorts to classic to Bodybuilding, allows everyone the opportunity to compete and grow the sport. Everyone can improve different levels of themselves, inspired to have a different look, and the bodybuilding federation has advanced so much over the years,” he said.
Several fitness events, such as Pole Fitness, 5K Pump & Run outside the Nationwide Arena, CrossFit Endeavor, Youth Dancesport, and World Chase Tag, were also a part of the Arnold Sports Festival.
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