The Arnold Sports Festival will flex its economic muscles today through Sunday, Feb. 27 through March 2.
The 26th annual event will feature 18,000 athletes from 80 different nations competing in 50 different sporting events. The festival draws 175,000 spectators who book more than 20,000 room nights in 100 different hotel rooms across the city, organizers and city officials said.
The result: an estimated $42.3 million being pumped into the local economy, said Brent LaLonde, spokesman for the festival.
"The Arnold Sports Festival is one of the largest annual events that the city of Columbus hosts every year," LaLonde said. "It has a huge impact, not only on downtown hotels and restaurants but hotels, restaurants and shopping venues throughout the city.
"The number of people coming in is really astronomical and the impact on the city is very, very significant in the hospitality and tourism industries."
Admission to the Greater Columbus Convention Center, where most of the events will be held, is $15 per person.
Tickets to other sporting events can be purchased separately.
What started as the Arnold Classic in 1989 has blossomed into a full-fledged sports extravaganza, complete with archery, boxing, mixed martial arts and strongman competitions.
Tennis, swimming, wrestling and pole fitness all are new attractions this year, LaLonde said.
Free interactive sports, in which spectators can participate, include Zumba classes, cardio tennis, fencing and table tennis, he said.
"We're up to 50 sporting events and the goal of the weekend is to always do better than our previous best," LaLonde said.
"And that often means adding new events to allow even more athletes to compete and to showcase more sports."
Of course, bodybuilding -- the foundation of the festival -- is a major attraction, with events scheduled for today through Saturday.
Also new this year is the Arnold Classic 212, which is for bodybuilders who weigh 212 pounds and less.
It's with a bit of melancholy that this will be the last year the bodybuilding competitions will be held in the Franklin County Veterans Memorial, which will be replaced with a new facility for veterans but will not offer amenities suitable for festival events, LaLonde said.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger first came to Columbus in 1970, he won the Mr. World competition at Vets Memorial.
Since then, he and local businessman Jim Lorimer have held many bodybuilding events at Veterans Memorial before eventually founding the Arnold Classic.
"There's a very strong emotional attachment to Veterans Memorial," LaLonde said.
"It's sad to see it go."
Those events will be relocated to the Battelle Grand ballroom at the convention center and the Ohio Expo Center in future years.
For more information about activities, go to arnoldsportsfestival.com.