The 2005 Arnold Classic will be an event to remember

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Gov. Schwarzenegger is a busy man, but he wouldn't miss this ... and you shouldn't, either. The 2005 Arnold Fitness Weekend will be bigger than ever, with more than 14,000 athletes competing in 20 different events. Pencil it in on your calendar: March 4-6 in Columbus, Ohio. On second thought, put it in marker. We could start just about anywhere -- powerlifting, fencing gymnastics -- but the one competition that bears the icon's name seems like a good place.

After winning the show the last three years in a row, Jay Cutler has decided to sit out this year's March classic, deciding instead to put all his eggs in the Olympia basket. With no defending champion the scramble for top honors will be a free-for-all, and any number of guys can be considered the favorite.

After taking the runner-up spot the last five years running, Chris Cormier is hungry ... no, make that absolutely starving, to finally bag this show. Word is, he's training with a newfound intensity to do just that. But he'll have to get past the 2004 Olympia 3rd and 4th place finishers, Gustavo Badell and Dexter Jackson respectively. Dexter surely wants payback for his controversial third-place finish at last year's Arnold and you know he'd love to reverse the outcome of his encounter with Badell at the Olympia. For his part, Gustavo is flying high from his surprise placing at the O, and would love nothing more than to solidify his standing as one of his sport's elite athletes.

But the list of contenders doesn't stop there. Victor Martinez, who, despite failing to match his 2003 condition, impressed enough last year to grab the GNC title and crack the top ten at the Olympia. Last year's Night of Champions winner, Melvin Anthony, promises to be in his all-time best shape come March 5th. Troy Alves, who barely missed hi peak at both the GNC and Olympia is expected to nail it this time out, thanks to his new association with Chris Aceto.

Still not convinced this will be a show for the ages? Okay, how about the pro debut of Mark Dugdale? The 2004 USA overall champ isn't used to losing and doesn't want to start here. Frank Roberson, who may very well be the most exciting poser in the business, will be throwing his ten-gallon hat into the ring. How about the imposing Art Atwood, ready to cast a shadow over Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Big Toney Freeman has consistently added quality muscle to his long frame each show since turning pro. Imagine what we can expect this time! The sports king of smacktalk, King Kamali, swears that this is the show in which he finally lets his (impressive) body do all the talking, which should come as a delight to his archrival Craig Titus, another of the contest's list of venerable veterans. Of course the super-thick Idrise Ward El and strong-armed Lee Priest may very well end up making noise of their own when all is said and done.

By the way, all 15 competitors will be fighting it out not only for the title of Arnold Classic Champion, but for a first-place prize of $100,000, a Hummer and a Peugeot wristwatch that runs about $25,000 as well. Not a bad haul for a weekend's work.

On the women's side, the competitions will be just as intense as on the men's. Kelly Ryan and Ohio native Jen Hendershott, always a crowd favorite at the Arnold, will challenge Adela Garcia-Friedmansky for her Fitness International crown. As always, Figure winner Jenny Lynn has to contend with Monica Brant Peckham. In the Ms. International contest Iris Kyle will be vacating her title, leaving the door open for Yaxeni Oriquen and Betty Pariso.

The Arnold Meets the Olympics

Yet the three event-filled days will be about much more than the four IFBB contests. Jim Lorimer, Arnold's business partner in the Classic, says one of his goals this year was to use the Olympics in Athens as a springboard for the 2005 Fitness Weekend. For example, the Gymnastics Challenge will feature men's all-around gold-medalist Paul Hamm, his twin brother Morgan and Team USA's most experienced veteran, Blaine Wilson, among 3,500 other gymnasts.

The 12 disciplines of martial arts will be led by Steven Lopez in tae kwon do, a two-time Olympic gold-medalist in Sydney and Athens. He'll be joined by silver-medalist Nia Abdallah and bronze-medalist James Pedro. Interestingly, bodybuilding great and former Arnold Classic champ Flex Wheeler has moved over to compete in martial arts, and his tae kwon do team will participate in the event.

Archery, another Olympic sport, has been added to the schedule and will have a strong bodybuilding crossover as well. Bodybuilding legend Frank Zane is an accomplished archer, and Gov. Schwarzenegger has agreed to shoot alongside him in an exhibition. The other Olympic events to be represented during the weekend include fencing, table tennis, weightlifting and a 5K run.

One of the most popular attractions will once again be the Arnold Strongman Competition, where the mightiest men from around the world will compete for $65,000 in cash and prizes. Speaking of strength, last year's powerlifting event saw four men exceed 800 pounds in the bench press, with one competitor breaking 900. This year, powerlifting officials expect to see the first 1,000-pound bench in history. And who knows how much they'll squat?

Two more new events are targeted at the fitness-minded crowd: DanceSport and yoga. DanceSport, as the name suggests, requires a combination of dancing and athletic prowess; a dozen couples share the floor and one is judged the winner. Think of it as couples ice-skating, but minus the ice. Competitive yoga? Yep. Apparently, some people perform the positions better than others. Now they'll be rewarded for it, as if spiritual well-being and mental clarity weren't enough.

It's a wonder how event planners fit this all into one weekend, especially if you consider that the Olympics lasted two weeks and featured more than a thousand fewer athletes. Not to worry: Apparently, Columbus is a little more prepared than Athens. If you haven't been to the Arnold Classic and the weekend's other events, you're missing more than just the world's greatest bodybuilders. Strength, power, grace and athleticism -- it'll all be on hand in Ohio.

2005 ARNOLD CLASSIC Schedule of Events

Friday, March 4

8:00 a.m.
Arnold Martial Arts Festival (Hall C)*
Arnold Powerlifting Championships* (Grand Ballroom)
Arnold Olympic Weightlifting Championships (Hall C)*
Arnold Gymnastics Challenge* (Halls E & F)

11:00 a.m.
Arm Wrestling Preliminaries 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Arnold Fitness EXPO* Columbus Convention Center, Exhibit Hall D

Noon
Prejudging: Figure International, Fitness International, Ms. International

3:00 p.m.
Arnold Strongman (Apollon Wheel)*

4:00 p.m.
Arnold Strongman* (Hummer Tire Lift)

7:00 p.m.
Finals: Fitness International, Ms. International, Figure International Championships (Veterans Memorial Auditorium)

Saturday, March 5

8:00 a.m.
Arnold Martial Arts Festival (Hall C)*
World Powerlifting Championships* (Grand Ballroom)
Arnold Olympic Weightlifting Championships (Hall C)*
Arnold Gymnastics Challenge* (Halls E & F)
Arnold DanceSport Classic (Regency Ballroom -- Hyatt Hotel)

9:00 a.m.
Arnold Cheerleading Classic/Dance Team Competition (Battelle Hall)*
Arnold Strength Training Summit (Hall C)
Arnold Table Tennis Challenge
(Terrace Ballroom)

9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Arnold Fitness EXPO*
Columbus Convention Center, Exhibit Hall D

10:00 a.m.
Yoga for Sports (Hall E)

10:30 a.m.
Arm Wrestling Finals*

11:00 a.m.
Prejudging: Arnold Classic
VIP Arnold Photo Opportunity** (Veterans Memorial Auditorium)

Noon
Arnold Strongman (Medicine Ball Toss)*

3:00 p.m.
World-Record Bench Press Challenge*

7:00 p.m.
Arnold Classic Finals
Arnold Strongman Finals
Veterans Memorial Auditorium

10:00 p.m.
VIP Buffet/Dance Party**
Veterans Memorial Auditorium (North Hall)

Sunday, March 6

7:00 a.m.
Arnold 5K Pump & Run Competition*
(Hall F)

8:00 a.m.
Arnold Fencing Classic* (Grand Ballroom)
Arnold Martial Arts Festival* (Grand Ballroom)
Arnold Gymnastics Challenge* (Hall E & F)
Arnold DanceSport Classic* (Regency Ballroom -- Hyatt Hotel)

8:30 a.m.
Arnold Cheerleading Classic/Dance Team Competition (Battelle Hall)*

9:00 a.m.
Arnold Fitness Training Seminar (General Admission)
Veterans Memorial Auditorium
Arnold Table Tennis Challenge*
(Terrace Ballroom)
Arnold Archery Challenge (Hall C)*

10:00 a.m.
Yoga for Sports (Hall E)*

10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Arnold Fitness EXPO*
Columbus Convention Center, Exhibit Hall D

*Available with single EXPO ticket ($10)
** VIP ticket-holders only

Tickets for the 2005 Arnold Classic are available at Ticketmaster.com or by calling (614) 431-3600.

VIP tickets cost $350 and include admission to all events listed above (including all three days of the EXPO) and the best seating for bodybuilding, fitness and figure competitions.

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