COLUMBUS (WCMH) – A weekend of events and championships wrapped up an unusual year at the 2020 Arnold Sports Festival.
State leaders and event staff decided to cancel the annual health expo and limit spectators because of concerns the more than 200,000-person event would increase the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Despite the restrictions, close to 1,000 people took part in the Arnold 5K Pump and Run Sunday morning. At the event, the athletes bench pressed a percentage of their body weight based on age before running a 5K race near the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
“It helps us stay in shape and eat healthy. That’s why I keep coming back,” explained Maria Perez, an athlete from Pickerington, participating in her sixth Arnold competition.
George Totonchy and Toto Vo arrived with a group from Portland, Oregon, for the event.
“This pump and run is the biggest and best one in the world, as far as I know, so it’s really fun to compete at the best,” Totonchy said.
He’s been participating for more than a decade and said the spectator restrictions gave the entire festival a different atmosphere. But he says newcomers traveling with his group thought the days of elite competition were still impressive.
“For someone who’s coming here for the first time, they’re just, like, in awe, not knowing how much more awe they could be in,” Totonchy said.
Arnold Schwarzenegger himself inspired awe during the Pump and Run competition. He made a brief appearance to greet athletes and count down the start to the race.
“They wanted to cancel it, but we said no way,” Schwarzenegger remarked to the crowd.
The festival’s namesake did not answer media questions during his race appearance. Earlier in the week, he stopped short of committing to bring the event back to Columbus in the future. It’s been a community staple for more than three decades.
Some athletes said they were disappointed so many people missed out on the 2020 festival, but they were optimistic it will remain in its current location in the future.
“We’re still here to support the Arnold festival and we’ll be here next year,” said Nicole Pawlowski.