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The Arnold Classic Africa festival: It just keeps getting bigger

The main man behind the intercontinental festival Arnold Schwarzenegger said this year they've brought in more sporting codes, making it one of the biggest multi-sporting events in Africa.

Fitness ambassador Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks to EWN on 17 May. Picture: Kayleen Morgan/EWN

JOHANNESBURG – Since it hit South African shores four years ago, the Arnold Classic Africa has been broadening the sporting field with each year.

The multi-sporting festival will afford over 20,000 athletes the opportunity to participate in an international competition against participants from six continents in 86 different sports, with various events planned from Friday to Sunday in and around Sandton.

The main man behind the intercontinental festival Arnold Schwarzenegger said this year they've brought in more sporting codes, making it one of the biggest multi-sporting events in Africa.

“It has [almost] 90 different sports and I don’t think there’s any event in South Africa that has ever had [almost] 90 different sports coming together. I mean, it’s bigger than the Olympics. It’s really something that people can enjoy and it’s very inspirational.”

All events feature professional bodybuilding and related contests, amateur bodybuilding, strength and combat sports, a large health and fitness expo and youth events that vary from continent to continent.

As big as it would be this year, Schwarzenegger admitted that every kind of support in whatever form was what contributed to growing the festival.

“Everyone jumped on board and everybody is supporting it. It’s not only the public sector and the politicians, but the private sector as well. We had a lot of companies that came through, putting money towards the event.”

The former weightlifting champion also goes around the world spreading a message on the importance of health and fitness.

He said South African athletes and audiences caught that message quickly and ran with it. When the festival first arrived in the country, it only had about 20 sporting codes, but today, that number had grown to 86.

"It is also a way of promoting health and fitness because the more you inspire people to get off their couches, away from the TV and their phones, and to go out there and do something physical, the better you feel.”

The trade expo segment of the Arnold Classic Africa has also grown this year and was expected to host about 300 exhibition stands from local and international fitness and lifestyle brands, products and services that were key to supporting the theme of healthy lifestyles.

While some of the festival's events seemed to take place in Johannesburg suburbs, the man also famous for starring in the Terminator franchise said inclusivity was an important factor.

"The last time I was in Johannesburg, we went to some of the townships and watched some of the guys boxing and weightlifting. It was so much fun because the action is really out there, it's not just here."

At the same time, it may take a great deal of strength and inspiration to bring all these athletes together, one sporting code at a time and one continent at a time.

But Schwarzenegger said his late mentor Reg Park - the acclaimed bodybuilder and three-time Mr Universe winner - would forever be his source of inspiration.

"Not only did I see his pictures in the magazines, but I also saw him in movies as Hercules. He used the money he made from that to build a gymnasium chain here in South Africa. He was the guy I said ‘I want to be like him'. That was my inspiration and I just copied everything he did and added a little bit. But also people like Mohammed Ali and Nelson Mandela were big inspirations to me."

So if Schwarzenegger was to choose which one of the 86 sporting codes was his favourite, he'd definitely go for weightlifting, even though he felt he was no match for some of today's athletes.

“These are guys who weigh like 350 to 450 pounds and they’re lifting around 1,500 pounds of stones. I mean, I don’t want to take a picture with these guys because they make me look like a chicken.”

Under the theme There's Something For Everyone, this year's installment of the festival would include sports such as pole fitness, tenpin bowling and ring tennis. The event's 'come and try' segment would present the public - specifically designed for differently abled, children, parents and pensioners - with an opportunity to give these sports a shot. So don't miss out!

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