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Ambitious 2024 Arnold Classic!

by Christian Duque

The news is out! The 2024 Arnold Classic invite list is out and the names that are included couldn’t be more star studded than it is. Whereas the 2023 event almost got canceled due to a lack of interest, the added $100k put on the line, coupled with the very competitive 2023 Mr. Olympia has created conditions for one of the most competitive ASC’s of the last twenty years. This is what the sport’s second biggest competition should be all about.

Unlike the Olympia, the Arnold Classic is an Invitational which gives the promoters a much greater hand with which to stack the lineups and command a lion’s share of the fanbase on pay-per-view and through in-house ticket sales. The problem with years past has been that the competition has invited athletes that for whatever reason didn’t accept the invitation.

Now with the more difficult qualifying rules for the Olympia it’s possible that higher caliber athletes will show up. Also the Arnold Classic for years was a place for competitors that did not feel they got judged fairly at the Olympia to come and compete. But ever since the pandemic something has happened to the Columbus based contest. And after last year, given this upcoming year’s very promising poster, I think we may see a renaissance of this particular bodybuilding show. I also think that we are going to see a far greater amount of input from the namesake than we have since the show first got started back in 1989.

Lacking the very, very important role Jim Lorimer played I think Arnold has become very much aware to the fact that he can no longer delegate 95% of the day-to-day operations to a random middle man/outfit. He needs to roll-up his sleeves too!!

Jim Lorimer was basically the Arnold Classic. Between him and the Lorz family they were able to create a package that was second only to the Olympia and sometimes even better than The O. The only thing Arnold had to do was ride around in a golf cart, shake a few hands at the expo, and then walk away with a huge bag of cash. The 2023 Arnold Classic changed all of that. You had big-name competitors suddenly dropping out of the contest and because it was an Invitational there was no one to replace these athletes with. Furthermore they had never invited more athletes after the initial athletes accepted in the history of the show. Their model wasn’t one that permitted inviting people a month out or even less time from the show. Plus they would need to have athletes that were literally near contest ready on game day and most bodybuilders don’t sit around at 3% body fat. This is why the 2023 event almost didn’t happen.

Fortunately raising the already high prize money by another $100,000 was enough of an incentive to get the best of the best to hunker down and make the necessary preparations in a fraction of the time. As the old saying goes money talks and bullshit walks. Even still it was a huge nail-biter down to the last minute. And not in a good way.

Whereas 2023 event proved to be a recipe for disaster before the prize money was altered by 50%, 2024 may prove equally disastrous because of the very ambitious contest poster that many of us have seen. Three of the biggest names have small red asterisks underneath them. These little warning signs are far too little in my opinion and don’t really speak to the very real possibility that these athletes may not even be able to take the stage.

The reason for this is because they are international competitors from countries that are fickle on bodybuilding. And perhaps they’re fickle with any other sport. They are countries that have an enormous amount of red tape with regards to issuing travel visas and sometimes don’t have the best relations with the United states. Therefore you may have a guy like Hadi Choopan from Iran who is not only a top level competitor but has won the sport’s highest honor and he may not get a visa to compete at the second biggest bodybuilding show in the world.

Even though the name Arnold Schwarzenegger is known pretty much everywhere on this rock called Earth and he is an undeniable mover and shaker in the world of politics, movies, and bodybuilding, the government officials in Tehran may not give two squats about that. And in their opinion it’s one of their nationals wanting to travel to the United States and they may not see it fit or they may not feel that they have enough time to make the ultimate call. Whereas Hany Rambod may have some pull locally wherever he lives or in the bodybuilding federation, his word in an Iranian government office probably doesn’t amount to a hill of beans (and he’s Iranian too). Nor does the Olympia, the Arnold, or any other contest’s reps. They may just say no and that’s it.

Now imagine what kind of backlash that’s going to create for the promoters. They’re going to have people that have traveled all around the world to see their favorite bodybuilder compete. You may have businesses that have made the investment to get a booth simply because a guy on that level is going to be doing the show. Then of course you’ll have all of the people paying 30 or $40 to watch it on pay-per-view and then all of a sudden the only athlete they bought the digital package for isn’t even going to be there. They may want a refund but they’re not going to get it; just like the people that flew 2,000 miles to the show are not going to get all their money back for the airline ticket, the hotel, and the price of the ticket to the show. So while they’re putting a little red asterisk under the picture each International athlete – that’s hardly enough of a warning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very cool that the invitations were sent to these athletes and that they accepted. But I would be very reluctant as a fan to get my hopes up until the day comes when I see Hadi in Columbus a few days out from the show ready to take the stage. Unfortunately by that point you can’t get an airline ticket, a hotel reservation, or a contest ticket for a fair price. By that point everything has tripled if not quadrupled and with regards to hotels there may not be any more rooms. Sometimes people that wait to the last minute to go to the Arnold have to stay an hour or even 90 minutes away.

All things considered, I would definitely buy a ticket and reserve a hotel room if you live within 3 or 4 hours away. At the end of the day if you find out that your favorite athletes won’t be there you can make a judgment call whether you want to eat the price of the ticket or simply go. You can also cancel the hotel room usually within 48 hours. A lot of people also will only go to the expo which then it makes a lot more sense to do this approach because you can buy expo tickets right then and there. Then all you would have to do is cancel the hotel room.

If on the other hand you need to buy an airline ticket now it gets a little bit more risky because that you can’t cancel even if you buy cancellation insurance. A lot of those policies do not let you cancel for just any reason and this would be just any reason. I don’t think Delta Airlines cares if your favorite bodybuilder can’t compete. You’re not going to get your money back. So if you’re coming from out-of-state and you need to shell out for an airline ticket, now it’s going to be a lot more problematic if your favorite bodybuilders don’t show up.

That being said I think it’s going to be a fantastic show and I think that they have taken the approach of inviting a lot more athletes than usual also (maybe as a backup to another 2023 situation). I have also heard rumors that they have some possible substitutes that they may consider if needed, but I don’t think that’s going to really pan out because I don’t think any bodybuilder Is going to go through a prep just on the off-chance that spots become vacant and then they can compete. I think that’s ludicrous and I don’t think anyone is going to make the time or financial commitment to such a remote possibility. At least not anyone of substance. And you would need someone of substance to use as a replacement for a big-name bodybuilder that can’t compete. Hopefully this is just a rumor and nothing more, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some truth to it.

Just keep in mind that I don’t include just any random run-of-the-mill rumor in my articles for Iron Magazine. These are more like educated rumors that are being circulated among retired athletes, commentators, and historians of the sport. They could prove just as easily to be false as your locker room banter, but they tend to have at least some truth to them.

I think 2023 scared the living hell out of Arnold and his operation staff so I really wouldn’t put anything past them to try to make sure that 2024 had zero chance of another flop. That being said there’s only so much you can do with an invitational. And therein may lie the answer for 2025 and beyond. Transition the Arnold Classic from an invitational to either a pro qualifier like the Olympia or make it a totally open show. I think the invitational idea was good for 30 years and maybe something different is going to be good for the next 30 years.

If I have learned anything about bodybuilding it’s that you have to be pragmatic. If you can’t be pragmatic you’re not going to make it. You might be able to patch holes in the ship and do that each and every year but at some point that becomes kind of ridiculous and you literally have to do what’s right by the times permanently. But what say you? Will all of the international guys be able to compete? And do you anticipate the 2024 Arnold Classic to be a blockbuster event as it’s looking to be?

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