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One of bodybuilding’s greatest benefactors, Jim Lorimer, has passed away. He was 96. Many of you know Jim as the guy who partnered with Arnold Schwarzenegger to put on the Arnold Classic and the Ms International in 1989 – which became known today as the Arnold Sports Festival, growing in size and scope to include numerous other sporting events with an athlete participation almost twice that of the Olympics, that has been duplicated on five continents.
But Jim Lorimer contributed much more than that. Much more. To say Lorimer lived an eventful life is like saying the Grand Canyon is a drainage ditch. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Lorimer graduated from Ursinus College, then went on to receive a law degree from Penn State, then embarked on a career as a special agent with the FBI. In the late 1950s, after several years in the FBI, Lorimer relocated to Worthington, Ohio to join the Nationwide insurance company, where he became vice president of international affairs. Lorimer’s lifelong passion for sports led him to found the Ohio Track Club Girls Team. His success with the team included several national championships, and earned Lorimer a role as secretary and chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee for Women’s Track & Field. His growing involvement in sports led Lorimer to chair the World Weightlifting Championship in Columbus in 1967, then brought the Mr. World and Mr. Olympia to the city.
Jim Lorimer invited a young Austrian bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger to compete in the 1970 Mr. World in Columbus. This meeting fostered a partnership that gave birth to the biggest sports festival in the world.
Of his partner and friend, Arnold wrote: “When I met him 52 years ago at the Mr. World bodybuilding championship he organized so fantastically in Columbus, OH, I immediately knew Jim would be a big part of my life. I told him when I retired from competing, we would be partners and promote bodybuilding together. And starting in 1976, we did just that with a handshake agreement for more than 50 years, expanding from a small bodybuilding show to a sports festival with 200,000 visitors and more athletes than the Olympics.”
Announcing Lorimer’s passing on social media yesterday, Arnold wrote: “I am devastated that I won’t sit with him again and hear his wisdom, or critique bodybuilders together, or just laugh and laugh. Jim lives on in every member of his family, and he lives on in me. He’s one reason I would never call myself self-made.”
The Schwarzenegger/Lorimer partnership has become a mainstay of the entire city of Columbus, contributing tens of millions of dollars annually to the City’s coffers. “Jim put Columbus on the map when it came to bodybuilding and other sports-related competitions,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther. “But he did much more for the city, especially our young people.”
Despite the growth of the Arnold, Lorimer still found time to enrich his life and lives of others, notably in his community of Worthington. He was appointed Worthington’s mayor in 1967, a position he held for 14 years. He was later elected to Worthington City Council, and served as vice mayor of Worthington for several decades before retiring in 2019. Add it all up and there’s no argument that Lorimer used his 96 years well. But of all he accomplished in his long life, Lorimer remained, at heart, one of us. In a 2020 interview Jim said, “I’ve had an opportunity to do a number of things, and have enjoyed them all. But the most rewarding of all is what happened with the Arnold Sports Festival.” For that we are forever grateful.
Lorimer was preceded in death last year by his beloved wife of more than 50 years, Jean. He is survived by the couple’s three children, Kathy Jane Nagle (Paul), James Jeffrey Lorimer (Jeanne) and Robert Craig Lorimer (Tammy), six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Jim Lorimer was fearless, a dreamer, the taskmaster, a confident, powerful man who honored us by responsibly running a major industry event of which we have been proud for over two decades. What he set into motion has become unstoppable. Generations from now, athletes from all over the wolrd will continue to descend upon Columbus to participate in a landmark event that serves more athletes than the Olympics. But, as far as that reach will extend, the core of that monster will forever be the men and women bodybuilders who first took the stage in 1989.
I always talk of a “pantheon of modern bodybuilding.” Among them I include the inventors, the visionaries, the pioneers, the angels and the disruptors that have elevated our sport and our industry to such staggering heights; men such as Joe and Ben Weider, Joe Gold, Arthur Jones, Ed Conors, Arnold, Jim Manion, John Balik, and Robert Kennedy, to name a few. For better or worse, these men, and their ilk, have hammered, forged and shaped our world such as it is today and will be decades from now. I knew many of these men and I know all of them would believe that the great Pantheon would not be complete without Jim seated at the table.
Godspeed, Jim. You lived a great, long, life and touched so many people. I’ll forever cherish the ride you took me on up the scissor jack, to view the Expo from your favorite perch, high above the floor. The view from the top being a metaphor, I suppose, for from where you’re looking now. RIP my friend.