Schwarzenegger flexes nostalgic

At fitness event in Ohio, Calif. governor visits with idols from his muscle era

March 07, 2004|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,LOS ANGELES TIMES

COLUMBUS, Ohio - On his annual visit here for the fitness convention he owns, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger waxed nostalgic for his days as a champion bodybuilder, visiting with idols from his muscle days, handing out trophies at tournaments and declaring bodybuilding to be the "foundation" of his work in politics.

"No matter what I do, if it is acting or if it is business or if it is politics," the governor told a crowd of more than 5,000 inside the Greater Columbus Convention Center yesterday afternoon, "I will always be a bodybuilder." Schwarzenegger spent much of the day visiting venues at the Arnold Fitness Weekend, the centerpiece of which is a bodybuilding tournament called the Arnold Classic. He co-owns the event with a local lawyer.

As he moved from bodybuilding to gymnastics to martial arts to Olympic weightlifting, Schwarzenegger seemed more enthusiast than governor of the nation's largest state.

The governor gushed on meeting the former Soviet weightlifter Leonid Zhabotinsky, the 1964 Olympic gold medalist, whom Schwarzenegger recalled carrying the large Soviet flag upright with just one hand at the opening ceremonies. Schwarzenegger talked to anyone who would listen about how bodybuilding "created a foundation" for him by teaching him to turn obstacles into assets.

He recalled the frustration of being mistaken for a professional wrestler (and how he hired a publicist to correct that), his difficulties with diminishing his accent (he said he often repeated the phrase "a fine wine grows on the vine"), and even his use of steroids, which he sought to minimize.

He also spent time with his idol, the former bodybuilder Reg Park, and the promoter who first brought him to America, Joe Weider, who made a fortune in supplements and muscle magazines. Both men predicted that Schwarzenegger would become president - which would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing foreign-born citizens to run for the office.

"I expect him to end up at the White House," Park said.

Schwarzenegger also promoted the value of nutritional supplements, and in an 18-minute interview with California reporters he said he took such supplements "three or four times a day" based on a schedule kept in the bathroom of his Capitol office. "I never run out of energy," the governor said.

Schwarzenegger said that the drugs sold at his fitness convention were legal and that "we've had people arrested" for trying to sell illegal drugs there.

The governor also pledged to be an "Alabama tick" in fighting to keep drugs out of bodybuilding. Schwarzenegger, along with pro bodybuilding official Wayne Demilia, noted that the Arnold Classic competitors were tested for some drugs but acknowledged that athletes - with help from drug companies - were finding ways to beat drug tests.

"I know there are certain athletes, when you look at them, they are on something," Schwarzenegger said in an interview, "but you know, you test it and the test shows otherwise. That is a frustrating thing. I am a big believer that we should get rid of the problem."

Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) that is at the center of allegations of steroid use among pro athletes, is attending the Arnold Fitness Weekend. Conte faces federal steroid distribution charges. He has pleaded not guilty. Organizers say Conte has no official role and is not credentialed.

Approached by a Los Angeles Times reporter at the convention center early yesterday evening, Conte - who was wearing the orange paper bracelet given to those who bought tickets for the show - said he was in Columbus to promote a zinc magnesium supplement.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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