One of bodybuilding’s greatest benefactors, Jim Lorimer, has died. He was 96 years old. Many of you will know Jim as the guy who partnered with Arnold Schwarzenegger to organize the Arnold Classic and Ms International in 1989 – which became known today as Arnold Sports Festivalgrowing in size and scope to include many other sporting events with almost twice the athlete attendance of the Olympics, which was duplicated on five continents.
But Jim Lorimer contributed much more than that. Much more. To say that Lorimer lived a checkered life is like saying that the Grand Canyon is a drainage ditch. After serving in the United States Navy during World War II, Lorimer graduated from Ursinus College, then earned 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 with the FBI, Lorimer moved to Worthington, Ohio to join the Nationwide Insurance Company, where he became vice president for international affairs. Lorimer’s passion for sports led him to found the Ohio Track Club women’s team. Her success with the team included several national championships and earned Lorimer a role as Secretary and President of the United States Olympic Committee for Women’s Athletics. His growing involvement in the sport led Lorimer to preside over the World Weightlifting Championship in Columbus in 1967 and then brought 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 gave birth to a partnership that gave birth to the largest sports festival in the world.
About his partner and friend, Arnold wrote, “When I met him 52 years ago at the Mr. World Bodybuilding Championship he hosted so fantastically in Columbus, OH, I immediately knew that Jim would be a big part of my life. I told him when I retired from competition we would be partners and promote bodybuilding together. And starting in 1976, we did just that with a handshake deal for over 50 years, growing from a small bodybuilding show to a sports festival with 200,000 visitors and more athletes than the Olympics.
Announcing Lorimer’s death on social media Yesterday Arnold wrote: ‘I am devastated to no longer sit with him and hear his wisdom, or criticize bodybuilders together, or just laugh and laugh. Jim lives in every member of his family, and he lives in me. He is one of the reasons why I would never call myself self-taught.
The Schwarzenegger/Lorimer partnership became a mainstay of the entire city of Columbus, contributing tens of millions of dollars annually to the city’s coffers. “Jim has put Columbus on the map when it comes to bodybuilding and other sports-related competitions,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said. “But he has done a lot more for the city, especially for our young people.”
Despite the Arnold’s growth, Lorimer still found time to enrich his life and the lives of others, especially in his community of Worthington. He was appointed mayor of Worthington in 1967, a post he held for 14 years. He was later elected to Worthington City Council and served as Worthington’s deputy mayor for several decades before retiring in 2019. Add it all up and there’s no argument Lorimer used his 96 years well. But of all that he accomplished in his long life, Lorimer remained, at heart, one of us. In a 2020 interview, Jim said, “I had the opportunity to do a number of things and enjoyed them all. But most gratifying of all is what happened with the Arnold Sports Festival. For that, we are eternally grateful.
Lorimer was predeceased last year by his beloved wife of over 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 a fearless, dreamer, leader, confident and powerful man who honored us by responsibly hosting a major industry event that we have been proud of for over two decades. What he set in motion became unstoppable. Generations from now, athletes from around the world will continue to descend on Columbus to compete in a historic event that serves more athletes than the Olympics. But, as that reach expands, the core of this behemoth will forever be the male and female bodybuilders who first took the stage in 1989.
I always talk about a “pantheon of modern bodybuilding”. Among them, I include the inventors, visionaries, trailblazers, angels and disruptors who have lifted our sport and our industry to such 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 hammered, forged and shaped our world as it is today and decades from now. I knew many of these men and I know they would all believe that the great Hall of Fame would not be complete without Jim sitting at the table.
Good luck, Jim. You have lived a long and beautiful life and touched so many people. I will forever cherish the ride you took me on the scissor lift to view Expo from your favorite perch above the ground. The view from above being a metaphor, I guess, of where you are looking from now. RIP my friend.