This year the press conference was announced held in a different venue, far closer to where I live, rather than the one from the previous years. Aside from the far greater convenience of not needing to spend upwards of an hour to go and an hour to come back, it must be said it was far better on all accounts. The auditorium was larger with more space, and the edibles for the starving press members were on a whole different level.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was quick to greet Rafael Santorro, the president of the IFBB, AKA the
International Federation of Bodybuilding.
Also present at the table were the Brazilian partners Felipe Bonilho and Ana Paula Leal Graziano, presidents respectively of Excalibur Congressos e Eventos and Savaget Promotions. Schwarzenegger was enthusiastic about the success of the partners and had warm words for them. And frankly, what is not to like? They have brought a truly monster event to Brazil, and have kept it running, and growing each and every year in spite of an embattled economy.
The speeches by all highlighted their delight at yet another edition, emphasizing the growing numbers of both events and visitors, all deserving of praise. The first year, the event was a tentative 19 sports events that attracted a little over 35 thousand visitors, and the next year it doubled to 31 competitions. This year the number expanded to 37 events, with over 80 thousand visitors crammed into the three-day event. In fact, it is really closer to two days, since Friday is actually reserved to professionals of the fields to conduct business.
Aside from the thank yous, and acknowledgements, there were a few eye-openers. For one thing, it was announced that the Arnold Classic franchise could now boast a presence in six continents with the introduction of new events this year to be held in South Africa and Hong Kong. There are already ones in the US, Brazil, Barcelona, and Australia.
The Arnold Sports Festival is now a truly worldwide franchise
Arnold has always made his agenda in the press conferences clear, and I do not say this with any negative connotations. The events are enormous, with huge influence, and have the power to help instigate change. Last year for example, he explained his desire to use sports as a means to combat delinquency and drug use. These are not new ideas of course, but with the backing of the governator and his entire organization, it is not without some extra oomph.
This year he expressed his wish to see greater inclusion in sports, fitness and training. He clarified that he did not just mean providing access for poor to sports and supplements to be fit and competitive, but also to handicapped people who are in many ways less likely to have access or even consider sports as options that are available to them. Noble words, and as will be seen later in the report, Arnold is a man of action, not just speeches.
After the press conference, everyone posed for the necessary group photo. At the right end
is Bob Lorimer, the son of Jim Lorimer, the 40-year partner of Arnold and now 89 years old.
Always one for a bit of fun with the media or public, Arnold took out a mobile phone to take a
selfie with the press corps behind him. They helped give his picture that extra special touch.
A last wave as he is whisked away
Sunday morning the chess events were to begin, awaiting the arrival of Arnold. As tradition would have it, a simul for children was organized with a master or grandmaster, which would be where Schwarzenegger would come in. Later a series of genuine chess competitions would be held with medals and prizes as any other of the many championships being held.
The organizer was FM Alberto Mascarenhas, the former president of the Rio de Janeiro Chess Federation
Starting the simul this year was FM Wagner Guimarães, multiple champion of Rio de Janeiro
and veteran teacher of children in humble communities
Arnold arrived with his usual cadre of dozens of security and personnel to ensure he moved
smoothly and safely from event to event. While chess may have a special place in his heart,
he visits every sports event represented at the festival, and everyone is left feeling special.
GM Darcy Lima, president of the Brazilian Chess Federation, together with Ana Paula Leal,
Alberto Mascarenhas, and of course the man whose name is behind it all.
For those who read the article from last year’s event, you might remember some issues I had with security and unexpected difficulties in providing the coverage I had hoped for. Not knowing what to expect, this year I tried to cover all the bases to avoid a repeat: I acquired not only press credentials, but also staff credentials for the chess organizers. I appealed to the Arnold Classic organizer, expressing regret over the previous year, and sent samples of the great work that had been done the previous years, articles and pictures, to the team behind the worldwide festivals.
Finally, if all else failed, I positioned myself smack in the middle of the simul space, well away from the entrance, ‘armed’ with my camera so that if I was removed, I would have time to get in at least a few shots. It turned out all this apprehensiveness was completely unnecessary. The security ignored me and just covered the entrance, and Arnold and his entourage walked in relaxed and smiling.
I was still a bit concerned, until Arnold got in front of one of the chess boards as he customarily
does, but before making a move, he did something unexpected. He looked sideward straight at
me and smiled. I immediately knew it was all good, and relaxed.
Arnold chose to focus on one board, that of the young boy above, playing him for a number of
moves. This was ideal for him, as he did not need to familiarize himself with a new position at
each step, and for everyone else as they could follow him easily.
On a sidenote, one must take one's hat off to him. He is in incredible shape for his 68 years (and for any age frankly). In the press conference he was asked what his daily fitness routine was, and he said that he did about an hour of aerobic training on a bicycle, and then about 45 minutes of weight training. An inspiration to all.
The added access also allowed me, and others who could see, to witness a very cute little episode, that could have easily gone unnoticed. His very young opponent was not only a relative beginner, but also slightly flustered by the sudden attention given by the star. Schwarzenegger played a knight move to f7, protected by a pawn on e6, and attacking Black’s queen on d8. Trying to not hold up the game, Black played a move that left his queen hanging. Arnold stared at the position, smiling, and after half a minute’s thought… removed his knight and the threat to the queen.
A few moves later, Arnold himself put his queen en prise, which the boy was quick to capture. As soon
as he did so, Arnold stood up, throwing his hands in the air with "My gosh I missed that!" and resigned
the game, congratulating his opponent. The boy was absolutely beaming. To almost everyone there,
the story was the boy had beaten Arnold, but to some of us, the tale had another twist to it.
After the game, Arnold went out of his way to greet every one of the children there, all of whom
were delighted. While most parents could not reproduce the shots I got, and I managed to capture
just about every one, they will all be made available at the federation's pages in high resolution.
High resolution versions of the photos can be found at my Flickr page.
In part two there will be a large pictorial of the festival and the chess activities