The three-day event, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of people from around the country, features physical competitions, demonstrations and a trade show with hundreds of exhibits touching on nutrition, sports equipment and more. Fitness and lifestyles management expert Mackie Shilstone, who was instrumental in bringing the expo to the city and whose General Nutrition Centers is a sponsor, says he believes New Orleans will become the permanent home for the world-class expo, boosting the city's economy and national prestige and heightening awareness of fitness and nutrition issues.
"I'm excited about bringing the largest fitness show ever to be in the city," says Shilstone, executive director of the Mackie Shilstone Center for Performance Enhancement and Lifestyle Management at Ochsner Clinic Foundation's Elmwood Fitness Center. "It represents a landmark in that this convention will be housed here permanently. It will represent elite people in the fitness industry."
Top fitness athletes and professional men and women bodybuilders from around the world will converge on the convention center to compete for a prize purse of more than $250,000. Competitive events include bodybuilding pro championships in both men's and women's divisions, fitness pro championships, the World Powerlifting Organization's semi-finals, an arm wrestling challenge and a Show of Strength Strong Man competition.
A highlight of the spectator events is the Kurt Angle Classic USA vs. the World Wrestling Tournament. That event will be presided over by Angle, an Olympic wrestling gold medalist and World Wrestling Federation champion, and will spotlight Olympic and world champion athletes participating in three Olympic wrestling styles: women's freestyle, men's Greco-Roman and men's freestyle. Under the America vs. the World premise, U.S. champions will battle all-star teams from across the globe in matches that will be spiced up with music and interviews of the athletes.
Other competitions that focus on strength include an arm-wrestling challenge and a Strong Man contest. Bodybuilding competitions will include appearances by Lee Priest, King Kamali, Cathy LeFrancois Priest, Gunther Schlierkamp, Vickie Gates, Craig Titus, Jenny Worth and others. Plus, more than 200 athletes who specialize in strength will compete for prize money and competition titles during the expo.
"Some of the top body builders will be involved in the event," says Shilstone, a partner in the local GNC franchise, named Franchise of the Year in the country. "This convention will probably be the third most sought-after bodybuilding title in the world. The Sports Foundation has adopted it as an event. It is going to eventually pull 30,000 to the city, probably in the second year."
On Nov. 10, conventiongoers can attend a "Train with the Champions" seminar conducted by the bodybuilders who won the competition the night before.
"Having the top athletes in the sport assembled under one roof, competing for the unprecedented crowning title will be an unbelievable experience," says Tammy Simpson, event director for the expo. "With all the other planned activities, fans will be completely entertained from open to close."
Every day the Show of Strength Expo Stage will feature prejudging of men's and women's bodybuilding competitions followed by live entertainment.
Although professional wrestling on television has drawn huge numbers of loyal followers in the past few years, some of the strength and bodybuilding competitions, especially those involving women athletes, are not as familiar to the public, but the popularity is increasing, Shilstone says.
"They're not mainstream yet," he says, "but I think there's a very strong following here and also outside the city in Lafayette and Houma. You'll be surprised at how many people are doing (bodybuilding).
"It's something that people ought to come to. You're going to see world champions everywhere. It's a golden opportunity for the public to see some of the top bodybuilders in the country and a chance to see some of the future Olympic champions in wrestling."
Another large draw is the bench press competition, expected to draw the largest contingent of lifters in the United States because it can qualify athletes to compete in the Bench Press World Champsionship at the Arnold Schwartzenegger Strength Classic in Ohio in March 2003. Among the contenders is Josh Ward, a 15-year-old athlete who is the youngest ever to press more than 500 pounds.
The trade show will include hundreds of products -- nutritional, equipment, clothing and more. Some of the booths will be manned by former and current athletes such as 1999 U.S. Strongman Champion Bryan Neese, currently ranked among the top 10 strength athletes in the United States after working through a severe injury two years ago. He still is competing and also gives functional strength seminars as well as preparing a certification course in functional strength training.
Other athletes on board to help explain products include Tani Johnson, a 2001 multiple title winner, and Don "The Beast" Youngblood, who are representing The Beast Sports Nutrition at the trade show. Johnson last year won the NPC Nationals Overall Fitness title, NPC Northwest Championships, Washington State Ironman, Washington State Championships, Emerald Cup Figure and earlier the 2000 Fitness Texas Champion. In August, she took second place at the JanTana Pro Classic. Youngblood, who is competing with a young man's physique at age 47, last year placed second in the IFBB Masters Olympia and plans to go back this year to capture the crown at competition in Las Vegas. Earlier this year, he won the 2002 Master IFBB Mr. "O" title at JanTana Pro Classic.
The event is sponsored by General Nutrition Centers, the largest specialty retailer of nutritional and sports supplements in the country, and Physical magazine, a monthly that is considered the leading publication in the sports nutrition realm and the official magazine of the Arnold Fitness Weekend, which is staged in Columbus, Ohio each year.