Two Fresno bodybuilders with iconic names in the sport nationally, brought home top awards from this weekend’s Arnold Classic event in Columbus, Ohio.
Defending champion Erin Banks won his second consecutive title in the men’s physique event, earning a $10,000 top prize for his efforts. The event’s promoter and namesake, Arnold Schwarzenegger, presented Banks with his second championship trophy to match his first from one year ago.
Banks’ back to back top finishes put him in rare company. He’s now just the second competitor to win consecutive titles in the men’s physique division at the Arnold Classic, behind Andre Ferguson, who has three back-to-back titles to his name. The competition began in 1989.
Also taking honors as the top bodybuilding event was another Fresno native, Ken “Flex” Wheeler, who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the sport. Now retired, Wheeler won four Arnold Classic titles between 1993 and 2000 in addition to numerous other championships.
Wheeler’s nickname “Flex” came from his impressive agility, including the ability to do the splits as a competitor.
The caption accompanying a photo of Schwarzenegger onstage with Wheeler praised Flex as, “a man who embodies what it means to be a champion both on and off the stage.”
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Wheeler has helped to train Banks as he has progressed through his career.
This article updates the earlier GV Wire story below.
Fresno native Erin Banks is looking to continue his dominance in elite bodybuilding this weekend, hoping to repeat as men’s physique champion at the 2023 Arnold Classic in Ohio.Banks won that title in 2022, as well as the championship of the Men’s Physique Olympia in December, making him the first man to finish at the top of both competitions in the same year.
It’s an impressive achievement for someone with just five years of competitive bodybuilding experience. Before 2018, Banks had little interest in the sport.
“I was just a personal trainer, never thought about bodybuilding,” Banks told Muscle and Fitness magazine in a recent article. “I wasn’t a fan of bodybuilding before I started bodybuilding myself.”
The Clovis East graduate and three-sport athlete was encouraged by a friend to give it a try and found his first taste of success the next year at the National Physique Committee (NPC) Fresno Classic. Banks won his class as an amateur in that competition.
During breaks in Saturday’s event, Banks is taking time to meet with fans at a sponsor booth. It’s an uncommon move for a bodybuilder at a major event.
“I’m a people person,” Banks told Muscle and Fitness. “I’ve been able to meet a lot of people, encourage a lot of people, and I want to give back to my community back home. Also, these fans paid money to see Erin Banks compete or to meet me. It’s my opportunity to give back, at least for one hour.”
For more on Banks, check out this 2021 interview with Fresno TV station ABC30 soon after he turned pro.