Cathy LeFrançois and Debi Laszweski have, between them, over forty years of contest experience. Cathy first competed at in a local amateur show in Québec in 1990 as a 19-year-old. I really didn't have any idea about what I needed to do, she says. I learned to pose by looking at pictures in magazines. Someone told me that I needed to do some sort of dance routine for the night show, so that is what I did. She walked away with awards for best poser and best routine, and the conviction that she had found her calling. Debi, inspired at 21 to take up weight training by Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor physique, first competed three years later, in 1994.
By 1995, Cathy was a pro, and by 2000 had become one half of bodybuilding's premier couple after marrying Lee Priest. She had competed at two Olympias by the time she made a sojourn into figure, with little success, in 2005, the same year her marriage ended (I'm not suggesting these things are connected!). Since 2006 not a year has gone by without her stepping onto the stage as a competitor, her biggest wins being her three consecutive New York Pro titles between 2008 and 2010, and victory at the Tampa Pro in 2011.
The Tampa win put paid to thoughts that Cathy's best years were behind her, and she has finished in the top 6 at the last two Ms Internationals. The older I get the better I get! she says. More muscle gain, maturity and your fan club grows with it. I would like to be in the top 5 again! I would love to be top 3 and be the one holding my friend Iris Kyle's hand.
Debi has already been there, holding Iris' hand last year as she finished second, breaking the 'Iris first Yaxeni second' result for the first time since Heather Policky was runner-up in 2009. In fact, since that year, Debi's Olympia record is as good as, if not better than, Yaxeni Oriquen's, with a second, two thirds, and a fourth place.
No one can begrudge her this belated success. At the 2000 and 2001 Nationals she was so dismayed by the judges' decisions that she took four years out of competition, and after her return in 2005, when she came second, missing out on her pro card again, she commented that I always seem to do the wrong show at the wrong time. It was more than ten years after her first competition that she was finally able to turn professional. Subsequently, she has been a regular in the top two or three at the Olympia and the Ms International, and describes her career as currently being at a pinnacle.
If Debi were to walk off the stage as the new Ms Olympia on Friday, which is her avowed aim, it would be a shock of seismic proportions. As her fellow female muscle veteran has said, To beat Iris Kyle she would have to be retired! But, you never really know what's going to happen at female bodybuilding shows, and if that unlikely event does occur, nobody could say that Debi hadn't earned it.
CATHY LEFRANÇOIS (Can)
Born: Amqui, Québec
Height: 5'3" (1.60)
Best Ms O: 4th (lightweight) 2000, 2003
In 2013: 5th Ms International
DEBI LASZEWSKI (USA)
Born: Wausau, Wisconsin
Height: 5’2½" (1.59)
Best Ms O: 2nd 2012
In 2013: 3rd Ms International