Once upon a time, the only way I could get the results of female bodybuilding contests was from muscle magazines. I was excited to see the handful of images of the winner and the other top finishers, but then again being dependent on the magazines for female muscle material meant I was pretty excited about any image of a female bodybuilder in those days. But by the time I was reading that Cory Everson or Lenda Murray had won the Ms Olympia title again, and drooling over the pictures of them posing on stage, a month or more had passed since the contest itself.
It's all different now. Big contests like the Olympia have live webcasts. I can actually watch the show. If there isn't a webcast, there will be a website where I can follow a 'play-by-play' description of what's happening on stage. Images are uploaded within hours of the show, and hundreds of images of each contest, sometimes of each contestant, are available online within days. I'm so much more engaged with female bodybuilding as a sport now.
What hasn't changed is the way I personally 'judge' the contests. From those magazine years until the present I have never been able to look at the women in any objective way. I want my favourite to win. I judge with my heart (or perhaps groin would be a more accurate description). Back in 1988 I would have been looking at the pics in Muscle & Fitness and wishing Anja had beaten Cory (and don't get me wrong I thought Cory was great, but I was in love with Anja). A few weekends ago I followed the play-by-play description of the recent UKBFF British Championships (by reigning champ Rosanna Harte, no less) hoping that my favourite lady would win.
I'm completely unable to think about contests in any other way.
More about the UKBFF later in the week.
But we begin our week of reviews with the biggest contest of them all...
26th September, Las Vegas
26th September, Las Vegas
The result was no surprise, no surprise at all. Iris Kyle was crowned for the ninth time (a record for any bodybuilder, male or female) and for the eighth time in a row. It is a magnificent, unique achievement, and to my untrained and ignorant eye, she really did look back to her best after a disappointing showing at the Ms International, when she had been suffering from illness (though that hadn't stopped her winning it). One spectator who attended the show agreed, I saw her at the Arnold and was not that impressed with her performance. But at the Olympia people were in awe when she flexed her back and hit her poses. Another female muscle fan claimed, You had to be there to believe it. She exudes champion attitude. She was really shining with confidence and really had the most professionalism.
It's easy to knock Iris (as we noted here on FMS in our Ms O countdown). She is held by some to be responsible for the demise of female bodybuilding at its highest level, simply because she has turned up in her best shape year after year. It seems to me that is a peverse way to look at it. In fact, I think what has happened is that Iris has forced her competitors to raise their game. To challenge her, to really challenge for the Ms Olympia title, you are going to have to bring a spectacular package to Las Vegas. In years past that spectacular package has been brought a number of times by Yaxeni Oriquen. In 2009 it was Heather Policky, and last year it was Debi Laszewski who had never been better. This year, though, the challenge came from Alina Popa.
Before the show we wondered how she could improve on the physique she had presented the judges in 2011 and 2012. We knew she hadn't been seen on stage since last year's Olympia. We knew she had been preparing in Colorado at Heather Policky's ex-husband's gym, the gym frequented by Mr Olympia Phil Heath. We thought that if there was anywhere she could find that little extra surely this was the place for her to be. We imagined her emerging from the Rockies bigger and better than ever.
And we were not disappointed.
Debi Laszewski finished in the top three for the second year in a row. Yaxeni Oriquen, the Olympia veteran of Olympia veterans, was fourth, her lowest placing since 2009 - which was probably more indicative of the high overall standard than any shortcomings on her part. Gorgeous Brigita Brezovac, in what we now know was sadly her last ever competition, was fifth, and the top six was completed by rising star Juanita Blaino, competing in her first Olympia.
Personally, I was very very taken with Juanita, as I have been every time I've seen pictures of her in competition. Her glutes, I am quite happy to admit, are two of my favourite things in female bodybulding at the moment. I was also, as I always am, extremely excited to see the bounteously muscular physique of Mmmmonique Jones (8th place) in a posing suit. Her routine, full of understated slinky sexy moves was one of the 2013 Ms O highlights for the area in and around my groin.
My heart went out to Tina Chandler, a long-time FMS favourite, who finished 12th (last because Tammy Jones withdrew). I'm beginning to wonder if we are ever going to see the stunning 2011 Tampa Pro Tina again, but having said that, if Slave had been judging the show, Tina would have been in the top six just for being Tina.
But 2013 at the Ms O was, for me, all about Alina. And not just for me. She has that je ne sais quoi, that x-factor, that makes her appeal not just to the fans, but to her peers, and just about anybody else with an interest in the sport. It was unanimous that Alina should have won, said one of the fans who attended. Not the first time that a female bodybuilding result has been questioned, I don't want to make that tired, old point again. But that fan continued, From other ladies who were on that stage to the countless FBBs at the event. From fans to photographers all in favour of Alina. It was overwhelming. And not to mention social media was heavily in favour of her as well. No one, it seems, is immune to Alina's charms.
With the genetics I have bodybuilding is my only option to compete right now, tweeted Tarna Alderman after the Ms Olympia. @ALINAPOPA1 shows it can be feminine! I've been a big fan of Alina since I got into bbing, [she's] literally the only reason I've stayed with bbing, very inspiring.
Alina certainly has more followers than Iris has ever had. For all her achievements, and despite her consistent excellence over more than a decade, Iris has never won the fans' hearts in the way Alina undoubtedly has. More pertinent than that though, is the reaction of Alina's peers to her Olympia performance. They might indicate that it is now Alina, not Iris, who sets the standards other female bodybuilders aspire to.
Alina now leads the challenge to dethrone Iris - in fact she looks like the only contender. She leads the popularity stakes with the fans, and female bodybuilders the world over look to emulate her. And since the Olympia she has taken to her Facebook page to speak to her sisters of iron, calling for a collective effort to reinvigorate the sport. Alina may not be Ms Olympia. Not yet, anyway. But, it seems to me that she can rightly claim to be the leading female bodybuilder in the world now.
Review the 2013 Ms O routines on YouTube (first of three parts) here