As the Women's Bodybuilding at the Omaha Pro had been slagged off both in advance and afterwards, I resolved to avoid all previews and reports from Toronto. It seems to me that however big or small the field, whatever you might (subjectively) think about the quality of the women on show or the judging, I think what matters in these harsh times is that the show took place and female bodybuilders were part of it. Who knows how long much longer that will be the case? Let's celebrate while we still can.
In Omaha the previous weekend there had been ten of them. Last Saturday in Toronto, they were but seven. And FMS is going to give each and every one of those seven some appreciation in today's post. There'll be no gripes and no whinging. Just love and admiration. They are female bodybuilders, and they are all magnificent.
7 AMANDA AIVALIOTIS
After winning her pro card at last year's NPC North Americans, Amanda made her professional bow in the city she calls home at the age of 45. Good to see Amanda didn't neglect to get a cheeky most muscular or two into her routine - something she is known for - and I'm also happy to see she hasn't taken any notice of the forum posters who don't like her on stage facial expressions, 'cos I love 'em.
Amanda started training at the age of 16 - The moment I touched a weight, I was ready to sculpt my physique. Once I stepped on stage, I was hooked on bodybuilding - she says, reckoning it is the Spartan Greek in her blood that provides the fascination she has with creating the perfect physique. Her gym sounds pretty Spartan too - brick walls and chains hanging from the ceiling - she says. And now she has broken her pro cherry, she plans to compete again this year, possibly twice more.
6 BONNIE SWITZER
Bonnie who? I said to myself as I looked at the competitor lists before the show (and no, that doesn't count as a preview). Boy did I feel stoopid when I saw the prejudging pics late Saturday night UK time. Of course! How many other Bonnies are there?
For the first time since 2012, the Bonnie who is better known as Pappas (although it seems she's been Switzer (or Pappas Switzer) for a while) [easy on the brackets! - ed.] graced the stage in Toronto, and to my eyes anyway, she looks just as charismatic as I remember her. I've caused a few accidents! she says. I can believe it. And she's still on a mission. I love being able to turn it on in the gym, sweat, swear and lift with the best of them, but also able to go out and prove that female muscle can be sexy, feminine and very appealing. Mission accomplished in Toronto, I reckon.
5 MARGIE MARTIN
Look at those big and juicy thighs cascading out of those denim shorts - if there was a prize for the best check-in outfit, I reckon Margie would win it at every show. And like Amanda, Margie squeezed out a most muscular. Could she be any more "vesuvial"?!
She was pretty much FMS' Swoon Queen in 2014, and the way she's started the contest season in 2015, she ain't gonna be losing her crown any time soon. Imagine being enveloped by all that beefy black muscle. At this point in my life it means more than it ever did before - says Margie, which I hope means she ain't going to stop doing what she does to me for a long time to come. Uh-oh, I feel a swoon coming on...
4 GILLIAN KOVACK
Gillian, I noticed you were listed both here and in Omaha as one of the Physique competitors. Was that your idea of a joke? Getting me all worried and all. No joke, she says, wagging a finger. I just wanted to give you a nice surprise. And I was a nice surprise, wasn't I? Well, OK, then. I'm blushing, naturally. You were a lovely surprise. A lovely big surprise? she asks, those big brown eyes searing straight into mine...
She's back. And she's still got that back. A back that moved me so at the same show three years ago now. She was going through her dark hair phase then, now she's back to blond and back to her best. Collected another 4th place at the Toronto Pro yesterday, Gillian really said after the show. Combined with the result in Omaha that should be enough points to qualify me for the Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix Women's Bodybuilding World Championship in San Antonio on Aug 22nd! So after a needed week off I'll be starting my prep. Thankfully, those competitor lists were wrong and the big and beautiful Gillian is still every inch a bodybuilder.
3 JANA BENDOVA
The first of two Czechs who proved to be the dark horses of the show, Jana's name didn't ring any bells before the show, but as soon as I saw the pictures, I recognised her. Not facially, as it happens, but rather it was the insane conditioning, and the striations across her pure muscle pecs in particular, that were familiar.
Muscle Memory tells us that Jana's been competing at European and World level since 2010. She's had some podium finishes, but never managed to win a title. Safe to assume then that she had received one of those discretionary pro cards handed out by national federations - pretty much the only way for European bodybuilders to get on the pro circuit these days. And well-deserved it was I'm sure. She's certainly done whoever was responsible for the award proud in her first pro outing.
2 VERA MIKULCOVA
Last time I remember seeing Vera, she was sweating buckets, emitting deeper grunts than is considered ladylike in most circles, and curling about as much as my car weighs (I may have made that last bit up). I was impressed. And I have to say I am impressed this time around as well. Them's some big ol' biceps she is sporting, and at over 5'8" (1.73m) she carries all that muscle on a seriously statuesque frame.
Like her compatriot Jana, it may appear that Vera has come from nowhere to take 2nd place here, but it's not as though the Czech Republic have never produced quality female bodybuilders, is it? The heirs to Zuzana and Jitka have arrived. And if there was any doubt before, there isn't now. They're serious contenders.
1 CHRISTINE ENVALL
It takes more than a tight layer of clothing to hide muscles like Christine's, and on stage there's no mistaking the quality and quantity she carries these days. Her leg bicep alone was probably worth the price of admission to many of the female bodybuilding fans lucky enough to see Christine take the title in Toronto. 2014 saw her debut at the Olympia after a career spanning more than two decades. Now, just a year on from that career highlight, she's a pro champ for the very first time.
The emotion of her win is there for all to see in the contest galleries, and why shouldn't she be? At 42, she's bound for the Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championships - not exactly a name that slips of the tongue, even if it is rather apt. But I very much doubt Christine gives much of a hoot what it's called, just that she's going to be there, and that one more career highlight might be waiting there for her. In both Omaha and Toronto there have been some surprises. Who knows what surprises might be in store in San Antonio come August 22nd?
Next stop for Female Bodybuilding: Chicago, July 2nd.