If you're looking for reasons to be pessimistic about the future of Women's Bodybuilding, then this year's NPC USAs - held in Las Vegas towards the end of July - would be a good place to start. You might point to the number of competitors in the division, a mere 11 spread across four weight categories, and bemoan the fact that there had been over 30 as recently as 2012. You might want to go on to point out that one of them, Yvette Bova, competing for the first time in nine years, looked a shadow of her former self, her "funbags" so large they obscured most of what the judges were interested in - look here if you dare. You might compare the Overall winner, the relatively unheralded Mary Cain, unfavourably to previous "big name" champions from the last few years like Aleesha Young, Margie Martin, or Sarah Hayes.
I could go on.
But FMS has never been in the doom-and-gloom business, and I'm not about to start now. I may have had to spend a bit longer than normal to find my reasons to be cheerful about the 2015 USAs, and not all of them come from the Women's Bodybuilding division. But today, let's look on the bright side and get happy about the 2015 version of this long-running festival of top-class amateur female muscle.
Heavyweight & Overall Champion, new IFBB pro
Fitting, don't you think, that the USAs should be won by a Mary Cain? See what I did there? A-mer-i-can, a-Mar-y-cain... No? OK, well I thought it was pretty good anyway.
I've been checking out contest pics for more years than I care to mention. I reckon I've pretty much seen it all, you know? But I personally don't think I've ever seen a transition from lat spread to back double biceps (prejudging and routine) that involved giving the judges a face full of glootage quite like Mary's did. NICE!
One can only hope nobody from the IFBB was paying to much attention to the Women's Bodybuilding at the show, because - spoil sports that they are - I reckon this is just the kind of outrageous sexiness they would seek to outlaw at Mary's future (pro) shows.
The wonderful Wendy once again turned up at a national show looking big and beautiful. But once again the judges were less impressed by her than me, and she finished third in a class of three. Hardly a reason to be cheerful you might think.
Wendy was understandably disappointed when her placing was announced - she later thanked Margie Martin for "a much needed hug" when the latter gave her her trophy. But - and here's the reason to be cheerful - her USAs experience seems to have just made her even more determined than before to carry on competing, more determined than ever to get that pro card. Bring on the North Americans! she says.
Results don't always tell the whole story, wrote Wendy after the show. It's what you learn on your journey. I gained new friendships with the kickass women I competed with and have such respect for. To hear their stories and realize the challenges we face as women, athletes and moms is inspiring and encouraging.
Physique Class B Winner, new IFBB pro
No reason to be pessimistic about the future of the Women's Physique Division, and no lack of muscle, either. Many of the Physique women could have swapped categories and walked the Women's Bodybuilding Lightweight and even Middleweight classes as far as I can see. Amid the general hot hot heat there were real standouts, not least the Class B winner (and former lightweight bodybuilder) Chelsey Coleman.
I remember being somewhat impressed by Chelsey a few years back when, as a baby-faced bodybuilder, she appeared in a ten-lus minute clip working out in nothing more than a little blue bikini. She then fell off the radar. Well, she's back with a bang now.
If there was an award for 'Best Stage Presence', 'B' class winner Chelsey Coleman would be the hands down winner, according to Steve Wennerstrom's contest report on RxMuscle. For her, the Physique division is a perfect fit and the 26-year-old former college gymnast shows excellent potential as she moves into the pro ranks.
Physique Class D Runner-up, new IFBB pro
Unlike Chelsey, who was competing in Physique for the first time, Brie has been missing out on her pro card at national level shows since 2012. Not this time though. 2nd place in her class was good enough to finally get Her Brieness - again a top 20 finisher in our annual Hot and Hard 100 poll this year - that long-cherished pro status.
As always, Brie seemed to be enjoying the hell out of her stage time. And I don't expect we will have to wait very long before we see her strut her considerable stuff again. The single biggest mental obstacle I've had to overcome is remembering that when the competition is done, it's okay to look like a "normal" person. It’s okay to have some body fat and not every muscle stretching itself out of my skin! she says. Her brand new status gives her a great excuse to avoid that "normal person" look for a while...
I was and still am beyond elated, she wrote a few days afterwards. The taste of the stage is still palpable and the want to prep is rich in my veins. So I shall strike while the iron is hot!!! Now, just to decide on my first pro show... hmmm.
Light Heavyweight Runner-up
Yes I know the women above and below aren't Jacqui, just bear with me...
Very happy-making to see that several of the women in both Physique and Bodybuilding felt the need to hit the most muscular pose - happy-making even if they weren't all that muscular. It is, after all, about the feeling, the pump, the sheer Grrrrrr of it... well, I know what I mean anyway! But admirable and exciting as all the efforts were, as anybody who has ever seen (or had) a cam show with Jacqui will testify, when it comes to the full Grrrrrr, she's a pro, often exclusively hitting the most musculars for as long as the "client" (the schmammer?) has money left in their account.
So, given Jacqui's penchant for ten or more minutes of making her pecs turn into pumped up wonders of striated and vascular muscle, one most muscular in each of the rounds must have seemed like something of a day off to her pecs. And she provided a very welcome antidote to the "Yvette Bova" look for the fans I dare say.
Physique Class C Runner-up, new IFBB pro
I completely forgot my finals routine onstage, and ended up making up as I went along, admits new IFBB pro Sierra Mangus. Whoops! I doubt it made any difference. As one fan pointed out, I guess when you look that graceful you can just wing it.
Graceful she is indeed. And searingly sexy. Her hair, as she promised it would before the show, matched her posing suit. Glutes, abs, beautiful pecs (I paid for this chest in gym dues, DIY boobs, thank you very much, she says), great back, terrific legs... AND she's gorgeous. And, as anyone who follows her terrific Instagram will be able to confirm, she far from wings it with her preparation, she's VERY thorough. And what's more, she is a bit of a philosopher too. On more than one occasion I've read one of her posts and found myself wondering whether I'd read something like that in the Tao Te Ching or Confucius. Really! Sierra is definitely a thinker as well as a beauty.
My whole world has revolved around this [getting my pro card] for the last few years, she wrote after the show was over. It's weird to wrap my head around, that tonight was the last time I'd pose on an NPC stage. But the weirdest thing ever was I had people come up and say they were fans tonight! I'm just a gymrat. I beg to differ.
Light Heavyweight Winner, new IFBB pro
It's entirely possible, writes Steve Wennerstrom, that Washington's Tarna Alderman carried with her a higher level of emotion to the victory stand than most. He is, of course, referring to Tarna's journey from her former self - 18 stone (236lbs, 107kg) - to the chiselled 9 and a bit stones (138lbs, 62.5kg) muscle goddess and new IFBB pro Bodybuilder that she became on July 25th at the NPC USAs.
Attentive readers of FMS passim should be in no doubt how I feel about Tarna - she was one of the FMS Women of the Year in 2012, for example - and my admiration for her has only grown stronger in the intervening years. Her decision to stick with Bodybuilding after a brief flirtation with Physique has been vindicated. The pro shows can be a tough place for a light-heavyweight to flourish in, but just look how Alana Shipp has thrived in the last two years - and she was a lightweight!
I spent some time right after the contest being both stunned and shocked, Tarna said. Then after a few more days I realized I was really just getting started. I was a pro now, and that still hasn't sunk in. At the age of just 31, relatively young for a pro in Women's Bodybuilding, let's hope it's true that she is "just getting started".
Has that made you smile?
Lots more pics on Gene X Hwang and Muscular Development.
Watch Overall Physique champ Billie Cavalier interviewed for NPC News Online by Nicole Wilkins . And check out those pecs in all their Grrrrrr-some glory (as well as all her other assets) in Jacqueline Horan's evening show routine.