There is a theory among the brethren that European Physique women are just a little (or even a lot) bigger and more muscular than their North American peers. And there's another, a kind of sister theory if you like, that European judges reward such muscularity a bit (or a lot) more readily than their North American counterparts.
Now, I'm not about to try to prove or disprove either of these theories - not today anyway - but what I will say is that when seven European Physique pros lined up in Zilina, Slovakia towards the end of May this year, there was mucho muscle on show.
And I will also say that far from penalising the more muscular competitors, or the muscular competitors with the most severe conditioning - which, if I understood the infamous "15%" IFBB directive from last year correctly, is what they are supposed to do - the judges gave the top placings to the biggest, most ripped women, and first prize to the thickest, beefiest, most shredded woman of all - Croatia's Branka Njegovec.
With her thick, striated pecs; her bulging, vascular arms; those intensely muscled glutes; those granite abs which she is rightly famed for (see previously on FMS) and those legs, those massive, feathered quads, huge calves, thick hamstrings; she's even got the jaw! Well, I don't know about you but she kind of reminds me of those "Female Bodybuilders" we used to see once in a while on European stages.
Runner-up to Branka was an FMS fave, a woman at the forefront of the "veins on the outside are the new veins on the inside" fashion - Spain's Paloma Parra.
Having tried Fitness, Bodyfitness (ie. Figure) and Bodybuilding since she first competed in 1991, Paloma competed in Physique for the first time last year at the age of 49 (yes, 49). She finished way down at the Atlantic City Pro (15th) and the Puerto Rico Pro (11th) - although she did finish 5th in the Masters class there. So the runner-up spot here represented by far Paloma's best WPD result. Meanwhile, her Instagram and Facebook are a little piece of heaven for fans of the freakishly vascular muscle woman (and I am a fully paid up member of that club by the way). Not since the glory days of Trudy Ireland have we seen such thick and gnarly veins, such vascular maturity. Almost a shame to cover them up with that tan. Almost.
And completing the top 3 was a familiar name from those good old days of European Female Bodbybuilding contests, the Czech Republic's Jana Stockelova.
Jana is a former Heavyweight bodybuilder, a World Amateur (class) Champion. This contest marked her return after a five-year break. Now to my eye, Jana was not nearly as muscular as either Paloma or Branka, and not as muscular as at least one of the women who finished below her. However, compare Jana now to Jana the Heavyweight FBB and it's clear she hasn't spent the last five years toning the muscle down.
And for more of Jana, check out her YouTube channel. Clips aren't always the best quality, but... regular updates, plenty of sweat, great socks and effort you can hear.
Joanna Romano Cano was that "more muscular than Jana" lady in 4th.
Joanna's routine was one of the more athletic/gymnastic by the looks of things - and all captured by Igor Kopcek for Eastlabs in the kind of quality that allows you to really appreciate the detail. For example, when you've looked at everything else there is to enjoy about Joanna in the image above, just take a bit of time to marvel at how immense her forearms are. Thanks Eastlabs! Thanks Igor!
And another who showed off her flexibility in her routine was, no surprise, the powerlifting cheerleading Minna Pajulahti, who finished in 5th place and was also notable for having the raciest, almost NABBA-style, posing suit when the ladies faced the rear for the (open-handed) back double biceps.
To fully appreciate Minna's stage presence, head over to Team Andro where you can watch the pre-judging in wonderful, mind-blowing HD (click on the HD symbol at the bottom of the player to make it red if it isn't already for the full experience). It's also striking to see just how tall Minna is compared to the other competitors. Not actually the tallest, her presence makes her seem taller, like a real "Amazon", which is something that doesn't always come across when you look at the images.
Check out the full gallery at Eastlabs for more of the top 5 as well as Aurelia Grozajova and Olga Belyakova in 6th and 7th respectively. There was a bit of a gulf I thought between these two and the rest, but you can make up your own mind about that when you see the images (and the Team Andro clip).
More and more of the European ladies are heading to the pro shows in the US these days. Minna has been crossing the Atlantic most often, and finished 6th at the Karina Nascimento Classic and 9th at the recent Puerto Rico Pro. Minna was also at the Arnold Classic this year, though neither she, Paloma Parra, nor fellow European Ida Sefland managed to make the top 10. Last weekend Jana Stockelova was 12th in Toronto, and Britain's Carly Thornton (we're in for another few weeks at least!) took 8th on her pro debut at the same show (more about this to come on FMS). The most successful European in the US so far this year has been Joanna Romano, who followed up a 5th place finish in Orlando by going one better at the Puerto Rico Pro.
Branka's win in Slovakia guarantees at least one European will be at the Olympia this year. One wonders what the judges there will make of her and all her EuroMUSCLE!