Saturday, 26 November 2016

On Fandom: Chapter 6

A fan of the sport?

As a fan, I know that Wings of Strength "launched" the 2017 pro female bodybuilding season recently. They announced the same line-up of pro shows as 2016, plus the new open amateur contest, the Ms Wings International, which will take place the day before the Chicago Pro at the same venue, and give the winner the chance to make (I imagine) the fastest pro debut in history the very next day. Once again, the season will reach its climax in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Rising Phoenix. Lots to look forward to.

However, I also know that Margie Martin won't be defending her title there. Fortunately I’m in a position where I feel like female bodybuilding is going to last beyond me competing, she said recently in an interview with Anomaly Athletics. What I want to do is to make new female bodybuilders and to recruit - even if I have to train them myself! Well if they all turn out like her protégé Brittney O'Veal, I for one won't be complaining. And Margie also took a swing at Iris Kyle. I felt confused about why Iris was making such a hoopla, she said. After competing for a while, you should use it as a platform to elevate yourself into a position where you don’t need the prize money or the adulation. Ouch! She's not saying never again though, just not next year. Those mighty quads may yet thunder across the stage again.

And I know that Greek Goddess Anastasia Papoutsaki became IFBB Mediterranean Physique champion in Lisbon recently. And that those ex-sprinter legs of hers are finally starting to realise their full potential. And that her next stop will be the IFBB Diamond Cup in Athens this weekend and that there's a pro card on offer. As always when she's competing, I will be eagerly waiting for news of her placing.

I do this kind of thing a lot. If one of my favourite muscle women is taking the stage somewhere, I make it a priority to know how she's done as soon as I can. I can get particularly excitable when a Brit takes the stage in one of the US pro shows, or a whole bunch of British female muscle takes part in one of the big amateur shows like the Arnold Europe or the NABBA Worlds or NABBA Universe. I don't know if this makes me a "fan", but it certainly feels like it does. I certainly felt like a fan when Corinne Ingman - who time and again I have reported as having got no love at all from the judges at shows organised by a whole range of federations - finally had her day in the sun at the WFF Worlds recently. Her title? Ms Super Body. How very very apt.

This fascination, perhaps obsession, with contests doesn't mean I'm under any illusions about female muscle "sport". The subjective, and often bizarre judging; the almost total lack of drama beyond the first callout; the seemingly ever-decreasing importance of the performance aspect of routines etc. etc. There's so much that's wrong about it.

A win and a pro card at the amateur shows is by no means a passport to stardom and riches, but it's important to so many of the women to be able to say they are a pro, to be able to compete with the best of their peers. Outside the NPC and North America the women generally have far less opportunity to join the pro ranks. And yet compete they do, going through the rigours of contest prep, driven perhaps by the sheer joy of competing, by the camaraderie of their sisters of iron, or by the challenge, or the love of the sport, or by all of the above or none. This is the moment the women train for, perhaps - however amazing I or any of their myriad fans, think they look on a daily basis - the one and only time they feel truly happy with their physiques.

It was all very different in the past. In the Magazine Years, when I first felt the attraction of female muscle, contest news was weeks, perhaps months, old. I appreciated the pictures of Cory, Anja et al on stage, of course I did, but I didn't have that anticiaption for the results like I do now because it all seemed so remote. Thanks to social media (a much more immediate source of news than the federations' websites or the sites with big contest galleries, by the way) I can learn, for example, that Anastasia has won as soon as she's got backstage and taken her phone out.

What hasn't changed though is that I rarely actually witness any of the shows, either in person or (these days) on a live feed. Almost never. Yes, I watch clips if and when they are posted days or weeks later, but by then I know the outcome and it's simply not as exciting. Finding out moments after the event via Instagram that Theresa Ivancik (who we have followed on the blog for years as she's tried again and again to win a national show and become a pro) had finally won her class at the NPC Nationals last weekend was infinitely more exciting than watching her win in this clip days later.

Perhaps I'm not really a fan of the sport then, even though I follow it closely, but a fan of the competitors. A woman who never competes can, like Cass Martin who I was swooning all over the other day, interest me, but she doesn't take me on the same journey that Margie, or Anastasia, or Corinne, or Theresa have taken me. As I follow them going through what they have to go through, I emotionally engage. If they want to win, I want them to win. And I celebrate (inwardly, secretly) when they do.

And judging by the reaction to Theresa's good news in the messages on her Instagram and on the fan forums, I'm not the only one who has these feelings. Are we, to return to some of Marcie Simmons thoughts thoughts earlier in the week, "supporting" her? Are we "helping her grow as a brand"? Probably not. But it must be nice for her to get those messages of congratulations, to - perhaps - read those happy posts on a clandestine visit to "Schmoeville". Perhaps even (be still my burning heart!) she has enjoyed one of the (many) tributes we have put together for her here on FMS.

It must be nice for Theresa to know she has fans. A lot of fans. And though they might not be in the audience, or "support her financially", or even send her some words of encouragement every now and then, they are, in a sense, with her on her journey.

to be continued...

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