This is the sixth time we have chosen our Women of the Year.
A lot has changed since 2011, which was the first (half) year of the blog. A lot has changed globally, personally, and in the "sport" of Female Bodybuilding. A lot, it seems to me, has also changed in the wider perception of muscular women, although I doubt the world is ready to embrace Natalia Trukhina as a sex symbol just yet!
What hasn't changed is our original Women of the Year mission statement.
It's that time of year when idiot journalists and TV producers make stupid lists of The Best/Worst/Biggest/Dumbest/Most Earth-Shattering Moments/Men/Women/Songs/ Whatevers of the year. You can't turn on the TV for these shows. So I'm not going to do that. It's not a list, it's a collection. It's not the same thing at all. Really.
I've chosen six because six is the number of finalists in most bodybuilding contests (if there are at least six competitors anyway). So six it is. And they are in no particular order. They're all winners. I'm not saying they are the best bodybuilders in the world today, nor that they have been the best in the world this year. But I am saying that these six women, some new to me this year, others familiar from a year or many years before, have been on Swell's mind (and screen) rather a lot this year.
The choice this year has been particularly hard. I'm sure I've said that before, but this time I really mean it. There was a long list of about 30 names, which kind of got whittled down to about half that number just over a week ago at the time of writing. I told myself not to start the post until I'd locked down my choices.
So, after much flimflamming, here they are...
The FMS WOMEN of the YEAR 2016
YAXENI ORIQUEN: Champion
16th July 2016
At the new Lenda Murray/Norfolk Pro, Yaxeni Oriquen wins the eleventh professional title of her career, and her first since the Ms International in 2012.
She didn't need to win. She didn't even need to compete. And she didn't need to compete at the Puerto Rico Pro, where she finished 3rd, or the Omaha Pro, where she finished 2nd. Yaxeni had pre-qualified for the 2016 Rising Phoenix at the 2015 Rising Phoenix - her 4th place guaranteeing an invitation for this year's line-up.
So, why was she putting herself through all this contest prep?
Honestly, I can't answer the question. I haven't asked her, and despite all the interviews she must have done this year, no one else has asked her either. I have a few theories, but I'll save you the pleasure of those. Point is, Yaxeni was turning up. Yaxeni was competing. Yaxeni was on board with Wings of Strength and bringing her legendary physique to the shows. And she was disappointed when she didn't win in Puerto Rico, and really disappointed when she didn't win in Omaha. This year, as in any other year of her long and illustrious career she was competing to win.
3rd September 2016
One week before the 2016 Rising Phoenix Yaxeni Oriquen celebrates her 50th birthday. She's not the only 50-year-old in the RP2016 line-up, but she's the only one who's been a Ms Olympia, a Ms International and has won a pro show this year. And she's the only one of the 50+ club at the show who finished in the top 6. She celebrates both her own personal result and the contest itself - "5th place in the best female bodybuilding show!" - with the same enthusiasm she has always celebrated with.
Yaxeni gets so much respect for a lot of reasons, but one of them is definitely because she shows so much respect to others. To her peers, to her fans, to Wings of Strength, and to her sport. She is a true champion, and without her, though it clearly doesn't need its past champions, the brave new dawn of professional female bodybuilding would have been that bit less brave. This year, I believe, Yaxeni proved that.
CASS MARTIN: From Unknown to Icon
Does anybody know anything about her?
Forum post, 16th April 2016
If you knew anything about Cassandra "Cass" Martin before this year then you probably know her personally because she only created her Instagram profile at the start of the year. 289 posts and well over half a million followers later, and we know plenty more about her than we did in April. We've made it our business to know.
We know for one thing those muscles aren't just for show. We recounted in July the misguided attempts of one forum member to recreate some of Cass's lifts (why do guys do this, by the way?), and while that eejit's abilities are never going to be a good gauge for anything, she is, by any objective measure, freakishly strong. Perhaps this is the result of her construction worker past, perhaps she really is a superhero.
Jamie Eason, we know, was her initial inspiration to start building her dream body, but these days her most admired is Dana Linn Bailey, especially her work ethic and "all about the training" attitude. Cass, despite having all the tools to do so and then some if she did want to "sex it up", has presented herself to the wider world almost exclusively as a "bodybuilder" and with what she does in and around the gym.
She hasn't competed, and it doesn't even seem to be something she wants to do. She hadn't, until very recently, modelled for any of the female muscle paysites. And yet her effect on the female muscle lovin' world has been nothing short of immense. But you don't get half a million followers by only appealing to the likes of you and me. It isn't just the female muscle fan forums that she has blown up, but all the bodybuilding forums. She may not have expected so much attention, but nevertheless, Cass Martin is now an icon for the "strong is sexy" generation. They could do worse.
CORINNE INGMAN: The Appliance of Science
My favourite pic from prep this year, Corinne says of the image above. One sock on. Little pile of outerwear on the floor next to her. Glutes that sure would come in handy for cracking all those Christmas walnuts with. Beautiful muscular curves everywhere. In the mirror we can see one lucky, and no doubt totally awestruck dude...
It's everything Corinne is about, and everything we love about her.
We've had plenty of the Ingman glutes to enjoy this year, as always. In February, Corinne reposted a(n in)famous picture of her rear at its most walnutty. This is coming back this year, she promised. I don't even care if it doesn't fit the "new criteria", I'm getting shredded because I can. Pushing to that place is when it gets fun and when things really become a challenge. She's been as good as her word.
And, as she fully expected, the "new criteria" wasn't crazy about her. Or at least that of the UKBFF, whose judges, as always, were unbelievably unmoved by her incredible physique at the British Championships. She placed nowhere. As usual. However, this wasn't the case in some other federations, and Corinne ended the year with a trio of first place trophies: the PCA Midlands "Muscular Figure" Champion, and, on 6th November in Dublin, the highlight of her competitive career so far came at the WFF Worlds. She won her (amateur) class, and was then invited to join the pros on stage. She won again. World champion twice in a day! Look at those LEGS!!!
And what did she say about her awesome condition that day? I could of been harder/drier for sure, next time will just push that little more to be a bit crispier. You see, she never stops does Corinne. Never stops refining, and never stops learning. BSc in Sports Science, soon to be MSc in Physiology. Her and her trainer/partner Jordan Peters are now travelling the world giving seminars to those hungry for their know-how. You only have to look at them to know they know their shit about hypertrophy, says one attendee. I may not be 100% sure exactly what that means, but I get the general drift. Corinne's body is the proof of her knowledge, or rather of the application of that knowledge. The more she learns, the more refined her body becomes.
Her plans for next year involve the big NABBA and WFF shows again, with no mention (yet) of bothering with the UKBFF. But as always it's not the contests as such that she's looking forward to but the process of refining the preparation before she gets there. Oh, and another season of record-breaking powerlifting. Know what I'm looking forward to? Ever so slightly bigger little piles of outerwear on the gym floor.
DIANA SCHNAIDT: Model Physique
FMS had noticed "the Physique division biceps on the Figure frame" and the fact that Diana, like many of the women who compete in the Figure division, "doesn't stop flexing those guns whenever she's anywhere that isn't on stage at a Figure contest" in the first few months of this year. And - given that FMS readers voted Diana their second highest new entry (at #26) on this year's Hot and Hard 100, we weren't the only ones to notice Diana was a swoonworthier than usual Figure competitor.
And then there's the former model looks - and long long legs. She's the woman who I've come across since the start of this year who I couldn't believe I'd never come across before, I wrote in her Hot and Hard 100 tribute, and at the end of 2016 that's still very much true. Why I hadn't noticed her during her rise to the pro ranks in 2013, or on one of the numerous occasions she competed as a pro in 2014 and 2015 is still a mystery. But this year I feel as though I haven't taken my eyes off her at all.
8th August 2016
At last! After two years of middling placings in the Figure division, Diana finally hits the front double biceps pose on stage. At the Tampa Pro she makes her Physique debut.
It was something of a last minute decision. She had, by her own admission, little time to practise either the mandatory poses or her (first ever) routine. She placed 10th, middling. But I doubt I was the only Hard Di fan who was inwardly doing cartwheels as this beautiful woman finally got to flex her beautiful muscles in anger.
She wasn't the world's greatest Figure competitor, and nor will she be, in all probability, the world's greatest Physique competitor. But she is so good to watch no matter what she's doing, and if Physique means that what she is doing is training for proper gains this off-season, without worrying she - or certain parts of her at least - might get "too big" or "too muscular", then she will be even better to watch!
FLORES NEIDE SOUZA CAMPOS: Gladiadora de Ferro
It began sometime in April, a picture on Selma Labat's Instagram, "the one in front" grabbing all the attention. Not Selma. Who is she? they all asked. Before long, everybody knew. BOOM! Within weeks (if not days) Flores Neide Souza Campos exploded all over the fan forums and the collective female muscle consciousness.
The pictures of Flores from that Gladiadoras de Ferro event have provided us with some of the most memorable of this (or indeed any other) year. They've been shared, they've been discussed. Her arms - "massive", "incredible". Her "powerhouse" delts, her "earthquake" quads. There's just so much to look at! one fan exclaimed, clearly slightly less overcome than the rest of us - he could type. I said readers should check her work with Awefilms because "rarely has the AWE seemed more fitting". I wasn't joking.
18th June 2016
At the NABBA Worlds in Natal, Brazil, Flores is crowned Ms Physique World (remember, in NABBA, "Physique" = Bodybuilding). This is a title that has been held by (among many others) Marie-Laura Mahabir, Christine Envall, and Elena Oana Hreapca. What many of the fans have been saying is (sort of) confirmed - we are looking at the best (or at least one of the very best) amateur FBB(s) in the world.
Since her NABBA Worlds win, it's fair to say musclestorm Flores has died down a bit, but there are more than a few fans still reeling from the effects. They are editing and re-editing her little Instagram clips into longer, more indulgent mini-movies. They are rediscovering (or perhaps discovering) their love for the more hirsute woman. They are wondering if perhaps she could be, or should be, the next President of Brazil.
Efforts to "kill" female bodybuilding are clearly not working. Not in Brazil, anyway.
ANASTASIA PAPOUTSAKI: Ελληνική θεά
I've written, I think relating to Elena Oana Hreapca, about this before - how social media allows us fans to follow our favourite women so closely now, how we can see that moment when they start to realise their full potential, see their transformation from sexy muscle woman into full-blown muscle goddess coming, and then see it happen for real. This year, fans of Anastasia Papoutsaki witnessed hers.
The charms of this former international sprinter have had FMS under their spell since before we first featured [emits dreamy sigh as he types her name] Anastasia on the blog in 2014. IFBB judges had placed her 2nd at the Arnold Amateur Europe and made her Mediterranean champion in 2015, and for once they were ahead of you lovely readers, who only gave her a Hot and Hard 100 debut this year at #92.
2016 has been something of a Golden Year for her, with all her hard work paying off in spades in the last couple of months. In early November in Lisbon she became Mediterranean Physique champion for the second year in a row, and then at the end of November she won the Greek National championships and the IFBB Diamond Cup in Athens. Finally, at the start of this month, she took the Olympia Amateur title in San Marino. Four contests, four wins, and she qualified twice for her pro card!
I, for one, have watched in delight as her (already sexy) ex-sprinter's body has blossomed into a pro level Physique worthy of all those gold medals. And I'm not the only one. Looking better and more built all the time, noted one forum poster before her contest season kicked off. A statement of the obvious it may be, but it proves I'm not the only Anastasia watcher out there! She just keeps getting hotter and hotter, another noted recently, probably drooling, just as I have been, over her most recent set of pics, her muscles full and pumped after her last 2016 contest, sensational glutes barely covered by shorts tighter than the Greek government's spending budget.
It'll be a pleasure watching this Greek goddess again in 2017.
Like I said, not an easy selection to make this year, so it'd be especially interesting to hear who you would choose for your six Women of the Year in 2016.
firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
Still to come before New Year - Images of 2016