Friday, 5 May 2017

Vive la Différence!

Spot the difference.


Clue: look down.

This is Edilma "Dee" Vasconcelos, winner of both the Figure (left, in case you hadn't noticed the heels) and Physique titles at the NPC Midwest Championships in April this year. Physique is my favourite division because I love old school posing, says the Brazilian. Not that I don't like Figure, she adds. It's so classy too. I tried both!
"Vascularconcelos" - a quad worthy of Figure, or Physique?

One way of looking at this - and Dee is by no means the only woman to have doubled up in this NPC season so far - is as a damning indictment of the NPC/IFBB's obsessive "downsizing". Physique has become nothing more than Figure without the heels.

And it's true, there are Physique competitors who look as though they would do well - better even - in the Figure division. But there are also those who wouldn't look out of place in a Female Bodybuilding line-up, albeit an amateur, light-heavyweight one.

Take two of the Physique competitors from the recent St. Louis Pro. On the left, Emily Bethany, who placed 9th. Emily had been a Figure competitor before switching to Physique in 2015 and gaining her pro card. On the right, the considerably bigger Amanda Slinker, who was 5th. Most of Amanda's career has been in the Physique division, but last year she moved "up" to Light-heavyweight Bodybuilding for the IFBB North Americans, won her over 35 class and was able to turn pro as a result.

You might recognise Amanda better with her previous hairdo.

This - if you want to put a negative slant on it - disparity, or - more positively - breadth of the Physique division makes it what it is. You could call it a curse - how are the women supposed to know whether the Figure end or the Light-heavyweight Bodybuilding end of the scale will curry favour with the judges at any given contest? But you could also call it a blessing, as it allows in both Figure women who want to add a little more muscle and smaller Bodybuilders who are unlikely to succeed in the most Heavyweight environment of them all, the IFBB Pro Female Bodybuilding ranks.
Ashley Weimer @NPC Jr. Nationals - v.2014 Figure & v.2016 Physique

Shanique Grant and Diana Schnaidt are two of the best-known examples of Figure women who have recently made the transition to the Physique division - in Shanique's case with stunning success - but they are just two of many. Ashley Weimer, who also competed in St. Louis, and finished 4th, is another. And don't forget that once upon a time a certain Juliana Malacarne was a fair to middling Figure competitor...

And coming the other way are Angela Debatin, Sherri Gray, Geraldine Morgan, and Zoa Linsey - all previously competitive Bodybuilders, all competing in the Physique division in 2017. The three Ks, [since when? - ed.] Katka Kyptova, Karolina Borkovcova and Kira Neuman have decided, more or less recently, to seek their competitive fortunes in Physique, and even a former Ms Olympia, Valentina Chepiga, has spent the autumn of her competitive career there.

So, to go back to the earlier question about what the judges are looking for, I'd say that based on the evidence of the three IFBB pro winners so far this year, the answer is, not surprisingly, neither extreme but rather somewhere in the middle. Shanique, Sheronica and Candrea were not the biggest, nor the smallest among their respective line-ups in Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, and St. Louis. Shanique was definitely the best conditioned for her win, but then few achieve her freakish level of muscular definition. Sheronica has been better conditioned, perhaps the softer look was deliberate, and Candrea seems to have trimmed her muscle down a bit. So, are we any clearer?!

Perhaps not, but one thing is plain - like the Figure division, and very much unlike Female Bodybuilding, the pro Physique ranks are constantly being swelled by up-and-coming talent from the amateur NPC shows in the US. Laurel Fredette (winning the recent NPC North Carolina Championships), will be just one of the fresh talents to look out for in the Physique division at the national level shows to come this year.

At the end of the month, finally, Female Bodybuilding returns in Toronto, the last of the IFBB Pro divisions to begin its competitive season. Physique is not the same, but while we wait, I could think of worse ways to spend the time than following Joanna Romano, or Hanna Hallman, or Nicole O'Neal, or Margita Zamolova.

Or discovering the likes of Laurel.

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