Monday, 18 September 2017
You knew it was close. The contest was wide open at the outset, what with Margie having abdicated, Alina being absent, and potential dark horse Brittney O'Veal deciding to sit it out this year. The judges could go all retro and give it to Yaxeni, or all penitent and throw it Aleesha's way perhaps. Both possible, just about possible.
In the end though, it was the two pre-show favourites who were still standing after 3rd place had been announced - runner-up last year and Tampa Pro champ this Sheila Bleck, and 2015's runner-up and 2016's most-hard-done-by Helle Trevino.
And the winner is...
Behind the lectern stage right Lenda Murray looked visibly shocked. I've seen this before but never for first place, announced MC Shannon Dey. We have a tie.
You knew it was close. They'd been right at the centre of the first callout and both, in their own way, looked as good as they ever have. Sheila, all perfect conditioning, perfect proportions and perfect poses; Helle, bulkier, beefier, less-than-regulation hand gestures inviting the audience (and judges) to eye up her abs and glutes.
I was leaning towards Helle after the pre-judging. Those kinds of hand gestures and rampant muscle (s)exhibitionism go along way with me. After the evening show though, Sheila's routine, always a highlight in any show she competes in, had me wondering whether she might drive the jeep home. Either would have been a worthy champion. Both had three pro titles to their name as they waited for the announcement. Neither lives full-time in the country where they were born.
9* is what they both had on the scorecard. The * indicating the tie. When 2nd place gets $25,000 and the winner gets $60,000 and the jeep, that's a fairly big tie break, and the tie break was... the final round. The routine! I'd read it the opposite way to the judges - Sheila won in the afternoon, Helle won the whole thing in the evening.
Seeing such a big woman jump so far into the air so many times was quite a thrill. Sheila, poor Sheila looked a little shell-shocked, and I'm sure my heart wasn't the only one going out to her as she was given her sash and shit. Couldn't they, I wondered, have given it to them both? I remembered the first ever London marathon, when, with the finish line in sight, the two leaders joined hands and broke the tape as one...
And then Helle stepped forward to get her sash and sword and whatnot and I forgot all about that. I remembered Helle's 2005 injury, a herniated disc that left her unable to walk. The medical opinion was she'd never train again, let alone compete, but she wasn't having any of that. Six years later she was winning her first show back, and 8 years after her 2003 Olympia debut she was back there again. It would have been a remarkable story had it ended there, but Helle was coming back for good.
So it feels like the right woman won. Again, the Rising Phoenix has given us a champ we can (and should) all be proud of. But spare a thought for Sheila. It really was close.