Sunday, 24 September 2017

FMS@RP2017: The Beef & the Beauty

After an up and down season for IFBB pro Female Bodybuilding, the 2017 Rising Phoenix was, I think, a pretty much unqualified success. With a line-up of 23 women there were more competitors than ever - you have to go back to the 90s to find a Ms Olympia with that many - and while it's never been easier to qualify for the world's premier professional Female Bodybuilding competition, this didn't mean that the quality of muscle on display was lower than at previous RPs. Quite the opposite in fact, with, and this is just my opinion, only a handful of the ladies below their very best.

Watching the free live feed was an absolute joy. I had the luxury of an empty house and believe me, I did what every self-respecting female muscle fan would have done and indulged in pretty much the whole damn show - Bikini included! The Rising Phoenix was, as it should be, the unrivalled highlight and I don't mind admitting that the sight of personal faves like Theresa Ivancik and Elena Oana Hreapca had me swooning all over the place. Even the callouts - never my favourite bit, they do go on - had pockets of excitement as Britain's own Lisa Cross flexed her way inwards during the third, and the top two were called out again by the judges for a one-on-one battle royale.

It was also a big plus that among the veterans were newer pros. Theresa, Elena, Pauline Nelson, and Nicki Chartrand were all making their Rising Phoenix debuts in the first season as IFBB pros - in Pauline's case just a couple of months after she'd got her pro card. Only Nicki, the 2016 Canadians champ and winner on her pro debut in Norfolk, placed, but it's crucial that there is a constant supply of high quality women to keep Female Bodybuilding healthy. Sometimes it's hard to think where they will come from (few NPC events, even at national level, have an FBB class) but the cream, it seems, keeps rising - and with Brittney O'Veal and Jennie Roosa potentially to come in 2018, it doesn't seem as though we're going to run out of FBBs for a while.

As far as the show itself is concerned, it's been one of the most refreshing features of all three RPs that without Iris there has been little predictability to the outcomes, and this year was the most dramatic. Even up to the final moments there was no way of knowing who'd won, and it was genuinely exiting to watch, there was suspense and excitement, as there should be in sport. And as it was the first time I watched live I got the full force of the evening show - video presentations and all. These "introductions", made by the women themselves, make each routine more of an event, something sadly lacking at any other show you care to mention. Not all were winners - Irene Andersen's was the trailer for her film, for example - but here, at last, the women are not just given time for their routines, but each has their very own build-up of their own design, and there's even prize money for the best - Silvia Matta's in case you were wondering.

I think having the feed free this year was a genius move, and I would bet that the worldwide audience for the Rising Phoenix was much much bigger than in previous years when a fee needed to be paid. I was lucky in being able to see the whole thing, and given the circumstances I had found myself in, I probably would have coughed up a modest amount. But the fella catching snippets of the prejudging then waiting for the missus to go to bed before watching the evening show with the sound down probably wouldn't, and the majority of female muscle fans fall into the latter category. As a consequence, more of the show was seen by more of the people who wanted to see it, and there's more talk about it - and for once, it's informed. The collective "we" seem to me to be feeling more enthused about "the sport", and that can't be a bad thing.

What I and others have noticed though is the apparent complete absence of Kristal Wood while her (soon to be ex-) husband Jake was lauded before the FBB evening routines - stood up and took a bow to the applause he did. The guy who did the bigging up made no mention of Kristal at all, and intriguingly it was Alina Popa who stepped in as his sidekick when presentation time came. Apart from feeling sorry for Kristal in that she seems to have been sidelined so summarily and so quickly, only time will tell whether Jake can steer the ship more or less effectively without her. Bodybuilding organisations with one man (plus cronies) in control have a mixed history, after all.

The only other slight downer I can find is, and again I am sorry to say this out loud but it needs to be said, were the Kim Buck-designed tracksuits given out to all the RP ladies. Now, I'm no fashion expert but I know what I like and I think Kim may have hit upon the only thing I've ever seen a muscular female wear that didn't make her look sexy. Perhaps that was her true intention. If so, she really really succeeded.

Jake's (and Kristal's) original intention was that FBBs would have not only a stage to compete on and prize money that reflected their efforts, but also that they'd be treated and feel like stars. Every one of those aims has been realised, particularly at the Rising Phoenix. Tribute after tribute was paid by the women on their social media - to the organisers, and to their peers - some of them coining the phrase "our Olympia".

What's most important is that they keep feeling like this, and that as many FBBs as possible, not just the ones who compete at this annual love-in, feel the same way - the pre-show shenanigans on Kristal Wood's Facebook revealed that not all of the "iron sisters" feel very sisterly towards their peers. There are still issues that need to be sorted out, not least how FBBing outside North America might survive. But for now, Jake can look back on a season of ups and downs that very much finished on an up, with the beef and beauty of these sensational women showcased with some style.

Let's end with a pep talk from our new Queen:

I am so happy that I won this title this weekend, and I want EVERYBODY to feel they won too. I want to be the best possible ambassador for Female Bodybuilding I possibly can, and together we will elevate our sport through teamwork and support. We all have our part to play. We're coming in stronger numbers each year, and we will continue to do so. On all levels: WE ARE ON THE RISE BIG TIME!

For the first time in a long time, I'm more convinced than not that she's right.

Miss the evening show? Download/view here.

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