What, we wondered, would we learn if we looked back over the history of the NPC Nationals in the lifetime of the blog? Would we see the kind of "decline" in Female Bodybuilding and "rise" in the Physique division that is both the trend perceived by most commentators and the IFBB's intended policy result? Would we see the relevance of the Nationals, and perhaps other US national level shows waning over the period as increasingly the most successful IFBB athletes enter the pro ranks through different means? Would we perhaps be able to predict how Fallon Brinson, Jacquelyn Hickerson and the rest of the class of 2017 might fare in the years to come?
Perhaps we'd learn nothing at all.
Physique's first year at the Nationals and yes, me too - WHO?
Karin did actually go on to do pretty well as a pro in 2012, with one win and one runners-up spot, but has been off-radar since, and of the six women who earned their pro cards that day, only Tycie Coppett (a 2nd and two 3rds at the Physique Olympia between 2013 and 2015) went on to make a significant impression on the division.
As we noted the other day when celebrating Jennifer Kennedy's 2017 triumph, just the one pro card was dished out in Women's Bodybuilding that year, and it went to this lady. She was most recently a Physique competitor in 2015, winning the New York Pro and coming nowhere at the Olympia, but lest we forget, Michelle did rather well as a Bodybuilder over the following couple of years, with three top 6 finishes and a top 10 Olympia finish in 2012. Couldn't tell you what she's up to now. Don't have a clue.
This was Physique's annus mirabilis at the NPC Nationals, with some of the women who did and/or continue to do so much to popularise the division in the years since all graduating to the pros together. Toni West won the Overall, Asha Hadley and Danielle Reardon won their classes, and Jamie Pinder also earned her pro card.
Toni won the Toronto Pro the following year, and placed 4th at the Olympia, but since then it's been Asha, Jamie and Dani (in ascending order) who've had more success.
Yes indeed, 2012 would have been a very good year to be there. Not only would you have seen all those Physique beauties (I can vividly remember the effect the pictures of Dani at the show had on this dirty middle-aged man), but the Bodybuilders weren't too shabby either. On top of the Overall winner and stone cold muscle goddess Juanita, you would have also seen Kira Neuman (Light-heavyweight) and Rene Marven (Middleweight, and those most musculars) win their classes as well. What a treat!
Juanita did exceptionally well the following year - runner-up in Chicago and top 6 at the Olympia - and also did OK the following year - 4th in Chicago, 7th in Tampa. Unfortunately, that's the last time we saw her. Kira took a couple of years off before becoming one of the most successful Physique Olympians, Rene managed one contest as a Bodybuilder before apparently becoming Iris Kyle's sidekick. When she did return to competition it was in heels, dropping two sizes to the Figure division.
Like Karin Kimura, Kelli was not destined to make much of an impact in the pros, but there was one other notable pro card given that day - to the winner of the "A" class.
I think I'm right in saying that Hanna Hallman is, as far as women who have become pros through the Physique division at the NPC Nationals are concerned, unique. She is the one and only woman who has competed as an IFBB pro Bodybuilder. After 13 Physique contests between 2013 and 2017, Hanna finally made the move her heart had always desired and flexed with her fists closed in Chicago and Tampa earlier this year. She is, as you probably don't need reminding, quite considerably bigger now!
The naughtiest ever Nationals winner? Who knows which poor soul she rammed that trophy up after the show? That much-abused chubby Asian "roommate" perhaps?
Victoria did compete over the next few years in the Physique division - as if that was ever going to work out, just look at her! HUGE! Unsurprisingly, and luckily for the likes of us, she never made any great waves there, and excitingly returned to Bodybuilding this year, her 2nd in Chicago qualifying her for the Rising Phoenix.
And 2013 was also notable for the Middleweight class winner, Alana Shipp, whose razor-sharp conditioning and glutes from heaven took her further than any Middleweight could reasonably expect to go in the IFBB pro Bodybuilding world - all the way to the last ever Olympia in 2014, and then to the inaugural Rising Phoenix a year later. In contrast to Victoria, Alana left the Bodybuilding behind this year and tried her luck in Physique. I wasn't very disappointed to see her do not so great.
Great abs, great smile, personality... Marcie looked for all the world like she was going to go on to have a big career in the pros, but it never quite happened for her. I don't think she's competed since 2015. She's given us a lot to talk about though via her YouTube channel Marcie Madness. Certainly not averse to the sound of her own voice.
Not quite 2012 all over again, but this was another good year for Physique in retrospect. Stacey Norris and Dianne Brown both went on to compete at the Olympia, and also winning their pro cards behind Marcie that day were Valerie Garcia-Giovanoli, who made an impact in 2015, and Jacquita Person-Taylor, who has been getting more and more attention over the last year and who may yet have an even bigger impact than any from the 2014 Nationals Physique division.
For my money, one of the most stunning Overall winners ever - not just in this six-year survey, I mean ever, and would include Susan up there with Cathy Palyo, Michelle Ralabate and Gina Davis as one of the four sexiest packages the NPC Nationals has seen since 1982. And then she goes and competes in the Physique division. Still sexy as hell, don't get me wrong, but... criminal that she didn't at least give pro FBBing a go.
Maybe it was just the zeitgeist, because both the Light-heavyweight winner - Miava Nelson - and the Middleweight winner Tome Ameko - did exactly the same thing. Miava stayed a competitor only briefly before starting a family; Tome, like Jacquita Person-Taylor, seems to be still climbing towards her peak. She won for the first time as a pro in Phoenix 2016, and made her Olympia debut earlier this year.
2015 was not what you would call a vintage year in either Physique or Bodybuilding, but looking at the Overall Physique winner Stacia Woods again now, I have to admit I think it's a bit of a shame she apparently hung up her posing suit for good after this win.
You can probably see why (Lightweight) Holly Pisarcik's win was just a touch on the controversial side given that the Heavyweight winner was Tischa Thomas.
Strange days indeed.
For the first time, the number of Physique competitors falls below 50, perhaps the result of some very confusing "15% reduction" noises from the IFBB. A glorious Overall champion, however, although in her first year as a pro Vanessa found success much harder to come by, as have the other seven pro card winners from last year.
Another Lightweight Overall champion, but the woman formerly known as Chareece Moore's victory was a lot less controversial. I mean, she does look like a Bodybuilder. And she does most musculars. Nothing from her this year. I would imagine that if we do see her on stage again she won't be competing in Bodybuilding.
Last year did see a sort of mini-revival in the Bodybuilding classes at the Nationals though. As well as Theresa finally picking up her pro card (in probably the worst shape she had ever been in at a national level show), there was Pauline Nelson (runner-up in the Heavyweight class) and for the first time in a long time, the number of Bodybuilding entrants at the NPC Nationals was higher than the previous year's.
So, what have we learned? And what can we predict for the 2017 champs?
Well, it's fairly obvious that the trend for Bodybuilding pro card winners to become Physique competitors once they hit the pro shows is set to continue. Fallon Brinson has already said that's what she is going to do, and as I mentioned on Monday, it's a smart move on the smaller ladies' part to "be a Bodybuilder" at a pro card prize show simply because there is a lot less competition. This year there were 44 Physique competitors, and 16 Bodybuilders - a new low after the up of 2016, by the way.
It's highly unlikely that any of the 2017 Physique vintage will "do a Hanna Hallman" and move the other way, despite the extra money that Wings of Strength has used to reinvigorate pro FBBing, and the fact that the inverse applies - competition in pro Female Bodybuilding is limited at many of the shows. Still, I pray each night that Jacquelyn Hickerson will (but my female muscle prayers aren't usually answered).
With the glaring exception of the Physique class of 2012, very few of the women who have graduated from the Nationals - Bodybuilders or Physiques - have played a significant part in their division at the highest level. Alana Shipp or (potentially) Theresa Ivancik would be the most significant from Bodybuilding; Kira Neuman easily the most significant in Physique outside the 2012 vintage. In the same time period, the NPC USAs - the only other national level show that still welcomes FBBs, though probably not for much longer - has given us Margie Martin, Shannon Courtney, Aleesha Young, Michaela Aycock, and Brittney O'Veal.
Increasingly, as I suspected before doing this survey, the most successful IFBB pros are not coming from the Nationals or the USAs. Of the current top Bodybuilding crop only Sheila Bleck (2008) came via the Nationals; in Physique (Shanique Grant, Natalia Coelho) there is a trend for women who turned pro as Figure competitors.
Is the Bodybuilding and Physique Nationals less relevant then? Perhaps, but still, as we've seen this week, there are plenty of women for us to enjoy, and especially for those who do achieve their dreams in Miami, the show is very relevant I'm sure!
If anything is clear from this look back over the previous six years of Nationals winners, getting that pro card just makes your competitive life about 1,000% harder, and that for every Holly Pisarcik there's a Juanita Blaino, and for every Susan-Marie Smith who kills your dreams, there's a Jacquelyn, who's made me dream again.