The recent extreme cold and snow (aka "The Beast from the East") in the UK last week, left this female muscle fan sans wife for a few days last week, as she waited for the roads to be cleared before attempting to drive back home. Crucially, my period of solitude included the early hours of Saturday morning, so I was able to spend some quality time with the Figure, Physique and Fitness divisions at the Arnolds via the live stream.
Now, I've watched live streams of big shows before, and unless it's the Arizona Pro/Rising Phoenix, the biggest problem a female muscle fan has is that invariably the running order has alternate male and female classes, so as exciting as the Figure finals were, they were immediately followed by some men in old-fashioned posing "shorts", not the women of my Physique dreams. Bit of a passion killer those shorts.
So you are constantly revving up then getting all deflated. Make yourself a drink, maybe a snack. Rearrange the furniture, empty the washing machine. Check Instagram for new #arnoldsportsfestival uploads... And the buggers in their shorts are still up there - is it my imagination or do the chaps get longer for their "routines"?
We were in the company of "experts" Shawn Ray and Kai Greene. But it became all too apparent very quickly that you would be extremely hard-pressed to find two men from the Bodybuilding community who were less knowledgeable about the women's divisions. Whoever at MD is responsible for these things must have been aware of their presenters' limitations, and so former Ms Figure Olympia and Ms Figure International Latorya Watts had been drafted in to bring her knowledge of Fitness and Physique as well as her own Figure division to bear on the commentary for the three female finals.
Are you the kind of competitor who looks at what the other girls are doing? Shawn asked her as the Figure finalists came out. Well, I used to be... she replied.
At least she knows who the reigning Ms Figure Olympia is, which is not something Shawn or Kai can claim. As Cydney was introduced and strode across the stage as she does, Shawn (or maybe it was Kai) muttered something about the top 6. "Ms Figure Olympia..." Latorya reminded them, although that's perhaps not quite the right word - you can't really remind someone of something they don't actually know in the first place. "Well, that remains to be seen..." said Shawn/Kai, obviously under the impression that Latorya was making a prediction rather than stating a fact. Understandably, she didn't labour the point, and kept pretty quiet after that.
Kai's contribution to the female classes consisted mainly of bellowing extended monosyllabic approval when ladies who particularly appealed to him took to the stage. "WowowowoWOWWOWWOW!!!" is about as exact as I can get to his "expert commentary" on Physique's Essence Monet's arrival. If that's all you are expected to bring to the live stream commentary, I can confidently say I could do that.
And my own personal biggest bellow of the night came as Natalia Coelho performed her (short, and I've checked since and it really was shorter than all the rest of the top 10 Physique finishers') routine. Specifically it was the moment when, facing the judges, she extended one leg, bent the other, lowering herself down. A double biceps in that position (I think, I was kind of transfixed by her inner thigh), followed by a lat spread. And as she hit the latter she put both hands flat on either side of her waist...
Now either Natalia has a pair of really huge hands, or she has got the tiniest waist imaginable, because the tips of the fingers on her right hand met the tips of her fingers on her left hand, like your fingertips might do when holding a decent-sized sandwich.
After the Physique routines had been (seemingly) whizzed through we did at least get the pleasure of a posedown - for the best part of a minute - before the only women who actually flex their muscles were whooshed off the stage. The Arnold Festival organisers quite obviously see the Fitness routines as the main attraction on the Friday night, and they were given quite the build up, "like nothing else you'll see on this stage tonight".
To be fair, they are spectacular. The costumes, the contortions, and the (made to look effortless) feats of strength always impress, but what strikes me most every time I do watch the Fitness routines is the element of risk in some of the tumbling and acrobatics that goes on. As billed, this is unique to this division. Lose your balance while attempting a Masino-style flex on one leg and a lady might look a bit clumsy. Get a backflip wrong and there is a real danger of serious injury to the head/neck/back.
You can hear the crowd gasp on those rare occasions when a competitor goes close to hospitalising themselves, but it is a testament to the level of performance these women achieve that such disasters almost never happen. It's the speed and the height of their jumps and somesaults that more often than not takes the audience's breath away.
And after the "big show", the awards. Again, you have to sit through the male classes (or not) by the time the 212 or whatever it's called were getting their awards I was having to pace around just to stay awake. Cyd didn't win Figure, which I was a bit disappointed about, and then the clear top two in the Physique class - Shanique Grant and the impossibly small-waisted one - were separated before (as we saw yesterday) Kate Errington ended the night on a high for us British fans.
Goodnight Shawn and Kai (I think Latorya had skulked off long before the final awards were given out, and who can blame her?), it's been a night of highs and lows, of (unintentional on your part) hilarity, and gasps and cheers from my end. As always seems to be the case with Olympia and Arnold live streams - it's not been nearly as amazing as the anticipation of watching it was, but in the end, I'm glad I came.