The second IFBB pro show with a Female Bodybuilding class this year, and the first to be held in Europe for a very very long time, took place in Bari, Italy last weekend.
First the bad news. Yet again, as it did in Hawaii in March, the FBB class consisted of just three women. Two pro shows into the season, and we've seen a grand total of six Female Bodybuilders on stage. Or rather, and this is the second bit of bad news, we haven't - contest galleries from this show being (as far as I can tell) non-existent.
Social media to the rescue!
THE HISTORY WOMAN
The first lady we should talk about today is Italy's Cristina Maffeis. Not a name familiar to me before this weekend, I must admit, but what she achieved in Bari was - and I don't think I'm exaggerating here - historic. She is the first FBB to gain her pro card at a show outside North America on Wings of Strength's watch, the first to take advantage of the opportunity on offer at the three new 2018 shows in Europe.
Cristina first had to win the amateur FBB class - I don't think she had much competition, and I strongly suspect she had no competition at all, but win it she did. Now pro-carded up, she took her place with the other (two) competitors on stage on Sunday. And very happy she was about it too. I'm an IFBB pro Female Bodybuilder! she gushed the day after the contest. My great dream has become reality!
She got to meet a woman rather big in Italian female muscle as well. "A great honour," said Cristina. Perhaps one day a young Italian FBB (one of many competing in Bari at the long-established Galaxy Pro) will write exactly the same thing beside a picture of her next to Cristina. This is, after all, the long-term goal of these shows. Whatever the numbers on this occasion, the first step has been taken, and (as usual) WoS, Tim Gardener (show promoter), and Cristina herself should all be congratulated for that.
THE SMART MOVE
As well as the FBBs, there was also Bikini, Figure and Physique - almost a full house of the female classes. And with the show being in Europe, the line-ups in all three were almost exclusively made up of European pros. The one exception was Anne Freitas, who took home the winner's cheque and in doing so qualified for her 5th Olympia.
Recently, we saw Anne at the Champions of Power and Grace show, placing 8th in an ultra-competitive line-up. No Olympia qualification for her there - not even so much as a single point. Coming to Bari to flex off against just four other women - none of them with anything like her Olympia pedigree - looks like a very smart move indeed.
It's an 'add to cart' kind of day, Anne said, which if I understand correctly (and I am not at all sure that I do), suggests she was well aware of the purpose of this show for her. And her team. Every time I start a prep I think of the responsibility that I have to everyone around me, she wrote afterwards, her "responsibility" for another Olympia prep assured. I always have to be at the same level of excellence that you are!
In Figure, perhaps Maria Garcia or Britain's own Louise Rogers had a similar idea to Anne. Just a budget airline flight away, a smaller show, not a North or South American in sight (not in this class anyway), there won't be a better chance of automatic Olympia qualification this year... The plan was sound but the judges saw it differently. It wasn't Maria (who, in placing 5th, wasn't even the highest placed Spanish woman in Figure), and nor was it Louise (runner-up) who guaranteed their Olympia place here, but the much less well-known Hungarian Melinda Mercz.
Today is a big day, she said beforehand. This has been my toughest prep, and is my third pro Figure competition. I'm going to present my best package so far. The rest is up to the judges! The judges liked what they saw, and so, increasingly, have the female muscle lovin' community, impressed by close-ups of her impressive body in particular. Plenty to massage and worship there, notes one of her newer fans.
Plenty indeed. Join Melinda's ever-growing number of Instagram followers for these kinds of angles and more as she preps for her "dream come true" debut Olympia.
You have to go back a decade to find Maryse in the top 3 at a pro show - the 2007 Jan Tana, where she was Heavyweight runner-up. Since then, she's competed more regularly than I imagined despite a three-year break before 2012, her best (and only top 10) placing 9th in Toronto in 2013. These are different times though, and here there was really only ever going to be one winner. At 57 (or 58) she may be the oldest ever FBB to win a pro show, and in doing so booked her place at the Rising Phoenix.
This may have been by far the least taxing competition she has ever faced, but - and especially so considering her age - she certainly looks the part. In fact I can't actually recall seeing her ever look very off-season, she always seems to be ready to take the stage. Most recently, she cropped up - looking as big and ripped as ever - at FIBO, adding her own viande musculaire to that already assembled at the WoS stand.
She's never been the prettiest FBB in the world, but from the neck down... there's no denying she won't look out of place among the biggest and best when she takes her place alongside them in Arizona later in the year, a very popular addition to the line-up, not least with the session heads who never seem to give her a bad review.
Book early to avoid disappointment!
Full results of the show here.
Galleries... still nothing.