Uber promoter Tim Gardner has a good thing going here in Tampa. The 2010 edition of his contest - held on Saturday night - was the third annual affair, and the name of the contest was both long in length as the contest was long on quality. Officially, the event this year was called ‘The 2010 Complete Genetic Defiance's IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Weekly Championships and NPC Tim Gardner Extravaganza'. That's a mouth full, but the contest gave everyone their money's worth - especially when it came to the pro women's bodybuilding division.
For those who annually wave the flag of demise in women's bodybuilding, this contest proved otherwise. In fact, the 28 contestants from 13 countries at this event stands as one of the largest pro women's bodybuilding competitions in IFBB history. Back in 1993 the Ms. Olympia saw 32 women compete, and the same year the Jan Tana Pro Classic drew 28. No other pro contest for the women has reached that level in the past 17 years - until Tim Gardner's pride and joy this weekend.
Now in its third year, this Tampa pro contest shows every sign of continued popularity and growth.
With Nicole Ball winning the inaugural event in 2008 and Betty Pariso capturing last year's show in a field of 15 contestants, the event this year was immense by comparison, and the general level of competitors entered here showed a legitimate level of physical excellence considering the Ms. Olympia qualification implications that this competition carried with it.
Professionally speaking there was $6,000 in prize money available to the top three finishers, and an additional $1,000 going to the ‘Best Poser'. Plus there was the added incentive of those valuable qualification spots for the Ms. Olympia.
Prejudging as a Sneak Preview
For most of us, prejudging is like a feast. Bodybuilding provides an endless variety of physiques that, when compared, creates a challenge for even the most qualified judging panels, and the prejudging can create havoc when putting pencil to paper.
In Tampa the dilemma of selecting a winner was magnified by 28 as the process of narrowing down the field to an elite few was agonizing.
In particular, judges were faced with a host of new faces and physiques to sort out and several of them were competing on US soil for the first time. The result of this reality was that it produced an extremely competitive and highly intriguing format to arrive at an eventual winner.
From the first call-out of prejudging the event took on an international flavor. Six contestants were brought forward, five of which were from other than the United States. Among the five foreign competitors, four were from Canadian (more about that quartet later), and Slovenian Brigita Brezovac. Tina Chandler was the lone American in the first call.
The second call-out was a fivesome - all of whom hailed from the USA. The group included Debbie Bramwell, Lisette Acevedo, Emery Miller, Antoinette Thompson and Nancy Lewis. Within these first two call-outs a group of ten would make it to the evening show and the posing platform. In case you were counting, the two call-outs totaled 11. The only one who missed the top ten was Nancy Lewis - a seven-time entrant at the Ms. Olympia. Highly competitive? Yes indeed.
The final call-out of the prejudging was a carbon copy of the first with Bresovac placed in the center while Lefrancois and Chandler shouldered her to the left and right.
Speculation ran rampant and it looked like an upset may be in the making. The buzz was all about the 31-year-old Brezovac - her great conditioning, striking muscle separations, and great overall structural balance. One observer even made mention of her strong stage presence highlighted by a pair of mesmerizing aquamarine eyes. For close followers of the women's side of the sport, her strong presence wasn't a great surprise. But to look ‘spot on' in her pro debut, well, she made quite a first impression with the IFBB judging panel.
With several titles on her contest resume from different organizations, Bresovac was most recently a silver medalist at the 2009 IFBB World Amateur Championships in the heavyweight class, so her credentials are for real. Her sterling look on stage here helped seal the deal for the 5-4, 145-pound newcomer.
One thing she did prove is that champion bodybuilders can, and most probably will in the future, come from anywhere on the planet. From Slovenia, the percentage of Americans who could point to this tiny country on a world map (bordered by Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria) would be miniscule as the country itself. Slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey, with a population of just over two million, Slovenia is not your basic central European hotbed of women's bodybuilding. But Brigita Brezovac managed to help bring a higher level of awareness to her homeland with her performance in Tampa.
With Brezovac carrying the flag of Slovenia in this international field, it was Canada who put on a strong show of strength as a team. With four contestants - all of which had their bell rung in the first prejudging call-out, there was little doubt a Canadian would be moving along to the Olympia in September.
Showing substantial credentials as a team, Nicole Ball, Dayana Cadeau, Cathy Lefrancois and Helen Bouchard had all experienced previous visits to the Ms. Olympia stage. Further, all had scored a top-ten placing at least once. Between the four, they have made 17 trips to the Ms. O. How impressive is that? Well, when compared to the six Americans in this contest who had also made the trek to the Ms. O stage (a group that includes Nancy Lewis, Debbie Bramwell, Tina Chandler, Jennifer Sedia, Mary Ellen Jerumbo and Antoinette Thompson) the total number of Ms. O entries totals 14. The Canadian foursome can also claim one Ms. O title as Dayana Cadeau was the lightweight class winner in 2004.
Kudos should also go to the five women who have entered and supported this event in each of the past three years - Irene Andersen (Sweden), Nicole Ball (Canada), Myriam Bustamante (Mexico), Aurelia Grozajova (Slovakia), and Bev DiRenzo (USA).
The Top Ten
The top three at this contest really needs to come as a package deal. Yes, there was a winner - Brigita Brezovac - and a popular one at that. And yes, there was a runner-up - Tina Chandler - an equally popular decision. And third-placer Cathy Lefrancois, well, what's not to like about this veteran of three Ms.O's and nine Ms. Internationals.
The linking factor here is that this trio was practically joined at the hip on the final score sheets. With Brezovac tacking up a winning total of 14 points she cheerfully accepted the winning prize money of $3,000 and a trip to her first Ms. Olympia. Second placer Tina Chandler - who moved up from her third place finish here last year - followed with 23 points and claimed a check for $2,000. She also qualified for the Ms. O bash in Las Vegas. Cathy Lefrancois, who tallied 28 points was coming off her victory at the New York Pro Championships earlier in the year and picked up a check for $1,000 with the knowledge that she was already qualified for the Olympia in September.
Pictures, especially in this genre, are always worth a thousand words, and they will show how this trio shined as a top-three finishing group. In particular, Tina Chandler made substantial improvement in her overall physique by adding some notable size throughout her physique while remaining balanced structurally.
Outside the top three it was equally competitive with Helen Bouchard checking in at the fourth spot. Having been away from the competitive stage since 2007, Bouchard returned impressively with a terrific level of conditioning and plenty of muscle to get the point across. Bouchard finished eighth at the 2006 Ms. Olympia and a similar result in the future isn't out of the realm of possibility is she continues on her current course
Fifth went to Bouchard's fellow Canadian Nicole Ball. Looking sleek and well-conditioned Ball still dropped a notch from her fourth-place finish in 2009. The addition of added muscle size (especially with the increased competitiveness of the pro division) looks like the only path that will lift her back to the high placings she experienced when she first turned pro. In other words, she will need to evolve with her fellow competitors to remain competitive. Structurally, she can easily carry the added poundage, just as Tina Chandler has.
Sixth went to yet another Canadian Dayana Cadeau. Much was made about her return to the high level of condition and the competitive levels she had exhibited during an impressive stretch from 2001 to 2008, but it didn't manifest itself at this event. But she wasn't far off her goal. In fact she could quite easily pull it together with a dedicated dieting effort between now and the Challenge of Champions contest in Hartford next week. This is a woman who has competed in 10 Ms. Olympia contests, she knows by now what it takes to get herself in top shape. We'll see if she still has the drive.
Seventh-placer Debbie Bramwell qualifies at this event as one who could have very easily placed higher. In top shape, she showed an added level of muscle that continues to bring her physique into better balance. And if side chest poses are your cup of tea, Debbie Bramwell ranks with the best. As a bonus, Bramwell was presented with the ‘Best Poser' award with a cash prize of $500 to go with it. Deservingly, Bramwell's posing clearly displays the true passion and soul she carries for her chosen sport. All too few women turn their stage time into a routine rather than a performance. Bramwell ‘performed' for the audience tonight and the judges agreed.
Stalwart veteran Antoinette Thompson flexed her way to the eighth position in her third contest of the year after placing seventh in Phoenix and 11th at the Ms. International (on very short notice). A classy pro if there ever was one, Thompson is another career competitor who shows that ‘slow and steady' brings a beautiful cultivation to a physique that also has a genetic base to work with. She has several good years of steady improvement left in the tank.
No doubt a little nervous about making a pro debut in an event of this size and scope, 2009 NPC National middleweight champion Lisette Acevedo cracked the top ten with a ninth-place finish, and you won't find many that would argue the point. This is yet another ‘diamond-in-the-rough' competitor who, when she continues to fill out her physique with quality muscle, will be considerably more competitive at contests such as this one. Time, patience and serious injury-free training will work wonders for her.
The 10th place spot went to Californian Emery Miller. Away from the competitive scene since her ninth-place finish at the 2008 Atlantic City Pro Championships, Miller proudly carries the banner for competitors who would look so much more competitive in the return of a lightweight division at the pro level. Like Acevedo, Miller was an NPC National middleweight champion, and in the ensuing six years since she won that title in 2004, Miller has made considerable improvement overall.