THE NPC NATIONALS 2005
Women's Bodybuilding and Fitness
November 18th & 19th, Atlanta GA
By Bill Dobbins
|At the Hyatt Regency, everyone can see who is coming in and out of your room.|
The 2005 NPC Nationals was a successful competition by most standards. The contest had a lot of good competitors, was well produced and sold a reasonable amount of tickets. The"expo" part of the event was somewhat limited which is somewhat surprising given that this is the premier NPC contest of the entire year. But this may simply be due to sponsors feeling that they get more bang for their buck at the Olympia just a month earlier.
The Nationals was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel (one of those hotels where the doors to the rooms open directly onto a central common space and everyone can see who is coming in and out – so the transsexual hooker who knocks on your door better be delivering pizza!). Because the venue is a hotel ballroom, there is only flat seating available, not sloped theatrical seating, which can make it more difficult for people in the back to see. I'm told there is a policy against this in the NPC regulations but promoters need to make money to stay in business and this might have been just an economic necessity.
In fact, I kept hearing from NPC promoters that many were concerned with a steady decline in ticket sales over the years. Amateur bodybuilding is alive but in some cases not doing all that well financially. I'm convinced that one reason for this is that neither the NPC nor the IFBB makes use of professional public relations to help publicize and promote the sport. While bodybuilding had a much improved image in the 1980s and early 1990s, this is not the case today. Joe Weider has retired, Arnold has been accused of conflict of interest because of his involvement with Weider Publications and there is nobody out there to look out for the interests of bodybuilding on a national level. This coupled with the NPC policy of not giving press credentials to any websites (including bodybuilding.com, a major sponsor) no doubt has a lot to do with the situation about which the promoters are concerned.
We have always seen a dearth of female bodybuilders at the local level in NPC shows. There just aren't enough of them coming up to fill up the pipeline. This has been made worse by the fact that so many women have been abandoning bodybuilding for figure competition. This move is almost always futile since – especially at the higher levels – the women winning figure are genetically very different from those who are good bodybuilders. But there has been so much negative publicity regarding bodybuilding for women that some competitors continue to make the switch and then generally end up quitting altogether when they realize figure is a dead end for them.
But this year's Nationals had 68 female bodybuilders entered, which is a good sign. Not only were there 68 women competing in four weight divisions but many noticed how many really attractive female bodybuilders they saw in the line-up. Bodybuilding is not a beauty contest, but in terms of overall appeal and the ability to get positive publicity having an attractive face and an aesthetic face has always been an advantage – for the men, as well as the women.
NPC women's bodybuilding is held using four weight divisions which is as it should be. The IFBB had been holding women's bodybuilding events using only two weight divisions (usually – sometimes but rarely three) but has gone back to having all the women compete in one class as do the men. Using this approach, the bigger competitors have too much of an advantage, the smaller ones tend to try and gain too much unaesthetic size and smaller amateurs are discouraged from competing as pros. Bodybuilding is supposed to be about perfection – not mass and size.
You can read details of how each class was judged from a variety of sources (for example, graphicmuscle.com and ftvideo.com). My main impression of the contest and the judging is the NPC seems intent on rewarding amateur women bodybuilders who are good but not"extreme" in the sense that they would quickly become competitive in the pros. In other words, the NPC ends up giving pro cards to female bodybuilders who will not be able to make good use of them – and least, not in the short term.
Of course, given that there are no weight divisions in the IFBB pro competitions, it would be rare to find lightweight and middleweight amateur women who could make any impact in the pros. For that, you'd need a physique as extraordinary as Juliette Bergmann (who only came back to the IFBB when weight divisions were announced) or Dayana Cadeau (whose Flex Wheeler-like muscle shape on a 135 pound physique has resulted in most of the physique magazines declaring she is"too big" to feature in photos).
The lightweight champion was Carla Salatti, already a two-time winner in 2005. Runner up was Jamie Troxel, a former powerlifter with a lot of solid, dense muscle mass.
In the middleweight division, the winner was Norma Nieves, who had competed in 2004 as a light-heavyweight – a perfect example of how bodybuilding is more about perfection than mass and that weight divisions encourage bodybuilders to find the weight at which they actually look their best. Ellen Woodley was second and Lindsay Mulinazzi was third – and watching the three of them on stage was clear evidence that bodybuilding for women might be having problems but excellent women bodybuilders themselves are doing fine.
The real controversy involving women's bodybuilding at the Nationals concerned the light-heavyweights. In 2000, the"guidelines" issues by the IFBB and adopted by the NPC created havoc in the judging results in both federations. One example is the 2000 USA. Debi Lazsweski (pronounced"la-chef-ski") was in the eyes of many (including one judge I spoke to afterwards) the clear winner. But because she was"too big" according to the standards of the"guidelines" she was relegated to 7th in her class. Unfortunately, this unjust and unfair outcome discouraged Debi to the point where she stayed out of competition until this year. But she entered the 2005 Nationals in the hope that the judging would be more accurate this year.
But it wasn't. You can usually tell who is going to place where in a contest head-judged by Sandy Ranalli. As I've described in other reports, the first five competitors Sandy calls out are almost always the top five finishers in the contest (and women not in that group never get to be compared with anyone who is). Then Sandy rearranges them so that the probable winner is in the center, the second and third finishers next to her and so on. So while there is an occasional surprise at the outcome, it is usually fairly predictable.
But this wasn't the procedure used with the light-heavyweights. Debi, Dena Westerfield and Elena Seiple were compared as a group – more than once – and Sandy kept rearranging them with first one in the center, then the other, then the other. It was clear the judges were having a problem. Both Dena and Elena looked terrific, no doubt out it – but they looked like really excellent amateurs standing next to a pro. Debi could have walked out of that auditorium and across the street to an IFBB pro contest and done very well, In fact, Debi Leszewski was the ONLY female bodybuilder among the 68 entered about whom that could be said. Nonetheless, Debi ended up getting only two first place votes out of 11 judges and two of the officials had her third!
What this seems to mean is that, as happened in 2000, NPC judges are interpreting the idea of being"too big" not as"too big for her frame" or"too big and bulky and lacking aesthetics" but instead as"too big for the line-up!" Using this as a criteria, Ms. Olympia Yaxeni Oriquen wouldn't stand a chance in the NPC. What this means is that the NPC is judging by a set of standards that guarantees the best potential pros in the federation will not be able to earn their pro cards.
Mimi Jabalee - Overall Winner
The heavyweight class was yet another example of how good the NPC women bodybuilders looked this year as a group - even if not of the caliber that could easily step up to the pros and be immediate successes. Mimi Jabalee was a popular winner of the class with Texan Jody May placing second. By the way, talking about pro potential there may not be a female bodybuilder in the whole NPC with more potential to win a top contest like the Ms. Olympia than big, beautiful Jody – IF she were ever able to develop to the limits of that potential. Unfortunately, to hear her describe her own attitude toward the sport it seems she might be too easy going and lacking in ambition to develop the focus and determination that achieving such a lofted goal involves.
All the class winners got pro cards, Mimi Jabalee won the overall. Mimi certainly has a future in the IFBB if she continues to work hard (after all, after a disappointing first foray into the pro ranks last year's Nationals winner Bonny Priest placed 6th at the Ms. Olympia 2005). But if the correct and traditional standards of bodybuilding had been applied to the judging, Mimi still would have won her class but I have no doubt that the overall winner would have been Debi Leszewski. Let's hope this second brutal and undeserved unfairness won't prevent Debi from continuing her quest to win an NPC championship. But you could hardly blame her if it did.
The story of the 2005 Fitness Nationals was apparent in the routines. There were some very good ones but no super-routines, the kind we have been use to seeing from competitors like Susan Curray or Kelly Ryan. I've been pointing out for years that the rules have cut off the"new blood" in NPC fitness (example: a stage full of figure competitors at the NPC California Championships and TWO women entered in fitness).
Fitness was adopted by the NPC in response to the Ms. Fitness events and then the Fitness America. Both of those events put a lot of emphasis on the routine, and much of those routines consist of gymnastics. But Wally Boyco and Lou Zwick who control those competitions are basically holding them in order to create television show, not to sell tickets to a live audience. But selling tickets in what it takes to promote NPC contests and fitness takes up a lot of time and because of the physical dangers involve opens up a can of worms as far as liability is concerned (such as doing gymnastics without the aid of a gymnastics mat).
The fitness routine was invented first to entertain participants in Expos and then used to fill up
an hour on TV. Because of the priority on gymnastics, many women are choosing figure instead.
So perhaps the federation is just letting this type of competition die a natural death. The Figure Nationals is held in New York and the USA now includes figure rather than fitness. It's great for the federation – many more women entering the events, paying fees to the NPC and the promoter, just two rounds of quarter turns in different kinds of suits, women with tall, leggy"model" proportions rather than more compact gymnastics bodies, nobody likely to get hurt.
That being said, there were some impressive women in the Fitness Nationals. The very first competitor on stage in the short class was Heidi Fletcher, a very Monica Brant-like blond firecracker who got my attention as well as Iron Man publisher John Balik (who made sure I had Heidi's contact info).
Heidi ended up winning the overall against medium class winner Tami Ough and tall class champion Jennifer Cassetty. A good contest, lots of attractive and energetic young women. If you missed it, too bad – there might not be a lot of them ahead in the future the way things are going with NPC fitness.