Saturday, September 25, 2010

From Kyle by a Mile! Written by Steve Wennerstrom, IFBB Womens Historian

Was there really anyone anywhere who truly believed Iris Kyle could be knocked off the tracks at this year’s Ms. Olympia? No way. Iris Kyle did what she has done so well for the past five years, and that is to simply outmuscle her opponents in their quest for the Ms. O title and she does it with a level of conditioning no one can match. That’s the story of the 2010 Ms. Olympia in a nutshell. But there’s always more to say about this storied event.

On this September 24th evening at the Orleans Hotel Arena in Las Vegas, Iris Kyle added another Ms. Olympia title to a contest resume that has her on a direct line to bodybuilding immortality. And this year she did it in a field that included a small contingent of veterans and a larger group of relative newbies to the Olympia stage.

To begin with, this year’s Ms. O featured only 11 contestants making it the smallest women’s Olympia ever. That fact, in and of itself, should have been enough to make the judging of this contest something of a breeze. But it never seems to be that easy.

Among the 11 competitors, three carried strong reputations directly related to their past histories as both Olympia winners and entrants at numerous Ms.O’s in the past.

First, Yaxeni Oriquen was entering her 13th Olympia tying a record held by Laura Creavalle. Oriquen also won the Olympia crown in 2005. Behind Oriquen in the longevity race was Iris Kyle and Dayana Cadeau who were both entering the Olympia for the 11th time. But with the retirements of both Betty Pariso and Lisa Aukland, the remainder of the field was still what you could call fresh-faced. Among the eight other entrants, only Cathy Lefrancois had competed in as many as four prior Olympia contests.

With little argument, the trio of rookies making their debuts the Ms. O this year was one of the finest in recent memory. 2008 NPC National overall champion Sheila Bleck has been on the horizon for entry in this event for at least three years. Slovenian Brigita Brezovac recently showed strongly on the radar when she won her first two contests as an IFBB pro. And Canada’s friendly giant Zoa Linsey was a convincing overall winner at the 2009 IFBB North American Championships, and showed she was ready for the Olympia stage with a third-place pro debut at the 2010 Phoenix Pro Classic back in February.

Meanwhile the remainder of the group included a hotter-than-blazes Debi Laszewski entering her second Olympia after placing third last year with a scintillating look and the muscle to back it up. And Heather Foster returned to the Olympia for the first time since 2006 when she placed 12th. Another Canadian – Helen Bouchard – also returned for a second helping at the Ms. O after placing eighth at the 2006 event.
And speaking of Canadians, the quartet of Bouchard, Linsey, Lefrancois and Cadeau was the highest number of Canadian representatives at the Ms. Olympia (in bodybuilding) since 1993 when another impressive group including Sharon Bruneau, Laura Creavalle, Astrid Falconi, and Laura Binetti graced the stage.

Texan Tina Chandler filled out the field and also returned for a second try after placing 10th at last year’s Ms. O.

The Anatomy of Placing 11 Bodybuilders at the Ms. Olympia

For the cognoscenti of the sport, the question as to whether Yaxeni Oriquen could top Iris Kyle this year made for spirited conversation. Word was Oriquen was in her best shape ever in the weeks prior to the contest. Others wondered if Kyle might become complacent in her preparation. One fact was in stone – Kyle and Oriquen had met head-to-head in 11 previous Ms. Olympia contests and Kyle had topped Oriquen in nine of those meetings. And in Kyle’s previous five Ms. Olympia victories, Oriquen had placed no higher than third. In fact, there were more than a few close followers of women’s bodybuilding who wondered if Oriquen might be running on fumes from her many years of contest entries as both an amateur and professional.

Well, any questions as to Kyle’s possible complacency and Oriquen’s potential fatique factor were quickly dispelled in the first call-out of the prejudging when both women showed stunning condition and muscular visibility. Kyle was ‘on’ like never before, and Oriquen was up to the challenge with the best level of muscular shape in her long career.

For Oriquen’s role in this chess match, the idea of her running low on fuel became a moot point. She’s been through contest preps well over 50 times in both her amateur and pro careers and at 44 she shows no signs of letting up. In fact at 44, and barring injuries, she has a few more years of strong showings in the tank. This night, Oriquen’s hamstrings, quads and back poses were inspiring and helped seal the deal for a top three placement.

The same was true with Kyle. She was simply awesome in the truest sense of an overused term. In her case she truly WAS awesome. And without enough superlatives to cover what is looking more and more like an unbeatable physique in the near future, one only needed to get a good look at her glutial/hamstring tie-ins, the quad separations, and breathtakingly diamond-shaped calves to understand that for all intents-and-purposes she convincingly laid the ground work with a mega-muscular exclamation mark in her push for another Ms. O trophy.

For Kyle, her victory here comes with an ongoing question as to how many Ms. Olympia’s she has won. Officials say six, others claim seven. But the seventh Ms. O title only comes by way of Kyle’s winning the heavyweight class in a two-class Ms. Olympia in 2001 when lightweight winner Juliette Bergmann got the nod for the overall title. Anyway you care to stack it, Iris Kyle is only 36 – still a baby by women’s bodybuilding standards – and it is conceivable her final total of Ms. Olympia victories could outstrip any previous Ms. Olympia winner by a considerable margin. Time will tell. This night she not only won the 2010 Ms. Olympia, but she also pocketed a tidy $28,000 in prize money.

For Yaxeni Oriquen’s valiant effort to unseat Kyle with a superb level of muscular condition she accepted a check for $14,000.

Packing the highest level of muscle for any contest in her long career, Debi Laszewski used her searing stage presence and well-detailed musculature to match the third-place finish from her Ms. Olympia debut in 2009. A major fan favorite within the sport, Laszewski has taken her competitive lumps over the years in her quest to reach this level and many agree she was of a pro-level quality as far back as 2000. Now a distant memory, it is difficult to comprehend how Laszewski placed 12th as a heavyweight at the 2001 NPC Nationals with a very similar physique she competes with today. Now seemingly on track to be a major player at the big contests (she was the runner-up at the 2009 Ms. International), the rollercoaster rides of up and down placings are a thing of the past. Laszewski’s third-place finish garnered $8,000 in prize money.

It comes as little surprise that 2008 NPC National overall champion Sheila Bleck cracked the top five in her maiden Ms. Olympia voyage. Anyone who has followed her career – one which has spanned 17 years dating back to 1993 – understands that she was destined to reach this contest sooner or later. Her debut as a fourth placer was well deserved and she didn’t disappoint by way of her contest prep or her solid posing performance. Assuming Bleck carried a case of the rookie jitters to the stage, as would be the case with any first-timer at this contest, she handled herself well and looked right at home among the major personages of the sport. Bleck appears to be a good fit for future high-level events. At 36 she’s the same age as Iris Kyle and if there’s any indication that she’s not focused on her improvement, remember her years as a heavyweight in the NPC Nationals where she finished 16th in 2000, 11th in 2005, third in 2006, second in 2007 and first in 2008. Sheila Bleck is here to stay a while. Her first check at the Ms. Olympia totaled $5,000, and there should be more in her future.

The first level of controversy in a top-six placing came with Canadian Dayana Cadeau’s fifth- place finish. A seasoned veteran of this event with 11 prior entries and a lightweight Ms. Olympia victory in 2004, the 44-year-old Cadeau appeared more than a bit distracted. Cadeau has always showed impressive muscle shapes and an overall structure that, when in top shape, makes her highly competitive in the best of fields. Here, she lacked the crisp detail she needed to compete with the top placers, and her fifth-place finish came with a level of surprise from experienced onlookers. Over the past two years, Cadeau has struggled with reaching her top contest shape, but still in all, her finish was up from an eighth-place Ms. O finish in 2009. For her effort, she accepted $3,000 in prize money.

Filling out the top six was longtime New Yorker and veteran competitor Heather Foster. Qualifying for the Ms. Olympia this year after placing third at the 2010 New York Pro Championships - won by Cathy Lefrancois - Foster’s finish here marked her highest-ever finish at the Ms. Olympia. An overall winner at the 2000 NPC Nationals, Foster was a crowd pleaser with a solid posing performance that carried plenty or energy and pizzazz. Now 43, this event may serve to further motivate Foster to reach into her contest prep bag to regain some of the fine-lined muscle separations that brought her a victory in her pro debut at the 2001 Women’s Extravaganza. Her winnings here amounted to $2,000.

The most difficult placement to figure was Cathy Lefrancois’ being left outside the top six. In sterling condition with a complete physique showing no obvious flaws, judges left her out of the top placings. In the most direct of ways it points to the ongoing hardships a lightweight undergoes when competing against heavier opponents. Here, however, it was also a matter of conditioning. Lefrancois was clearly better than Dayana Cadeau on this night. But stranger results have happened over the years at the Ms. Olympia. And so it goes.

Also on the outside looking in, were Slovenian Brigita Brezovac, Zoa Linsey, Tina Chandler, and Helen Bouchard.

In Bouchard’s case, she was in her best shape ever, and the 46-year-old from Edmonton, Alberta, had intimated that this would be the final contest of her competitive career. If it is her last contest, she went out with a muscular bang showing an enviable level of conditioning and muscular detail.

For Brezovac, this can be considered a stellar year with all considered. At 31, she is by far the youngest of this group and has a bright future to look forward to. The two victories prior to the Olympia may well have pulled some of the ability to reach her top shape in a third contest over the coarse of a year, but 2011 should be very interesting for this welcome newcomer.

Zoa Linsey will also be back. Suffering from a reported herniated disc prior to the contest, it is the type of injury that would humble any dedicated athlete no matter how high her pain threshold resides. At 5-10 and 180 pounds, Linsey’s presence in future pro events will always make things interesting at the upper end of the placings.

In the seven years Tina Chandler has invested in competitive bodybuilding, her second visit to the Ms. Olympia points to the fact that she can mix it up with the best when she’s at her best. As a former middleweight winner at both the 2006 NPC USA and 2007 NPC Nationals, she has progressed well in her overall improvement. Here she was visibly off, and some closer attention to her posing routine where the dancy moves she incorporated into her routine simply didn’t do her any favors, and visible distractions such as the rhinestones above her eyebrows would have been best left behind. Tina Chandler in top shape needs little more than a well-fitted suit and proper hair and make-up to get her appealing look across. She’s been in the top ten, she can do it again.

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