Once again this year, promoters Ed and Betty Pariso along with Scott Templeton staged the Europa Show of Champions at the spacious Orlando Convention Center on April 12th as 14 contestants gathered to vie for the $3,500 in total prize money, an automatic qualification for the Women’s Physique Olympia later in the year, and earn valuable points towards a spot on the Olympia stage.
This year a new winner would be assured, as the champion from the two previous Show of Champions – Brazilian Patricia Mello – was not entered. That said the group here was something of a mosaic with a wide variety of physiques to challenge the judging panel as to what they considered the ideal on this day.
In the field of 14, five were making their pro debut, along with five who had entered this contest in the past. The contingent took on even more of a free-for-all considering that none of the 14 had previously competed in last year's inaugural Women’s Physique Olympia or won a previous pro WPD contest, thus eliminating the possibility of prior contest reputations coming into play. Nevertheless, the first call-out brought forth six competitors who all showed varying degrees of muscular conditioning and overall quality, and they were all worthy adversaries.
MENDEZ MAKES IT UNANIMOUS
On the IFBB pro scene, Frances Mendez may not yet be a household name, but in the Deep South she has landed her share of respectable placements in both the amateur and pro contests she has entered. Too muscular for figure events and not muscular enough for bodybuilding, Mendez's discovery of the Physique division has fit her like a glove.
When the Mobile, Alabama, native chalked up an overall victory at the NPC Masters Nationals in 2012, her lean, streamlined structure experienced the predictable potpourri of pro contest placings over a four-event span from late 2012 through 2013. Making her pro debut at the 2012 Valenti Gold Cup in Florida, she made a strong first impression with a runner-up finish to Karina Nascimento. Then in 2013 she scratched out a 4th-place finish at the Show of Champions, plummeted to a tie for 16th at the New York Pro, and battled back up to a 7th-place spot at the Greater Gulf States. So, understandably, she is delighted to get off to a fast start in 2014 with a qualifying spot at the Olympia later in the year, not to mention a $2,000 cash prize for her S of C victory.
But it was after Mendez had locked up the title that the real scuffle ensued with a trio that included Leonie Rose, Joelle Smith and hometown fan favorite Danielle Reardon jockeying for the remaining top positions and the points toward Olympia qualifying. With three differing physiques, the judging dilemma was evident in the close final tallies. Joelle Smith and Leonie Rose tied at 14 with Smith getting the nod for the runner-up spot on a judges countback. And just three points behind that duo came Danielle Reardon, much to the crowd's dismay.
For Joelle Smith, however, her second-place finish was a joy. As the hard-luck contestant in the pro Physique Division last year, she missed a trip to the Olympia by just one point in the Olympia Qualification Points Series. The four points she gained here along with the $1,500 runner-up prize money should serve as additional motivation to earn one of the spots for a trip to Las Vegas. As for Leonie Rose, her third-place finish is the best example from this event as to just how fluid the judging can be. It was just a month earlier at the St. Louis Pro that Rose finished 17th… in a field of 17. That's a run from dead last to third in one month. Stunning.
Even more interesting was the fact that Danielle Reardon finished second at that St. Louis event and ended up in fourth BEHIND Rose here. Rose's previous best finish as a pro Physique competitor was an 11th-place spot at the 2013 Wings of Strength. Here, she collected $500 for her placing and three points in the Olympia points race. No doubt she was all smiles on her way back to her Ft. Lauderdale home.
As for Danielle Reardon, there simply aren't enough adjectives to describe this terrific new pro Physique competitor. Last year Reardon made her pro debut with a 16th-place finish at this same event. She still drew raves for her striking look on stage. So this year with a runner-up spot in St. Louis and a fourth-place finish here, the points towards an Olympia berth keep mounting. For her it's just a matter of time, and she has plenty of it. Somewhere down the line, a contest victory has her name on it.
Rounding out the top five was New Jersey's Gloria Faulls. Since turning pro at the 2011 IFBB North American Championships with a runner-up placing in her Physique class, Faulls has been a very consistent finisher with five top six finishes including a fifth-place spot at the 2014 IFBB St. Louis Pro. With a combination of dazzling stage presence that connects with the audience, and a conditioning level that is always spot-on, at any contest this year she will likely always be in the hunt for a placing in the top six.
OUTSIDE THE TOP FIVE
6- Jeannea Burritt, Port St. Lucie, Florida 29
7- Lisa Grasso, Jupiter, Florida 37
8- Catherine Hernon-Schaumleffel, Lorain, Ohio 38
9- Jessica Bowman, Hagerstown, Maryland 46
10- Danielle Balino, Brazil 49
11- Hanna Hallman, Marietta, Georgia 56
12- Tracy Weller, Loganville, Georgia 62
13- Rose Duvigneaud, Palm Beach Gardens,Florida 63
14- Sherri Gray, Wilmington, North Carolina 67