A Preamble - Out With The Old.....
There's an old saying that, "Everything changes, nothing stays the same". And true it was when this year brought the reality that the Ms. Olympia - the women's bodybuilding earthmother of all contests for females in the IFBB - was being quietly shown the door. From 1980 to 2014 it was a pretty good 35-year run considering the criticism it endured annually and literally from day one. Over the years this mainstay of women's bodybuilding events produced legendary personalities beginning with it's inaugural winner Rachel McLish to additional mega-stars Cory Everson, Lenda Murray and finally Iris Kyle who logged 10 Ms. Olympia titles to become the most successful bodybuilder - male or female - in the history of the sport. It seemed inconceivable that - as the months of 2015 rolled by - a contest with so much history was at an end.
Along with the above-mentioned, additional Olympia winners that included 4-time winner Kim Chizevsky, Kike Elomaa, Carla Dunlap, Valentina Chepiga, Andrulla Blanchette, Juliette Bergmann and Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia all contributed mightily to the evolution and tradition of this premier contest. Yaxeni, in particular, deserves special mention as not only the 2005 Ms. O winner, but also as the holder of the Olympia longevity record having competed in 17 consecutive Ms. Olympia contests dating back to 1998 in what has been an illustrious career. Appropriately enough, she never broke stride and was a stalwart contestant in the Rising Phoenix field to help inaugurate this new World Championship. And so, with the Ms. Olympia in the rearview mirror, the Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championship was ready to make its entrance in the most grandiose of ways.
In With The New......The Rising Phoenix Pro World Championship
For fans who follow women's bodybuilding, it would have been difficult to miss the Wings of Strength-sponsored events in recent years. Navigated by Jake and Kristal Wood and ably promoted by Tim Gardner, these contests have paid special attention to the women's bodybuilding division at each show, and the popularity they enjoy has been instrumental in keeping women's bodybuilding on the front burner. With premier pro contests such as the Ms. Olympia and Ms. International being discontinued, 2015 gave rise to a new contest that would serve as the culmination of women's bodybuilding events during the year with a field of competitors selected along the same guidelines as the IFBB had mandated for the Ms. Olympia. The prize money offered was substantial. The $100,000 in cash prizes reached the Ms. Olympia level of the 90's when Lenda Murray and Kim Chizevsky were at their peaks of success. As added incentive, a new Jeep valued at $65,000 was also included as a prize for the winner, so the total value of winning this event reached an unprecedented level for any women's pro bodybuilding contest in the past. As a comparison, the first Ms. Olympia in 1980 offered $10,000 in cash prizes with $5,000 going to eventual winner Rachel McLish.
Martin's March to the Rising Phoenix.
Only one person can be the first to win an event that is being contested for the first time, and with the inaugural Rising Phoenix World Championships 15 contestants gave it their best shot at being that first winner of what will be the annual event to christen the top female bodybuilder in the world. That one competitor turned out to be Californian Margie Martin. With her victory, the question arose as to whether she had achieved her win as an 'overnight success'. The answer was 'yes...and no. If the number of years a competitor has competed is a benchmark to what illustrates who can be considered an overnight success, then Margie Martin's contest resume dating back to 2012 is relatively 'overnight' in the world of women's bodybuilding where competitors have career exploits that span decades. On the other hand, there is a point of reference where Martin isn't yet considered a veteran, but hasn't exactly been a wallflower when it comes to entering contests. In 2012 she had her start placing 10th out of 11 at the NPC Los Angeles. Her next contest the same year she won the NPC Pacific USA Natural. But at the 2012 NPC Nationals Martin became acquainted with the reality of roller coaster placings when she landed 9th in a field of 10 in the light-heavyweight class. As an interesting factoid to this result is that the winner of Martin's class was none other than Kira Neuman who is now a star in her own right as a pro Physique Division competitor with two contest victories this year and headed for her first Physique Olympia in a matter of weeks. For Martin as an amateur, her upward mobility was back in 2013 when, in her only show of the year, she notched a heavyweight win at the NPC USA securing her pro status. She wasted little time making a pro debut in 2014 and with strong placings at the Toronto Super Show and Omaha Pro she found herself on the Ms. Olympia stage placing 10th. Ninth in her class at the NPC Nationals and two years later 10th at the Ms. Olympia...stunning. So, including the Rising Phoenix, Margie Martin has entered nine pro events and along the way making steady but notable overall improvements in her still developing physique. All that and an infectious stage presence that transforms her her posing routines into very entertaining performances, she's good to go. And did we mention she also took home the 'Best Poser' award in San Antonio. The overall winner...Best Poser...the Jeep...a clean sweep! Margie Martin now has another moniker to live with - Defending Champion. She might do well to seek counseling from one Iris Kyle as to how to approach and understand what it will take to defend a title. Meantime, and for now Margie Martin can and should enjoy the moment. Her place in the history of women's bodybuilding has been set in stone.
Denmark's Helle Trevino came into this contest fully armed - literally and figuratively. In what was easily the best overall condition she had achieved in her competitive career, she put on an impressive display of muscle and solidified why she is warmly regarded as the 'Greatest Dane'. From her amateur days as Helle Nielsen winning the Danish and Scandinavian Championship titles in 1998, and competing in the 1999 IFBB World Amateur Championships in Australia, it was clear even then that she possessed pro-level potential. So when she made her first pro appearance at the 2003 Jan Tana Classic collecting a convincing victory and moving up to the Ms. Olympia where she made another strong impression with a 5th-place finish, the future seemed firm. Trevino, however, stepped aside from competition for a period of several years before returning in 2011. With an entry in the FIBO Pro Championships in Germany, her victory was again convincing and she added a 14th-place finish in a return to the Ms. Olympia. While her placings at contests over the past three years have varied, the stars aligned this year with an impressive victory at the Wings of Strength Chicago Pro as a prelude to the Rising Phoenix World Championships. Her 5-5, 165-pound physique captured all her best qualities both structurally and muscularly. Having always possessed world class legs that featured among the best calves and thighs on the women's side of the sport, her first-rate level of conditioning put her in line to challenge for the top spot. She was a complete package that would always be ready to capture a major title. Now at 40, Trevino looks to be in the prime of her competitive career. Here, the final judging tallies found Trevino in the bridesmaid spot to the disappointment of many. But with her runner-up prize money set at $25,000, look for Helle Trevino to be mega-motivated for the coming of the 2016 season. It could be a great year for the Greatest Dane.
One thing was certain in this inaugural field of competitors, there was no shortage of experienced bodybuilders with extensive Olympia level backgrounds. And one of the better examples of that reality was third-placer Debi Laszewski. A 5-3, 146-pound dynamo, she has been a stunning example of competitiveness and consistency in her placings over the years. A longtime Floridian with Wisconsin roots, Laszewski began her amateur competitive efforts in the mid-90's. Strangely, it took her until 2006 when she won the light-heavyweight class at the NPC Nationals before the wheels really began to turn. Making her pro debut in 2007, and to the current day she has only had one placing outside the top five at any event including the Ms. Olympia and Ms. International. She competed in six of each of those events up to last year, making for a very impressive contest resume over the past eight years. With a wagonload of 2nd and 3rd-place finishes, most or all of those results were at the hands of Iris Kyle and Yaxeni Oriquen where she played the role of a 'Schnauzer-on-a-pantleg' in an effort to hunt them down. Now with two decades as a top-level amateur and pro bodybuilder, Laszewski still exudes all the qualities she had from the beginning - dense, deeply separated, cultivated muscularity, all surrounded by a striking stage presence that blended so well with her mesmerizing posing performances. Among many of the sport's cognoscenti, several have felt that she is easily one of the best female bodybuilders that has missed winning a pro show - a fact that is difficult to comprehend. And so, as a top five placer at last year's Ms.O, Debi Laszewski put her best foot - and physique - forward to score yet another third-place finish in this Rising Phoenix affair. This time, however, the cash prize of $12,500 softened what must have been a quiet frustration in the third-place spot - a placing of which she is all too familiar.
Be it known that fourth-place finisher Yaxeni Oriquen is now past 50...not yet in age, but in the number of pro contests she has entered since turning pro in 1994. FIFTY! Fifty-one contest preps to be exact, and that's not counting the many amateur contests she entered to reach the pro ranks. Her competitive career is astounding. As the 2005 Ms. Olympia winner, Oriquen has also been a 5-time winner of the Ms. International, twice a winner at the Show of Strength, and the winner of the Night of Champions in 2004. She also garnered 9 runner-up finishes along the way - several of which were on the heels of Iris Kyle. As for her perseverance, she's unmatched. Turning pro in '94, it was fully 9 years before she won her first pro event in 2002. Many pro competitors don't have full careers that lasted that long, while others would have tossed out their weight belts and protein powder in that amount of time. So now, in her 21st year as a pro, Yaxeni Oriquen is still battling. Happy to be part of a new era in women's bodybuilding, she stands tall both in height at 5-8 and in grace as a cherished personality within the sport. A top-five placer at last year's final Ms. O, she flexed her way to a top-five finish in this inaugural event, and happily accepted a check for $7,500 in fourth-place prize money. Not bad for a remarkable bodybuilder who will turn 50 in September 2016!
It should be clear by now to never count out Texan Alana Shipp. In this impressive contingent of international bodybuilding standouts, Shipp made a strong showing for herself even though she could be technically considered a newbie. With her bodybuilding efforts only tracing back to 2013, her accomplishments are rock sold - not unlike the physique she possesses. In fact, since winning the NPC Metropolitan in New York City in 2013, Shipp has never placed outside the top five of any contest she has entered and that includes the 2014 Ms. Olympia where she surprised many with a fourth-place finish. Shipp stepped up to the pro level with a light-heavyweight win at the 2013 NPC Nationals and has been a highly visible competitor ever since. Making her pro debut at the 2014 Wings of Strength Omaha Pro, her 5th-place finish showed a level of muscle quality on her sound structure that pointed to her ability to hang with anyone in the pro ranks. Her comparatively diminutive stature carries great balance and an excellent level of conditioning with no obvious weaknesses. Given her deceptive level of muscularity, Shipp flexed her way to a runner-up spot at the Toronto Super Show just a week after the Omaha Pro. The two placings were also pivotal in helping her earn enough qualification points to receive an invitation to the Ms. O. With her strong Ms. O finish, it sealed the fact that she was the real deal. With Shipp's Olympia placing she earned automatic qualification for the Rising Phoenix, but entered the PBW Tampa Pro just two weeks earlier. Her runner-up finish to Margie Martin in that event set up a potential rematch and added more anticipation to the Rising Phoenix affair. With the final tallies in, Shipp fell short of Martin's pace, but with a presumed automatic qualification to next year's Rising Phoenix, Shipp can entrench herself as a certifiable and potential 'giant killer' within the pro bodybuilding ranks next season. As the 5th-placer Shipp accepted a check for $5,000 and she'll no doubt be back for more in 2016.
1- Margie Martin, California 10
2- Helle Trevino, California (Denmark) 20
3- Debi Laszewski, Florida 30
4- Yaxeni Oriquen, Florida (Venezuela) 41
5- Alana Shipp, Texas 49
6- Aleesha Young, Utah 60
7- Isabelle Turell, Indiana 71
8- Rita Bello, Argentina 79
9- Lisa Cross, England 98
10- Christine Envall, Australia 108
11- Shawna Strong, Arizona 111
12- Virginia Sanchez, Spain 116
13- Monique Jones, South Carolina 117
14- Irene Andersen, Sweden 138
15- Gillian Kovach, Canada 150
Photos courtesy of NPCNewsOnline.com