Valerie Gangi is Tops in Tampa Pro Physique
By Steve Wennerstrom, IFBB Women's Historian
A total of 10 IFBB Women's Physique division qualifiers were scheduled this year with the winners of each earning an invitation to the inaugural Olympia Women’s Physique Showdown in Las Vegas next month. So it was of little surprise that the PBW Tampa Pro Championships (the ninth of the 10 qualifying events) would draw considerable interest from aspiring Women’s Physique division competitors.
In reality, the annual PBW Tampa Pro Championships staged this year at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay Hotel and promoted by Tim Gardner on August 9-10 was a bit of Women’s Physique history in the making. It was record-breaking to say the least in that 39 contestants signed to compete at this event, making it the largest-ever pro Women's Physique contest since the inauguration of this division in February of last year.
The growth of the Tampa event is impressive. Last year 20 entrants made their way to Florida with Nola Trimble getting the win. This year's field (which was only one contestant shy of doubling the size of last year's event) is also notable as it relates to how many more new pro Women’s Physique competitors there are. Of the 20 entrants from last year, only four returned this year, and Trimble did not return in an attempt to defend her title. So there was a wagonload of new faces and physiques on display at the Bay.
Valerie Gangi – A Genuine Feel Good Story
With all the chatter about the difficulties women bodybuilders have had in adjusting or fitting into the Women’s Physique division comfortably, this weekend in Tampa had a joyous ending for at least one former bodybuilder. And that joy was emanating from Valerie Gangi – for good reason. It had been a mere 18 years since she last won a contest. EIGHTEEN YEARS!
Valerie Gangi's contest history dates back to 1991, and during the five years she toiled as an amateur she won the HW and overall 1994 NPC California, and a year later she dropped down to middleweight and won the overall NPC USA. That was 1995 and the last time she grasped the feel of victory… until this weekend.
As a pro,Gangi did well. Her overall structure and muscle shapes carried her to a 5th place finish at the 1996 Ms. International, a runner-up placing at the 1997 Jan Tana Classic where one of those she out-flexed was Yaxeni Oriquen. But at the 1997 Ms. Olympia,Gangi encountered a dose of reality at the premier event in women's bodybuilding – she placed 15th. At that point she drifted away for a dozen years, until 2009.
When Gangi manufactured her comeback in '09, she experienced another dose of reality, albeit a different kind. In 1997 she simply didn't have the horsepower to out-muscle so many women who were so much more muscular and who outweighed her by, in some instances, as much as 30 pounds.
In 2009, it was a matter of her being recognized as too muscular – even after 12 years where she was away from serious training. She competed three times in 2009 as a Figure competitor and missed finishing higher than 15th each time. In 2010 and '11 she competed just once each year – both at the California Pro Figure. The results were a dismal 12th and 16th respectively. But along came the new Physique division in 2012 and had it not been for that new alternative we might have lost her forever.
In 2012 Gangi entered her first Women’s Physique division event, the California Governor's Cup. She placed a respectable 6th. Now she had a reasonable road of training to follow. This year she began the season at the Mile High Classic and landed 7th. Undeterred, she traveled to Chicago for the Wings of Strength and found herself finishing second – sandwiched between winner Jamie Pinder and third-placer Nicole Ball.
At that point, Valerie Gangi was back in a big way. Her bodylines were clean, her muscle shapes flowed well and she had plenty of stage experience to carry across the quality of her overall look. She put the exclamation point on that effort when she came to Tampa with an even more streamlined look that closely fit the judging criteria the IFBB requires. It resulted in a victory – a fulfilling one for Valerie to be sure.
Now, on an August weekend in Tampa she finds herself qualified for the Ms. Olympia – in a different division – but on the Olympia stage once again. No doubt in Las Vegas her memories of a past Olympia will bubble up, but what a great journey she has made. At 46 years of age, she's a stunner and she carries her poundage on a 5’6” frame that is looking pretty sweet.
As unanimous as Valerie Gangi was in winning, Dana Linn Bailey matched the unanimity in chasing down the runner-up spot. Not much more can be said about DLB that hasn't been said before other than the fact that she has become something of cult figure in the world of Women’s Physique. She boasts an enormous fan following and you can almost hear her fans serenading her presence with the old tried and true refrain, “Number 173 in the program, number 1 in our hearts”.
From a historical standpoint, Dana Linn Bailey’s name is permanently affixed by virtue of her victory at the first-ever Women’s Physique division contest – the 2011 NPC Junior USA. Since then she has competed sparingly. There was a 4th place finisher at the first IFBB Pro Women’s Physique event (the Desert Muscle Classic won by Karina Nascimento) last year, and a forgettable tie for 16th at the New York Pro three months later.
Never one to be counted out, Bailey bounced back at this event, and her runner-up finish gives her valuable points towards an Olympia qualification should she decide to make a trip to Dallas and a bid to qualify at the final event before the first-ever Ms. O Physique. It would seem like a no-brainer for her contest resume and fans.......winner of the first-ever Physique division event, competitor at the first-ever Pro Physique event, and possibly a competitor at the first-ever Olympia Women’s Physique Showdown. Never a dull moment in the Bailey camp!
Finishing third was New Yorker Teresita Morales. Showing an evenly balanced physique and a moderate level of conditioning, Morales caught the judges' attention and gained a first round call-out that eventuated in her placing in the middle of the top five. As a pro Women’s Physique competitor she's been pretty consistent. Last year Morales pegged a second-place finish at the New York Pro contest behind Juliana Malacarne, then added a 7th place spot at the Tampa Pro event. This year she returned to the New York Pro and claimed the 5th place position, but followed up well at this Tampa event placing third. Having competed in both bodybuilding and Figure events prior to earning her pro status with a class victory at the 2010 NPC Team Universe, her three Figure contests as a pro in 2010 and '11 (which ranged from 9th to 19th) pointed to her being a better fit in the Women’s Physique division. Her results thus far have proven the switch to Women’s Physique a wise move.
Lyris Cappelle is another former bodybuilder who is making the move to the Women’s Physique division in seamless fashion. A solid competitor in Canada since 2004, she won the HW and overall Canadian National title in 2009. Her first two pro events came in 2011 as a bodybuilder when she placed 5th at the Toronto Supershow, and 11th at the Tampa Pro. Making the switch to Physique in 2012, she placed 7th at the Toronto Supershow. But her 4th place finish here is her best placing as a pro and she has used her pleasing bodylines and muscle shapes to form her idea of a Women’s Physique prototype who can consistently finish among the top competitors in this division. In the final tallies she finished just four points behind Teresita Morales.
Another Canadian who made a positive impact on the judges was Marnie Holley who, coincidentally, finished just four points behind Cappelle. Competing on a regular basis in Canada since 2003, the Fitness division was her specialty. But before her entries into Fitness contests, Holley was an accomplished gymnast, diver, and pole vaulter… all three of which require a high level of kinesthetic awareness. That kinesthetic awareness served her well in 1999 when she placed fifth in the pole vault at the Canadian National Track & Field Championships. So, it was no real surprise when, in 2007, she won the Canadian National Fitness title in addition to winning the IFBB European Elite Tour in France, and placing fourth at the IFBB World Amateur Championships in Spain.
Turning pro after her Canadian National victory, Holley competed at the 2008 and '09 Atlantic City Pro Fitness events where she placed 9th and 8th respectively. But her return to the pro stage as a Women’s Physique competitor is a really solid choice as she presents a very athletic overall look. An added perk for Holley at this event was her selection as 'Best Poser' in the Women’s Physique division… one of the easier decisions the judges had to make all evening.
The Best of the Rest – Top 15
6- Jillian Reville, USA 30
7- Candrea Judd-Adams, USA 36
8- Jill Rudison, USA 38
9- Nekole Hamrick, USA 50
10- Catherine Hernon, USA 54
11- Maria Rita Penteado, USA 56
12- Jill Dearmin, USA 58
13- KiraNeuman, USA 59
14- Joele Smith, USA 68
15- Mikaila Soto, USA 75
The following competitors tied for 16th:
Betty Adkins, Venezuela
Alisa Alday, USA
Nicole Ball, Canada
Myriam Bustamante, Mexico
Candice Carr-Archer, Trinidad
Katie Davis, USA
Laura Davies, Canada
Karen Gatto, USA
Miriam Gerard, Aruba
Andrea Holliday, USA
Cynthia Jansen, Canada
Marina Lopez, USA
Tracy Mason, USA
Leonie Rose, USA
Ida Sefland, Denmark
Drorit Silverman, USA
Lori Steele, USA
Kathy Unger, USA
Irena Veselova, Russia
Yusmary Villalobos, Aruba
Stephanie Willes, USA
Karen Williams, USA