The Europa Games and Sports Expo in Phoenix on the weekend of October 25-26 was a monster collaborative effort spearheaded by Ed and Betty Pariso and Scott Templeton. But it was best described by Betty Pariso at the athletes’ check-in on Friday evening when she pointed out that it was a family effort as well. And she was spot on in that explanation.
The event definitely had that close-knit feel to it, and she had gathered family members and close friends to assist in making this huge event successful. Now in its third year in Phoenix, the Phoenix Convention Center offered up 500,000 square feet of space to fit the Expo's need to accommodate vendors and all the sporting competitions on the schedule. So, the Expo has doubled in size in just one calendar year and by the looks of the enthusiastic crowd it's a sure bet the event will grow again in 2015.
With a full slate of seven men's and women's IFBB pro divisions taking center stage, the Women's Physique cast continued to show its ever increasing popularity among competitors. Here a field of 32 contestants signed on the dotted line to take part and it proved to be a showcase as a post-Olympia event that will set the stage for what should be a most exciting and very competitive 2015 season of contests leading up to next year's Physique Olympia. The total prize money for the Physique division was $5,000, along with a coveted automatic qualifying spot for next year's big 'O'.
A Really Big Show
With nearly three dozen contestants of all shapes, sizes, heights and weights, judges were faced with sorting out the contingent to come up with a top 16, not to mention an eventual winner and four additional placers who would gain valuable points towards Olympia qualification.
So how diverse was the field? Consider the heights ranged from 4’11” to 6’2”, and the weights were spread from 110 to 181 pounds. For the sake of averages among the 32 entrants, the average height was 5’5 1/2”, which would seem to be a reasonable break if height classes were ever considered at contests of this size.
Any way you stack it, the judging panel, led by Steve Weinberger, was faced with a difficult task in securing the top five positions where the placements were most important for those aspiring to next year's Olympia. And that task was even more evident considering how widely diverse the physiques of the first call-out… a call-out that included seven competitors rather than the usual five or six.
Within that first call, four contestants – LaDrissa Bonivel and Natalia Batova at 5’7”, Jamie Postill at 5’8” and Tamee Marie at 5’9” – were busy attempting to cast shadows on the likes of Susan Salazar, Heather Grace and Teresita Morales, all of whom were on the underside of 5’4”.
But ever so quietly and inconspicuously Teresita Morales was playing the 'giant killer' role with the judges becoming more and more aware of her multiple qualities. At 5’1 1/2”, 120 pounds she was the smallest competitor included in the first call-out of the preliminary round. The giant killing was underway. As judges looked for flaws in the seven physiques of that first call, Morales was smelling like a rose. Her skin tone was perfect, her overall structural balance was spot on, her muscle shapes fit her physique in a streamlined assemblage, and her stage presence – along with her crisp, well-detailed conditioning – strengthened as the judging wore on. She was the perfect package on this day.
An attorney from Middle Village in the borough of Queens, Teresita Morales gallantly defended her diminutive size by presenting a case that was airtight, proving on this day, at least, that size didn't matter. Her final point tally was a unanimous decision of the judges and she collected a prize money purse of $3,000 to go with her automatic qualification to the 2015 Physique Olympia. For Morales, there is also a feel good ending to this Phoenix event. After securing her pro card at the 2010 NPC Team Universe with a victory in Figure, she made her pro debut at the 2011 Phoenix Pro and finished 15th in the Figure division. Three years later she returns to Phoenix to nab a victory in Physique and a trip to the Olympia. Nice!
Heather, a Graceful Runner-up
By anyone's estimation, Heather Grace has had a great year competitively, and she continued the string with a second-place finish in Phoenix. After a victory at the NPC Emerald Cup in 2010 and a victory at the 2011 NPC Junior USA that earned her a pro card in Figure, the world of pro Figure contests was far less kind in 2012. So, she took 2013 away from competitions and returned fully rejuvenated as a Physique competitor this year. The break was well spent.
The Denver Diva waited until a little later in the 2014 season schedule and scored a pair of third-place finishes at the Golden State and San Jose Pro events and notched a victory at the Wings PBW Tampa Pro to punch her ticket to the Physique Olympia where she scratched out a 14th-place finish. Without missing a beat she showed up in Phoenix and flexed her way to a runner-up spot behind Teresita Morales in unanimous fashion.
The 5’4” Grace is clearly on a roll and it's likely she'll roll into San Diego for a date with the inaugural Ultimate Warriors Pro event to kick off November. Her season has been exceptional and she surely rates a thumbs-up for her strong return as an elite athlete who made a very successful switch from Figure to Physique. Her runner-up finish garnered a $1,500 check and four points towards next year's Physique Olympia.
For Tamee Marie, she entered the 2014 season after a strong 9th-place finish at last year's Physique Olympia. And the 2014 season looked to be on track to make major improvements as she quickly scored a pair of victories at the Greater Gulf States and Omaha Pro. But her charge stalled as she dipped to a 15th-place finish at the Olympia. With little rest time, Marie entered and won the Titans Grand Prix to score her fifth pro WPD victory tying her with Juliana Malacarne for most career wins in this division.
But with her entry in the Phoenix Pro, she may have 'gone to the well' too many times as she looked fatigued and off her usual robust stage presence. The judges also noticed her diminished look as she was relegated to the third place spot. In her case, at least, perhaps a season with five competitions at such a high level of competition may just have been too much to retain that vibrant look we have been used to seeing from her. No doubt she'll be off and running in 2015 after a well-deserved rest in the off-season. For her effort she pocketed a hard-earned $500 for third.
If there was a pleasant and unexpected surprise in the top five it was Jamie Postill. From Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Postill (who may be better remembered as Jamie Senuk) won the overall 2006 Canadian National Figure title in dazzling fashion. At 5’8” she possessed a regal appearance… and as it turned out she brought that look with her to Phoenix after seven years away from the stage.
To her credit she didn't appear that she had missed a beat. In winning the Canadian Figure crown she weighed a willowy 136. Here she weighed 148 and the added muscle filled out what was already a well-balanced frame. Complete with her version of the DLB hairstyle and a bright-eyed stage presence that was infectious, judges pulled her out in the first call-out right away, and she showed the muscle shapes and structure necessary to keep her in the mix until the final tallies where she nailed a strong fourth-place showing in her return to the stage. That's a long way from the tie for 16th she scored as a Figure competitor at the 2007 Atlantic City Pro in her first year as a pro.
Fifth went to La'Drissa Bonivel. As this event's highest recent finisher at the Physique Olympia where she placed seventh, Bonivel has been a frequent entrant ever since the first Desert Muscle Classic here in Phoenix in 2012 At 5’7”, 142 pounds, Bonivel is another of the larger competitors who are becoming more evident in WPD lineups. This was Bonivel's fifth contest in 2014 and she qualified for the Olympia by winning the San Jose Pro event.
As difficult as it may be to believe, in Bonivel's total of 13 career WPD contest entries, her Phoenix finish is only the second time she has placed in the top five of one of those events and is a prime example as to how fluid the judging can be. Earlier in the year Bonivel had placed 15th at the Europa Dallas Super Show. So, good things can happen at any moment and vice versa. As a WPD competitor, she's a very good one by anyone's estimation.
Outside The Top Five
Sixth went to San Diego's Susan Salazar. A former Figure competitor who was judged to be too muscular in 2011 after turning pro in 2009, she switched to Physique and competed in the inaugural Desert Muscle Classic in 2012. Coincidentally, she finished sixth there also. After two more entries in 2012, Salazar did not compete in 2013, and this Phoenix event was her first in 2014. Another of the seven in the first call-out, Salazar's muscle volume and well-balanced physique kept her competitive and she finish only three points behind Bonivel.
Of the seven competitors brought out in the first preliminary call-out, Russian Natalia Batova created the most audience buzz… especially when she was the seventh name called. A four-time Russian National Bodybuilding champion, her 5’-7, 167-pound physique was chiseled from head to toe. Turning pro in 2012 Batova had gone largely unnoticed in pro bodybuilding events placing between 8th and 16th in the four contests she had entered.
At this event, however, she was far from unnoticed as she was making her pro debut as a Physique competitor. The catch was she carried the appearance of a very good bodybuilder. Just a week earlier Batova had finished 15th in a field of 15 at the Titans Grand Prix in Los Angeles. From Moscow, Batova's level of conditioning was stunning with muscular separation throughout her physique. One explanation was that she may have not understood that these events were not Bodybuilding, but Physique.
As a selection in the first call of seven she ended up in the seventh placing and out of the top five where she would score points towards the Physique Olympia. It is highly likely that if she had entered two or three of the pro bodybuilding events offered this year, she may well have qualified for the Ms. Olympia… she was that good.
At 5’7”, 160 pounds for this event, Asha Hadley was the quintessential example of a work in progress… and an eighth-place finish at this event is a pretty good indication as to how good she might become. From Miami, this Registered Dietician has a physique that screams of athleticism. With broad shoulders and a set of thighs that are a highlight in her overall frame, she needs only to further cultivate what she already possesses to move up in future contest placings. Hadley earned her pro card at the 2012 NPC Nationals with a Physique class victory. She has competed in six WPD events – cracking the top ten in half of those – including the Phoenix Pro, and a fifth-place finish at the Wings PBW Tampa earlier this year which drew attention to what the future might hold for her in 2015. No question, Hadley has all the tools.
Veteran bodybuilding competitor NeKole Hamrick secured the ninth place position in the top ten in her first WPD competition of the 2014 season. The Phoenix Pro was Hamrick's fifth WPD contest since turning pro after winning the IFBB North American Masters Physique division in 2012. Competing as far back as 2001, Hamrick was favorably compared to Cory Everson as she showed similar long athletic bodylines and pleasing overall shape.
Underrated on many occasions during her amateur career, Hamrick, at 5’9” and competing between 153 and 161 pounds was, on more than one occasion, passed over by heavier competitors for the winning spot, but has maintained the same basic weight as a pro Physique competitor. At this event she weighed a well-distributed 156 pounds. Hamrick's best pro WPD effort came in her pro debut, finishing third at the 2012 Valenti Gold Cup.
The tenth spot went to Antoinette Downie from Barbados. At 5’8 1/2”, her frame resembled more of a Figure competitor's look, but her very broad shoulders and tiny waistline managed to gain favorable attention from judges. Competing in her pro debut, she seemed somewhat shell-shocked by the size of the competition and the quality of her fellow competitors… a reality that is understandable considering the lack of exposure to higher quality events. That said, she has been successful in her part of the world, winning the 2013 Central American and Caribbean Championships as a Fitness competitor. No doubt she returned home with a broader idea of what she will need to do for future Physique contests.
Phoenix Phactoids – A Little Extra
Without question the biggest surprise was Jennifer Robinson slipping to the unlucky 13th position. As one of the most consistent competitors in the WPD she was fresh from a 9th-place finish at this year's Physique Olympia. The police officer from Bartlett, Tennessee, kicked off this year's competition season with a victory at the St. Louis Pro and added a fifth spot at the Golden State Pro before the Olympia. The Phoenix Pro event was her 12th career entry in the pro Physique division where better than half of those contests she was a top-five finisher. Robinson competed at this event at 5’3”, 128 pounds.
LaDrissa Bonivel began competing in 2001 as a bodybuilder before switching to Figure. She was second at the NPC Rockford, Illinois event, followed by an overall win at the Chicago Ironman the same year. Her journey to the Physique Olympia began in 2012 when she finished 11th at the first Desert Muscle Classic – coincidentally in Phoenix!
Veteran competitor Cassandra Floyd has been competing since 1988 and finally earned her pro status at the 2008 NPC Team Universe TWENTY YEARS later! Now at 48 she entered the Phoenix Pro in what was easily the best condition of her long career! Big reps for her perseverance.
Margarita Charaim from Illinois was born in Lithuania and was the IFBB Baltic champion in Bodyfitness in 2010 and competed in the IFBB World Amateur Championships in 2009. She also competed at the 2012 IFBB European Championships in Bodyfitness.
While living in Canada she competed in the Canadian National Figure Championships in 2004. The Phoenix Pro was her fourth competition of the year. Charaim placed 11th here just two points shy of the top ten, but she was in the best shape of her season and notably better than when she finished seventh at the Wings Pro in Chicago. Margarita Charaim is 5’4”, 140 pounds.
Dr. Tannaz Malek Nasta was making her pro debut at the Phoenix Pro after placing second (class A) at this year's NPC USA. Tannaz is a specialist in Periodontics… so as a compliment it could be said she has jaw dropping good looks! Tannaz is from Scottsdale, Arizona, and stands 5’2”, 121 pounds.
Laura Boisacq announced the Phoenix Pro would be her last competition after a decade-long competitive career. Sorry to see this classy lady go. She was a former two-time NPC Alaska state champion (2003 and '05) and former NPC Washington state champ in 2008. After winning the overall 2011 NPC Emerald Cup, she went on to win the middleweight class at the 2011 NPC Nationals where she earned her pro status. Here she missed placing in the top 16. We hope she might consider guest posing in a mixed pairs capacity with husband Shawn in the future. They were former winners of the NPC Emerald and were very entertaining as a pair. Laura is 5’3”, 125 pounds.
Marnie Holley may well be one of the best pure athletes in the Physique division. Here she missed making the top 16, but her physique says volumes of her strength and sporting abilities. Marnie first competed as a bodybuilder winning the 2003 Northern Classic in Canada before switching to Fitness. In her earlier sporting days she was a national class pole vaulter who finished fourth in the Canadian Olympic Trials, and was a gymnast in the Canadian Provincials. While at college in the States she was an NCAA All-American diver. Currently she is a teaching associate at Cal State LA and also teaches group fitness and kettlebell classes. Marnie is 5’5”, 145 pounds.
Twelfth placer Shannon Byers began competing in Figure in Canada placing third at the 2009 Woodstock Ontario. Byers works as a firefighter and has previously competed in track and field and skeleton. Shannon is 5’6”, 140 pounds.
In 14th place was impressive Loana Paula Muttoni from Sao Paulo, Brazil. At 5’2 1/4” and carrying a well-balanced structure with nice muscle shapes, she was overlooked in this field. Just a week prior to the Phoenix contest she placed fifth at the Titans Grand Prix in Los Angeles. And last year she also added two top ten placings (7th at the Europa Dallas Pro and 9th at the Wings Chicago). Her conditioning level is always spot on and her frontal stance points out her excellent overall physical balance and appearance.
If you missed Minnesota's Casie Shepherd, you weren't watching carefully, as this statuesque 6’2”, 181-pound blonde was pretty much head and shoulders above the rest of the WPD lineup except when it came to her final placement. Making a somewhat belated pro debut after winning her class at the 2012 NPC Junior Nationals, Shepherd showed all the potential she would need to place much higher than the eventual 17th-place spot she shared with a large group of others who missed the top 16.
Needing only closer attention to her dietary prep to bring her musculature into a more defined look, she will be a sight to behold in any pro Physique field. A former volleyball player in high school and a Division 1 basketball player at Colorado State where she played power forward, her past athleticism served as a solid base for her current and future entries in the Physique division. Currently, Shepherd is the largest competitor in the women's pro Physique division.
And what WPD write-up would be complete without a mention of the division's energizer bunny – Marina Lopez? Competing since 2004 this is her 10-year anniversary competing in the NPC/IFBB. Beginning with a LW win at the NPC Northern Colorado in 2004, Lopez cites the 2010 NPC Junior Nationals as her favorite victory winning the LW and Overall titles at that event. She also won the LW class at the 2010 NPC Nationals to earn her pro status.
But it has been in the Physique division where she has been relentless in her desire to compete. Since the first WPD event in 2012 she has entered an impressive 14 contests, and the Phoenix Pro marked her 15th (and the sixth this year). Over that time her highest finish was a fourth-place spot at the California Governor's Cup in 2012. Marina currently competes at 5’2”, 120 pounds.
Outside the Top Ten
11- Margarita Charaim, Illinois 53
12- Shannon Byers, Canada 60
13- Jennifer Robinson, Tennessee 65
14- Loana Muttoni , Brazil 70
15- Erin Lawson, Michigan 76
16- Katerina Kyptova, Czech Republic 79
17- Laura Boisacq, Arizona 80
17- Andrea Carvalho, Brazil 80
17- Cassandra Floyd, Georgia 80
17- Hanna Hallman, Georgia 80
17- Marnie Holley, Canada 80
17- Dawniel King, Tennessee 80
17- Marina Lopez, Colorado 80
17- Tannaz Malek Nasta, Arizona 80
17- Jodi Marchuck, California 80
17- Jayla McDermott, Texas 80
17- Rita Rae, New Mexico 80
17- Kelli Schrader, Oregon 80
17- Rebecca Schubeck, Texas 80
17- Casie Shepherd, Minnesota 80
17- Tracy Weller, Georgia 80
17- Shelly Yakimchuk , Canada 80