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2011 NPC USA: A Sea of Female Muscle in the Desert

 

That wide smile you see on the face of USA promoter Jon Lindsay comes with a very good reason. This year’s NPC USA Championships held on the weekend of July 29-30 at the Artemus Ham Hall on the campus of the University of Nevada/Las Vegas was the biggest NPC event ever. At last count there were nearly 700 men and women entered in a variety of classes. They may still be counting. Suffice it to say, the event was enormous due in large part to the women’s side of the contest which included bodybuilding, physique, figure and bikini divisions. This year 38 contestants took part in the bodybuilding portion of the USA - a number that has been about average over the past 20 years. And as could be expected, several
competitors made names for themselves by way of their individual victories, while others established themselves as a part of the fabric for the sport’s future.  Though it all, the contest ran in seamless fashion due to the Lindsay Production staff and the mountain of experience they bring in conducting events where hundreds of athletes are taking part.  Mr. Lindsay has set the bar at an astronomical height with the conclusion of this remarkable event. But he might also be the first to tell you records are made to be
broken.

The Lightweights

It was author George Bernard Shaw who penned the now famous quote, “Youth is wasted on the young”. Then again, Mr. Shaw didn’t witness the 2011 NPC USA lightweight class in action on this final weekend in July. This year’s LW class drew seven contestants and produced a final top-five that makes for a very interesting story where much of the youthfulness was saved for those who have long since seen their
youngest days go by. In this case youth found itself holding on for dear life as a quartet of ‘master aged’ women put a lock down on the top four placings.  From California, Brenda Beitia led the way with a well-balanced and muscularly sound 5-0, 114-pound physical framework. She began competing in 2007 and was a LW winner at the 2008 NPC California. That said, she is 49 years old. Since 2008, the USA has been a proving ground for her gradual improvement. She was sixth in 2008, and added a pair of fourth-place finishes in 2009 and ’10. This year all the stars were in alignment and she is now the USA lightweight champion. Her victory follows fellow Californian Claire O’Connell who won this class last year.  Finishing second to Beitia was another familiar face and physique in the lightweight USA – Denise Dinger. A hometown favorite from Las Vegas, Dinger, at 4-11, was entering her fifth USA contest – the first two of which were in the figure division (in 2007 and ’08) where she missed placing on both occasions. In 2009 and ’10 Dinger moved to the bodybuilding division and earned a pair of runner-up finishes.  Her bridesmaid spot again this year makes it three straight second-place finishes.  Coincidentally, Dinger is also 49 years old and was an NPC Nevada overall champion as a bodybuilder in 1990.  Third went to another seasoned veteran – Margaret Negrete. A winner of this class at the 2009 NPC USA, Negrete has enjoyed considerable success at both the open and masters levels. Negrete, who works as an anesthesiologist, won the NPC Masters
lightweight class a week earlier. Showing no signs of slowing down in her competitive aspirations, Negrete is in terrific shape at 51 years of age, and continues to show those remarkable trademark abdominals.
Fourth-place finisher Ann Gannon put the exclamation point on the ageless wonders of this class checking in at 57 years of age. From Spokane, Washington, the 4-11, 110-pound Gannon has been competing for many years and won the recent 2011 NPC Masters Nationals in the Over 55 class. A frequent entrant in contests in the Pacific Northwest, she works as a qualified nutritional therapist. By her appearance, she clearly
knows what she’s talking about. Arizona’s Chelsey Coleman was the newbie in this group at a youthful 22 years of age.  Showing outstanding potential with a physique that was crafted by her years as a top level gymnast, Coleman will be well worth watching if she intends on making bodybuilding her continued interest. A former LW winner of the NPC Western Natural Championships in Arizona, Coleman was known as the ‘Pocket Hercules’ by her teammates on the perennially powerful University of Utah women’s gymnastics team.  Tammy Cazares landed sixth and Suki Patterson was seventh.

The Middleweights

As the smallest division in the women’s bodybuilding event, the six entrants on stage gave judges an opportunity to give each competitor a thorough look with virtually no chance of being overlooked. Getting the closest look was Illinois’ Gail Auerbach. Making a strong impact with an excellent level of conditioning to go with plenty of detailed muscle to drive home the point of her overall quality, the 5-3, 125-pound Auerbach became an easy choice in this group. A relative newcomer competitively, Auerbach has steadily made solid
improvements as she has progressed. Winning the 2009 NPC Junior USA MW and overall titles, she followed up with a runner-up MW finish at the 2010 NPC Junior Nationals. By then she was on everyone’s watch list and at the USA last year she made a very respectable fourth-place showing in this same class. Auerbach’s victory came with little surprise as it would have taken a very good challenger to outshine her notable presence on stage. In winning, Auerbach became the first competitor from Illinois to capture the USA middleweight class in this contest’s long history, while also ending a string of three consecutive victories by Arizona middleweights Diana Tinnelle in 2008, Akila Pervis in 2009, and Marla Murray last year.  Chasing Auerbach to the finish and ending up in the runner-up spot was Californian Carla Rossi-Roan. From Pleasanton, Rossi-Roan was a fourth-place finisher at the 2009 NPC California before winning the overall NPC San Jose title last year. Showing enough potential to move up in the future based on her muscularity alone, Rossi-Roan fell short of upending Auerbach where conditioning and muscular definition were concerned. Still, a runner-up placing in her first entry at the national level is a solid foundation to build on.
Third went to Melissa DiBernardo. A former figure competitor who is making a very nice transition to the bodybuilding ranks, her competitive efforts only date back to 2005. But in the ensuing six years this New Yorker has made very strong improvements.  Making the switch to bodybuilding from figure in 2009, her first experience at the national level was a 12th-place LW finish at the NPC Nationals that year. Making further
improvements, DiBernardo took the lightweight and overall titles at 2010 NPC Eastern USA before finishing the year with a successful fifth-place MW finish at the NPC Nationals. Now adding a third-place USA placing in 2011 plants her squarely in the mix for future national-level placements.  Fourth place was claimed by Mia Howard from Honolulu, Hawaii. Moving up one spot from here fifth-place finish (just behind last year’s fourth placer Gail Auerbach) in this class at last year’s USA, Howard distributed 124 pounds evenly on her 5-4 frame. A steady improver, Howard placed 15th as a light-heavyweight at her first USA in 2009, so the move down to the MW class did wonders for her overall look.  The fifth and final trophy placing in this class went to Michelle Devere of Louisville, Kentucky. A former figure competitor, Devere made the switch to bodybuilding with a runner-up LW placing at the 2009 NPC Junior Nationals. In 2010 she added a third-place MW finish at the Junior Nationals and a seventh-place spot at her first USA as a LW. At
5-1, 123 pounds Devere will gain more notice as she fills out her frame. The six and final position went to former figure competitor Brandy Carter.

The Light-Heavyweights

In 2005 Judy Gaillard entered the NPC Nationals as a light-heavyweight. It was a sobering introduction to the competitiveness of the national level. She finished a forgettable 14th. But since then she has been busy honing her craft, making necessary improvements and gaining knowledge with each passing national-level event she entered.  This year things have been different - very different. Two thousand-eleven will be a
year she won’t soon forget. And the results of the NPC USA will always be the icing on a very memorable bodybuilding cake.  In the largest field of the women’s bodybuilding division where a total of 15 contestants weighed in for the light-heavyweight class, Judy Gaillard from Ripley, Mississippi, showed up with a full head of steam after winning both the NPC Junior USA and NPC Junior Nationals in unprecedented fashion. Bearing a striking resemblance to IFBB pro Gayle Moher (who was the 1996 NPC National overall winner), Gaillard showed a very well-balanced level of muscular development throughout her physique.  And although she may not have been the most highly conditioned contestant in this contest, her overall presentation sold the judges by way of a pleasingly aesthetic look with the muscle she needed in all the right places. For her effort, Gaillard was rewarded with the second pro card granted to the women’s bodybuilding division at this event. She becomes only the second competitor from Mississippi to enter the IFBB pro women’s division following Debbie McKnight who won the overall NPC USA crown in 1989. To put a crowning touch on the evening, Judy’s entry to the pro level along with husband Tim become one of the rare husband and wife combinations to reach the IFBB pro ranks. Does it get much better than this? Texan Tierany Chretien ended up in the bridesmaid position finishing second to Judy Gaillard. And a fine runner-up choice she was. Competing sparingly since 2003, Chretien has a sleek look and a clean level of overall conditioning. She has been a winner at the NPC Europa Super Show as a LtHW in 2009, along with two fourth-place finishes at the NPC Nationals in 2009 and ‘10, also as a LtHW. At the right time and in the right place, she can put a whooping on this class and it could sooner rather than later. For now, she’s second.  Californian Cindy Johnson landed third. A very active competitor at the national level over the past several years, Johnson was an overall winner at the NPC California in 2004 and the Emerald Cup in 2007. Johnson has experienced both ends of the placement scale at the USA. In 2005 and 2007 she finished 13th, then in 2008 she vaulted to the second place LtHW spot. Just before this USA Johnson entered the NPC Masters Nationals and finished second in the Over-45 class. Her third-place finish here shows she still has the goods to mix it up at the highest amateur levels. Tammy Marquez garnered the fourth spot in this very competitive division. Compared favorably with class winner Judy Gaillard, Marquez showed the same levels of even muscular development and structural balance as the class winner. Without the vast experience as many of the women competing here, Marquez was a MW class winner at the 2010 NPC Contra Costa – a premier west coast event that has drawn the likes of past winners including Sheila Bleck, Lisa Bickels, Nicole Berg and Claire O’Connell.  The fifth position went to Virginia’s Lisa Bruton. Sporting among the best calves in the class, Bruton has had more competitive experience at the NPC Nationals than the USA. Always competing as a LtHW, Bruton finished 12th at the 2006 IFBB North American and 2007 NPC Nationals. But she has made a pointed turnaround since then leaping to a third-place finish at the Nationals in 2010 and now fifth at the USA. Higher placings can be had if she stays on her toes (no pun intended).

6- Kira Neuman
7- Misty Torres
8- Jessica Simonet
9- Shawna Pierce
10-Yolie Street
11-Jacqueline Horan
12-Amanda Micka

13-Betttina Salomone
14-Jen Palazzo
15-Diana Bumanglag

The Heavyweights

You’ll often hear the comments at major events that the heavyweights always win the overall title. And it’s true that heavyweights do command considerable attention when deciding who has presented the most impressive physique at a given contest. But at the NPC USA it has been far from a slam dunk when assuming the heavyweight would walk off with the biggest trophy. In fact, since 2000, middleweight and light-heavyweights have dominated the overall titles. Only Bonny Priest in 2003, Heather Policky (Armbrust)
in 2006, Isabelle Turell in 2008 and Sarah Hayes in 2010 have been heavyweights who won the USA overall crown.  But at this year’s USA, heavyweight winner Robyn Mentgen put in a strong bid to add her name to the list of overall winners at this prestigious event. Weighing a contest-ready 178 pounds, Mentgen’s 5-8 frame carried the weight beautifully. Bringing a strong level of conditioning to complement her overall structural qualities, the Illinois native managed to turn her competitive history in a positive direction. The best example of Mentgen ‘righting the ship’ can be noted by her last visit to the NPC USA in 2007.  There, she finished a distant 15th, yet all the physical tools to be a top finisher were clearly there. By 2009, Mentgen had managed to flex her way up to a ninth-place finish at the NPC Nationals, with the same result at the 2009 IFBB North American. But this year would be different.  Entering the NPC Masters Nationals Mentgen placed second to Bonnie Pappas. The final decision at that contest was a close one visually. Undeterred, Mentgen struck to her contest prep and came to Las Vegas with as close to the condition she showed in Pittsburgh as possible. As it tuned out, it was close enough. Mentgen showed a great combination of conditioning and muscular detail to go with her overall structure and muscle shapes. She was the class of the field. And further, the class of the contest.  In winning the heavyweight class, Robyn Mentgen became the first competitor from Illinois to not only win this class at the USA but also the first to win the overall crown.  Along with middleweight winner Gail Auerbach, Illinois made up half the class winners in the women’s bodybuilding division. Not a bad day’s work.  Fresh from winning the light-heavyweight class at the NPC Master Nationals, Arizona’s Kate Cooper brought to Las Vegas a muscular appearance that showed more volume than her usual lean and highly defined look, and the result was a good one. A very active competitor at the national level since 2001, Cooper has entered four NPC Nationals while this year’s USA was her third. Her improvement at this event over the years is notable. In 2005 she tied for 16th in the LtHW class. Last year she moved up to a fifth-place showing – again as a LtHW. Now she finds herself on the doorstep with her runner-up finish – this time as a heavyweight.  At just 23 years of age, third placer Alyssa Stroud can be held up as a certifiable star of the future if she stays on track. A former figure competitor who experienced placings everywhere from second to 11th over a two-year period, this striking 5-6 competitor possesses a structure that can blossom into a very good bodybuilder. Indeed, it could be said she has already reached that level by her finish at this contest, but further cultivation and evolution of her physique will be fun to watch. Last year Stroud, in her first-ever bodybuilding contest, won the LtHW and overall titles at the NPC Europa Super Show.  It’s a sound bet that there could be more victories in her future. Texan Karen Choat has been a model of consistency in her years as a national-level competitor and when she finished fourth at this year’s USA, it fit in nicely with the four previous USA contests she has entered. Having never placed outside the top six at the USA, this was the first time Choat had entered as a heavyweight and she was able to stand her ground very well. At a height of just 5-3 it’s difficult enough to be noticed among the taller heavyweights, but Choat manages to distribute her bodyweight extremely well – right down to her eye-popping, diamond-shaped calves. And should anyone assume that Choat has had an easy go of it in her efforts to be a top bodybuilder, just ask her about the medical challenges she has faced over the years including her surviving a head-on auto collision at 55mph. The laundry list of patchwork from that experience is mind-numbing. So, in a way, her fourth-place finish here could be considered something of a victory.  Fifth-place finisher Jennifer Gutierrez can remember back to the days of her early experiences at the USA event – like 2002 when she finished 12th as a middleweight. In fact, including this year, Gutierrez has entered the USA seven times and has entered as a middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight. Now in her 11th year of competing the 5-6 former overall NPC California champion has long been a card-carrying member of the finest national-level amateurs in the country. Far from ignoring the NPC Nationals, Gutierrez has also placed fifth at that event in 2008 as a HW, and 2009 as a LtHW. There is a point to all this – never count her out.

6- Jordan Pierce
7- Angela Rayburn
8- Aleesa Young
9- Melissa Rex
10-Amanda Folstad-Ptak

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