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scan0007 (2)If the name Karina Nascimento doesn't ring an immediate bell, it's understandable, especially if you have only come to follow women's bodybuilding in the last five years. But make no mistake, she was an impressive Brazilian import at the turn of the millennium.

   Exotic, sultry and looking like she walked straight off the beaches of Rio, Karina Nascimento was eye-catching at 5-4 and weighing at the 130-pound mark for her first contest efforts.

   Living, at the time, in the Dallas, Texas area, Nascimento first surfaced at the NPC Ronnie Coleman Classic in 1999. She won the overall title. A year later she traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma, and took the overall title at a contest called the Iron Games. Later in 2000 she showed up at the NPC Ironmaiden (now the Excalibur) and won the HW and Overall crowns. “Jon Lindsay was the promoter of that contest,” recalls Nascimento. “And he was very encouraging to me about the potential he saw in my physique and how far I could take it”.

   That potential Lindsay saw came to fruition a year later in 2001 when Nascimento won the HW and overall titles at the NPC Women's Extravaganza in New Jersey.

   With these early successes in those early events, Nascimento traveled back to Brazil with a request to be granted IFBB pro status. At the time the only other Brazilian pro bodybuilders were Angela Debatin and Monica Martin. After seeing her qualities in person, the Brazilian Federation President agreed that she was of pro quality and they granted her pro status. She wouldn't let her home country down.

   In 2003 Nascimento was invited to compete in the Ms. International. It was a year when weight classes were still being contested. Nascimento would be a lightweight, and, within her class, she would be competing against several of the finest bodybuilders in the world.

   “It was pretty nerve wracking,” recalls Nascimento of the weeks leading up to the contest. “I knew who all the women were and they were all so good. I really wanted to do well for Brazil and myself. I wanted people to know I cared about being given the opportunity to compete at such a prestigious contest.”

   Indeed, the lightweight field was loaded. Along with Nascimento's countrymate Angela Debatin, the field included Dayana Cadeau, Valentina Chipega, Cathy Lefrancois, Denise Masino, Nancy Lewis, Mah-Ann Mendoza, Fannie Barrios and Yaz Boyum. Of the nine competitors entered along with Nascimento, seven had competed in the Ms. Olympia and/or Ms. International multiple times and Valentina Chipega had won the HW class of the Ms. O in 2000. Nascimento was the quintessential example of a competitor flying squarely under the radar. With the beginning of the prejudging, the familiar refrain, “who's that?” echoed throughout the crowd as they gazed upon Nascimento's physique for the first time. But it didn't take long for that Brazilian flare to take hold. Her stage presence was engaging, she was exotic and she was at a level of muscular condition and detail that made her competitive with the rest of the field. The callouts soon revealed she was 'in the mix' - and that may have been an understatement. When all the points were tallied, Karina scan0009Nascimento had firmly established herself as a legitimate pro bodybuilder.

   For the record, Cathy Lefrancois got the LW victory and Denise Masino finished second. But the third-place trophy and check went to Karina Nascimento – in her pro debut yet! Right behind Nascimento was fourth placed Dayana Cadeau, who, a year later, would win the LW class at the 2004 Ms. Olympia. Fifth went Valentina Chipega who had already competed in the Ms. Olympia five times.

   Following that event, Nascimento became concerned about how she would approach the future and what she would need to do to move up in the placings. She sat out 2004. Then in 2005 she made the decision to crossover to the figure division, and as more than one bodybuilder has quickly learned, it is a very difficult move to make. Nascimento entered the 2005 San Francisco Pro Figure contest and landed in a sobering and dreaded tie for16th. Judges told her she was still too big for the current judging criteria at the time.

   At that point, competing took a back seat to other priorities life can toss your way. She married, and since 2005 she has given birth to a boy and two girls ages 7, 6 and 2.

   Now living in Florida after so many years in Texas, Nascimento had heard about the creation of the new Physique division and that it would be contested for the first time at the pro level in 2012. It didn't take a lot of soul searching for her to make a decision to give the new class a try.

   “Getting a lot bigger as a bodybuilder, especially when they dropped the wescan0011ight classes, just didn't sit well with what my goals were physically,” reveals Nascimento. “ And I was going to need to lose a lot more muscle to be competitive in figure contests. So the physique division seemed to be the perfect place for me. I guess I'll find out if I'm right out in Arizona”.

   With the Desert Muscle Classic in Mesa, Arizona, slated for February 28th, Nascimento seems pleased with her progress. So does her trainer, Darrem Charles. “Darrem has been great to work with,” says Nascimento with more a little enthusiasm. “He has a really good eye for balancing a physique and working to create pleasing bodylines. Plus he's a great poser. I feel very confident that I'll be the best I can be when I walk on stage.”

   One parallel that Nascimento will encounter at her upcoming return to competition is that like the 2003 Ms. International where the rest of the field had no idea who Karina Nascimento was, the 2012 Desert Classic field won't know much about her either. And that suits this Brazilian bombshell just fine.


 By Steve Wennerstrom, IFBB Women's Historian

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