2012 NPC Nationals Bodybuilding Report: Blaino Handcuffs National Field – Wins Overall!
By: Steve Wennerstrom, IFBB Women's Historian
Atlanta, Georgia, November 10th: What do Brenda Raganot, Beth Roberts, Mimi Jabalee, Sheila Bleck and Amber Defrancesco all have in common? If you answered that they were all former NPC National overall champions, that's a good start. But if you knew they all won their respective overall crowns in Atlanta, Georgia, you're a graduate level fan of women's bodybuilding. For the sixth time since 1998 Atlanta once again played host city to the NPC Nationals, and as has been the case in the past three NPC National events in Atlanta, the Centennial Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel once again became the center of attention as the top amateur bodybuilders in the country flexed for the opportunity to win their respective weight class and reach a goal of earning the right to gain status as an IFBB professional.
RIEKE IS A CRYSTAL CLEAR WINNER IN THE LIGHTWEIGHTS
Because of the relatively close size in height and weight, selecting a lightweight winner is not always an easy task for a national judging panel. But this year, Crystal Rieke got the nod in a field of 10 competitors who ranged from rookies taking their first steps at the national level, to seasoned competitors with impressive past contest accomplishments on their career resumes.
With the first call-out of prejudging, a group of five including Patricia Watson, Tiffany Delano, Stephanie Kitner, Linda Smith and Rieke gave judges their first look at what almost always appears to be the top placers. Initially, Linda Smith was moved to the middle of the comparison, with Rieke and Watson flanking her on either side. As the prejudging continued, Rieke began to grow on the judges with her balanced overall look that Dave Palumbo described as possessing “.......super capped delts, small waist. Great biceps....ripped hams....feathered lower lats. Short, but good small package.” The last comment was a deal breaker. She was indeed a good small package at 4-ll and 106 pounds, and her completeness tipped the scales in her favor. But just barely. The final tallies showed it was excruciatingly close as Rieke took the title and her pro qualifying placement by a scant one point over Linda Smith.
From South Carolina, Rieke was a runner-up LW at the 2010 North Carolina state contest, but returned in 2011 to win her class and overall titles at that event. She also made a stronger statement at the 2011 NPC Junior USA winning the LW class. In winning the NPC National LW title, Rieke became the first competitor from South Carolina to capture that honor.
Linda Smith ended up taking the bridesmaid spot and in the toughest of ways losing by a single point. A former figure competitor in 2010, Smith made the switch to bodybuilding in fine fashion finishing second at the 2012 NPC Masters Nationals in the Over-35 LW class.
From Orlando, Florida, Stefanie Kitner snapped up the third spot with a nicely balanced 4-11 ½ mini-structure that showed good muscle shapes throughout. A former figure competitor, she won the 2010 NPC Atlantic Coast overall figure title, and placed sixth at the 2011 NPC Junior USA before moving to the Physique division where, surprisingly, she missed making the top 15 at the 2011 NPC Nationals. She turned that result around big time at this contest as a bodybuilder, and the gradual addition of more muscle on her diminutive frame has suited her very well. She will likely be a notable force at this event in 2013 – if not sooner.
With little argument, the most decorated competitor in this class as it relates to contest histories was fourth-placed Virginian Patricia Watson. The evidence of the quality in this class was magnified by Watson's finish outside the top three. With plenty of momentum leftover from the 2011 season where she won the NPC Team Universe LW class and placed fifth at the IFBB World Amateur Championships, Watson finished the year with a runner-up placing at the NPC Nationals. Pre-contest bets would have been heavy in her favor, but contestants who manage to fly under the radar can always upset the apple cart on the way to the victory stand, and even Dave Palumbo's assessment of Watson was indicative of just how competitive she was. “......tiny waist, great arms, super separation in quads. Striated delts...awesome back double biceps....great back width and thickness. Impressive overall.” But alas, only good enough for fourth.
Tiffany Delano sealed the top five placings six points shy of Watson. From North Carolina, Delano had made steady improvement beginning with figure events before moving into bodybuilding. Most recently the 37-year-old won the masters class at the 2012 NPC North Carolina, and was the runner-up LW at the '12 NPC Junior USA. Showing an excellent level of conditioning – particularly in her legs – should bring a higher placing in this event in 2013.
6- Maria Carolina Davis
MARVEN IS MARVELOUS IN THE MIDDLEWEIGHTS
Unlike the lightweight one-point battle for the title, New Yorker Rene Marven emerged as a unanimous winner in a middleweight class of nine contestants. As a relatively new competitor to bodybuilding, Rene Marven began, as so many, as a figure competitor. And unlike figure events where height designates your classification, the bodybuilding division is about bodyweight. So, at 5-2, Marven wasn't exactly casting shadows on her MW counterparts. No matter, she was genetically set, well-balanced, and with a pleasing level of muscle that showed equally pleasing shapes, she fit the desired look to a tee. One observer even likened her to a miniature version of Heather Policky – a sterling compliment if there ever was one. With an extensive background as a cheerleader and gymnast through her high school years, Marven began her competitive efforts on stage as a figure competitor in 2007 and by 2011 she drifted into bodybuilding events all the while blossoming with the further cultivation of her musculature. In 2011 she won the MW class at the NPC Rhode Island in addition to an overall victory at the NPC Hudson Valley (New York) Championships. It could be said that Marven became a full-fledged marvel progressing in just one year from winning her class in the nation's smallest state to winning the national title at the nation's largest and most prestigious contest at the amateur level (on her first try no less ) – a win that now offers her the opportunity to enter the IFBB pro ranks in the immediate future. A truly marvelous accomplishment indeed.
Runner-up Cassie Bates is another newbie who made a striking first impression on judges entering her first NPC Nationals. In the first call-out of this class, Bates was immediately moved next to Rene Marven in the center of the group, and while she was in tighter condition than Marven, she simply couldn't overcome the overall pleasing physique and muscle quality of Marven. Nevertheless, Bates was a unanimous pick for the second-place spot which sets her up well for the 2013 season. Earlier this year Bates was the LW and overall winner at the NPC Ronnie Coleman Classic in Texas.
At 5-5, Texan Holly Chambliss also scored a unanimous vote in capturing the third-place position. From Ft. Worth, this mother of three has made steady progress in her efforts at the national level. In 2010 she finished seventh in the light-heavyweight class at the Nationals. Then last year after winning the Branch Warren Classic, she placed fourth at the Nationals as a MW. So her third-place finish here moves her one step closer to the top spot.
Yet another unanimous choice for her placing was Jolynn Shane in fourth. With very good overall conditioning including nice quad separation, rope-like veins in her arms and platinum blonde hair, she made for a striking presence. She could also warrant consideration for one of the most improved competitors in this year's bodybuilding division having placed 15th in the light-heavyweight class of the 2010 NPC Nationals. This year she also won the HW class at the NPC North Carolina state event. She's definitely on the right track.
The fifth position went to New Mexico's Tomefafa Ameko. With previous experience at the Nationals dating back to 2006 when, as a LW, she placed 12th, she can now be considered a solid top-five competitor at the top level national events. In addition to a 2009 MW fifth-place finish at the NPC USA, followed by a sixth-place spot in the same division at the 2010 USA, Ameko was the runner-up at last year's NPC Nationals in this class. And once again, her placing had more to do with the stiffness of the competition than anything notably lacking in her physique.
Tieing on points with Ameko was Texan Leah Wilson who ended up placing sixth on a judges countback. Like Lolynn Shane, Wilson (who also displayed a eye-catching lock of platinum blonde hair) made a huge improvement to earn her placing in this class - considering she had missed making the top 15 at the 2011 NPC Nationals in the Physique division 'A' class where 45 competitors had entered. With the knowledge that she only missed the trophy positions by the slimmest of margins at this event, should be a strong motivational factor in the coming year.
7- Melanie Landry
8- Cheryl Faust
9- Mary Stanton
NEUMAN BECOMES A NEW WOMAN TO WIN IN LIGHT-HEAVIES
If you've been a fan of women's bodybuilding over the past five years or so, you wondered when Kira Neuman would put it all together. You knew she had all the working parts. You knew she had flirted with the top five at the national level, and you may even remembered when she won the NPC Collegiate Nationals in 2007. But all that was in her rearview mirror on this weekend in Atlanta when Kira Neuman did put it altogether, and what resulted was a convincing and unanimous decision in winning the light-heavyweight National title. This was a new Kira Neuman. The quintessential makeover. Normally, the devastatingly detailed quads and the Reese Witherspoon look-alike thing she had going for her might have been enough, but she put an explanation mark on her whole presentation leaving nothing to chance – she needed to be all buffed and shiny to create a full-blown WOW factor of the bodybuilding kind. In Dave Palumbo's assessment for RXMuscle, he was descriptive to a tee. “.......great quad separation....striated pecs....great hams....impressive rear lat spread....back double is very dominant....glutes are ripped. She should win the class.” Those last five words summed it up. Winning this National title is a long way from when she won the overall NPC Indianapolis Championship in 2007. And right now she's standing much taller than her actual 5-2 stature. In fact, her victory has some historical significance. Not only is she the only competitor from Indiana to win the National light-heavyweight crown, she's the first female from Indiana to win in any NPC National weight class. The pro division awaits.
Finishing second to Kira Neuman was Texan Karen Choate, and she is the best reason to explain why Neuman's victory is so impressive. Karen Choate has considerably more mileage at the national level than Neuman, and since 2006 Choate has made a concerted effort to reach the top of the victory stand – especially at the NPC USA. Since 2006 Choate has competed at the USA six times and most recently placed third at the 2012 USA in the light-heavyweight class. In fact she has placed third three times at the USA in this class. She's also been stalwart at the Masters Nationals winning the LtHW class in both 2008 and 2012. As for the NPC Nationals, this runner-up finish is her finest hour surpassing the third-place spot she claimed in 2007. All these high placings are for good reason, she's an excellent bodybuilder with the ability to present a consistent level of strong conditioning. Was she in tighter shape than Neuman? Yes. But Neuman, in turn, possessed a genetic gift of flowing musculature on a pleasing frame together with those intangibles that make a championship level physique. In the same way Neuman nailed down her title in unanimous fashion, Choate did the same as the runner-up.
Orlando's Kristine Mele placed third and the 5-5 Floridian did it in her first trip to the Nationals. Equally impressive was Mele's progression since 2010 where she entered the Europa Show of Champions as a figure competitor. In 2011 she placed a distant tie for 16th in the Physique division of the NPC Junior USA. Now, another year later she has reached the top three of the NPC Nationals in the bodybuilding division......no easy feat. As Dave Palumbo mentioned in his assessment of her, “....impressive as hell from behind.” She was no slouch from the front either!
Right behind Mele was Myra Adams. A longtime competitor on the east coast, Adams has been a weight class winner at such events as the 2005 Atlantic States, and 2009 Eastern USA. But what is most impressive is how she has risen this year to a top five placing at the NPC Nationals. Previously her National placings had been disappointing.....in 2007 she was 14th, in 2008 she was 12th, and in 2009 she landed 14th again. Even at the IFBB North Americans she missed cracking the top 10 in 2009 and 2010. So ask her if she is delighted with her fourth-place finish at this event! Dave Palumbo called her 'Most Improved'. It would be difficult to argue the point.
The fifth place spot went to Minnesota's Jessica Simonet. Making her way to the bodybuilding division by way of entries in figure events in 2008 and '09, she was a MW winner at the 2010 NPC Junior Nationals and finished third at the NPC Nationals that same year, also as a MW. Here, Simonet's fifth-place finish equaled the fifth-place finish she earned at the 2011 Nationals in the MW class. Her move up to the LtHW class was gutsy, but a worthwhile move.
BLAINO IS UNANIMOUS HEAVYWEIGHT WINNER
If you get the impression Juanita Blaino is an overnight success in bodybuilding, think again. To hear her tell it, the first contest she competed in was so long ago, she can't remember the name of it. But what this former high school and college sprinter does remember is that she qualified for the NPC USA and placed 10th in the HW class back in 1994! She was 25 at that event and it was 16 years later before she decided to once again take a shot at bodybuilding competitions. In 2010 she made a very respectable comeback in the NPC Masters Nationals placing fourth in the HW class weighing in at 172 pounds. She also placed third at the IFBB North American Championships in the Over 35 class. But she made her strongest statement at the NPC Nationals that year with a runner-up finish to Amber Defrancesco who was the eventual overall winner. At that event she weighed an impressive 175 pounds. The determining factor in that contest placement was that she was simply a tad bit soft and thus lacked enough muscular detail to overpower Defrancesco. So, she took 2011 off to train and prepare for 2012 with the intent of being at least 50% better. Mission accomplished. Blaino weighed in at a much more detailed 167 pounds on her 5-7 frame, and with 16-3/4-inch arms, 17-inch calves, and 25-1/4-inch thighs her overall look was balanced and complete. As Dave Palumbo saw it Blaino had, “.....huge delts, thick separated quads.....striated pecs....good back double (biceps)....glutes and hams could be tighter....small waist. Impressive.” With “impressive” being the operative word, there was plenty of fullness, and with the addition of further muscular cultivation in her physique she distanced herself from the rest of the bodybuilding division's largest field that numbered 13. She'll make a very good pro. Working as a police officer, her physical appearance has blended well with her performance as a law enforcement officer, and it has fit equally well in her onstage performance as a bodybuilder. Blaino drew raves from many who attended the contest, and those kudos were well-deserved. Her victory in the HW class was unanimous. In winning, Blaino became the first competitor from Illinois to win the overall NPC National crown. In fact, she was the first from Illinois to win in any NPC National weight class. So, she joins Illinois state mate Robyn Mentgen (the overall winner of the 2011 NPC USA) as Illinois' most heralded competitors in the history of the amateur ranks of the NPC.
Running second to Blaino was this contest's quintessential example of a competitor who managed to fly well under the radar right up to the day of competition. Nikki Stadleman of Trent Woods, North Carolina literally came out of the woods to make a strong first impression at the national level. Weighing in at 170 pounds, Stadleman got high marks for her overall look. Said Dave Palumbo, “Fantastic potential.....future champ for sure.”
Third-place finisher Susan Marie Smith also managed to sneak up on this field. From Birmingham, Alabama, Smith – who works as an anesthesiologist - got her start as a figure competitor in 2008. But judges encouraged her to move into the bodybuilding division based on her genetic gifts. Smith took the next 3 ½ years to train and reach a level that she felt would be worthy of competing in a class that demanded more muscle. In 2011 she entered the NPC Excalibur in Los Angeles and won the overall. Her victory carried over to this year's Nationals and with her waspy waistline, great front lat spreads, and excellent quad separations that highlighted a level of conditioning that was rated as an A-plus, her high placing came as little surprise. Smith's pleasing muscle shapes and great symmetry will make her a solid threat in the 2013 competitive season.
Fourth-placed Dana Richards, after beginning her competitive efforts as a figure competitor, may have finally found her comfort zone after flip-flopping from figure to bodybuilding, then to physique, and back to bodybuilding again this year. From Colorado, Richards experienced varying placings in figure including a runner-up finish in her height class at the 2007 NPC Colorado state event. In 2009 made the switch to bodybuilding and won the HW class at the NPC Junior Nationals that year, followed by a respectable eighth-place finish at the NPC Nationals. In 2011 she found the physique division a challenge in finding the right blend of what the criteria was asking for compared to what judges were selecting. The result for her was a 15th-place finish at the Junior Nationals, and 13th at the USA. Her structural qualities and muscle shapes when detailed now seem to fit the bodybuilding division and a fourth-place finish would satisfy just about any aspiring competitor.
Texan Sue Scheppele claimed the fifth-place spot in what turned out to be a very close points battle with sixth-placer Tina Zampa. Scheppele's final tally was 27 with Zampa finishing with 28. Originally from Wilmington, Delaware, Scheppele began competing in local events in the Tri-State area in 1998. In 2000 she placed ninth in the LW (yes, lightweight) class at the NPC Junior USA. By 2002 she had moved up to the HW class placing third at the NPC Junior Nationals. After a 12th-place HW finish at the 2003 NPC USA, she drifted away from competition until resurfacing this year with a runner-up finish in the HW class at the NPC Texas. So, in every way, her return to the national-level after so many years can be considered a successful one. Tina Zampa, on the other hand, has been a regular entrant every year (with the exception of 2011) since 2002, and made her first visit to the national level in 2005 when she placed third in the HW class at the NPC USA. An overall winner at the NPC Los Angeles in 2008, Zampa had her best placing at the NPC Nationals in 2010 when she placed third in the HW class. This year her return to the NPC Nationals raised eyebrows with her considerable size. As Dave Palumbo described in his play-by-play assessment, “........packing lots of mass.....huge.....crazy delts......insane back.....huge isn't a strong enough word.......great tan.” And so it goes when unadulterated (or what is considered excessive) muscle size is attached to a female physique.
12-Natalie Bizzari Ciccone