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Twenty-five years is a long time by anyone's estimation, but when it's put in the context of being a "quarter of a century" it tends to make anything that happened that long ago, almost ancient.
But chronologically, 25 years ago puts us in 1984, and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles dominated sports for most of the summer as athletes from all over the world converged on Los Angeles in the pursuit of gold medals. The signature moment for most of us at the '84 Games was when 16-year-old Mary Lou Retton (all 4-8 ¼, 94 pounds of her) stuck a pair of perfect 10's in the vault to seal a victory in that event and become the first female outside Eastern Europe to win a gold medal in the all-around competition. (Retton, by the way, is now a 41-year-old mother of four daughters).
In track & field, Mary Decker was tripped up in the 3,000 meter run by South African teenager Zola Budd ending Decker's dream of a gold medal in that event.
Meanwhile American Joan Benoit became the winner of the first women's marathon contested at the Olympic Games.
But in the shadow of the Olympic Games there was also women's bodybuilding, and the recognition of its existence could be found everywhere. And whether you were a female bodybuilder, a rabid fan of the fledgling sport, or just a casual follower of female muscle, there was a constant buzz about its rapid growth and the exciting new stars that were emerging internationally as well as in the United States. 1984 was, indeed, a great time to be a female bodybuilder.
The Big Show and Its Biggest Stars
With Rachel McLish, Carla Dunlap and Kike Elomaa establishing the Ms. Olympia contest as the world's premier event with their collective victories from 1980 to 1983, the 1984 Ms. O was about to ratchet up the interest two-fold.
In more ways than one, the 1984 Ms. Olympia was unique. The first four Ms.O's had all been held in the
|6x Ms Olympia Cory Everson|
United States, but the '84 event would be held outside American borders for the first time in Canada. With the Salle Pelletier Place Des Arts Theatre in Montreal serving as the contest venue, a star-studded field of 24 contestants made this one of the most memorable Ms. Olympia contests ever. In fact, ‘star-studded' might be an understatement. The entry list included Rachel McLish, Carla Dunlap, Mary Roberts, Lynn Conkwright, Kay Baxter, Ellen Van Maris, Clare Furr, Inger Zetterqvist, Erika Mes, Carla Temple, Tina Plakinger, and Gladys Portugues. But the major star of the show would be a former track & field athlete who was fresh from winning the overall title at the 1984 NPC Nationals in New Orleans - Cory Everson. In winning the Ms. Olympia, Everson would begin a string of six consecutive victories at the event - an accomplishment that would be matched only by Lenda Murray who began her own set of six consecutive victories beginning in 1990. During Everson's run of victories from 1984 to 1989, she quickly became the most publicized female bodybuilder ever.
With Everson as a decisive 1984 Ms. O winner, Rachel McLish finished second, and it would be the last contest she would enter as the sport rapidly evolved beyond her ability to keep pace.
Although Carla Temple finished fifth overall, she drove the partisan Canadian crowd crazy with a posing routine that left everyone breathless. In the early years of the sport Temple's stage time at the Ms. O was pure magic and would open the door to far more imaginative routines by other creative bodybuilders in the future.
Administratively, changes were also made as Wayne DeMilia took over the permanent promotion of the Ms. Olympia contest, and continued in that capacity until 2003.
Ms. Olympia's Little Sister
With the Ms. Olympia firmly established as the premier women's pro event, the IFBB Pro World Championship was inaugurated in 1981 with Lynn Conkwright winning that first event. But the 1984 contest - which was televised on NBC Sportsworld - would pull Texan Lori Bowen into the limelight as the stunning
winner over runner-up Carla Dunlap. With striking good looks and a balanced physique Bowen would serve as an idyllic complement to Everson as Ms. Olympia. Her victory kick-started the media machine for Bowen and it was running full tilt the remainder of 1984 as she appeared on David Letterman's Late Night Show, was prominently featured in a Miller Lite Beer commercial with Rodney Dangerfield, and had already been selected to co-star in the Pumping Iron II movie.
The Pro World field, which included 18 entrants, was loaded with top women of the day including Tina Plakinger, Marjo Selin, Erika Mes, Lynne Pirie, Kay Baxter, Gladys Portugues, Mary Roberts, and Dunlap.
Staged in Toronto, the event also featured an IFBB Pro World Mixed Pairs Championship with Carla Dunlap and Tony Pearson winning the title followed by Mary Roberts and Bob Birdsong in second, Tina Plakinger and Phil Demski third, and Diana Dennis and Kevin Lawrence fourth.
The NPC USA and NPC Nationals Draw Huge Entries
Put simply, the 1984 NPC USA and NPC Nationals contests were REALLY big shows. These were the days long before fitness and figure divisions, and all the competitors came to these events flexing whatever level of maximum muscle they had to offer.
The NPC USA was held in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the event featured four weight classes for the first time. The result: 82 contestants with a very high level of quality and spirited competition.
New Jersey's Janet Tech won a lightweight division that featured 21 women - a total that would be one of the largest in NPC USA history. Four years later in 1988 Tech experienced a break-out year by winning the lightweight class at the NPC Nationals, followed by a gold medal-winning performance at the IFBB World Amateur Championships. She would enter the Ms. Olympia the same year and place eighth. In her pro career Tech entered nine contests that included two more Ms. Olympia showings, two Ms. Internationals, and winding up with the 1992 Jan Tana Classic as her career-ending contest.
|Dawn Marie Gnaegi|
Californian Dawn Marie Gnaegi - who also made the move to the pro level - was victorious in a middleweight class of 24 women. Gnaegi would compete in the Ms. Olympia in 1986 and make two trips to the IFBB Pro Worlds in 1985 and '86.
Louisiana's Clare Furr was another outstanding weight class winner who would go on to win America's first gold medal at the 1984 IFBB World Amateur Championships following this contest. She also finished second to Cory Everson at the 1986 Ms. Olympia. In Little Rock, however, she would stand out as the overall champion and was a convincing winner in the newly-created light-heavyweight class which drew 21 contestants. Going almost unnoticed in 11th place in this class was a young aspirant to the future pro level named Tonya Knight.
With 16 contestants in the heavyweight class, it turned out to be not so much who won, but who didn't. The winner of the class was Michigan's Velma Buckles who was the runner-up to Lori Bowen in the 1983 USA heavyweight class. Buckles one pro effort came in 1988 at the IFBB Ms. International where she placed 14th. But the runner-up at this event was Diana Dennis and she was destined for stardom - although she had to wait until 1985 before she was firing on all cylinders in terms of contest placements. After that, however, she became one of the sport's most recognizable personalities. In third was another Californian, Sue Ann McKean, who was fresh from winning the ‘84 NPC California. McKean would also turn pro and compete in five pro events (yes, they had that many in those days) in 1986 including the Ms. Olympia. She entered both the Ms. International and Ms. Olympia in 1987 before calling it a career.
|84 NPC Nationals LHW Champ Clare Furr
The '84 NPC Nationals was equally well-attended as 85 contestants journeyed to New Orleans for a contest that was held in an open air auditorium on the banks of the Mississippi river.
The lightweight field consisted of 18 contestants with Georgia's Marsha Radford out-pointing runner-up Janet Tech and third-placer Mae Mollica. Radford was selected to the IFBB World Amateur team in 1985 where she placed fifth among the lightweights. She dropped from the competitive scene after that event.
Missouri's Michele Thomas was a three-point winner in the middleweight class over runner-up Dawn Marie Gnaegi. In a field of 22 contestants, Thomas topped two additional women in the third and fourth place spots
|84 NPC Nationals MW 3rd, Krista Parr|
who would become future pro competitors. They included Krista Parr, and Dona Oliveira (who would win the IFBB Pro World Championships in 1988).
Dazzling Californian Janice Ragain took the newly contested light-heavyweight class (which turned out to be
the largest class of the Nationals) topping runner-up Jeri Miller and third-placer Liz Karp. Both Ragain and Miller went on to compete in the pro ranks with Ragain competing in eight pro events that included three trips to the Ms. Olympia and twice entering the IFBB Pro Worlds where she was a runner-up to Dona Oliveira in 1988. Ragain dropped from the contest scene in 1989 after a final entry in the Pro Worlds.
|84 NPC Nationals Champ Cory Everson|
The heavyweight class also claimed another outstanding trio of top finishers led by Cory Everson. Winning in a nearly unanimous decision over fellow Californian Diana Dennis (who was also the bridesmaid in the NPC USA earlier in the year), and Sue Ann McKean in third, Everson's future in bodybuilding after this overall victory was laser-like as she made a mad dash to the Ms. Olympia and topped that field in unprecedented fashion. From 1984 to 1989 Everson would win the Ms. Olympia on an annual basis. Both Everson and Dennis are current members of Joe Weider's Bodybuilding Hall of Fame.
The European Championships Produce New Star
Hosted in The Hague, Holland, the 1984 edition of the IFBB European Championships was still in its infant
stages when 30 contestants from 17 countries took part in two weight classes. Today with the addition of fitness and bodyfitness divisions along with bodybuilding, a total of 104 contestants from 21 countries competed at the European Championships in 2009.
At this event much of the contest buzz was created by German lightweight Cornelia Kindbeiter. Highly defined with cross-striated triceps and glutes, she was above and beyond what anyone had ever seen in such a diminutive woman. Amidst the controversy her physique created, she still managed to win the European lightweight title by a comfortable margin over runner-up Christine Laurent of Belgium, with Holland's Ellen Van Maris third.
|Dominique Darde, MW Champ 84 European Champs|
In the middleweight class, French competitor Dominique Darde dominated her class with a well-balanced overall physique and exquisite posing ability. Like Kindbeiter in the lightweight category Darde was entering her first European Championship event, but would eventually move on to the pro ranks after winning the heavyweight class at the 1985 IFBB World Amateur Championships. As a pro competitor, Darde competed in two Ms. Olympia events and four IFBB Pro World Championships finishing as high as third in 1987.
The 1984 European event also served to bring two competitors from what was then referred to as the ‘Eastern Bloc' countries. While neither Hungary's IIboya Szabo nor Yugoslavia's Svetlana Varichkov fared particularly well in their respective weight classes, it was clear they would be pioneers in what would become a ground swell of future outstanding bodybuilders, fitness competitors and bodyfitness athletes from Central and Eastern Europe.
The IFBB World Amateur Championships
Brisbane, Australia, played host to the second IFBB World Amateur Championships, and with two weight
|Ellen Van Maris, Lightweight Class Winner|
classes to divide a total of 27 contestants from 17 countries the event suffered somewhat due to the extreme travel distances and expense for most countries. Nevertheless, the quality of those who made the trip were first rate, and helped build the tradition of excellence to what has, today, become the mother of all international amateur physique events for women.
In a very competitive lightweight class, Holland's Ellen Van Maris was a comfortable gold medal winner over hometown favorite Erika Geisen of Australia. The bronze medal for third went to Belgium's Christine Laurant. Van Maris would later move into the pro ranks enjoying a successful career that included a runner-up finish to Cory Everson at the 1987 Ms. Olympia. In 1986, Erika Geisen would also turn pro and become the first winner of the IFBB Ms. International in Columbus, Ohio.
The middleweight class produced an equally impressive winner in American Clare Furr. From Louisiana, Furr became the first American to win a gold medal at the IFBB World Amateur Championships, and after turning pro, she would finish second to Cory Everson at the 1986 Ms. Olympia with Ellen Van Maris earning the third spot.
Although central and eastern European countries had not yet made their presence felt at an international contest of this scope, contestants from Japan and Singapore brought the Asian continent more prominently into the spotlight having sent competitors to the inaugural World Amateur event in 1983.
Magazines Cater To Women's Bodybuilding
Although several magazines were published with women's bodybuilding as a prime subject prior to 1984, the coming of 1984 was a banner year for fans as four publications were launched with women's bodybuilding in mind. Strength Training for Beauty, Women's Physique World, Body Talk, and Sleek Physique all offered coverage of women who trained seriously and/or competed. While Body Talk and Sleek Physique fell by the wayside within their first issues, Strength Training for Beauty managed to last several years as a more mainstream, watered down overview of the weight trained woman. Meanwhile, Women's Physique World pulled no punches with its up close and personal look at female muscularity - finding a niche readership that kept the magazine afloat for 22 years before seizing distribution in 2006.
Local Southern Californian Reggie Bennett was featured on the premier issue of Strength Training for Beauty and as a competitor she reached the NPC USA Championships as a heavyweight in 1986.
Sleek Physique opted to go with a photo of a competitor's lower body with such awkward sub-titles as ‘Do it in Bed! Get in Shape Before Getting Up'. Even the editor's opening lines of introduction left a reader wondering just how serious they would be about it's coverage when he offered: "Women with muscles....? I have to admit that initially the concept of it was only slightly more appealing to me than......say, having root canal work." Of course the rest of the introduction was about how he had now seen the light and that it was, "okay for a woman to want to be strong". San Diego competitor Kris Alexander did get a small photo box under the title in conjunction with the coverage of the Pumping Iron II movie in which she appeared.
Dan Lurie (the publisher of Muscle Training Illustrated) paired with Doris Barrilleaux to publish ‘Body Talk' in Spring 1984. With a trio of top name bodybuilders of the day featured on the cover - including Carla Dunlap, Deborah Diana and Georgia Fudge - the magazine fell short of a specific premise with articles on family fitness and a male pin-up. It lasted one issue.
In the Fall of 1984 Women's Physique World launched its inaugural issue with a dramatic photo of California competitor Lory Walkup on the cover. Featuring in-depth coverage of bodybuilding events and multiple-page profiles on many of the sports woman - both pro and amateur - the 64-page magazine left little doubt of its intentions to cover the sport of women's bodybuilding in thorough detail.
Although none of the magazines were published monthly (all were either bi-monthly or quarterly) their newsstand prices were similar. Sleek Physique, Body Talk and Strength Training for Beauty were all $2.95, while Women's Physique World sold for $2.50.
To date, in 2009 there are no publications on the national newsstands covering women's bodybuilding exclusively. An while there are those who claim there is no longer any interest (or very little interest) in women's bodybuilding, a plethora of websites related to the subject flourish on the internet.