What exactly does it mean to be a 9x Olympia champion in the world of professional bodybuilding? It means you’re in an elite club of one. Iris Kyle is now the sole member in this exclusive fraternity and it may have just defined and cemented her legacy as the greatest bodybuilder-- male or female-- of all time. Her victory at the 2013 Ms Olympia propelled Kyle above the likes of 8x Olympia Champs Lee Haney, Ronnie Coleman, and Lenda Murray. In fact, for those who may still consider Murray the greatest woman bodybuilder of all time, consider this fact. Iris Kyle actually defeated Murray at the 2004 Ms Olympia (Kyle’s first win) and her victory, ironically enough, stopped Murray from winning a 9th record-setting title. Murray would go on to retire after that defeat and, although Kyle lost her title to Yaxeni Oriquen in 2005, she regained it in 2006 and continued her dominance over the Ms Olympia for the next 8 consecutive years. Just for the record, Kyle also happens to be a 7x Arnold Classic Ms International Champion (another solo record she holds among men and women).
Kyle’s victory, however, didn’t come easily. She may, in fact, be one of the hardest training bodybuilders of all time. 2-3 hour cardio sessions that typically start at 2am in the morning, dieting on virtually zero carbs for weeks on end, and daily double workouts are commonplace in Kyle’s life. Why? Cause her desire to be the best is insatiable. And when Kyle stepped on stage this past Friday at the 2013 Ms Olympia, it was “game over” from the moment she flexed those perfectly peaked biceps. Her combination of jaw-dropping symmetry, super dense muscularity, and mind-blowing conditioning made it an extremely easy task for the judges to award her with her recording-breaking 9th victory.
Moving up to 2nd place this year was the ever-improving, exotically beautiful, Alina Popa whose roots originate in Romania. Popa has what many in attendance thought was the perfect balance of feminine muscle and conditioning. While she may not come close to Kyle on sheer muscle size, her beauty draws you in and mesmerizes you to the point of wanting to see her place higher. Had the invincible Kyle not been in the lineup, Popa certainly would have made a worthy Ms Olympia. Look for Popa to be a future threat if she continues to improve upon her 2013 appearance.
Finishing in 3rd was last year’s runner-up Debi Laszewski. While clearly being the shortest competitor on the Olympia stage, she may also be its most dangerous. Laszewski packs tons of muscle her on her small frame and her conditioning is usually rivaled by none. This year, however, Laszewski left the door open and showed up with less-than-spectacular cuts in her muscles. Had she brought the dry, hard, look of 2012 she may have knocked off the surging Popa, but the elusive title of Ms Olympia was never a possibility for the 5’2” powerhouse from Florida. With the removal of the women’s bodybuilding division from the Ms International in 2014, don’t be surprise if Laszewski cleans up at the lower level contests in Tampa, Chicago, and Toronto.
2005 Ms Olympia Yaxeni Oriquen entered this year’s Olympia (her 16th time here) with the determination of a wounded animal clawing to recover what she felt was rightfully hers. Oriquen has finished behind Iris Kyle more times in competition than she cares to admit and I’m sure nothing could have satisfied more than a victory at this year’s event. Playing the spoiler would certainly have numbed the pain of all those close losses to the 9x champ over the years, but 2013 would not be her year. Oriquen, always majestic and impressive, just didn’t bring the firepower this year to unseat the still-surging Kyle. Her legs were noticeably smaller than we’ve seen in the past and she looked slightly over-depleted as she flexed during the prejudging rounds. Structurally, Oriquen is the only woman in the world who can hold her own against Kyle; however, when her muscle bellies are flat and too dehydrated, her weaknesses—specifically her straight up-and-down legs—are glaringly apparent. Oriquen’s slide to 4th place has to be considered a failure in her stringent hard-on-herself book; however, I expect to see a much-improved Oriquen return in 2014.
Brigita Brezovac has steadily improved her physique over the last 4 years of Olympia competition; improving from 10th place in 2010 to as high as 3rd in 2011. While Brezovac had to settle for 5th place this past Friday night, her physique shouted of beautiful symmetry, added muscle mass and perfectly honed conditioning. The fact that she was relegated to 5th speaks volumes of the level of competition at this year’s Ms O. And many in attendance can certainly make a case for Brezovac placing as high as 3rd at this contest; her beautiful lines, classic posing, and noticeable joy at what she’s doing is always a pleasure to behold.
2012 NPC Nationals Overall Champ Juanita Blaino has had a very productive rookie year. After earning her IFBB Pro Card this past fall, she placed 2nd at her pro debut in Chicago and has secured a top-6 finish in her very first Olympia. After prejudging, many fans and industry insiders felt that Blaino’s impressive mass, beautiful structure, and convincing conditioning were significant enough to secure her a top-3 finish. While Blaino has very few physique weaknesses to speak of, her biggest obstacle is her lack of stage experience. At the Olympia level, how you display what you have is almost as important as the physique you bring to the stage. Blaino executes the mandatories with authority, but she looked a little nervous (as would be expected) when compared with the top women in the world. Expect this impressive Olympia rookie to evolve into a seasoned veteran the next time we see her on a bodybuilding stage.
I’m sure you’ve all noticed by now that I keep using the phrase, “the next time we see her onstage”; and, after all, that’s what bodybuilding is all about—a steady improvement of the physique over a number of years till near-perfection is achieved. While 9x Ms Olympia Iris Kyle is closer to perfection than any other bodybuilder in the history of her sport, many of the other Olympia competitors may never have a chance to achieve that level of “personal best”. Recently, Arnold Fitness Weekend promoters Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer announced the removal of womens bodybuilding (Ms International) from the 2014 Arnold lineup after 25 years. With only 3 women bodybuilding qualifier events slated for 2014, one has to wonder whether the Ms Olympia (in its current incarnation) will even be a part of the 2014 Olympia weekend. And, if it isn’t, what will become of what used to be the premier women’s event in the IFBB? As women’s historian Steve Wennerstrom has reminded me innumerable times, the women’s sport is always about evolution and change; and while the title of Ms Olympia may go the way of the cuckoo bird (extinct), the sport of physique building will continue on in the form of Fitness, Figure, Bikini, and the newly created Womens Physique Division. And while the die-hards may miss Womens Bodybuilding in its original carnation, one cannot help but tear-up at the proud progeny the division leaves behind.