Thanks to a schedule changed that tucked the annual NPC Team Universe Championships into the weekend before the Olympia, the perennial Rodney Dangerfield of pro qualifiers got even less respect than usual in 2009. That’s too bad because the NYC-based physique-a-thon is a wonderful event, where, by the way, 32 female competitors earned pro cards on September 19—13 in figure, 12 in bikini and one in women’s bodybuilding plus six who qualified at the accompanying Fitness Nationals.
Also a great point about this show: It’s where the NPC picks it team for the IFBB Women’s World Amateur Championships, which are going on this weekend in Como, Italy, promoted by my friend Rossella Pruneti. More on the Team U team below. Back to the New York production.
Let’s start with figure. The late addition of a masters competition—in which many of the winners were also class winners or runners-up in the open—makes for confusion as to who earned which pro card and why. Thanks to East Coast photog Reg Bradford, who was on the scene, I may have figured it out.
Per the rules, the top two in each height class in the open figure event got pro cards, along with the masters overall winner. That title went to Angela Mraz, a fitness-industry vet who returned to NPC competition last year with apparent success. The other three masters class winners—Ann Pratt, Caroline Hernandez and Jennifer Hernandez—ended up leaving the Tribeca Performing Arts Center with pro cards earned in the open, as you'll see below.
One big winner who did not quarter-turn in the masters, however, was Monica Mark-Escalante, a former NPC IRON MAN figure champ, who took the B-class and overall titles in the open division. Cards also went to Nicole Coleman and Susan Salazar, A-class first and second; Pratt, third in the B-class behind Mraz and Mark-Escalante (per a recent rule change, the winner of the masters pro card cannot win a second card; if she qualifies, it goes to the next placer down the list); Gina Trochino and Ann Titone, C-class first and second; Danielle Kifer and Caroline Hernandez, D-class first and second; Katherine Ramirez and Jaime Meade, E-class first and second; and Stephanie Billings and Jennifer Hernandez; F-class.first and second.
With four post-Olympia shows on the pro-figure schedule before Thanksgiving (the Fort Lauderdale [Florida] Pro, which took place last weekend on October 10; the Border States, in San Diego, this coming weekend—October 17; the Sacramento Pro on November 7 and the Kentucky Pro Muscle on November 14), there’s plenty of opportunity on both coasts for these gals to get their feet wet on the next level before they blow their diets for the holidays.
Fitness comes next. The last qualifier of the season in this sport, the 09 National Fitness Championships elevated the top two in each height class to the pro ranks. In the A-class that was Yenny Polanco, a Massachusetts-based pixie who caught my eye at this show a couple of years ago, in the top spot and 17-year-old Ariel Khadr, the runner up, who became the youngest girl ever to earn a pro-fitness card.
Lauren DeNapoli was the B-class champ, with Kara Nicole Finer getting the second card. C-class winner Kayde Puckett also took the overall title, while Stefanie Bambrough got the runner-up card in that class.
Not one to miss an opportunity, Polanco jumped into the Fort Lauderdale Pro Fitness and snagged the third-place Olympia qualification in her pro debut.
In women’s bodybuilding 13 heavyweights, seven middleweights and 10 lightweights showed up to vie for a spot on the Women’s World team. The overall went to heavyweight victor Michelle Pome, with middeweight champ Pam Wentz and lightweight titlist Maria Carolina Davis also gracing the winner’s circle. Pome, who was sporting an enviable set of wheels, also qualified for pro status.
Bikini at last. I won’t say I saved the best for last, although some folks might think so. Overall Bikini champ Missy Coles had Bradford trilling her praises, and based on the photo evidence, I can see his point. Missy, who was second in the F-class at the North Americans a few weeks earlier, will be joined in the pro ranks by F-class runner-up Tabitha Klausena. Also going to the pros are Angela Harrell and Julie Costa (A-class top two), Dayna Maleton and Chrisie Marquez (B-class), Melinda Janiszewski and Jennifer Dietrick (C-class), Amanda Procida and Shay Monroe (D-class) and Dianna Dahlgren and Natalie Pennington (E-class). The question is, How many of them will be writing to Arnold Sports Festival promoter Jim Lorimer for an invite the IFBB’s first pro-bikini competition, the ’10 Bikini International, in March.
As for the World Championships, it was a rather small team that took off for Italy today: Fitness Overall champ Kayde Puckett and bodybuilders Maria Davis and Pam Wentz, who’ll contest the light and heavyweight classes, respectively (there are only two classes at the World’s these days, up-to and over-55 kilograms, or about 121 1/4 pounds.
A big thumbs-up—and good luck!—to those ladies.
As for the other divisions, the NPC is not sending any figure competitors to the Worlds this time (I'm guessing because it's proved to be a pointless exercise over the years), and bikini is strictly a U.S. phenomenon—at least so far.