COLUMBUS, Ohio—If Vickie Gates had come to Las Vegas last October looking the way she looked at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium on March 2, she probably wouldn't have beem defending her Ms. International title. She'd have been in the audience, getting introduced with the other royalty of the sport as the reigning Ms. Olympia, Heavyweight division. Instead, she was onstage at the Arnold Schwarzenegger'Jim Lorimar production once again, showing the new-standards-minded panel that she would not be fading quietly into bodybuilding history but, rather, making it, with her third straight win. The short story is that Gates scored a decisive 16-point victory over a ripped Iris Kyle before passing by Lightweight champ Dayana Cadeau for the Overall title.
The back story is that the new judging standards favoring feminine appearance over excessive muscularity are having an interesting effect: They're achieving what they set out to do. Even more interesting is the thought that most of the competitors looked a lot better for it. In fact, many looked the best this reporter has seen them in a long time.
Let me state right up front that I'm one of those weirdos who believe that the human frame can only hold so much mass. There's nothing aesthetic about being wider than you are tall'and that goes for the guys too. It's fair to say that the panels judging under the new standards haven't exactly been consistent in applying them, particularly when it comes to the concepts of excessive muscularity and conditioning. Considering how very subjective those terms are, it's hardly surprising. So while the judges are still struggling to find what feminine appearance and excessive muscularity mean to them, each competitor is struggling to find what they mean for her. Since the competitors are all built differently, the line is likely to be drawn in a different place for each. The result is that the women are generally bringing it down a notch'which is what the officials who dreamed up the so-called new standards had in mind. Lovers of unbridled female muscularity may object to those goals, but they're not the folks who are staging the contests.
So let's talk about Ms. Vickie. The heir apparent when four-time Ms. O Kim Chizevsky retired from bodybuilding'she was the reigning Ms. I and a two-time Ms. O runner-up'Gates suffered an ignominious defeat to upstart Ukrainian star Valentina Chipega at the '00 Olympia. As it always does with Gates, it came down to balance: That same finely developed upper body that often overshadowed her legs when she was building up to old-standards proportions did her in as she was pulling back, and she lost mass mostly in her legs. Vickie's response (after licking her wounds): She didn't train her upper body at all between the Olympia and the International, but she worked legs like crazy. The result: Well, just look at her. She brought her legs up and her torso down to present her most balanced physique in many a contest. There was plenty of hard muscle, but she was sharp, not overly striated, with her waistline nipped in for an overall elegant effect. As usual, she had the best back onstage'along with biceps and triceps to burn'and when you added the confident presentation of a champion, that's exactly what you got. Gates won every round but the posedown, for a final score of 26.
With a redemption-minded Gates in the spotlight, the international cast of muscularly inclined characters didn't have a chance. Leading the lineup of 11 other Heavyweights attempting to upset the champ was Iris Kyle, who was sporting as tight a package of muscle, shape and cuts as one was likely to find at the Veterans this year. Displaying a similar package, Kyle was largely ignored at the Olympia, reportedly because she was too ripped for the room. This time she brought it down just enough to get the panel's attention. Arguably, she was carrying more muscle and cuts than even Gates, with lats for miles, stripes on her triceps and a finely tuned midsection, among her better bodyparts. In the flow-of-bodyparts department, however, Vickie came up the winner, with Iris taking the posedown by a couple of points and finishing a solid second in every other round for a total of 42.
Third-placed Heavyweight Lesa Lewis came to Columbus exhibiting probably the best shape I'd ever seen her in. It's kind of ironic because Lewis, who carries a whole lotta muscle on her well-proportioned 5'10' frame, always seemed to have a problem getting cut. This time she was just a bit more defined'but not too much for the standards o' the day. Given her granite-hard biceps, mammoth quad mass and sexy-as-hell posing, I thought it might bring her the runner-up trophy. The judges saw it otherwise, and she was their solid pick for third, 20 points behind Kyle.
In fourth, Yaxeni Oriquen was one of the three most improved bodybuilders in the contest. The 5'8' Oriquen has always carried plenty of muscle, and with her newly leaned-out midsection she moved herself into the contenders' column. Ditto for Betty Pariso, an always-in-fine-condition physique athlete, who softened her look by revamping her makeup and hair strategy and got the judges' attention to the tune of fifth place.
Rounding out the top six was veteran Gayle Moher, who started the day in the first callout of the symmetry round and seemed to lose steam from there. In the best shape she's displayed for a long time, Moher gets my vote as the most overlooked competitor in the class. The rest of the Heavyweight lineup fell as follows (placings calculated after two rounds): Tazzie Columb, seventh (big but not refined); Amy Pazzo, eighth (fine shape and size, too soft); Th-resa Bostick, ninth (way off peak); Paula Suzuki, 10th (at 5'3', should she be a Lightweight?); Carmen Cotter, 11th (outmuscled); and Pauliina Talus (outproportioned), 12th.
In the category of most improved bodybuilder, the prize has got to Lightweight winner Dayana Cadeau, who shed 10 pounds of muscle to stunning effect. An excellent physique athlete who's been routinely overlooked in the past'and as a Heavyweight was in danger of being branded wider than she was tall'the 5'5' Cadeau had it all: beautiful lines with a tiny waist and full quadriceps, beautiful face with to-die-for cheekbones, beautiful muscle all over and razor-sharp cuts. If ever there was a woman who could have quad slices up the wazoo and still pass the sexy and feminine test, she was it. To win the class, however, she had to beat '00 Lightweight winner Brenda Raganot, a poster gal for new-standards women's bodybuilding if ever there was one.
With Raganot nailing the center spot in the first callout of both the symmetry and muscularity rounds, it appeared that she was a cinch to retain her title. Hers was a physique of shape, muscle and grace. If it was a little more detailed than the body she presented at the Olympia last fall, when she finished second to powerhouse Andrulla Blanchette, it was not quite as full. The score sheet saw her winning the symmetry round unanimously, with Cadeau taking the other three rounds by mostly slimmer margins for an Overall two-point victory, an indication that a few of the judges might have thought Cadeau's physique a bit extreme.
The panel took a while to decide what to do with Brazil's Angela Debatin, who came out of the woodwork to nab the third-place trophy. After the symmetry callouts, in which she tied for fifth, it appeared she'd be relegated to the bottom half of the lineup, as she'd been in 2000. Once Debatin opened up to hit her first biceps shot, however, it was clear she'd accomplished the elusive goal of putting it all together. You might say her bodyparts'including rock-solid biceps, chest and delts'fell into place, and she slid into the top three, albeit 44 points behind Raganot.
Fourth-placer Cathy LeFrancois-Priest was simply not having one of her better days. After almost passing out at the end of the first round'a long day of delayed flights and airport waits right before a contest will do that to you'she gamely got back onstage, but a third-place showing in the symmetry round was the best she could muster as she landed six points behind Debatin. Denise Masino was also not at her best and, despite a pair of extralarge deltoids, could only manage fifth in this lineup. Sixth-placed Yaz Boyum, a total-package type of bodybuilder with a classy look, gets my most-overlooked award for the Lightweight class. The rest of the division finished as follows: Jennifer McVicar, seventh (lovely lines, but the judges are going to be looking for a wee bit more mass); Raejah Savary, eighth (another well-shaped physique, she was done in by an ultrabronze tanning preparation); Peggy Schoolcraft, ninth (talk about being put through the shredder!); and Monica Martin, 10th (still waiting in the woodwork).
As good as Cadeau looked, there wasn't any question that Gates would retain her International Overall crown. In addition to the $7,000 she and Dayana each earned for winning their classes, Vickie also picked up $10,000 of the $50,000 total purse for that honor. Money prizes went to places second through sixth in each class ($5,000, $3,000, $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000, respectively). The top two in each class qualified for the '01 Ms. Olympia. IM