LAS VEGAS—IRONMAN Publisher John Balik looked into the 380-millimeter lens of his Canon digital wonder on the evening of Saturday, October 27, studied the Mr. O lineup and made the definitive observation: 'The most genetically gifted bodybuilder onstage this entire weekend is Juliette Bergmann.' With all due respect to the mind-blowing proportions of Coleman, Cutler and Co., plenty of folks in attendance at the Mandalay Bay Events Center the previous evening would have agreed with him.
It was the story of the century (okay, the century's young, but so is women's bodybuilding). Sizzling, symmetrical European Lightweight becomes a top star but never quite challenges the queen of the sport. Now a judge and official, she comes back after 12 years and blows their bleedin' minds, winning the Ms. Olympia with a perfect score and knocking off one of the most genetically endowed assemblies ever to vie for the physique world's grand prize.
The 17 athletes who qualified for the '01 Ms. O were full of surprises, as were the decisions. Who could have predicted that Lightweight victor Bergmann, a poster gal for so-called new-standards women's pro bodybuilding, would be posing down Iris Kyle, an excellent over-135-pound physique artist of the old-style-muscularity variety, for the Overall crown? (Who could have predicted there would be an Overall crowned at all?) Here's a rundown of the action that got them to that point.
Lightweight. For those like Mr. Balik, who witnessed the 5'2', then-110-pound symmetrical package of never-quite-realized potential from the Netherlands back in the mid-to-late 1980s, the 42-year-old Bergmann's appearance was not a shock. (In this case the concept of muscle maturity included the increased capacity to focus her training and preparations.) For newer generations, including women she'd judged in that very arena in the year 2000, it was a revelation. Everything was there: shape, muscle, definition'and, yes, the legendary Bergmann calves. With 15 additional pounds sculpted on her frame, Juliette had no flaws. She looked so good, she did something that has a rich tradition in women's-bodybuilding history: knocked off a sitting Olympia champ. (Cory Everson and Kim Chizevsky are the only ones who never lost the title.) Had she come onstage with that size and conditioning'not to mention the confidence and stage presence'way back when, Bergmann might have been a more serious threat to Everson's dominance of the sport.
The first callout in round 1, symmetry, for the Lightweight class made things clear. Bergmann was in the center, with reigning Ms. Olympia Lightweight Andrulla Blanchette on one side and reigning Ms. International Lightweight Dayana Cadeau on the other. Blanchette, a former World Games champ, had all the correct components, with strong, detailed arms and thick, shapely quads balancing her 5'3,' 135-pound proportions. Even so, her physique was not quite as finished as it had been a year before. In the much-heralded matchup with Bergmann, Andrulla displayed more muscle, but onetime Pro World champ Juliette had her on conditioning and flow-of-the-bodyparts polish, and the final score wasn't even close: 20-43. Cadeau carried even more mass than Andrulla, and she was tight all over, with swell back development, magnificent quad separation and taut glutes. Though she had her supporters among the throng of fans who jockeyed for viewing space at the judging, Cadeau, too, fell prey to the Bergmann juggernaut, settling for third place'and the last automatic qualification for the '02 Ms. Olympia.
That left Brenda Raganot languishing in fourth. People say she loses points (or, more properly in this sport, gains them) for being a little thick-waisted, but if she is, you have to squint to see it. The 5'3' resident of Kent, Washington, made her usual elegant presentation, and the more likely scenario is that the nine men who made up the judging panel found her aesthetic, nicely conditioned 132-pound package a little too soft to beat Dayana.
Presenting the best combination of mass and form she's had in a long time, Gayle Moher came back down to Lightweight'she was sixth Heavyweight at the '01 Ms. International'to finish fifth. Last year's third-placer Renee Cassella had thick quadriceps and strong shoulders filling out her admirable contours, but she could only manage sixth in this company. Rounding out the 10-woman lineup were Kim Harris, seventh (sharp but could have been fuller); Fannie Barrios (a petite package of tight-but-abundant muscle), eighth; Angela Debatin (not up to her Ms. International performance), ninth; and Joanna Thomas (100 points on the potential meter), 10th.
Heavyweight. Talk about coming out of nowhere. Not that Iris Kyle isn't a gifted bodybuilder with great muscle and killer proportions who's consistently been in the hunt over the past couple of years. It's just that 1) all the precontest discussion centered on whether Vickie Gates was going to come back and whup Valentina Chepiga's ass in retaliation for Chepiga's having scored a surprise victory over Vickie at the '00 Ms. O; and 2) Kyle looked pretty much the same as she had a year before, when she was relegated to fourth for having too much mass and definition for new-standards pro women's bodybuilding. Add to that the continued blossoming of Yaxeni Oriquen and a panel with a sudden predilection for muscle, and you have a stage set for even more upsets than the 2001 World Series.
Chepiga's physique appeared smaller than it was last year, but the best had certainly remained. She had excellent back detail and shape to die for. Everything was tight as she flexed and sashayed seductively to 'Haba'era' from the opera Carmen, ensnaring at least this reporter to imagine her posing down Bergmann for the Overall.
Gates, too, has been dialing it down since the edicts on looking more feminine were issued by the IFBB. To these eyes she had the look: legs and more-massive upper body once again in proportion; hard, bulging muscle where it counts. From the back she couldn't be beat, and despite stories that the judges thought her legs were lagging, she won the symmetry round, earning only one second-place vote (before the high and low scores were tossed out). Kyle earned top honors in the muscularity round the same way, displaying about 155 evenly distributed pounds on her 5'6' frame. Major separation, with hash marks peeping from her quads, marked her lower body and back. A full complement of very hard muscle everywhere else, including the craters that passed for calves, completed the picture, and after the first two rounds the women went into the finals with Kyle trailing Gates by four points. At the end of four rounds they were tied at 43 points. When officials added back in those high and low scores, Iris had blossomed into a Ms. Olympia winner and Vickie was stuck in second place for the third straight year at the sport's top show.
Oriquen, meanwhile, was at her all-time best. Thick as ever, with great thighs and back, she'd carved herself a new, leaner midsection, and in fact she beat Gates out for second in the muscularity comparisons. Although Chepiga won the posing round and was second in symmetry, she couldn't compare in the panel's eyes and found herself muscled out of contention in fourth.
In fifth Lesa Lewis brought her patented 5'10' package of sleek muscularity to the stage with a perfect six-pack in the middle, while Betty Pariso, not quite duplicating her Jan Tana'winning condition, landed in sixth, and a not-at-her-peak Heather Foster rounded out the field.
Overall. Having instituted weight classes last year, the IFBB Pro Division took a hard line on the no-Overall-winner issue and then mysteriously relented this time out. To streamline the process'and give the panel a chance to see the best physiques in both classes side by side'the top three from each class engaged in a single posedown. The winners were announced, and then tension built again as Bergmann and Kyle were put through the final callout. The panel had chosen two different looks: old-time muscle and everything-old-is-new-again style. Which physique would be featured at the top of the contest reports?
As indicated above, Juliette's genetics ruled. The promise was finally fulfilled as she was crowned Ms. O after all those years. Maybe it isn't so surprising that they gave out an Overall after all. IM