COLUMBUS, Ohio—Never let it be said that pro fitness shows aren't about the physiques. That was certainly the case on March 5 at the '04 Fitness International, where the bodies were all at peak'to a woman'and best-body-of-all Adela Garcia-Friedmansky slid past Kelly 'Flyin' Ryan to score a slim three-point victory. It was a major disappointment for Ryan, previously the leading contender to fill Susie Curry's sneakers as queen of the fitness pros, and a major triumph for Garcia-Friedmansky, who henceforth will be known as the little chiquita that could.
As noted by promoter Arnold Schwarzenegger, AGF has been coming to compete in Columbus for many years, five to be exact. Even as she was working her way up'from eighth in 2000 to second in '03'folks still questioned whether someone whose routines weren't quite up there with Curry's, let alone Ryan's, could ever win the top title in fitness, no matter how good her body is. (Make that ever again, after Monica Brant's achievements in 1998.) Oh, Adela's a smooth mover, and she's worked hard to make those strength stunts look increasingly easy. But she doesn't, you know, do cartwheels and back flips.
The answer to that is, she does well enough. Here's a rundown of how things shook out at the Fitness International:
Physiques. The question was obvious the instant the 12 athletes strode onstage at the judging: Was it possible that they'd held a meeting and all decided to come in on the smaller side? I asked powerhouse Columbus fitness trainer Mike Davies, who suggested that Curry had set the standard by coming in smaller at the '03 Fitness Olympia. Wherever it came from, it was a good plan. The competitors who looked the best this reporter has ever seen them included (in numerical order) Kim Klein, Stacy Hylton, Jen Hendershott, Julie Palmer, Ryan and Tanji Johnson, with others like AGF, Tracey Greenwood, Anna Level and Stacy Simons equaling their previous peak efforts. So as good as everyone was, Adela and her 5' 1/4' package of tight curves and shapely tone had the two-piece-comparisons round cold.
Speaking of working her way up the ladder, Palmer's smaller look earned her a spot in the first callout with AGF and Level. The panel liked Julie's look so much, they placed her second, with Level deservedly rounding out the top three. It was no surprise when the three finished in the same order in the one-piece comparisons as well.
The irony of the competition was that Ryan, who won this show in 2000, was sporting the most title-worthy physique of her career. As with AGF and her routines, Kelly's been tinkering for years to look this good. Her improved balance and just-right conditioning, plus an even-more-refined taper than she achieved last year, didn't go unnoticed. The judges called her out right after the first three ladies, and at the finals, in the one-piece round, they put her in the first comparison. She finished fourth in both body rounds, and with the wild reception she got for her routines, Ryan had every reason to think she might be picking up her second title that night.
Hendershott, who demonstrated even more improvement than Ryan did in the balance and conditioning departments, earned fifth-place scores, with Hylton in sixth and Klein tied for seventh with Greenwood, who seemed to be having an off day all around. They duplicated those positions, more or less, in the one-piece comparisons, with Simons and Johnson following that group and rookies Angela Semsch and Carla Freda finishing where rookies often do, at the bottom of the lineup.
Routines. Nothing in the above comments was meant to imply that the routines weren't fabulous, starting with the 45-second mandatories. Bill Comstock got some amazing pictures of the 12 ladies leaping around the stage in their matching cat suits. You'll find larger images of them at the contest gallery at www.ironmanmagazine.com.
Ryan nabbed a unanimous win with a patented high-skill, high-energy, high-flyin' performance, with Hendershott and Hylton also generating a lot of excitement to finish second and tied for third, respectively. AGF, who gave a pretty darned cool performance herself, was the other third-placer, with Klein in fourth and Greenwood fifth.
They all rocked at the finals, with Kelly leading the way in a spirited Janet Jackson'themed performance. Make that a spirited Janet Jackson-before-the-Super Bowl-themed performance. The queen of routine had battled a series of physical obstacles in the weeks leading up to the competition, including a vile case of food poisoning and an ongoing bout of vertigo, but you'd never have known it from the way she was vaultin', tumblin' and boogyin' her way across the Veterans stage. It was a very credible win, for all Hendershott and the rest of the pack were nipping at her high-flying heels'or at least trying to. What's it going to take for someone to leap past Kelly? In spite of Susie Curry's one-point advantage in the long routines at the last Olympia, we ain't really seen it yet.
And Hendershott was so-o-o good, rolling on the floor, flipping up and.' Well, it was so good, I stopped writing. Jenhen, who had tongues wagging after her notorious Madonna-kissing-Britney takeoff at the Olympia, shone with a more material-girl approach'as in total bling-bling'and finished only three points behind Ryan in the round.
The next three places were so close, it probably came down to a matter of taste for the members of the panel. Thirteen points behind Hendershott and tied for third in the two-minute routines were AGF and Klein, with Hylton just a point off in fourth. Klein was the big winner there, moving into the upper echelon with a polished program that started with the old handstand-down-to-V-hold trick and featured a three-rep run of feet-over-shoulders pushups. Adela scored with the fans, taking her cross-arm pushups and flying front splits to new heights in a version of the 'Mask' routine she performed at the Olympia. Hylton did a fine job with a lively act that had some different moves, like lowering from a handstand to a jackknife and back again'very Alexis brothers.
Tanji Johnson was sixth, with Stacy Simons seventh, Level and Palmer tied for eighth, Greenwood ninth and Semsch and Freda, as they did in every round, bringing up the rear. As usual, Simons could have finished higher in the routines, particularly in the 45-second round, where she was 10th. You'll never convince this reporter that's not because the judges just aren't crazy about the wide-flaring lats and other exaggerated curves of her 5'7' physique. Which brings this report back to the original point.
Final scores. The battle for the title came down to Ryan's fourth-place physique scores vs. Garcia-Friedmansky's third-place routine numbers, with a little push from the point Kelly gave up in the free-posing round. Guess who won. The observation can be made that given two or three athletes whose routines they like equally well, the judges tend to be suckers for a balanced physique. (IFBB does stand for International Federation of Bodybuilders, after all.) Still, it's a numbers game, and it was hard not to be sobbing for joy along with Adela, who's persevered to excel in both areas of competitive fitness and was so farklempt to find herself standing in the spotlight with Schwarzenegger at last, she was speechless. Her take-home pay included the $20,000 first prize, a crystal trophy that was bigger than she was and a $20,000 'T3' watch.
Hendershott was solidly in third, with Palmer and Hylton tied 34 points behind in fourth. Adding in the high and low scores put Julie P in fourth, which heaped big rewards: a larger share of the $50,000 total purse and an Olympia invite via the sliding qualification, as the top three already had theirs. Despite her good physique scores, Level could only manage sixth in this tough competition. Despite her good routine scores'and her newly slimmed lower body'Klein had to settle for seventh. Greenwood was eighth, with, in order, Johnson, Simons, Semsch and Freda rounding out the lineup. Notwithstanding their ignominious placings, '03 NPC USA champ Semsch and National champ Freda looked good and performed well in their pro debuts, showing potential to do better if they keep it up.
The question is, Can AGF keep it up come October, when she'll face off against the high-flying one at the Fitness Olympia? If she looks as good and jumps as high as she did in Columbus, I'm not sure I'd bet against it. IM
'04 Fitness International
1) Adela Garcia-Friedmansky*
2) Kelly Ryan*
3) Jen Hendershott*
4) Julie Palmer
5) Stacy Hylton
6) Anna Level
7) Kim Klein
8) Tracey Greenwood
9) Tanji Johnson
10) Stacy Simons
11) Angela Semsch
12) Carla Freda
*Qualifies for the Fitness Olympia.