Here’s something that’s been gnawing at my mind since the big weekend in Columbus, Ohio. What exactly is up with the IFBB Amateur Arnold International competition? Not that I’m suggesting there was anything wrong with the event, which was promoted for the second year by Bob Lorimer and Mike Davies as part of the humongous Arnold Sports Festival. As far as I can see it was a whopping success, attracting some 225 physique athletes from around the world, including a spectacular crop of winners. Is it just me, however, or does it seem as if there were two different amateur events taking place on February 29 and March 1?
How I became aware of the dichotomy is one of those tales we pundits like to tell. On a shuttle bus full of competitors and officials (and media members) riding from the Veterans Memorial Auditorium to the Doubletree Hotel, I was chatting with Albert Busek, a distinguished member of the European muscle press and a very-long-time friend of the legendary bodybuilder for whom the weekend in Columbus is named. Albert, who had attended the amateur competition earlier in the day, was enthusiastic about how excellent the international field had been and expressed great surprise that the American athletes had not been stronger. It could be that he was rubbing it in just a bit.
As I hadn’t seen the results yet, we moved on to other things. Still, I was puzzled as to what all the fuss was about. After all, it was just a midlevel contest from the standpoint of NPC competitors, wasn’t it? I had forgotten that I’d asked the same question when I’d heard that the Arnold Amateur was going international in its second year. Why would people want to come all the way to Ohio to get onstage at that show? The answer should have been obvious, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
In practical terms, when the promoters—and IFBB President Rafael Santonja—went worldwide with this event, they effectively jacked up its status far beyond its humble beginnings. Whether that message sank in for the NPC rank and file remains a question mark. The international teams, buoyed by the notion of either competing at the prestigious Arnold Sports Festival, getting their pictures taken with Governor S or simply getting some big-time publicity in the Western Hemisphere, brought their top amateur bodybuilders, including European and World champions. The U.S. entries, on the other hand, included some excellent bodybuilders, but they were not exactly the class winners from last year’s Nationals; so it should have come as no surprise that they got creamed. (The situation was different for fitness and figure, where the U.S. and Canadian athletes ruled, although why that was is a topic for another day.)
Maybe it’s also no surprise that the bodybuilding lines were drawn where they were. Elite-level amateur physique competition on this side of the Atlantic (and the Pacific) seems to be much more pro-card oriented than it is over there (and there). In other countries the top guys and gals keep going back to the European Championships, the Asian Championships, the South American Championships, the World Championships, et al., and many never make it to the professional ranks. In the U.S. a class win at the Nationals gets you the right to apply for a pro card, and for the most advanced warriors and warriorettes it’s all about the path to the flex-for-pay ranks.
One could argue that the former approach is more in keeping with the spirit of sport—well, amateur sport—and the latter is more of that crass commercialism one hears so much about. I suspect that somewhere, somehow politics is at work as well. The question is, Will the highest-ranking homegrown amateur bodybuilders step up to the plate and stop off in Columbus on their way to where destiny leads them next year, or will they leave all the glory to folks like Mari Segura of Mexico, the ’07 North American champ, who won the ’08 Amateur Arnold title in women’s bodybuilding, and two-time World Amateur champ Robert Piotrkowicz of Poland, who came in second in the Arnold men’s superheavyweight class?
What if anything could the promoters do to sweeten the pot? I’m making no predictions, but it’s definitely a story to keep your eye on.
Photos (from top):
Mexico’s Mari Segura, eligible to apply for pro status after her overall win at the ’07 North Americans, entered the Arnold Amateur International and picked up an overall win there as well.
Canada’s Allison Ethier, a well-known athlete who’s come over to the IFBB from another organization, took the fitness overall at the Amateur Arnold. Look for her to make a pro-card run at the Canadian Championships later this season.