Fitness: Grishina the Queena—Pole fitness was the much ballyhooed new sport at the Arnold Sports Festival, which took place in Columbus, Ohio, on February 27 through March 2, and astonishing as those athletes were, they had to take a backseat to Oksana Grishina, who climbed a pole of her own to slide past defending champ Tanji Johnson and into the Fitness International title. The routines were particularly good this time, with Ryall Graber, Allison Ethier, Michelle Blank, Amanda Hatfield, Whitney Jones, Bethany Cisternino, Danielle Ruban and Melinda Szabo getting high marks from this reporter. Not to be overlooked, however, was veteran Regiane DaSilva, whose two-sided “Barbie Girl” performance was the best we’ve seen from her perhaps ever. It—and her improved physique—brought her into second overall, while Tanji, whose last-minute routine switch, which was inspired by the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl win, proved her undoing, had to settle for third.
Cisternino, who won the physique round (Grishina won the routines, natch), took fourth in the lineup of 14, and Trish Warren turned in a solid performance to round out the top five.
Figure: If it ain’t broke—After Olympia champ Nicole Wilkins pulled out of the Figure International due to injury a couple of weeks before the show, there was little question that it was defending champ Candice Keene’s to lose, and she didn’t. Some wondered whether defending runner-up Heather Dees would look good enough to challenge for the win in the lineup of 17. She didn’t—which is to say that she repeated in the runner-up spot and so was not exactly chopped liver. Those places were pretty well established in the callouts. The suspense, then, came in the form of placings three through five. The judges worked Candice Lewis, Camala Rodriguez McClure and Ann Titone in every possible combination, but who did they really like for third? Lewis, third at this show last year with her pretty physique, was perhaps the most conditioned we’ve seen her, abs and all—which was not to say that she was “ripped.” Titone and her tiny waist, 11th last year, have been steadily moving up, and her presentation was spot on. Still, the judges seem to have a predilection for Camala’s balanced, statuesque body (she was sixth last year), and I was not surprised to see her end up in the third spot. Titone took fourth, her best showing ever at a major competition, and Lewis was fifth.
Wilkins might not have been onstage, but she certainly had an effect on the lineup. Everyone seemed to be trying to match—or beat—the conditioning she displayed in winning the Olympia last fall. If I had five bucks for every pound of leg mass lost in that effort, I’d be a wealthy woman.
Bikini: The cult of Kalt—Lest you think that the changing of the bikini guard at the Olympia—where Ashley Kaltwasser and Yeshira Robles outsassed established champs like Nathalia Melo and India Paulino—was a fluke, the judges made themselves clear in Columbus. Kaltwasser got a unanimous thumbs-up for first (they like her; they really like her), while Robles landed solidly in second. What’s up with that? I found myself defending the judges’ choice in a contest wrap-up video with Dave Palumbo and Tad Inoue at RxMuscle.com. If she’s “not as conditioned” as some of the others and they choose her, perhaps that’s the point. Ashley’s 5’5’ physique features a long torso and a tiny waist flaring out to a rounded.... Well, you get the idea. Whatever your theory, the cult of Kalt is definitely in fashion.
Moving up in the lineup of 16 was everybody’s favorite, Amanda Latona, who earned her best placing yet at a major by taking third. Melo, who won the Olympia in 2012, was fourth; Stacey Alexander landed in fifth; and defending champ Paulino had to settle for sixth.
Best moment—Celebrating my 20th trip to what is now called the Arnold Sports Festival, and as always it was action packed. Because of the projected tearing down of the venerable Veterans Memorial Auditorium, more than the usual number of memories were triggered. I recall how much the event has changed (no more lunch for the media after the men’s judging) and how much remains the same (Arnold’s corny charm as he interviews the winners—did he really check out the figure champ?). This year’s most special moment took place on Saturday night when my boss, IRON MAN Publisher John Balik, received the Arnold Lifetime Achievement Award. I was totally farklempt even before he thanked us all in his thoughtful acceptance speech. Well done, Mr. Balik. And well deserved.