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Catching Up With the New and Old Seasons

Well, whew, the December IRON MAN is at the printer at last, and it’s catch-up time. Since I did not get to attend the Sheru Classic Asian Grand Prix in Mumbai, India, on September 24—and since I just finished putting together the Olympia edition of Pump & Circumstance—I am still ruminating on the big Vegas weekend that was. (It is the fun part of my job, after all.) Once again, I had my girls, Nancy DiNino and Carolyn Bryant, on hand for the postcontest commentary: women’s bodybuilding, fitness and bikini on Friday night and figure plus the overall wrap-up on Saturday. The ladies did not hold back (not that I could have stopped them). Plus, the IM crew went wild at the Meet the Athletes on Thursday, getting as many competitors on video as was humanly possible considering that there were 131 of them. (Find all the Olympia videos here). I also got to do a legends interview with the great Bev Francis that’s part of a video project IM publisher John Balik has been compiling. More on that in future, but it was a highlight of the trip for this reporter.

New rules. At the meeting of the IFBB Pro League that took place during the Vegas festivities, the federation made fundamental changes to the way the Olympia lineups will be determined, starting with the 2012 season. Basically, it will be a lot harder to get that coveted Olympia invite. For each of the sports, the top four at the Olympia, the top three at the Arnold/International, the top two at the New York Pro and the winner of every other contest will make the cut. Otherwise the the Pro League and the promoter “may offer special invites,” according to Advisory Notice 092111.

Now, it’s not hard to see why some folks may have found this development desirable. The plethora of pro shows on the schedule, particularly in the figure and bikini divisions, led to those 131 athletes in six divisions, including 28 in bikini, 29 in figure and 24 in the battle for the Mr. O, being onstage at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Orleans Arena. While I reject the idea that “girls who didn’t deserve to be up there” made it to the Olympia stage, I agree that in some cases it was just too many. With another long season ahead, it’s not hard to see why the producers of bodybuilding’s biggest weekend might want to make it more exclusive—and limit the length of the show.

On the other hand, the above formula could lead to some Olympia lineups being largely invitational in future. I haven’t done the math, but it will be interesting to see how things develop as the new season marches on. If the new rules had been in place this year, a number of top-six finishers in the various sports would not have qualified to compete. Could be some further tweaking of the system is to come.

Golden girl. One athlete who won’t have the qualification quandary is Nicole Wilkins. The Figure O champ had an absolutely stellar month in September, starting with a trifecta of wins—a tuneup at the Tournament of Champions, the recapture of her crown at the Olympia and the icing on the cake at the Sheru Classic. She also earned the distinction of being the first woman to win the Figure International and the Figure Olympia in the same year—and she made the cover of the IRON MAN. The November ’11 issue, with Michael Neveux’s stunning photos of Nicole, is on sale now.

Did I say marches? The ’12 Olympia qualifying season races on without taking a breath, with pro competitions scheduled for the next seven weekends, starting on October 8 with the Arnold Classic Europe fitness event in Spain and the Fort Lauderdale Cup contests in fitness, figure and bikini in Florida. After that comes the Houston Pro on October 15 (figure and bikini); the Titans Grand Prix in Culver City, California, on October 22 (bikini); the Border States on October 29 (figure); the Kentucky Muscle Pro (figure) and the Sacramento Pro (bikini) on November 15 and the Iowa Pro Championships (bikini) on November 12.

And that’s all before the NPC Nationals in Miami on November 18 and 19. Good thing we’ve all had our orange juice.

Speaking of the Sheru Classic Pro Figure. At the new post-Olympia competition that took place on September 24 and 25, the results echoed those of the big show, with Nicole getting the win and Erin Stern landing in the runner-up slot. One interesting change from the week before: Candice Keene slid into third ahead of Ava Cowan, who was fourth, with Cheryl Brown rounding out the top five. Here are the complete results:

’11 Sheru Classic Pro Figure

1) Nicole Wilkins*
2) Erin Stern
3) Candice Keene
4) Ava Cowan
5) Cheryl Brown
6) Larissa Reis
7) Mon Muresan
8) Kristen Nagrani
9) Sabrina Taylor
10) Felicia Romero
11) Heather Grace
12) Ellena Reidie
*Qualifies for the ’12 Figure Olympia.

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