Chicago, September 1996. The Ms. Olympia contest. Glamorous and seemingly unbeatable Lenda Murray is dethroned by the heavily muscled Kim Chizevsky. It's a major change in the direction of women's bodybuilding, but promoter Joe Weider doesn't appear very excited about it. 'Well, it looks like we have a new Ms. Olympia,' he says to an assistant. The assistant says nothing, but in the back of the theater, an old man mutters something about Chizevsky that might be in more than a few minds this night: 'Man in a wig. Man in a wig.'
Chizevsky is not oblivious to her appearance; she initially declines to be photographed for Muscle & Fitness, saying, 'My face is too gaunt right now; I need a month or two to soften up.' Only after being assured her photos would be airbrushed would Chizevsky agree to be shot. In '97 and '98 Chizevsky won again, and as her personal stock rose, women's bodybuilding went in the opposite direction. Finally, in 1999, poor advance-ticket sales forced the cancellation of the once prestigious event. Under pressure from the contestants, Joe Weider stepped back into the picture and saved the struggling show from certain death. Chizevsky won again, and the box office continued to wane. Said one IFBB promoter in early 2000, 'Women's bodybuilding is on the ground, on its back, gasping for breath, just waiting for someone to throw dirt over it. It's that close to being dead and buried.' IFBB vice president Wayne DeMilia took a dollars-and-cents view: 'Bodybuilding is a business. It requires sponsors, and sponsors aren't going to support something people don't want to see.' The novelty is definitely gone. Extremely hard women don't make money'not for the shows, not for the magazines. I'm looking for someone I can market.'
At the '00 Ms. Olympia in Las Vegas, DeMilia got his wish'twice. For the first time two Ms. Olympia winners were announced: Valentina Chipega, a classic blonde-and-bronze package from the Ukraine won the Heavyweight title, and Andrulla Blanchette, a 130-pound seductress with stellar proportions from England won the Lightweight division. Valentina, who placed five rungs below Andrulla at the previous Ms. O, is a relative newcomer on the physique scene. As commodities go, she's yet untested. Andrulla, however, has been competing for years, is an articulate interview subject and knows how to stimulate the publicity machine. But can she save women's bodybuilding?
Andrulla (pronounced an-drool-la) began her journey to the Olympia as a martial artist. It was while waiting for IOC approval of judo as an Olympic sport that she took up weight training. Six months later she won her first title'Ms. London'and met her mentor, European champ Ian Dowe. 'Ian taught me how to train without ego,' she says emphatically, 'and exactly how to walk out onstage.'
We are in a boutique in Santa Monica when she tells me this, shopping for shoes. Perhaps because her feet are bare, she decides to demonstrate The Walk for me; dragging her toes forward, she pulls an opposite shoulder back and throws a look, batting her eyes. Whenever she does this onstage, the crowd roars. Inside the clothing store, customers suck in air and stand rigid, eyes wide. Once they can breathe again, they encircle her. 'What can I do for my thighs?''How can I get more defined?' 'Are you some kind of champion?' Responding with a crooked grin and Cockney accent, Andrulla holds court: Train harder, squat deep and eat clean, she tells them. Finally, she looks at her oversize Cartier watch and says, 'I really must find some shoes now.' We move on to the next store. The response is the same. Wherever she goes, Andrulla attracts a hypnotized swarm.
Training without ego, Ms. Lightweight O might not pay much attention to the numbers she presses, but others do. 'When Andrulla trains, she scares most men out of the gym,' veteran champ Mike Matarazzo told the Internet. 'I trained with her a couple of times, and she actually pushed me. I hate to say it'she's stronger than I am in a couple of exercises.' In her self-produced video, 'Pumping and Posing in Venice,' Andrulla performs a warmup set of incline presses with 110-pound dumbbells. With unbridled relish she cleans the 'bells and breezes them up. One, two, three, four'once she hits 10, I stop counting. Then I begin to hurt for her. But Andrulla doesn't wince. Nor does she bother to count.
If iron is Andrulla's livelihood, it's also her Kryptonite. 'I'm very allergic to iron; I get a rash when I touch it, so I must wear gloves in the gym,' she says. Another pea for this unlikely princess is the amount of animal flesh she must consume, especially on leg day, when her thighs exceed her waist measurement (27 inches and 25 inches, respectively). 'How I wish I could bodybuild without having to eat so many animals,' she muses. 'I feel guilty eating these innocent little creatures.' Last year Andrulla found herself in a restaurant that offered live lobsters in a display tank. She bought them all and took them to a nearby bay. 'I just couldn't bear seeing them like that,' she recalls. 'Their claws were cinched in rubber bands, and they knew they were going to be killed'you could see it in their eyes. But now that I think of it, I probably killed them when I released them in that warm water!'
Although she nourishes her 5'2' frame with big ocean fish, the 34-year-old tends a tank of the smaller variety in her home. 'I love my fish,' she says. 'When I'm dieting, I watch them until I fall asleep. They're so calm and peaceful; I like to pretend I'm in the tank swimming with them.' To fulfill her fantasy, Andrulla took up deep-sea diving. 'Regardless of how I placed at the Olympia, I booked a diving trip in the Cayman Islands as a treat for myself,' she says. 'Winning the Olympia was not as important as my journey to it.'
After the contest Andrulla spent some time in Venice, California, at the Marina-Pacific Hotel. To help her prepare for an early morning photo shoot for IRONMAN, she invited me over the day before 'for a pot of tea and a chat.' In her suite, candles burned everywhere, their flames leaping in the blast of an air conditioner, which was blowing full bore. 'I run hot,' she said apologetically, clicking off the cooler. She moved to a desk laden with art supplies. 'I have a thing for drawing trees,' she said, indicating her current project: a massive botanical composition anchored by wildly articulated roots and birds twittering in the canopy above. The vision was grand, familial and straight out of Disney. The only thing missing was a musical score. 'Oh, they're here,' she cooed excitedly, rushing to the balcony to greet some hungry pigeons. She clutched a bowl filled with what looked like birdseed. 'I like to feed the birds wherever I go,' she said, scattering seed.
Who is this person? I asked myself, Ms. Olympia or Snow White? I waited for one of the birds to land on her finger.
There was a knock at the door. Sonny Schmidt had just flown in from Australia and heard that the new Ms. O was in his hotel, a few rooms down. Andrulla greeted him respectfully, seating him at the kitchen table. Then she brought the broad Polynesian the same stuff she gave the birds'a bowl of seeds and nuts mixed with chunks of various protein bars. Sonny brushed the bowl away; his eyes scanned her physique. '45-25-35,' he calculated correctly. Schmidt then took a deep breath and blurted, 'I'll pay you $2,000 plus all expenses to pose at my show.' The queen didn't move. Schmidt doubled his offer and, still, Andrulla said nothing. Finally, he slapped his flank. 'Dammit, I'll pay you as much as I'm paying Ronnie'$10,000'and that's my final offer.' Andrulla at last smiled. 'I'll have to check my schedule,' she said, rising to answer the phone.
It was Chris Cormier. 'Let me get back to you, Chris,' she said lightly. As soon as she depressed the receiver, it rang again. 'Oh, Nasser, I want to see you too,' she said emphatically. 'Let me call you back.' She turned to her company. 'Male bodybuilders really like me.'
ALLLet me explain, if it's not already obvious. For starters, Andrulla's feminine (her favorite color is soft pink) and graced with animal magnetism. But perhaps it's her candor and intellectual courage'expressed in both word and deed'that draw people to her. If you ask Andrulla about supplements, she'll give you a laundry list of favorites. Likewise, if you ask her about drugs, she's likely to give you a straight answer. 'People aren't stupid,' she observed. 'They know what's going on, and I'm not going to insult them with a fib.'
She's equally blunt about her breast implants. 'I've had to have four separate surgeries to correct the problems incurred with the first operation,' she recalled. 'Although I requested above-the-muscle implants, the doctor decided to put them under my pec muscles. It was agony for me. Muscles just aren't made to have things jammed into them.'
The teapot empty, we left the hotel for Gold's Gym, where Andrulla turned off her cell phone, pulled her hair into a ponytail and started stretching. After 10 minutes of frog squats and yoga postures, she went to the squat rack and loaded the bar. Balancing it on her back, she sank her hips all the way to her heels. Ten reps later she was in a trance. She didn't talk, joke or smile at anyone. Come to think of it, Andrulla didn't moan either, or yell or grimace. Instead, she held her face passive, tensing only the target muscles. As soon as she stopped, a man walked up to her. 'It's about time we had a champion who looked good,' he told her. Andrulla nodded her thanks and went back to work.
Not surprisingly, Andrulla has her own training forms, having added a personal twist to almost every exercise. Take leg extensions, for example. She actually lifts her hips off the seat and uses her descending bodyweight to raise the weight, which, she said, spares wear and tear on her knee joints. Nor does she flex her foot at the point of full contraction. 'That would impact my lower quad, and I don't want that right now,' she said, her hips rising and falling.
One barometer for assessing the genetics of an athlete is the frequency and volume of his or her training'how much does he or she need to train in order to peak? In Andrulla's gifted case frequency sits behind volume; she trains each bodypart only about once every nine or 10 days. 'I experimented with my routine for years,' she explained, 'and discovered that my body likes to train the same year-round'heavy but with lots of recovery time.' For cardio she simply walks. Genetically speaking, this makes her an anomaly. 'She's a panther now,' observed IM publisher John Balik, 'and weighing less will just make her look like a cheetah.'
The talky titan has a plan to help refresh women's bodybuilding. 'I want to see bodybuilding become a world event. We need to get Joe Public involved; we need more people to start training. All we have to do is take their fears away. Bodybuilding will not make them look ugly. It will make them look and feel more beautiful and attractive. From there our industry will grow. Trade will naturally increase, and we'll have more people entering our sport with many more opportunities to offer them.'
She tells me this while barreling down the 405 freeway at 4:30 in the morning headed for our photo shoot. She's following me in a Jaguar, driving on what's for her the opposite side of the street. With one hand Andrulla holds a cell phone, with the other she adjusts the global guidance machine, confirming our destination. Is she overwhelmed by the unfamiliar? Does she want to slow down, I ask her? 'I'm fine,' she assures me. 'I'm still only using half my brain. And besides, I'm multi-task.'
Editor's note: To contact Andrulla Blanchette for professional appearances, send e-mail to her at www.andrulla.com. IM