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Nationals Bouquet—Fit Flowers Murrell, Smith and Anderson Take Top Titles

862rb2379The NPC National Bodybuilding, Figure and Bikini Championships, which took place this weekend, November 20 and 21, in Hollywood, Florida, produced an exceptionally good-looking crop of winners in the women’s divisions. I say exceptionally because the big two Ss—symmetry and stage presence—took the spotlight across the board, with shining stars-in-the-making emerging in women’s bodybuilding as well as figure and bikini. Take a look at new the new National Overall champs—heavyweight  Kris Murrell in bodybuilding, E-classer Mindy Smith in figure and E-classer Jessica Anderson in bikini—and see if you don’t agree.

Astoundingly, there were 73 women bodybuilders at the annual Steve Karel–produced event. I say astoundingly because the women’s numbers at this show, which lingered in the 40s during the mid-to-late ’90s, going as low as 42 in 1997, have been creeping upward for the past few years. The speculation was that the introduction of bikini would lead to all the muscular stops being pulled out by the female flexers, but in fact the opposite has happened. Not only are the numbers growing, but the lineup at the Nationals was packed with newcomers who did not appear to be on course to become huge hunks of mass.

Credit the NPC for that. Perhaps not everyone has noticed, but the organization has made good on its promise of a few years back that it would henceforth be rewarding a more restrained approach to female muscularity—and the judges have stuck to their guns on the lower levels of competition as well as the pro qualifiers. Plus they’ve been quietly encouraging women who have proved a bit too muscular for figure to transition into bodybuilding. The 73 women who got onstage in Florida, including quite a few who qualify as veteran flexers, reflected the favorable results of those efforts.


Murrell, who has a charismatic presence onstage and in front of a photographer’s lens, has been an if-she-could-only-come-in-sharper contender for three or four years. When I saw the heavyweight comparisons, with Kris and the potential-laden Monique Jones standing on either side of Amber DeFrancesco, I thought the judges would give it to Amber. After all, she was shredded, and she points her toe like a ballerina.

And I would have loved for Amber to win it—she’s from my hometown of Pittsburgh—but Murrell had truly brought it. The full muscles and improved conditioning everyone said Kris needed to win were present and accounted for, and I found myself hoping that her improvements and dues paid would carry the day. It’s always nice when the panel agrees with me. Amber, who appears destined for a pro card of her own sooner rather than later, had to settle for second.



The rest of the class winners were also symmetry-and-proportion-is-everything types. Middleweight Nicole Berg and light heavyweight Lisette Acevedo are newcomers to the pro-qualifying ranks, while lightweight winner Lori Steele is a former figure competitor. All got pro cards. It’s a trend I can live with.

862rb2948Seventy-three bikini contestants and 183 figure entries (my count from the lists of those who actually got onstage) made this year’s Nationals one huge contest for the ladies. As I mentioned, the overall winners in those divisions were also stunners. Figure champ Mindy Smith earned the judges’ highest regard in only her second NPC contest, having qualified for the Nationals a few weeks ago at the NPC Sacramento. She’s hardly a newbie, however, having previously polished her presentation in the proverbial “other organization.”

Bikini victor Jessica Anderson started in figure but generated serious buzz when she switched to the new bikini division this year. Clearly, she’s got that special something, but she’s got something else as well—what we in the wacky world of physique competition call areally  good structure, a feature that not all the special-something ladies who qualified for the pros in bikini this year can claim.

862rb1243IFBB pro cards went to the six height-class winners in figure and bikini. In figure they included, in addition to Smith, Kimberle Trowbridge (A-class), Kathleen Tesori (B), Ava Cowan (C), Taylor Gallagher (D) and Holly Beck (F). In bikini the group, was Tina Gosby (A), Erica Reder (B), Alea Suarez (C), Tianna Ta (D), Anderson and Stephanie Lindsey (F).

To find gallery from the ’09 NPC National Bodybuilding, Figure and Bikini Championships, click here.

All photos by Roland Balik, @2009 (from top):

Kris Murrell brought it to Florida.

First callout for the heavies: Murrell, Amber DeFrancesco and Monique Jones.

Class winners Lori Steele, Nicole Berg and Lisette Acevedo.

Figure overall champ Mindy Smith had a fast ride to the IFBB pro ranks.

Bikini Overall champ Jessica Anderson has that special something—and I don’t just mean her  structure.

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