Monday, 15 September 2014

Treasures from the Archive: Ms Olympia Memories: Part I The Magazine Years

Can't say I remember too clearly what it was like having to follow the Ms Olympia a month (or two) after it had actually happened through the pages of Muscle & Fitness, Flex, Ironman and so on, but whenever I come across an image of Cory Everson with a big medal around her neck, flanked by one or both of the Weiders and/or one or both of the women who made up the top three that year, her arms held aloft, it invariably seems familiar, and takes me back to those early magazine years.

Then, as far as my teenage female muscle obsessive self was concerned anyway, the result was a given. The Ms Olympia was not so much a contest as the annual coronation of the most physically perfect woman in the world. And clearly that was Cory.

In those days you were never exactly starved of images of her to drool over (especially in Weider publications), but for me it was the pics of Cory on stage that were always the most drool-worthy, so the Olympia editions were prized possessions. The tan, the oil, the striations, the muscles, and, I particularly remember, the bikini bottoms so tight that I was forced to spend hours, possibly days, of my life just looking (slightly puzzled at that tender age) at whatever was making that shape between her legs!

But, of course, there were other women, and in those very early days Anja Langer was, I reckoned, probably the second most physically perfect woman in the world... The judges didn't see it my way (not for the last time) in 1987 (left, below) when she finished 4th, but in 1988 (right) Anja was runner-up to (of course!) Cory Everson.

These days, I'm convinced that the reason I've found myself reacting so positively to the Physique division (much more positively than I'd expected to when it was first announced) is largely because the aesthetic is so reminiscent of Anja's and the other female bodybuilders' at the time I first discovered my love of female muscle. Over 25 years later, it seems I'm still programmed to respond to this "classical" aesthetic.

And staying in those early years (but not in the sense that it was an image I saw in a magazine), a screencap of Gladys Portugues during her routine at the 1986 Ms Olympia. It was intended for posting earlier in the year when FMS explored The Agony & the Ecstasy experienced by female bodybuilders when prepping and competing.

Now I've seen women (and men) looking this deliriously happy before, but they tended to be in sweaty clubs set up in old railway arches in the late 1990s and all of them had ingested a substance whose effects gave it its name. I doubt Gladys had had any of that, nor that she looked so ecstatic because Jean-Claude had promised to buy her a dog. This is what pure, unadulterated, Olympian female muscle ecstasy looks like!

We return to my formative female muscle lovin' years with three of the most "exotic" (to a teenage boy in a London suburb anyway!) and, therefore, most exciting women I had the pleasure of seeing inside the covers of the magazines containing Olympia reports. Future Ms Olympia Juliette Bergmann (above left) seemed, I recall, almost impossibly beautiful, and was probably responsible for my eagerness to visit Holland - much more so than the more conventional attractions for a young man. Marie-Laure Mahabir (above right) seemed to be from a different planet altogether.

The months when pictures from the Olympia appeared in the magazines tended to be the only ones featuring European-based FBBs like Marie-Laure, and I guess because I had seen so few images of them it made them all the more exciting - they were more memorable because they were so rare. Their placing at the show was utterly irrelevant to me, though perhaps it did cross my mind how such a magnificently sensual creature like Claudia Profanter could possibly finish 14th (as she did in '91).

But while it may have been an advantage to be European to get Swell's attention (or maybe that should be to bring Swell to attention), it was by no means necessary. As my teenage years drew to a close, Denise Rutkowski's feline power and unforgettable gold bikini proved an irresistible combination. And, for the first time in my life, I was, actually, trying to resist the lure of female muscle in order to appear all normal and stuff as I left school and moved away to university.

[Incidentally, if you are the sort who likes to know how the FBBs of your youth are looking now I am honour-bound to warn you that YOU SHOULD NOT TRY TO FIND OUT WHAT DENISE RUTKOWSKI LOOKS LIKE NOW. I had the misfortune to see, and it is haunting me. Really. Trust me. DON'T.]

And though I regularly fell off the wagon, discovering the likes of Denise, Yolanda Hughes and Natalia Murnikoviene (above, left and right respectively) when I did, I think of that first effort at repressing my desire to view images of female bodybuilders as the end of "The Magazine Years". By the time I re-embraced my sthenolagnia in the late '90s, I didn't need to rely on the mainstream muscle magazines for my fix - there was Women's Physique World and, a bit later, Muscle Elegance. It's rather ironic (and quite fitting) then that I couldn't actually find a magazine scan of Yolanda at the Olympia from a muscle magazine, and instead had to use a WPW pic.

Oh, look! It's Cory winning again...

And I leave you for today with Denise Rutkowski as I would like to remember her, performing her (I think it's fair to say) LEGENDARY routine from 1993. She finished second, and by all accounts that I know of, should have won.

On this evidence, it's easy to see why people would have thought so.

(If you've already got the box of tissues in in preparation for the excitement of this Friday's 2014 meat-fest, now might be a good time to crack them open...)


More Ms O memories coming soon...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A History of FBBUK @Ms Olympia

Let's begin with a question.

How many British female bodybuilders have graced the Olympia stage?

I posed myself the same question before I began to research the post. Having made my own list, which included only the most obvious candidates - Andrulla Blanchette (of course!), Gayle Moher, Carolyn Cheshire, Paula Bircumshaw, and Joanna Thomas I was sure about. And I reckoned Joanne Lee must have competed. Reasoning that the lack of names on my list was probably due to my own ignorance rather than the fact that only these six women had represented my country in the 35 years of the Ms Olympia, I was absolutely convinced that I would find more.

I did. But only TWO.

The answer to the question, then, is eight. And here are ALL of them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, FMS proudly presents...


CAROLYN CHESHIRE 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 & 1985

The very first female bodybuilder I ever laid eyes on, and the sole British woman to appear at the very first Ms Olympia in 1980. Her best finish was 7th in her fourth appearance in 1983. No other British woman has more Olympia appearances than Carolyn, and it wouldn't be until eight years after her sixth and final appearance that the second British woman to compete at the Olympia stepped onto the stage. Such facts kind of put the magnitude of Carolyn's achievements into perspective, don't they?

You can watch Carolyn posing at the 1981 World Championships on You Tube, and those of you with time on your hands might like to play the 'Spot Carolyn Cheshire in Pumping Iron II' game. A 'like new' copy of her book, Body Chic, is still available to buy on ebay, and as of about two years ago she was still offering personal training via her delightfully old school website. And while we're on the subject of 'old skool'...

And, like the proverbial London bus, you wait eight years for a British female bodybuilder to appear at the Ms Olympia, then THREE come along at once!



If you were in Britain in the late '80s and early '90s, you were aware of Kimberley-Ann Jones, even if you didn't know her name. If, like me, you did know her name then you probably also enjoyed walking past the VW and Virgin ads on billboards, at bus stops, tube stations and so on. Then there was her video, On the Wild Side, with her chained up and in sort of bondage gear on the cover (some years before Muscle Elegance began). For a while, my route to work took me past her Catford gym, Skyline, my femuscle radar always set to maximum as I went by (I never saw her). She retired the year after this one and only Ms Olympia appearance and, as far as I know, still has the gym and is still looking as good (if not better) than she was 20 years ago.


Loretta Lomax is almost certainly the least well-known of Britain's Olympians. From, I believe, the North-West of England, her late '80s to early '90s career was relatively short. She did compete at the Jan Tana in 1992 and 1993 as well as at the Olympia, although her best international showing was at the 1991 IFBB Italian Grand Prix - those were the days, IFBB pro female bodybuilding in Europe! - where she finished 5th, ahead of Debbie McKnight, Sandra Blackie and Janet Tech.

Like Andrulla Blanchette, Loretta was a martial artist before she was a bodybuilder. Apparently, she was a second grade black belt in karate, and in this guest posing routine from 1991, her athleticism, balance and flexibility are clearly evident. Watch and you'll no doubt end up, as I did, wishing that there was more (much more) of Loretta around for us to enjoy and remember her by. A very VERY sexy lady.

Watch a shorter guest posing clip here.


Is it a disadvantage to be the last to present your routine? asks the male commentator on my copy of the 1993 Ms Olympia evening show. Not if you have a package like Paula Bircumshaw, replies co-commentator Carla Dunlap. Trouble is, Paula was presenting her undeniably awesome package at a time when judges seemed obsessed with rewarding the so-called "more feminine look". A couple of years earlier Paula had finished 4th at the Jan Tana, but after the debacle at the 1992 Ms International (see FMS passim), she never placed in the top 10 at an IFBB pro show again.

If she had been competing at any time in the last ten or fifteen years it's not inconceivable that Paula would have been challenging Yaxeni, Iris et al for the top titles. She was, unfortunately, a victim of the prevailing IFBB climate, but her place as a fan favourite remains as firm as ever 20 years after she hung up her posing suit. Class, it seems, is permanently remembered. And better still, you'll be pleased to know that these days, Paula's winning competitons - even if it is on horseback - check it out!

Sadly, none of these British female bodybuilders at the Ms Olympia in 1993 ever competed at the contest again, but the period 1995 to 2001 was something of a golden age for UK female muscle, at least as far as the Ms O was concerned. With British women competing at every Olympia during that period, this golden age culminated with Andrulla Blanchette's win in 2000 and, in 2001, the second (and so far only other) occasion when three FBBs from the UK competed together at the show.


JOANNE LEE 1995 & 1996

At 14, she was a county level athlete, encouraged to train with weights to strengthen her legs. Three years later she was competing as a bodybuilder. People ask me 'what did you look like before you started training' and the truth is I really don’t know, I’ve always trained. One of the blessings of my life is that I started so young, she says. Young enough to have turned pro in her 20s, competed for a few years at the highest level, and retired at the age of 30. Age will not wither her and all that!

Now Joanne is a sought-after personal trainer working out of the "Mecca" that is Gold's Gym in Venice, California. She is known for her nutritional expertise. My work changes lives, she says. For the last 20 years I have walked the walk and lived the program that I am proud to promote today. And Joanne is the best advert for that program, looking better than women half her age, though still not nearly as jaw-dropping as she did at her most muscular peak, we think you'll agree...


Hackney's greatest export and Britain's one and only Ms Olympia started training in the mid-80s as a means to improve her strength as a judoka. It was, apparently, obvious from the get-go that she had exceptional strength, and this enabled her body to develop so prodigiously that within a year she was the British Junior champion, and within three she was competing at European and World level. She turned pro in the early 1993 after winning her class (lightweight) at the World Games, and competed at the Ms International four times and at 6 Ms Olympias - equalling Carolyn Cheshire's number of appearances, but far surpassing Carolyn in terms of placings.

As much as Paula Bircumshaw was unfortunate to have been competing when she was, Andrulla had the good fortune to have been reaching her absolute peak just when weight clases were introduced. Consider this: at the 1999 Olympia she finished 7th, with 5 of the top 6 all giants (Chizevsky, Gates etc.). A year later, when Valentina Chepiga was crowned Heavyweight champ, Andrulla beat Brenda Raganot, Renee Casella, Cathy Le François and Jennifer McVicar to win the Lightweight title. It was the only occasion there was no overall posedown for the title. Would she have beaten Valentina? Maybe, maybe not. The point is, she didn't have to.

So, our only Ms Olympia was, in many respects, more than a touch lucky, but I don't want you to be in any doubt that I absolutely lurved (and still absolutely lurve) Andrulla. Look for a flaw in her magnificently muscled physique, and you'll be looking forever. Try to find a posing routine of hers that isn't artistic, powerful, unrelentingly sexy, and totally and utterly captivating - you'll never find one. She had it all, and quite simply was, and, for me at least, remains, the best of British. Our Queen!

There's plenty of Andrulla on You Tube, but sadly only one or two of her routines, and only one which is taken from the Olympia, and this one has no sound. But fear not, you can pay full tribute to the Queen thanks to Ozzy's Female Muscle blog! Andrulla's 1997 Ms O routine - with sound - AND Ozzy's own inimitable description of its effects on his younger self. I'm sure you will be able to relate to it, especially if you are, like me and Ozzy, of the female muscle on VHS generation. Ah, the memories!!!

GAYLE MOHER 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 & 2006

And at the same time as Andrulla was peaking towards Ms Olympia immortality, the most successful British professional female bodybuilder ever had emerged from the East of England to take top placings in US shows such as the Jan Tana: Gayle Moher.

Where Andrulla had been all frentic, funky and raw animal power, Gayle's posing had a much slower, more poised, almost balletic grace to it. And, generally speaking, it was a style the judges of the era liked. But her long and successful career was possible only because she effectively adopted the US as her home (and as far as I know she still does live in Arizona). By moving across the Atlantic she was able to compete so much more regularly than any British woman had before (or has since). But I'm not judging her success solely on the quantity of pro shows she entered. Between 2000 and 2005 she competed in 15 pro shows and never once finished outside the top 5, a record unrivalled by only a handful of other FBBs of the period from any country.

JOANNA THOMAS 2001, 2004

And so we come to the last of our British Olympians (the last to make her debut, anyway, if not the last to compete at the Big Show). If you've seen it, you will probably never forget Joanna Thomas' 2004 Barbie Girl routine (why would you want to?). And if you haven't, you should probably watch it right now (click here!!!).

An asthmatic child, Joanna became interested in bodybuilding as a teenager, and at 22 was the EFBB British champion. A few years later and she had a pro card, and was finishing 10th in the lightweight class at the Ms Olympia. Like Gayle Moher, she decamped to the USA and stayed, using those Barbie Girl assets to become one of the most photographed female bodybuilders in the world over the next few years. That routine you have just (re)watched helped to earn her a fourth place Olympia finish in what must be the highest quality lightweight field ever. It proved to be the high point of a pro career that promised much, but never quite got there. Like Paula Bircumshaw, she was in the right place but at the wrong time, a 5'3" FBB reaching her peak just as the weight classes disappeared from competition. 2004 was her second and most successful appearance at the Olympia, but also, sadly, it was her last.

So, the 2014 Ms Olympia will mark the eighth year since Gayle Moher's last appearance there in 2006, the longest period without British participation since the contest began in 1980. And it's not getting any easier for UK female bodybuilders to make it there. Gone are the IFBB shows held outside the USA that qualified winners for the Big Show, meaning that British women with Olympian dreams have to travel to the States to compete in the handful of pro shows there. In 2014, apart from Lisa Cross (who made her pro debut in Tampa), only Wendy McCready made the trip, achieving a creditable 8th place finish in Toronto and an even better 6th place in Omaha, neither of these placings gaining her a single Olympia qualification point.

I hope I'm wrong, but it seems to me that despite Wendy's Olympian efforts, it's highly unlikely that this very exclusive eight-woman club of British female bodybuilders will be getting a new member any time soon unless they are prepared to follow the Moher-Thomas blueprint of, to all intents and purposes, 'becoming' American. It's a sad thought, but one which makes all of these eight British Olympians seem even more special and worthy of remembering. National treasures, every one of them.