Nearly 400 females tried their best to nab a coveted trophy at the Arnold Amateur NPC Championships in Columbus, Ohio last March. Up for grabs were titles in NPC Bikini, Figure and Fitness. For many, it wasn't just about having the eye on the top prize, but also about the chance to be on the internationally famous Veterans Memorial Auditorium stage, where Arnold Schwarzenegger and other icons in the industry had trod before.
Bob Lorimer, co-producer of the Arnold Amateur IFBB International Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure & Bikini Championships, explains the unique quality of the Arnold Amateur: "Our show is an international event that generates international exposure for our athletes. There is not an amateur show out there that gets as much coverage internationally as the Arnold Amateur. In addition, amateur athletes want to not only compete on the same stage on the same weekend as the best professionals in the world, but they also know that if they win our show, they will get an invite to return the next year to compete in our pro events. No other contest does that and it definitely helps us attract the best amateur competitors in the world."
The Arnold Amateur NPC Bikini competition - the "new kid" on Arnold's block - got a huge boost with the announcement in late February that the 2011 Arnold Sports Festival would host its first-ever IFBB Bikini International professional contest alongside the long-running Fitness and Figure International shows. The overall winner of the Arnold Amateur Bikini title would receive an automatic invitation to the 2011 Bikini International show, provided she wins her IFBB pro card later in the year. The prospect of competing in the inaugural Bikini International show certainly showed on stage, as the number of competitors increased nearly threefold, from 28 in 2009 to 89 in 2010.
There had been a lot of social-networking hype over the last few months about the Bikini contest at this year's Arnold Amateurs. After all, many competitors had competed in some of the NPC's regional shows and were looking forward to the idea of being a part of the prestigious Arnold family of competitors. As Cathy Savage, of Cathy Savage Fitness, explains, "Preparing for this event was fun for my girls as it kicked off the new 2010 season. It's exciting to see each girl make her mark in this new division and help mold the desired ‘look' for NPC bikini. While many of them are bikini veterans from other organizations, the excitement of the Arnold legacy and phenomenon is something that raises the bar for every competitor. You could see the excitement in their eyes while on stage!"
There had even been a large number of last-minute entries by competitors who were training just for the Arnold Expo itself, and, as the contest date neared, clearly felt comfortable that they might actually have the "look" that judges wanted.
Head Arnold Amateurs judge, Gary Udit, was satisfied with the contest's results. "The Bikini division is quickly going the way the way that the Figure division did when it was first implemented," says Udit. "The number of competitors is growing quickly and the judging is getting more consistent with each event." Judging from the large increase in competitors and the enthusiastic crowd reactions, the Bikini show was a huge hit, and Lorimer himself was very pleased with the event. "The Arnold Amateur was absolutely fantastic this year and a success in every way," he says. "The bikini show, in particular, is the fastest-growing contest in the Amateur division. The quality of our competitors continues to improve every year and we are certain that all five of our [Amateur] overall winners will return to compete in our professional shows in 2011."
1st Place Short Class: Annette Perry
Once Annette Perry took to the stage, her pre-approved suit for preliminaries was slightly smaller than was envisioned by the coordinators. And while it did get her the added bit of attention she maybe didn't expect - she was told to do a quick switcheroo into a more (ahem!) conservative suit (meaning, one with a larger cut of bikini bottom) - Perry's rear end showing was all good and obviously did nothing to hurt her placing. She received first-place callouts and then was awarded the Short Class win. Later she fought for the Overall title, which was a tough lineup from Short, Medium and Tall winners - and she didn't get to string out her wins that far.
If Michelle Cagle, the Short Class runner-up to Perry, was disappointed, she didn't show it. The contest, said Cagle, "was an exhilarating experience. The energy and excitement from all the competitors backstage got me fired up to bring my best as I walked out on stage. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of the great girls."
1st Place Medium Class: Noemi Olah
Hungarian competitor Noemi Olah was the standout in her class - and not only because of her nearly silver-blonde hair: She is tall, willowy and has an absolutely angelic face. True, one could argue that she wasn't as "tight" as the two other class winners, but she had the grace, beauty and symmetry to give her the edge over all others in the Medium Class.
1st Place Tall Class and 2010 Overall Arnold Amateur Bikini Champion: Chady Dunmore
There were a few reasons why Chady Dunmore managed to capture first place in the Tall Division and then the Overall Arnold Amateur Bikini title. Other than her spot-on physique and her ability to convey a friendly personality on stage thanks to her beautifully at-ease smile, Dunmore's choice of suit was an absolute standout. Indeed, had the show merely been a competition of suits, she would have won. The result was a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind look that accentuated her physique, smile and personality, which helped propel her to the top spot. With her Arnold trophy in hand, she was euphoric: "It feels like I've won the lottery! I'm completely over the moon!"
While Dunmore's win clears the way for her to return to Columbus next year - as a pro, not an amateur - she's not sure yet of her competition plans for the coming year. "I'm still just absorbing the moment for now," she says.