2014 World Championships
Team UK is back, and bigger than ever!
Report by Lee Kemp
Photos by Jordan Chabinski
After an incredibly successful 2014 which has literally flown by like no other year for the UKDFBA, we found ourselves ready to fly across the Atlantic once more on our latest outing as a team to the biggest event in the Worldwide Natural Bodybuilding calendar, the INBF/WNBF Worlds. Our destination once again was the beautiful city of Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
On a rainy and bleak Thursday morning, all bar one of the expected team members and our ten strong group of supporters assembled at Dublin Airport (taking advantage of the customs clearing facilities there to avoid the draining wait at Boston we endured last year) having flown in from various parts of the UK with Helen Stack and Jeremy Faulks awaiting us “on the other side”, having gone out a day earlier. As we boarded our final flight to the states, sadly without Daniel Jackson who had a delayed flight in from Edinburgh that meant he had missed us and would arrive on the next flight in to Boston 5 hours after us. Disappointed not to have had Dan with us, but excited and nervous for the journey (not sure if I mentioned before, but I’m not a fan of flying…) and weekend ahead. Before we knew it we were on the ground in New England and boarding an authentic yellow school bus for our onward trip to our apartments in downtown Boston which were absolutely stunning, set in a 6 storey “brownstone” on Beacon Street, right on the corner of the beautiful Boston Common with its famous George Washington statue and a short walk away from possibly the Worlds most famous bar, “Cheers”. A quick trip to the supermarket later during which what seemed like most of the poultry and bottled water in the whole of the city were bought, Team UK was home and settled for the weekend.
In the lead up to the contest itself, the hospitality shown to us by the new owners of the WNBF was incredible and truly showed how valued our team is to these championships. From the affiliates meeting Thursday night to the personal visit to our apartments by Bob Bell and Dave Goodin on the Friday morning to the pandemonium which was the Friday night athlete meetings everything was as professional as could be. Throughout this time, it was a pleasure to catch up with fellow overseas affiliates and also to meet a number of our new US based WNBF Colleagues and see how the already huge association has grown so considerably since the change of ownership earlier this year.
In the midst of this, the team themselves kept busy with putting the finishing touches to their prep which included a visit to Golds for a final workout and as customary settled into their respective sub groups for the weekend. And before we knew it, show day had arrived!
On the day of the contest itself, we were only a couple of blocks away from the venue, the beautiful John Hancock Theatre at the Back Bay Events Centre which made for a short but very pleasant walk on what was a very cold Saturday morning. This was for me the most prestigious venue of any of the Worlds I had been to, and was a sign that today would be an incredible contest. With over 240 athletes in total ready to hit the stage it was also going to be an incredibly long contest! By 9am, the whole team and their supporters were in place ready to cheer on the first of our athletes and once again formed the loudest and most enthusiastic support group of the whole contest. And from that first athlete to the last, here’s how they fared...
Pro Women’s Fit Body – Lucy Walton
As Lucy and the ten other ladies in her class took the stage I was probably almost as nervous as she was. This was the first time we as an association had ever granted a Fit Body pro card to an athlete, and I was keen to be reassured that we had done the right thing by Lucy and hadn’t “thrown her to the wolves” as the Pro Fitbody athletes in the WNBF are notoriously good, and almost as muscular as the Female Bodybuilders. Within seconds, it was apparent that Lucy was well in the mix in this class and would soon be pulled towards the middle of the line up where she was compared with defending champ Robyn Mays and the awesome Charina Fargeson, making her WNBF debut and looking for her third Pro World title of the year. Lucy gave as good as she got in the comparisons, and by then end of the judging was in our eyes headed for a top three finish. At the finals, this was confirmed as Marcia Lopez and Tania Williams took fifth and fourth, leaving Lucy in third spot behind the unseated champ Mays and now undisputed World Champion Fargeson. An absolutely superb pro debut for Lucy, and her clear ability to step straight up to this level and challenge for the top spot indicates that this title is well within her reach.
Pro Women’s Bodybuilding, Lightweight - Suzanne Stirland
Our next athlete and fellow Pro Debutante was Suzanne Stirland. Suzanne just made the cut for the division at the weigh in the day before (with all of the pro weight divisions being decided by weighing all of the athletes then splitting them into equally sized groups as opposed to having pre-set divisions), and must have been the heaviest in the class. More nervous than most on the team, and genuinely believing prior to the show that competing as a pro was some sort of surreal prospect that Suzanne herself was unsure she was ready for. But like Lucy before her, it soon became apparent that Suzanne wasn’t only ready to compete at this level but would be one of the front runners in the class. Drawn towards the centre of the line straight away, she ended up compared to last 2013 winner and runner up Kristin Fonseca and Irhasette McClean who much like last year engaged in their own contest for first and second and in all honesty wouldn’t be touched by anyone else in the class today. To my eyes, Suzanne was too heavily muscled and complete for eventual fourth and fifth finishers Sheila Zitano (who was fifth last year behind Suzanne’s old foe and fellow WNBF Professional Nicky Fogarty) and Ruth Hushour. After a spirited night show performance, she claimed an amazing bronze medal finish behind the same top two as last year, and finished an amazing year of two amateur national titles with her best performance yet. Long serving veteran UK pro Marina Cornwall placed ninth in her usual great shape.
Pro Women’s Bodybuilding, Heavyweight - Helen Stack
Helen Stack now took the stage with no such reservations on whether she was up to the task of tackling the Worlds top professionals. This lady had one goal in mind, and that was to attempt to regain the World title she won in 2012, and so narrowly slipped from her grasp last year. Looking just as conditioned, and bigger and fuller than last year it was clear Helen had left nothing to chance for this contest. In the best ever ten Woman line up, it once again became apparent that the front runners would be Helen, defending champion Cathy Vail and Yorton Cup, Gaspari Pro champion and NPC national level physique athlete Erin Duggan. It was a tough and incredibly close contest between the three, with all of the ladies too evenly matched to sensibly split from anywhere other than the judges table where in all honesty the only truth can ever be seen. Helen presented herself in the composed and confident way she has come to develop over her career, and did all she could to impress the judges. At the finals a return to World Champion status was not to be however, as Helen took a superb third place with Vail herself being unseated by the rock hard and heavily muscled Duggan. A true World class athlete, Helen took the placing gratefully and will be back.
Pro Men, Middleweight - Derek Brettell
Facing a true baptism of fire in his Worlds debut was overall International winner Derek Brettell. In a line-up of twelve of the scariest looking natural bodybuilders I had ever seen, it was a pleasure to see Derek hold his own right from the off. Not the heaviest muscled or hardest conditioned, but with a stunningly beautiful aesthetic shape and near perfect balance he easily separated himself from the tail end of the pack and end up in a tough battle with Rich Krol, Gerry Ruck and Justin Baker to decide who would take the last of the top five slots, with the first four places being in a separate sub-group of their own. The battle for the title was eventually won by Cleveland Thomas, narrowly defeating defending overall champ Shevon Cunningham with last years Lightweight runner up Levi Burge (who unluckily missed the lightweight cut by a pound and would almost certainly have won that class at a canter) third and the amazing Jeff Alberts fourth. The aforementioned battle for fifth was won by Justin baker, who was just too big to be denied. Derek landed in eighth spot today, which he was and should have been immensely proud of. As he adds size and density to his physique he will climb the ranks and find himself in the medals in the not too distant future.
Pro Men, Heavyweight - Stefan Kuruc
Another 12 man line-up of epic proportions with some huge men featured including defending champion Tchabe, 2011 World Amateur Heavyweight Champ Evan Godbee from Australia and our own Worlds rookie Stefan Kuruc, the recently crowned Heavyweight and Overall UK Champion amongst others. Coming off the back of his third place at the Pro UK International and in probably the best condition in this class we had no doubts that Stefan too would hold his own at this level. Again though, the standard was just too much on this occasion for a top five slot to be realistic in a class which saw the 2013 winner relegated to runner up spot by the UKs own Chris Nsubuga who was in the absolute best shape I have ever seen him in and was overjoyed to have reached the pinnacle of the sport with his win. Stefan was far from lost in the line-up though and once he adds more size to the great shape, narrow waist and incredible condition he displayed today will too add a top 5 placing to his CV without doubt. Every aspect of his game was the epitome of professionalism and it was a pleasure to get to know this quiet, unassuming but intelligent man who is rich beyond belief in life experience and so wise with his outlook on the sport. Athletes like this are what Team UK is all about and Stefan is welcome to don our colours whenever he chooses.
Amateur Teens - Kurtis Fergusson
With the Pro Athletes done and dusted, it was time for the bulk of Team UK to do their thing in the amateur divisions.
Kurt would make his international debut in a tough and evenly matched yet small class of two against Swiss National Champion Enis Rexhepi. It was disappointing that the healthy number of teen athletes from the previous weekends event just a few miles away had decided not to contest the Worlds but I have no doubt the two Europeans would have made the top two even if they had. Just as hard and well presented as his UK win, and presented with flair and enthusiasm, Kurtis lost a very close decision to the slightly heavier muscled Swiss athlete. The experience of competing at this level and as part of a team will be invaluable to Kurtis at this stage of his career and I have no doubts he will return to the Worlds in years to come.
Amateur Juniors - Dylan Manokore
A ridiculous standard of competitor in this nine strong division required the 2-time UK Champ to be at his very best to be competitive. The class was won by American Ryan L’Ecuyer (who placed third behind Gavin Gibson and Sebastian Stitz in the amateur Light Heavies 2 years ago at only 21 years old) who also took the Heavyweight Mens division, with last years Swiss winner Eder Oliviera relegated to third. Dylan pushed the top five, but unable to reproduce the conditioning he had back in September, was just squeezed out of the trophies and into sixth by another Swiss competitor, Damian Swita. Dylan was disappointed but again will learn a lot from this contest and be back better than ever in future I’m sure.
Amateur Women’s Bodybuilding - Nicola Joyce
The defending World Amateur Champion locked horns with Americans Amy Schaefer and Natalie Lynch in an interesting three way contest where Lynch had the mass and shape, Schaefer the condition and Nicola a little less of each, but the most impressive all round package of the three with the least weaknesses comparatively. It was enough today to give her a pretty conclusive win and her second World title with which both she and her team mates were overjoyed. I know that Pro status is the goal for Nicola, and with an automatic Pro Card not on offer here due to the minimum 5 athletes not being present, she really needed to be at the next level to have been offered one in terms of her size and conditioning. Nicola knows where she needs to be to realise her goal, and with another year under her belt can be at the required level.
Amateur Mens Physique – Simon Kennedy
Simon lined up with eight others to contest the title, and at first glance looked along with Tyler Annett of the USA to be a stern challenge for eventual winner Manuel Guyer of Switzerland who in reality was unbeatable today. Simon, a little harder than some of the others in the line-up and well developed in the legs which he had no qualms in displaying and not hiding behind baggy shorts was to me the epitome of what this class should represent. Come the finals though, and a confusing (but taking nothing away from the achievement, very creditable and not to be sniffed at on this level) fifth place came Simons way. In the best shape he could have been in today and giving it his all on stage he was a credit to himself and to his team and enjoyed his first overseas experience immensely.
Amateur Grandmasters Men – Richard Walker and Robert Rodney
In the only class of the day to boast 2 team members, it was not just a quest for the title for each of the men, but a quest to either turn the tables from September or keep the other at bay. Of the eight men to contest the class, it looked to me that the win would go by a narrow but sufficiently conclusive margin to Swiss Michael Frauchiger who was tall, wide, imposing and in rock hard condition with our guys battling for the other top three placings. Richard, in better shape than at the UK (if it was even possible he could have been) went at it hard and was closer matched with Rob here than he was there due to Rodney’s slightly softer condition at this contest. The rematch between the two split opinion with many on the team with most feeling that Walker had tipped the odds in his favour this time, but once again the result came down in favour of the UK Champ Rob who took a very narrowly won runner up spot with Rich in third.
Amateur Masters Men – Dr Ian Hendy
After being forced to decline his invitation to compete in last years Worlds due to work obligations, Ian had made the UK title and a place on this team his priority all year and he strode onstage proud, confident and intent on claiming this title for his own against eight other men, including 2011 winner and 2012 runner up Martin Portner of Switzerland, who came back every bit as thickly muscled and ripped as he was on those two occasions. It soon became a two man race, with Steven Higgins looking to be (and eventually placing) third as Ian and Martin engaged in an evenly matched battle with Portner having a little more thickness in the upper body but Hendy being harder (and ripped to shreds at that) and a little better from the back. To the roars of his team mates and the emotional tidal wave of years of hard graft bearing the ultimate fruit, the Doc was crowned World Champion over a respectfully disappointed Portner and with it the offer of WNBF Pro Masters status. Ian never stopped smiling from that moment until the second we parted company at the airport and I’ll bet he still has a grin on his face now as he thinks of that moment. It was amazing to watch his utter elation at lifting the title and a sight that will stay with me for a long time.
Amateur Mens Open Bantamweight – Stuart McCulloch
After a long awaited UK title win, Stu was in equally as formidable shape for his first crack at a World Championship. He needed to be, as he walked onstage straight into a head to head battle for the title with 3DMJ trained Carl Nelson, who had dropped down to the division after placing fourth as a lightweight in 2013. Stu was harder than Nelson, and cut beyond belief with striated Glutes and clearly separated Hamstrings with a shrink wrapped mid-section. Carl was not quite as cut and slightly top heavy but was huge and full muscled in the upper body with particularly impressive Pec development. It would be a fight to the finish, but Nelson was just a little too big for Stuart in the end and took the World title leaving the Scotsman in second place with which he was very happy.
Amateur Mens Open Lightweight – Damian Lees
Fresh from his runner up spot in 2013 and hungry to bag the title which eluded him that year, the 2-time UK champion had literally lived for this day since the second he stepped offstage in Worcester 12 months ago. Among the eight men he would face today he would find old foe Patrick Reiser of Switzerland who took third behind Damian last year and last years Bantamweight winner Oliviera who had just missed weight for his normal division at registration. Although a fraction off the condition he displayed last time, Damian (with all due respect) tore through the rest of the line-up and with his superior size and balance brushed aside Oliviera until it came down to an apples vs oranges contest between him and Reiser. Reiser too was not as hard as last years showing, although bigger and fuller in the Chest Delts and Arms. However, this only served to widen the imbalance between his upper and lower body and more so from the back where Damo was complete and conditioned. After a few rounds of comparisons and a vastly superior free posing display it was general consensus amongst most that Team UK had a new World Champion waiting to be crowned. As the results were announced and Lees was handed the runner up spot to Reisers win, there was (with due respect to the winner) disbelief both in the crowd and backstage. Damian took it in his stride though and was gracious in defeat, vowing to return and not be denied a third time. The respectful and sportsmanlike manner he accepted his placing is testament to and indicative of his status as a genuine World level athlete and Pro in waiting.
Amateur Mens Open Middleweight – Daniel Jackson
After a missed flight, a lengthy wait at Dublin (which is rumoured to have included a number of push ups in the departure lounge and an attempt at the World record for coffee consumption) Daniel arrived in Boston more determined than ever to wreak havoc onstage. And wreak havoc the rookie sensation did, presenting himself in incredible shape for a man in his first season of competition and only 25 years old. Massive Quads, Pecs, Delts and Arms with a tiny waist and rock hard abdominals, and vascularity so prominent that it could be seen from the back of the auditorium Daniel was staggeringly good. He still showed some novice like stage presentation traits, and is yet to bring his back to the level of the rest of his amazing physique but he was still good enough to draw gasps from the audience and envious stares from his fellow athletes backstage. All of his fellow athletes that is bar one, the amazing Alex Bewsey of Australia. Alex, a seasoned veteran (despite being only 22 years old) of both competitive bodybuilding and powerlifting had come to the contest to do business and didn’t allow the gargantuan Scotsman to unsettle him one little bit. A little softer than Daniel, but his equal in size and slightly superior in width and taper, it was another close battle for the top spot which I personally had going in the favour of the Aussie. This was to be the case, and deservedly (although not easily) the title went “Down Under” and Daniel took a well-earned and proudly accepted second place.
Mens Open Light Heavyweight – Alan Mack
Our final athlete of the day was reigning UK Champ Alan, who appeared here harder and drier than his showing 7 weeks previously and hungry to finish his year with a bang. Once again, the major battle in this ten man class was between our man and Swiss Heavyweight Champion Julian Strickler who had butted heads and dropped a close decision to Alan at the International back in September. It would be a different story today however as Julian was at his very best in terms of condition, and appeared full and relaxed when compared to Alan who looked a little drawn from the huge effort he had to put in to make the weight division after a weigh cut of nearly 30 kilos from the start of the year. Alan posed slickly and displayed his beautifully tapered upper body to its absolute best but as early as the judging I felt that Julian had taken his revenge today and for me would be the front runner in the overall if indeed he took the class win. Both men delivered superb routines (Alan in particular bringing the house down and receiving possibly the loudest reception of all of the amateur men) but it was to be Switzerland who boasted their second winner in the weight classes with a jubilant Strickler who took the class leaving a lifetime best Mack in the bridesmaids spot. The two men had clearly bonded over the last few months and were equally respectful towards each other at the decision and will undoubtedly now be friends for life following their two battles onstage.
A short time later, the aforementioned L’Ecuyer took the heavies without a UK representative to have a crack at him and for the first time in our 4 year history as affiliates and my 5 years attending these championships we were without a representative in the overall showdown, which was duly and deservedly won as predicted by an overjoyed Julian Strickler who took the monster trophy and title of Worlds number one amateur back to beautiful Switzerland.
By now it was close to 1am Sunday Morning, and we were so tired it was untrue. But there was one contest left to participate in that night and soon after arriving back at the brownstone, Team UK enthusiastically demolished two enormous pre ordered Cheesecake Factory favourites. As we ate and relaxed, the team once again presented me with a lovely and thoughtful card to show their appreciation and once again rendered me speechless and “almost” bought a tear to my eye.
But the truth is that it should be I who is appreciative. Appreciative that not only Team UK but all of our members and supporters give up so much to be a part of what we do, and that so many people place their faith in our association and trust us with their efforts and ambitions so unconditionally.
As we had a group photo taken together on the steps of our temporary home the following morning before all going our separate ways, Dave Stracey and I were proud and honoured to have dragged you across the Atlantic and into battle once more. Win, lose or draw we are Team UK, and we will always give it our best shot. See you next year for chapter five!