2016 INBF/WNBF World Championships
On Thursday 17th November 2016, on yet another cold morning at Heathrow Airport Team UK came together for the sixth time for their journey across the Atlantic to contest the biggest prize in the sport. This time, there was an excitement in the air that we’d never experienced before not only as we completed the formalities of checking in and boarding but for the duration of the long 11 hours we would spend on the plane. That’s because this time we would be touching down in the Mecca of Bodybuilding itself, Los Angeles California!
For the first (and hopefully not the last) time, the Worlds would be hosted on the West Coast of the USA and where better than the very place that our beloved sport calls its epicentre. The buzz amongst the team was unreal as they all looked forward to stepping out on stage in 2 days’ time in the most iconic city in Bodybuilding. And what a team it was, comprising 11 of our recently crowned eligible Champions and 5 former champions and existing WNBF Professionals who we were honoured to have choose to be part of our team once again.
Logistically, this was the easiest Worlds we had been to with the host accommodation just a few miles from the airport and the venue, supermarkets and gyms all a short walk away and very welcoming to their visiting teams. The show itself was timely, brilliantly run and every bit the epitome of what a true World Championship event should be. It was an absolute privilege to be part of it all, and an opportunity of a lifetime for many of the team which we were honoured to have been able to give them. After a well-deserved night’s sleep, an early start to watch the California sun rise from the poolside fire pit before an enjoyable day of training, sunbathing and relaxing ahead of that evenings competitor meetings, it was time for the show. Here’s how it went down for each of the team members...
Pro Womens Bodybuilding – Suzanne Stirland and Yvette Arthur
Suzanne up first in the lightweight division against 8 other elite women including the defending champ Irhassette McClean, current Universe Champ and good friend Jorun Larsen of the Faroe Islands and Worlds stalwart and multi time medallist Kristen Fonseca as well as the lady who would eventually come out of the blue and take the title with a staggering physique Lisa Lum, who was huge, ripped and complete and would later take the Overall. Suzanne was as good as she’s ever been, well balanced and in great shape but today would miss out on a top 5 finish, placing just outside the medals in 6th Place after a great onstage battle.
Yvette took to the stage next in the Heavyweight division in her WNBF Pro debut. This phenomenal “rookie” athlete had torn through the amateur ranks in this her first year of competition and now found herself more than at home at this level in terms of the physique she bought to the stage. Probably the lightest in the class, she stood her ground well with the larger athletes and her trademark dense muscle and rock hard condition became her “equaliser” in overtaking a number of her opponents. Yvette later went on to crack the medals, taking a well-deserved fifth place as the legendary Cathy Vail took her umpteenth World Title ahead of a strong challenge from the huge Bridgett Annett. Fiercely competitive and hungry to climb the ladder, Yvette now has her sights set on that coveted top 3 spot and will be back.
Pro Mens Bodybuilding – Gordie Adam, Sam Watt and Richard Gozdecki
It was a little bit of a shame for all three of our Pro men to be contesting the same class, but at the same time a sight to behold as the rest of the team roared on our guys as they battled for their places in the final pecking order. At the mornings judging, all three men were in the mix as Richard and Sam were drawn into the centre with pre contest favourite Bada Lekan, and Gordie engaged in battle with Benny Mobley, Pierce Adams and Daniel Gildner for the remaining two medal positions.
Gordie was his best yet overall, showing a level of muscle thickness and fullness never seen previously. A fraction away from his best ever condition but still more impressive than ever, Gordie proved too much for Gildner in comparison and locked in battle with both Mobley and Adams at various points as the judges made their choices. To our eyes, Gordie looked good for 5th place with Mobley ahead of him and Pierce not quite enough to topple the two. However, the judges saw it differently and Big G didn’t quite make the top 5 this time, with Mobley 5th and Pierce 4th. Gordie was disappointed but sporting as he now goes “back to base” to draw up his plans for his next assault on the World stage.
In the battle for the top three, Sam made his Pro debut in his best shape yet. Huge, full and in his best ever condition this former World Champion powerlifter bought a physique to the stage that was a testament to years of hard graft. In the mix from the get go and locked in a tight battle with Bada who was equally huge, possibly a little better balanced and more aesthetic than Sam but not in the shape of his rival with his lower body and his back shots showing a little “blur” in conditioning throughout the prejudging rounds. Richard on the other hand seemed untouchable today. In harder condition than ever before but holding ample mass and fullness and with his notably aesthetically pleasing shape making him stand out from the line-up, Richard was front and centre for almost the entire judging and looked to have successfully reclaimed the title he had held in 2011 and 2012.
That evening, after great free posing routines from all but none more impressive than Richard who has amazing grace and stage presence for a big man, Sam tipped the balance away from Bada to claim the silver medal and “King” Richard was once again crowned Heavyweight Champion of the World much to the delight of all in attendance.
A short time later, Rich lined up against Lightweight winner Martin Ortiz and Middleweight Champ Raymond Miller for an overall which in reality could have gone any of the three ways without any major complaint. After several hard fought rounds of posing, the other two men were forced to concede defeat to Miller, who took his first Overall World title with an incredible amount of muscle, condition and shape on his compact frame.
Pro Bikini – Hayley Madigan
Making her Pro debut in this class was 2015 UK, International and World Amateur Champion Hayley. What a baptism of fire this was, as a total of 15 ladies fought for the crown with every one of them absolutely excellent. Reigning champ Leigha Hervey soon found herself drawn into the centre and looked a safe bet to retain her title with a lean, muscular and shapely overall package which could serve as a diagram for the criteria of this class.
Hayley was never out of place in the class and far from on the fringes of the comparisons and too was well developed and balanced with lean conditioning and impeccable stage presence throughout. A little more muscle was needed to crack the top 5 at this level on this occasion though but Hayley proved without doubt that she is Pro level and definitely has the potential to land in the medals over the coming years.
Pro Figure – Lucy Walton
Representing the UK in the Short Class was Pro International runner up Lucy, in her first season as a WNBF Figure Pro after making the switch from Fit body. It was a huge and talent rich class of 11 ladies in which she stood today and from the start it was clear that it would take some doing for any of the ladies to make it to the medals with the standard being sky high. Lucy has a superb structure with wide shoulders, narrow waist and hips and flaring thigh development that makes her stand out in any line up and her choice of attire both in her prejudging suit and her evening dress for the finals was absolutely perfect with stage presence to match, making her one of the most striking athletes in the division. To my eyes, Lucy was as impressive as any of the top 5 in terms of her figure and possibly only a little more conditioning was needed today to break her into the medals, as she finished just outside the placings.
As always, our amateur competitors followed the Pro Divisions, and each were just as impressive as their team mates that had preceded them in todays contest...
Teens – Jack Richardson
In a compact but high quality class of 3, Jack looked big and full as he took on the teenage wonder from Switzerland, Patrick Kuerzi who was absolutely huge for his age and rock hard to boot and looked to be a comfortable winner. Jack gave as good as he got though and in the process saw of American Issak Ishak for the runner up spot who was hard and balanced but not match for Jacks superior overall development. Jack was a credit to the team, mature beyond his years and a pleasure to be around. The future is bright for this young man and he will no doubt have another chance to compete at this level in years to come.
Juniors – Daniel Park
Another class of 3 men which featured a rematch between our UK & International Champ Daniel and Irelands Jay Robinson, and also featured 2014 World Teenage Champion Enis Rexhepi of Switzerland. The men were all evenly matched in terms of muscle size, with perhaps the Swiss athlete having a slight advantage here. However, Dan and Jay were both too hard to be beaten on mass alone today and it soon became apparent that they would be fighting each other for the top spot. With Jay being notably harder and fuller than at the International the previous month, this would be a close contest which would have the judges no doubt changing their minds several times. Overall, Daniel was more aesthetic and balanced whereas Jay appeared a little more imposing because of his extra height and width. From the front, Jay probably had the edge with bigger and more conditioned quads and from the side the balance tipped just slightly back in Daniels favour. In the end, the contest was decided from the back in the opinion of most where top to bottom in terms of both mass and detail Daniel was a step ahead of his opponent. At the night show, just as we suspected Rexhepi placed 3rd, Irelands Robinson 2nd and a jubilant Daniel Park taking home our first Amateur World title of the night. And with another 3 years left in the juniors, don’t expect it to be his last!
Grandmasters – Richard Walker
Fresh from his undefeated season on home soil and riding the crest of the wave that was the peak of his 15 plus year career to this point, Richard strode onstage in this 5 man line up and immediately made his intentions clear that he was here to challenge for the title that had eluded him in 2014 and went head to head with reigning Swiss Champion Daniel Risi. The two were clearly the front runners of the class and both were shredded and carried ample muscle relative to their frames. Richard was soon moved in next to Risi and tore into every pose he hit with polite aggression, squeezing everything he could out of every muscle on his body as the judges put them through their paces.
In the end, Risi was just that little bit bigger in relative mass and edged ahead of Richard who took home a very creditable and career best runner up spot today. A competitive man of great fighting spirit, Richard has already vowed to return and claim the only title that has ever eluded him in his long and decorated career so far.
Masters – Paul Douglas Waller
His first overseas outing off the back of his first National title back home in the UK, Paul too was every bit at home at this level as he and the 5 other men in his division went into battle for the title.
Overall Swiss Champion and former WNBF Pro Bertrand Ndawale, making his comeback from retirement this year took a comfortable lead in the class and would later prove to be a threat at open level too as he took the Heavyweight division to add to this title.
It was a real battle for the runner up spot though between Paul and Steven Higgins of the USA, who had taken third place in this class last year and came onstage today with staggering improvements to his physique and his level of conditioning. Paul was perhaps a little bigger, but Stevens’s better balance and shape bagged him the runner up spot with our man taking third. A great showing from both guys, both at their best yet.
Figure & Fit body – Leanne Hurst
Taking the opportunity to challenge in both classes, and doing so strongly was Leanne who like Yvette before her had enjoyed and incredible debut season, winning every contest she had entered up to this point. The criteria for each class is slightly different, with Fit Body looking for a little more muscularity and condition and figure a little more shape and aesthetics. As it panned out, Leanne was the ideal size and shape for figure, but perhaps a little too hard whereas her condition was tailor made for the Fit Body discipline where she needed a little more size to match the ladies who would eventually take top honours. Her structure, shape and stage presence were exactly where they needed to be and she totally belied her “rookie” status with how well she was prepared for the event in every way.
The Fit Body class was eventually taken by Bree Grima with Melissa Hall in second (who also took second in the Amateur Womens Bodybuilding division, perfectly illustrating the point of the extra muscle mass required in Fit Body and reinforcing that our decision as an association to switch to figure this season was the correct one) with Leanne taking 4th place by virtue of her superb conditioning.
In the Short Figure class, Leanne was compared in the centre section throughout with Brittany Mastellar and Nicole Paulsen. They were very evenly matched but the other two ladies were a tad softer (but still lean and hard and in great shape) which suited the Figure “look” a little better. After a number of comparisons between the three, Brittany took the win (and subsequently the overall and Pro Card) with Nicole 2nd and Leanne 3rd. An amazing result in her first season of competition with potential for a World title in the near future and now with a clear plan on how to get there.
Amateur Bikini – Meg Smith
In a strong class of 12 athletes, UK Champ Meg found herself among possibly the toughest company of her career in a line up which featured eventual overall and Pro Card winner Anna De Leon who was absolutely superb and would have probably placed in the Pro class.
Meg was in just as impressive shape as she was when she won her place on the team a month prior, with a nice balance and shape and absolutely impeccable stage presence which exuded confidence and personality. Meg needed more muscle and a tad more condition to crack the top 5 today but wasn’t far off the ladies who placed ahead of her and will no doubt return and climb the placings.
Amateur Physique – Kieran Kevan
In another huge line up of 14 with some real big guys who were better suited to Bodybuilding and rightly moved out to the sides and not considered by the judges, Kieran immediately stood out with his staggering V-taper and excellent front profile made up of his full pecs and prominent abs. Once again, he had a perfect stage presence and remained mature and composed as a number of the others in the class jostled for position and left their marks on a number of occasions, much to the frustration of the head judge. Kieran looked to most to be picture perfect and a great example of what the class should represent but was kept just on the fringes of the centre spot throughout, with the judges moving guys a little bigger and harder around for the comparisons.
After another long session of judging, Kieran found himself out of the placings today but like Meg before him has the structure, shape and most importantly time on his side to make the improvements in size and condition needed to take this class and advance to the Pro level.
Open Mens Bodybuilding – Stuart McCulloch and Ben Howard
Both of our remaining UK Champions now had their chance of World honours in the open divisions. First up, Stuart who took to the stage against highly touted South Korean Sung Min Jo, old foe Daniel Glutz of Switzerland and huge Chinese athlete Zhong who looked at least one weight class heavier than he was with a thick structure.
Stuart tore through his foes with the best balance, conditioning rarely seen at amateur level and ample muscle mass to finally secure his ultimate goal after his 2014 runner up spot and finally earn the right to call himself a World Champion. To see the look on Stu’s face as his name was announced winner was a sight that will stay with me forever as a mixture of relief, elation and pride swept the face of the man from “Gawstin” who had to quickly compose himself and head backstage to get ready for the overall battle. Ben was up next in a solid Lightweight class which featured 2012 World Champ Victor Velasquez of Argentina and last years runner up Ken Buser, both of whom were hungry for the title. Ben was more than ready though in his first overseas outing with his lifetime best conditioning to match his heavily muscled and near perfectly shaped physique.
Throughout the judging it appeared that Ben had conquered all before him as no other athlete in his class could match his balance and conditioning and even those bigger than him were not enough so to upset his plan to become World Champion. This was duly confirmed as Ben took a dominant win and remained undefeated in his class, an impressive accolade that very few athletes anywhere in the World can boast. But with little time for celebration both men were soon back onstage for the overall, joined by rock hard and aesthetic middleweight winner Kristopher Anda (who had also taken the Physique title) and the Swiss pairing of Light Heavyweight Marco Gilardoni and Bertrand Nadewale who had dominated both the Masters and Heavyweight classes.
As impressive as all 5 men were, it soon became apparent that Anda needed more mass to challenge for the title and Ben and Bertrand appeared to be the front runners. It was a classic “apples vs oranges” clash with Ben Harder and more shapely but Bertrand just simply too big to be argued with in the end as he took the Overall title. Considering his past Pro status and long and decorated career back in Switzerland, it was no disgrace for anyone to lose to such a formidable foe and “Gentle” Ben finally showed his now customary tears of joy onstage as it was announced that he too would be awarded his WNBF Pro Status in recognition of finishing runner up to the Swiss Legend. After the contest, Stuart was also granted a Pro Card by virtue of his outstanding win, seeing Team UK finish the weekend with two new members of the WNBF Pro family.
A few formalities later (including doing our hosts the courtesy of cleaning up our corner of the prep area and making sure any tan, oil and litter we had generated was cleared away for those prospective 2017 members who wish to take note) it was time to start the post contest celebrations to begin with a short walk to the local “In N Out Burger” whilst seeing off one of those post contest beers that always seem to appear when there’s a Gozdecki on the team! Many burgers later, it was time for the end to what had been another very long but very rewarding day.
Another beautiful California sunrise soon followed and Team UK headed out for the day to take in the sights of Venice and Santa Monica. Despite the weather being a little more “British” than we’d have liked on this day (one of about three every year where it rains in California. Typical!) we had an amazing time going from the contrasting scenes of Muscle Beach, Golds Gym and The Firehouse where we took in some real Bodybuilding culture to the crazy sights of the Venice Beach Boardwalk, Santa Monica Pier and our final destination of the local shopping mall where try as we might, we just couldn’t avoid the Cheesecake Factory! A trip back to the hotel and team takeaway later we said our last goodnight to each other as we prepared to head our separate ways in the morning.
And with that, another World Championships voyage was over and what a voyage it was. A team that will never be forgotten and that we are proud to have called one of our own. Friendships forged, titles won, memories made. Mission accomplished.
Thank you to Team UK, to all of our members and supporters and to everyone who made this amazing season of competition what it was. We hope to see you next year.