Australian Grand prix Review – Backstage Pass!

To say that I was looking forward to this years FitX and IFBB Pro/AM Competitions would probably be the understatement of the year. I don’t know if it was just me, but the buzz surrounding this year’s event seemed to be so much bigger and louder than last year. Maybe it was because last years event was so much bigger and better than the first event in 2011, that people were expecting a similar increase in size, depth, exhibitors and number of sports at this years event.

Maybe it was the prestige and number of the international sports stars who would be competing at their relevant sports – Strongmen, Crossfit, arm wrestlers, muay thai, boxers, mma and bodybuilders all would be competing in events recognised by their sports governing bodies as part of their world circuits.

Maybe it was just me. Last year I was still relatively fresh to the bodybuilding world and was only just getting to know people. Last year I was only just starting to gain recognition as a blogger, and really had very little industry presence. Physically I was in a terrible space – 2 months before I’d had double shoulder surgery, both hamstring tendons were now torn, both hips were breaking down, my left elbow tendons on both sides were torn – training had become a figment of my imagination as doctors ordered my to stay away from everything active – I wasn’t even allowed to walk if I could possibly avoid it.

It was a low point, but as it turns out, FitX last year became the turning point. Fast forward 12 months, and having spent the last year being involved in the industry by helping out backstage, becoming established as a blogger and show photographer, joining a federation media team and best of all creating my own magazine, this years event, for me, held so many more exciting facets to it, there were so many people I couldn’t wait to catch up with and despite not getting the coveted media pass I’d applied for, I had something much, much better…

I’d been picked to help out backstage.

Backstage at the IFBB Pro Show.

With Erin Stern, Candice Keene, Candice Lewis and Mallory Haldeman all confirmed competitors.

There was a distinct possibility that I would get to meet, tan and help my role models.

Wow.

Now I was excited.

So on the day, I was up bright an early and packed up food for what was going to be a very long day, backstage war bag – tan, latex gloves, hair bands, safety pins, wet wipes, cotton buds…I could go on, but you get the idea! anything and everything that a competitor might need. I packed cameras, video recorders, sound recorders, spare batteries, chargers, cables and leads, ipad – this was not an opportunity to be missed for want of a battery or cable – and with bulging bags, I waddled off down to the venue.

The amateur show was on in the morning so all helpers needed to be at the venue a few hours beforehand to get the tanning underway. Soon I was hand deep in shimmer, and gloss, chatting to nervous novices reassuring them that it would all be fine, that their hair looked great and sticking bikinis on so no sneaky wedgies could upset someones concentration – it was all go, and as often as possible, especially when I knew someone who was on stage I’d head out to the front of stage and get snap happy with the camera.

There was a big crowd and the seated area was soon heaving, 10 deep, with people peering over heads and through gaps to try and see the action on stage. This is where the backstage pass came into its own – wearing the most enormous baggy (daggy) t-shirt that said ‘Event Crew’ I could quite happily push my way through the crowd, sit where ever I liked, to get the photos I wanted and no one would question whether I was allowed to be there. Perfect.

There was one friend in particular who was competing and I was really keen to see her – she has been following Layne Norton’s macro diet and had been busy posting pictures up on FB of ice cream, pop tarts and waffles…during comp prep! I was dying to see how she came in as this ‘pop tart’ diet has been causing a bit of a storm and even had Layne Norton himself posting a vlog to debunk the theory that it allowed people to get away with junk food whilst preparing. Well, I had to say I was impressed, she came in hard and lean and her legs were definitely the best on stage – in fact in most of the categories I saw hardly anyone had managed to lean out their legs really well. I’d caught up with my trainer by this stage and he was as keen to see Charlotte as I was. We both agreed that her conditioning was absolutely spot on and maybe this approach was something that I should consider for October. Both of us were also duly surprised when Charlotte didn’t even place…it seemed that size was what the judges were looking for. A point to note if I ever decide to compete for the IFBB.

Once Charlotte had done her category I threaded my way through the crowd to the backstage area again to see where my deeply blackened (with body shimmer) hands were required. There were people everywhere – some waiting to go on stage, some just arriving, some coming off stage and preparing to go home. Winners and placegetters all excited with their trophies, those who didn’t place quietly packing up and heading off to ponder what was next for them. By now most of the female categories had completed and it was the guys up next. I wandered around and if someone was looking a bit lost I’d check if they were ok for tan, or needed their trunks sticking to their backside, touching up rough spots, checking for smudges and generally trying to calm nerves, reassure people and find out when they could expect to get on stage.

I think I have only ever been to one show that has run on time, and its the waiting that gets you – you can’t plan your day when you don’t know when you’re going to be on stage – should you rest, be on your feet, get your top coat on? should you eat, should you start on the junk carbs, should you pump up, not pump up? It very wearing and tiring when you’re dehydrated and carb depleted!

At some point when I was slapping, and smearing, I happened to look up from the body in front of me and over in a corner about 2m away was a group of 4 women – I hadn’t seen them come in, and they’d pitched their spot with their bags and blankets and were sitting on the floor chatting…

there was something that struck me about them – something different…I knew them but I didn’t…

hang on, isn’t that Erin Stern? I think it is…

which means…

on her right is…Candice Lewis, so next to her is Mallory Haldeman and Candice Keene

OMG! the pro’s had arrived and they were just there…right next to me!

I froze temporarily…

what do I do? do I see if they need anything? do I act all cool and carry on like they are normal people?

I have to admit I was more than a little star struck!

But then I remembered I had a body to finish off, and besides the Pro show prejudging wouldn’t be for ages – things were running more than a little late and the guys had only just started.

The pro ladies all seemed very relaxed, they were chatting amongst themselves, fixing hair or lip gloss. Candice Keene appeared to have her own helper – not sure how she managed that, but she was being tanned. There wasn’t really much they could do yet except wait, which I guess when you’re a pro you get used to doing, so they all chilled out on the floor. Erin and Mallory were chatting to each other and Candice Lewis seemed a little quieter and kept within herself.

I saw Amanda Doherty standing by one of the mirrors checking herself out, so I wandered over and asked if she needed top coat or anything. We had a little discussion with one of the other helpers and decided that top coat was required, but she also wanted her bikini re arranged as it had come unstuck. We agreed to let one of the other helpers do that because she had cleaner hands than me and we didn’t want to smudge Amandas bikini. Once Amanda was happy with the tan, I looked around to see if anyone else needed a hand and noticed one of the New Zealand Pro’s was having a bit of difficulty with her bikini, so I grabbed a bikini bite and went over to help her.

Things appeared to be moving along relatively well, I think someone told the pro’s they had about 45 minutes so they started preparing – pumping up, checking hair, makeup, bikinis and tan. I wandered around with my camera clicking away. Erin’s bikini came unstuck and I happened to be the nearest helper, so she asked me to restick it, but in doing so it came unstuck in another area and pulled away the tan as well leaving a paler spot. Erin didn’t have any tan, and she had’t used the body shimmer before so she was a bit nervous when I suggested trying it, but I asked her to trust that I would make it look good. A tiny dab of top coat, a bit of finger painting and that was all sorted, Erin was looking perfect again, to her relief as well as mine! 🙂

One thing that was fascinating me, was watching how people interacted with the Pro’s. Most people wanted a photo with them, but were often too shy to even approach them to ask. Even one of the other helpers who was a keen photographer was too shy to take photographs! The pro’s themselves were all very obliging, approachable and patient. They made themselves available to anyone who asked for photos, and I was often the one taking them. Very soon they were totally relaxed around me which was fantastic as I was able to just have a quick chat, or they would come and check with me that their tan or bikini looked ok and we’d do some little fixes if required. Otherwise I was wandering around trying to capture a really candid insight into them as normal people – athletes preparing for their time in the spotlight, going through their mental routine, rehearsing their walk and poses, doing what they did to settle the nerves. At one point Erin, who is a bit of a joker, coaxed Mallory into a more lighthearted ‘wild thing’ pose – well you have to do something to alleviate the endless waiting!

And there was lots of waiting! 45 minutes turned into an hour, which turned into an hour and a half…and this is where it gets difficult – you’ve got yourself all pumped up, but you don’t go on stage so you get all flat again – now the dilemma, do you eat something to get your muscles all full again or not?

Then finally they were called to the assembly area – a quick flurry of activity as they all switched in to game mode – last minute check to tans and bikinis, frantic pumping up, and checking of hair and makeup (all flawless!) – Erin had come unstuck again, so I got a bit stage mum and ‘scolded’ her about fiddling with her bikini so much! We had a bit of a laugh about that which broke the tension a bit. One last inspection, I told her she was good to go and after wishing her good luck I dashed out front, clambered and climbed over the even bigger crowd and pushed my way to the front of the VIP seating section – I was going to get good shots of every one of them!

At last there they all were on stage. Amanda Doherty, Melbourne’s own pro got the biggest cheer – this was her first pro show on home soil and only her 2nd show after 8 years off. She is an incredible lady, and her 3 cute little daughters were right there in front of the stage with their placards, shouting ‘Go Mummy’ – she clearly heard them and almost forgot her quarters turns! I think she teared up a little at that and managed at one point to give them a little wave to show that she had heard them. Erin also got a huge cheer – she has won the last 2 shows and is just such a favourite here, her elegance, flowing grace and stage presence are apsects that I have certainly modelled my posing and stage performance on. She really is such a beautiful person.

Once each competitor had come on and completed their quarter turns it was time for the callouts.

The first callout was Erin, Candice Keene, Mallory and Candice Lewis – they all looked stunning, and posed flawlessly. I started taking notes of the little differences – Candice Keene has beautiful capped shoulders that were a little leaner and rounder than Erins. Both Candices are blessed with tiny little waists that really emphasise their lat sweep. Candice Lewis looked a little softer in the legs than Erin and Mallory was using her trapezius muscles a little too much which made it seem like she was straining a little too hard – she didn’t quite have the effortless appearance that Candice Keene and Erin do.

In the back pose, Candice Keenes glutes were just a little more rounded and tighter than everyone elses.

Next callout was the aussie girls and Erin, the third callout was the kiwi girls, Asher Prior who had just won her pro card, Erin and Candice Keene.

The fourth callout was a crowd pleaser – Amanda Doherty, Erin, Candice Keene, Mallory and Candice Lewis.

Overall I think there were 6 callouts, and each lineup was shuffled a bit so the judges and the crowd got a really good look at each of the competitors. It was going to be a very tough call for the judges and would come down to the tiniest of little details to separate them.

And then it was all done, and they filed off stage to huge cheers from a very appreciative crowd.

I madly scrambled back over people and clambered back through the crowd as most of the backstage crew had gone over to the other hall to help out the pro Guys, there were only 3 of us left and we were supposed to make sure the pros knew where they had to go for the night show and see if they needed any of their bags and belongings taken over.

The night show was supposed to start at 7, and when asked, I suggested that they get there about 6 so they had plenty of time to fix up anything that needed to get fixed up. I think it was Mallory who asked me where the night show was held and I didn’t actually know…so I asked Erin! She also knew where they could get go to get some food, so I nominated her as ‘stage mum’ and told everyone to follow Erin! 🙂

But it didn’t seem like Erin was going to be able to get any down time, because at that very minute over the loudspeaker came:

‘Erin Stern will be appearing at the Dymatize stand in 5 mninutes’

Poor Erin! I knew what she was in for – a line a mile long of eager fans wanting their photo taken with her – I was one of them last year! And I knew being the pro that she is, she would have smiled and welcomed and looked as fresh as a daisy for each and every one of them.

I was beginning to wilt a little – it was now about 4pm and I’d been there since 8:30, I’d only had one proper meal and about 1 1/2 litres of water – usually by now I’m contemplating my 5th meal and 3rd litre of water for the day so I needed a bit of a pick me up.

A quick tour of the expo to grab whatever protein bar samples I could find and a coffee was on the cards, before I headed over to the Plenary Hall for the Pro Men’s pre judging.

Having taken a bit too long wandering around the expo,the men’s pre judging had already started so I couldn’t get back stage – but that was ok, I sat and watched the big guys. To say that these guys are huge is a massive understatement – I think Dexter Jackson is wider than he is tall! His legs are wider than my body! Whatever you think about these guys and their shape, you can’t help but appreciate just the sheer amount of hard work and years of dedication that goes into creating those physiques. You really wouldn’t want to be a judge – with Dexter Jackson, Toney Freeman, Ed Nunn, Ben Pukulski all present it was going to be a very tough job.

With Mens pro prejudging over, I managed to get backstage to see what needed doing. It was probably about 5pm by now and the pro show wasn’t due to start for another few hours so all the helpers were at a bit of a loose end. I took the opportunity to eat and locate some much needed water.

The backstage area for the night show was much more luxurious than the day show – proper changing rooms with chairs, mirrors power points and bathrooms. The guys had the best end of the deal with 2 suites for the 10 competitors complete with sofas, microwaves and fridges and all the women were crammed into one room – hmm…something not quite right about that!

I was surprised when I got into the changing rooms that all the pro’s were already there – it was still at least 1 1/2 hours to show time, but they’d all eaten and there really wasn’t much else to do and they didn’t have enough time to go anywhere, so I guess it made sense to head backstage and start to get ready in a much more leisurely fashion.

All the pro bikini girls were there too – I have to say Nicole Negrani is the cutest little thing you’d ever some across – she was bright and sparky, and constantly chatty. She was a real little energiser bunny and kept organising everyone into photoshoots. You just want to pick her up, put her in your pocket and take her home! 🙂

The atmosphere was very different – much more relaxed and easy going. The hard work had been done, so it was about putting on a show now. The pro’s were sitting around casually chatting to each other, touching up makeup and hair and wanting photos of themselves in groups with each other – it didn’t take long before I had a pile of phones in front of me so they could all get their own group shots.

Whilst it was quiet, I took the opportunity to ask Erin and Candice Keene if they would be kind enough to spare me 5 minutes for a quick interview and was thrilled when they both agreed.

I have to say I was very nervous about asking – all of a sudden I got all star struck again and nearly chickened out! But this was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss out on.

Erin was first so we found a room that was quiet – the officials room. There was left over subways on the table and a few office style chairs – you know the sort on wheels that spin around…

Erin had me in fits of laughter as she started spinning around and around on one of the chairs – like a kid with a new toy!

I asked her what she’d eaten during the break – chocolate covered coffee beans!

uh oh! sugar and caffeine rush!

After the interview, Erin suddenly went all quiet and serious and asked me how she thought she’d done.

Yikes!

Well, I’m no judge, but I had her in my top 2. I didn’t think she’d win because I genuinely thought Candice Keene had the edge in the shoulder/glute department.

There were two guys in the room – one of whom is a very experienced judge for a federation I’ll be competing for – he was watching this and listening intently.

Now I was on the spot.

What do I say?

I opted to go with honesty, and told Erin I thought she looked better than at the Arnold and I had her in my top 2.

The I turned the tables and asked Erin how she thought she’d done – to my huge relief she also thought she looked better than the Arnold.

Phew!

So I asked her what she had done to bring herself in over the last week. It turns out she was very disappointed with the Arnold because she’d let herself get distracted by someone telling her she looked fat and had changed her usual preparation to follow this other persons advice!

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Who on earth would tell Erin that she looked fat – a week out from the Arnold! Thats the last thing ANY competitor needs is to have their head messed with so close to a show. Apparently it also happened at last years Arnold..

So after the Arnold she went back to her own method of preparation and as a result was much happier with her condition.

Jokingly, I suggested that for next years Arnold she might want to hide herself away in a remote mountain cabin where she has no communication with anybody until the day before…or be strong, trust her own instincts and not refuse to listen to anybody else’s ‘advice’.

But I know why it happens – when you trust someone, you want to believe that what they are telling you is correct and for the right reasons.

When you’re so close to a show, self doubt is ever present and one of the hardest things to do is to continue to trust that your process will get you there.

After we left the room, and were walking back to the changing room, one of the actual judges saw Erin and came over to talk. To my astonishment after he congratulated Erin on her third at the Arnold he told her that he thought she looked better this week and would consequently do better!

That was interesting, right there, one of the actual judges had validated my opinion!

Awesome.

Back in the changing room, Candice K was chatting to Candice L about shopping and since they only had one day in Melbourne they wanted to know where they should go.

I asked Candice K is she was ready and we headed back to the officials room.

There was no chair spinning this time, Candice was very confident and also much more serious…or maybe she just hadn’t had the same coffee beans that Erin had!

I asked her how she felt about her Arnold win and she was very bubbly about it, but I got the distinct impression that behind her excitement was also a huge sense of relief that she had finally broken through for a good win – after 2 or 3 years of coming 2nd and 3rd to Erin and Nicole you could feel that there had been a lot of frustration and self doubt in those times, wondering just what she had to do to take it to that next level.

Candice didn’t need to ask my opinion of how she thought she’d done – she knew she looked good, she knew she was in the driving seat.

By now it was starting to get close to show time – at least it should have been!

6:30 everyone got assembled below the stage for the running order briefing,

7pm came and went and the show didn’t start.

by 7:30 all the competitors were called to assemble just off stage

Finally about 8pm it started.

The big guys went on individually and did 3 poses and came off. Then all of the big guys went on together and did a posedown to fireworks.

Next up the bikini girls all went on one by one, did their poses and then lined up. There were 3 or 4 callouts before they were finished.

Then the pro figure ladies were on. Again one by one, they did their quarters turns and lined up, then there were 3 or 4 callouts.

Lastly the big guys went through the same process.

Then came the waiting. There were interviews with stars – Ronnie Coleman was one, but boy can he talk! Backstage Dexter Jackson was a bit of a character and was soon telling Ronnie to ‘hurry up’ and not in a very quiet voice either!

Then there was a deadlift demo – we’re talking 8 tractor tyres loaded onto truck axles here – 350kg! The deadlift guys made the pro bodybuilders look small, these guys were very tall and very large.

There was more waiting, it was really starting to drag – ever one of the comeptitors was feeling it and just wanted it all over and done with.

It was probably about 10pm before the Pro bikini top 6 was called back on, then the top 3 were called out and India Paulino announced as the winner.

Then the top 6 figure ladies were called out – Amanda Doherty made it! That brought the house down, way to go Amanda!

The top 3 were called out and I was keeping my fingers crossed for Erin…

The winner was Candice Keene, with Erin 2nd, good job both of you!

Finally the pro guys – Dexter Jackson did it again.

And just like that it was all over.

Suddenly the backstage area was empty. The 3 winners stayed on stage for photos with those in the crowd who had paid for the VIP seats

I headed back to the deserted changing room to pack up my gear and head on home.

As I was putting the last few things in my bag, Candice came in, she looked exhausted and wanted to know where she could go to get some food. As she was flinging her stuff in her bag, any which way, I suggested the casino next door and handed her a scribbled note with the list of shopping venues that I’d talked about earlier.

After promising to send her some photos, I wished her good luck for the rest of the year and headed off home.

I was exhausted, it had been a very long, very exciting day – I met, tanned, glossed, stuck bikinis to, chatted, helped, photographed, interviewed and provided shopping tips for people who I have looked up to in this industry as my role models.

It doesn’t get much better than that.