Team UK Rides Again!
By Lee Kemp. Photos courtesy and property of the WNBF.
After what seemed like such a long and eventful year since parting company at the doors of the Westside Diner following the post Worlds breakfast feast in November 2011, the excitement of preparing Team UK members old and new for the trip to this year’s championships was finally upon us. Atlantic City, New Jersey was the destination this year and soon plans were in place for the team to meet at “the other end” after embarking on four separate flights from the UK and boarding the newly hired Team UK tour bus for the onward journey to the beautiful seafront venue and hotel which would be our home for the few days to follow. Everything was set to run like a dream.
And then came Sandy.
Wednesday November 7th will now forever be known on the (unofficial) UKDFBA calendar as “national things could get any worse” day. The heavy snow and rain which came as a backlash of the super storm itself left most of the aircraft at Newark Liberty Airport grounded. Among them were the aircraft that were scheduled to take us all to the States on their return journey, and one by one with just over 12 hours before we were due to take off our flights got cancelled. What ensued was a 5 hour marathon of phone calls, panic, a lost night of sleep due to travelling to distant airports and a long wait in an empty Heathrow Airport for our eventual flight check in, at the end of which Team UK were on the tarmac and ready to go. All except one that is. New UK Heavyweight Champion Gordie Adam simply didn’t have time to make it down to London from his home North of the Border, and for a short time looked like he wouldn’t be joining us at all. But a long and tiring journey to Manchester on to Frankfurt then back across the water to Newark was soon on the cards. A journey so long that the rest of the team, and their tour bus would be long gone by the time Gordie landed at Newark. As soon as the rest of the team (and their supporters) knew of the situation that Gordie had been presented with, it was out with their wallets and a quick whip round later (and a bit of haggling with a cabbie at the other end) we knew that the final member of the team would get to us safe and sound.
It was at that moment that I knew everything would be OK. I can honestly say that the acts of kindness and support shown by a group of total strangers to one of their own on that day showed a team spirit and general decency of character that I was, and always will be proud to be part of. Before a single athlete had taken the stage and a single trophy had been won, I had already experienced what I knew would be the highlight of my weekend. This year, that was my “moment” that told me that it had all been worth it. Thank you for keeping me believing in what I do.
So after a relatively comfortable flight across the Atlantic (the highlight of which had to be the sight of Rich Gozdecki smashing down the door of the aeroplane toilet in order to rescue a fellow team member who was stuck inside, no names mentioned…) and a leisurely coach ride along the snowy Garden City Parkway through New Jersey later, we approached the City by the Sea as they call it around those parts. As tired and as anxious as we all were on the journey, we were equally relived to see that in true American style the clean up operation from the previous weeks devastation had been nothing short of impeccable. Soon we had the almost surreal walk through the huge Casino at the Trump Plaza on route to the magnificent reception area of the huge hotel complex that was hosting this year’s show. As the rest of the team settled into their rooms, Amy and I went about the usual business of getting our bearings in yet another strange place, putting together the action plan for the next few days and getting ready to be “mum and dad” to our new family for the weekend. Four hours later, a shattered but grateful and happy Gordie Adam arrived in his cab and was introduced to his new friend and room mate Peter Clarke and it was finally, 45 hours after waking up on Wednesday morning time for me to go to sleep. Usually like a child on Christmas Eve, I don’t get much sleep the night before a contest but on this occasion it would have taken another hurricane to even try to wake me up. Gladly, no such thing happened and the next time I opened my eyes it was day 1 of the contests.
Friday morning saw the familiar pandemonium of about two hundred athletes from around the world registering for the contest. The remaining members of the team to be polygraphed did so and sailed through as expected, and it wasn’t long before we had all assembled outside for the 2012 team photo and made our way up to the hotel theatre where a short time later the men’s amateur weight classes would do battle. With at least one Team UK member in every division, we would have our hands full tonight between prepping and supporting our boys. Here’s how it panned out.
The first, equal biggest and without doubt toughest class of the day was the Bantamweights. The super tough ten man field was won by a shockingly improved and almost flawless Patrick Harris from Barbados. Patrick, who was a regular on the natural bodybuilding scene in the UK when he lived in London in the early 90’s was at his lifetime best having turned 50 this year and was truly unstoppable from the moment he stepped onstage.
Flying the flag for the team was reigning UK Champ Andy Hallahan who beat off the rest of the field for runner up spot. Andy was huge and ripped as always and kept his Italian and Swiss opponents at bay with his thickly muscled chest, delts and arms.
Last year’s runner up Ian Duckett was the victim of quite possibly the unluckiest call of the weekend as he was pipped out of a top 5 slot. Although not as full and hard as he has been previously, he still boasted his trademark balance and symmetry and once again by far the best free posing display in the amateur men’s classes. Rightly a tad disappointed, but determined to do what was required for his second appearance the next day in the masters, Ian was and always will be a shining example of a “professional amateur” and dedicated team member.
Our UK contingent in this class was rounded out by 21 year old UK Novice champ Alex Fodor, who dropped down a weight class from his originally entered lightweight division. In honesty, the extra weight loss did not benefit Alex and although he looked fantastic and should be proud of the way he held his own in this tough, tough class, staying a little fuller and competing in the heavier class would have most probably seen him come home with some silverware. I know that Alex will be back though, and is a sure bet for international trophies in the future.
The lightweight class was one larger following the mornings registration, when it became apparent that UK Teen champ Chris Roche was the only entry who had arrived to contest his Teen class at the Worlds. This was disappointing for both Chris and the team, as we all knew he’d be in with a shout of the title anyway, and in particular a very strong challenge to (ok, I think he’d have absolutely thrashed) defending champion Tayarr Foust. But alas, the path to the Teen title was to be a little clearer than hoped, but Chris was well up for a challenge and straight on the scales at registration in search of some competition in whatever weight class he landed.
Joining Chris was our other Chris, UK Third ranked Chris Hyde from Barnsley who had really buckled down to some tough prep since the UK show to arrive in Atlantic City in superb condition and looking the best he ever had. Chris and his support group of his father, grandfather and uncle were a pleasure to have as part of the group for the weekend and were a great help to the rest of the team.
It soon became apparent that both of our boys would feature in the top 5 of the tough ten man line up. Young “Rochie” was locked in a chalk and cheese battle with experienced Jeffrey Gay of Barbados which ended with him placing 5th after a tie breaker. An amazing achievement for a man of only 19 years old! A separate battle was going on to decide the top 3, with “Hydey” bringing the hardest condition to the table, and battling all the way with his trademark quietly aggressive stage presence. Eventually, he would take third place to Americans Victor Velazquez and Tim Golub. Both were far older and more experienced than Chris and he should be immensely proud to have pushed the bigger men so hard. Particularly as prior to the contest, he humbly confided in me that his only goal was not to come last!
The UK’s own Paul Todd and Peter “Nobby” Clarke threw their hats into the ring here, ahead of their respective assaults on the masters over 40 and 50 titles the next day. And they threw their hats right into the oncoming path of the freight train that was Australia’s Ben Wortley. Ben, in only his early 20s was totally phenomenal and in all honesty had won this class before he even stepped onstage and was a fairly safe bet to take the overall with his near flawless physique. Toddy took a solid second place behind the Aussie in the best shape he had been in to my mind, and was ecstatic to do so after battling illness for several weeks before the show. In doing so, he had turned the tables on Swiss Martin Portner who was locked in a battle with Nobby for third place. This one ended in a tie, with Nobby taking the tie breaker leaving a disappointed Portner in fourth and American Michael Falcone in fifth. A great result for Team UK and encouraging for both men who would be looking to at least duplicate their success the next day.
Ever since his narrow defeat at the UK Championships, “Granite” Gavin Gibson had vowed to leave no stone unturned in his quest for his usual supreme conditioning for his assault on the World Title that he narrowly missed out on last year. Well it was clear for all to see that it was a job well done on that front, as in unreal condition he absolutely destroyed the field for a comfortable win in this class despite the man who placed one slot behind him in 2011, Swiss Sebastian Stitz being in far better condition than the previous year and boasting flawless symmetry and a beautiful shape. It wasn’t enough to turn the tables on Gav though, who was massively muscled for a light heavy and really was in amazing shape as he took the title and headed for the overall and one of the two pro cards up for grabs.
The top 5 in this class was rounded out by Americans Ryan L’Ecuyer, Kolongi Watford and the amazing Kwesi Bacchus who had the best physique of the lot, but lacked the condition required to place higher.
The final weight class of the day saw big Gordie Adam finally hit the stage after his nightmare journey to reach the contest. Roared on by the Team UK contingent, Gordie was fuller and just as hard as his UK win, and needed to be at this very best shape as he landed in a 3 way battle between himself and Americans Luther Bradford and Don Farese for the top spot.
After a round of comparisons with the three main players in the middle, it appeared that Bradford would be taking the third spot (which he eventually did) and that the title would be fought out between Gordie and Don. It was a contest of complete polar opposites as Gordie was harder and better balanced than the American, but Farese was HUGE. Sure, slightly weaker in the legs and not as tight as Gordie by a long chalk but Farese was absolutely massive. His arms in particular were just ridiculous in size and overall his physique was a bit of a throwback to the golden era, such was the shape of his upper body and the way he presented it (most notably with his Arnoldesque free posing display to the theme music from Pumping Iron). In the end, America took their first class win of the day in the shape of the jubilant Farese as Gordie graciously accepted his second place. This title has Gordies name written all over it though and he’ll be back...
As the 5 class winners lined up to contest the overall, it seemed that a spanner was about to go into the works. As solid a win as it looked to be for Australian Wonderboy Ben Wortley, the second pro card was going to be far harder to award as UK’s Gavin Gibson and Bantamweight winner Harris looked to be almost impossible to separate. The judges must have agreed with me on this, as after a number of comparisons, awarded all three men pro cards along with a much deserved overall win for Wortley. So both Gibson and Harris would do battle the following day in the Pro Worlds (with a couple of Team UK’s masters breathing a sigh of relief in respect of Harris in particular who had been due to share the stage with them the following day) in what already looked to be frighteningly good line-ups.
And so ended day 1 and for Gordie, Alex and “the Chris’s” it was the end of the season. So, before bed it was a quick walk down the famous Boardwalk to celebrate Johnny Rockets style! It would have been rude not to really. Seeing the boys eat themselves to bursting point on good old fashioned American junk food (and joining in, of course) was probably as much fun for me as it was for them, and I hadn’t even been dieting! By this point, it was clear that some great friendships had been formed with Alex and Rochie like old buddies already, and Gordie and Chris Hyde enjoying such a “bromantic” meal together that we had plenty of ammo for taking the proverbial out of the pair of them for the rest of the weekend and a few hilarious photos to boot.
And what seemed like literally minutes later we were up and dressed, and back in Johnny Rockets again, as big Milan Panek demolished his special contest morning breakfast and a focused Ian Duckett put the final few carbs in and assured us that today would be a different story entirely! Breakfast done, it was back to the Trump Plaza Theatre for day 2.
Day 2 of the contest was done the old fashioned way, with a separate prejudging and night show. As always, it was Pros first and what a group of Pros Team UK had!
Of the four female Pros in the team, only Marina Cornwall landed in the lighter class due to a change in the weight divisions this year. Marina was in superb condition as always, and as expected gave one of the best and most professional posing displays of the class before landing in seventh place, but happy with the improvements she’d made since her 2011 showing. Marina followed this up with an appearance in the Pro Fit Body division, again not making the top 6 but looking awesome and every bit good enough to challenge the others in the class.
Definitely sore throat time now, with three UK athletes in this class in the shape of stalwart Karen Mason, pro debutante and 2011 World Amateur Champ Anna Millington and last year’s runner up Helen Stack.
With the absence of multi titled Cheryl Myers this year, all eyes were on last year’s runner up and this year’s contest favourite Helen Stack of Team UK. Well, Helen didn’t disappoint the pundits, and stepped onstage in amazing shape, with her heavily muscled and perfectly balanced and shaped physique just too much for any of her opposition. Helen is the epitome of a well coached, intelligent and disciplined athlete in every sense and a superb ambassador for the sport.
A fantastic Anna Millington was well in the mix for the top 5, showing clear improvements in both mass and condition since her win last year while maintaining her balance and shape. This bigger, better Anna eventually landed in fourth place and sent a clear message to the rest of the field that a top three spot was on the cards in the near future.
Karen Mason was as good as ever, and as always one of, if not the best prepared and presented in the class with her flawless attention to detail. A true example of a professional athlete in every sense of the word, and a pleasure to have on the team. Sadly, the shift in weight divisions did Karen no favours, and as good as she was she just lacked the size to crack the top 6 this year. No disgrace in this company though by any means and fuel only for the fire to come back better next year.
Team UK and its supporters were soon cheering their lungs out again as Helen took the overall win over lightweight champion Leah Raynes and left no doubts that she was the new “Queen” of the Bodybuilding World. Helen truly will take some beating anytime she chooses to defend her newly acquired crown.
Our next interest came at the start of the men’s divisions. Although we had no athletes from team UK in the Lightweight class, we watched with great interest as the amazing Brian Whiteacre took the class with newly crowned pro Patrick Harris taking second and Tyler English third. The quality of this line-up was self evident in that last year’s winner Leonardo Casagrande of Italy could only manage fifth place this year! With us all hoping for one of our team to land in the overall, we knew that Brian would be a tough one to beat.
The middleweights did nothing but add an even bigger challenger for the overall title into the mix, as another amazing Australian competitor Hayzer Cayli (president of WNBF Asia Pacific, and a good friend of mine with whom I’d shared a few laughs the previous year for those who remember my report) dominated the class and set tongues wagging as early as stripping off backstage with his incredible conditioning. Hayzer was so good, he was a safe bet for the class at first glance and left the fight for second place a three way affair between last years winner Shevon Cunningham, Trevor Sajdak and last year’s runner up Greg Rando, all from the United States who took second, third and fourth places respectively. The fight for the final placing was made out between former WNBF Pro World Champion Miles Stovall, and our very own Milan Panek, current overall UK Champ who was making his pro debut.
This was a hard fought contest, with Milan giving it his absolute all and displaying the frighteningly thick physique that won him his Pro Card in even better condition than at Rugby the month before. In fact, Milan has never been lighter or sharper, but in the end the quality of Stovall’s physique was too much and Milan landed just outside the top 5. I know that Milan was bitterly disappointed not to place, but considering this was his first outing as a pro, against the very best the World had to offer and that he left 5 other experienced Pro Bodybuilders in his wake by placing 6th he should be immensely proud of his showing here and take encouragement for the future.
No sooner had the Middleweights trooped offstage than it was time for the Heavyweights. As expected in the run up to the contest, this was to be a two way fight for first place between defending champion, our very own Richard Gozdecki and the man he had conquered in 2011 to take the title, living legend Martin Daniels. At the afternoon’s prejudging, it was apparent that Daniels had come for revenge, sporting the best condition I had ever seen him in and as huge and thickly muscled as ever. In fact, Daniels was at his all time best and had surpassed the form which had won him his many past Pro World titles. However, Big Rich had come prepared to defend his title and as well as sporting every bit of the frighteningly vast muscle mass which made him World Champ last year he too was in by far the best condition of his life. Rich was totally shredded from head to toe and truly was the complete package today. Having said this, it was a very close contest and just like last year, a jubilant Gozdecki retained his title by one point over a disappointed Daniels. Following the tittle tattle of last year from some, claiming that Gozdecki had “got lucky” or that he had won the title as Daniels was “off”, this win represented for me the fact that there could now be no dispute that Rich was the number one heavyweight in the World and I was once again overcome with joy to see my dear friend take his crown as World Champ. The rest of the team and supporters roared him on to victory with pride, and without doubt were probably nearly as happy as Rich himself to see him win.
A most welcome (for us) and nasty (for his opponents) surprise in this class was delivered by yesterdays World Amateur Light Heavyweight Champ, “Granite” Gavin Gibson. Somehow, the extreme conditioning that he showed yesterday was even more so today and he stuck out in this line up like a sore thumb quite frankly! Growing in confidence by the minute as he was moved to the centre of the stage for comparisons and delivered his usual forceful free posing display at night, Gavin took a solid Third spot ahead of Americans Anthony Monetti and last years third placed Kurt “The Animal” Weidner who were fourth and fifth respectively.
Then came the icing on the cake. The overall. This for me was the most anticipated overall line up in the years I have been following the WNBF scene, as I genuinely (and I normally do) had no idea who was going to take it. All three of the guys were equally as good, with Whitacre being compact, but densely muscled and in great condition, Gozdecki being as big as any natural I had ever seen but with the air tight conditioning to match, and Cayli appearing like a blend of the two, with relative mass to match Gozdecki, the density to match the shorter Whitacre and possibly the best condition of the three. In the end, the win was awarded to an overjoyed Cayli who was instantly congratulated and “man hugged” by the other two men in a fantastic display of camaraderie and sportsmanship.
A few minutes later, after the fever pitch crowd had settled and the formalities of photos and trophy presentations had been completed, it was time for the remainder of the amateur divisions.
Firstly, the ladies and more specifically the Bodybuilding division in which we were represented by Eve Cook. Eve had gained her place on the team after a fantastic showing at the UK Championships where she was bigger, more complete and in better condition that ever before in her competitive career. Sadly, due to some issues with her preparation on the day of the Worlds she was unable to show this form at the prejudging, despite being in just as good shape as she was a month earlier, and by the time these issues were rectified at the night show the damage to her points totals had already been done, and she had to settle for a spot outside the top six. Understandably disappointed, but consoled in the fact that she held her own in a tough line up and would have had a genuine shot at a trophy placing if things had gone to plan, Eve will be back. Accompanied by her partner and fellow competitive bodybuilder and former British Champion Jeff Lunn, they were a welcome addition to our party and supported their fellow athletes for the whole weekend.
Our next two athletes appeared in the Fit Body division, namely this and last year’s UK Champs, Penny Beaumont and Danielle Chambers. They were unlucky enough to end up in the same height class, as opposed to having the opportunity to contest the separate titles. Danielle appeared onstage after her 5th place at last year’s Worlds, having taken a full year to focus on adding a little extra muscle to compete effectively in the INBF criteria. It was clearly a year well spent for her, as she was fuller and more shapely than her 2011 appearance and presented as impeccably as ever. Penny has had an absolutely amazing debut year, having won almost all of the contests she has entered and stood before the judges on this day at her best yet. Both ladies looked to be pushing for the top spots, and I personally had Penny winning and Danielle either cracking or on the fringes of the top 3. After a long and hard judging, Danielle was awarded another 5th place, and an over the moon Penny won the class as predicted. Penny narrowly missed out on the overall Fit Body title, but was offered her WNBF Pro Card anyway due to the standard of the class. What an end to an amazing year for a young lady who had never stepped on a bodybuilding stage before June 2012!
With only two classes to go, a weary support group now found the energy to cheer on the last of our athletes in the contest. The men’s over 40 class was a fiercely competitive 11 man line up which featured 3 of our lads. First out was a much improved Ian Duckett. Fuller, harder and more aggressive onstage than the previous day, he looked to feature for a top spot from the second he stepped out onstage. However, Ian didn’t appear to get a look in until almost the end of the symmetry round at which point he was pulled into the middle and pretty much kept there for the duration, but I feared that the damage to his points total may have already been done. He was in the middle of that line up with Andy Hallahan, who looked every bit as good as the day before, and Swiss Martin Portner, who had tightened up considerably from his Middleweight showing. These men would no doubt be the top three. A separate 3 way fight was underway for the other 2 placings between Swiss Claudio Bonadrini, American Heavyweight Luther Bradford who seemed to have faded somewhat since the night before, and our own Paul Todd who again looked as though he had finally caved in to the illness that had plagued him over the previous weeks, and had lost some condition and fullness. Come the night show, Duckett once again bought the house down with his free posing, Andy stated his case in his normal no nonsense fashion and Toddy finally and much to his delight hit his most muscular pose in time with the “boom” in his posing music (he’ll chuckle when he reads this) to round off three excellent posing displays by our lads.
I was standing in the stage dock as the top 5 were called, having been asked to present the trophies in the class and was over the moon to hear all 3 of our lads make the cut with the 2 Swiss men. Toddy took fifth behind Bonadrini, and my fears of earlier were confirmed when Ian was awarded third, which he accepted gracefully. As only two men remained, what seemed like an eternity passed before last year’s winner Martin Portner was announced in second place to his great disappointment. I was then proud and honoured to present the winner’s trophy and offer of a masters Pro Card to an ecstatic Andy Hallahan, before “just happening” to pull a Union Jack out of my pocket (I had a funny feeling that one of ours would win) and posing for a photo with the top 5.
Andy is every inch the class athlete and true World Champion, and I know this title meant a lot to him. Well, it meant just as much to me that you chose to be part of our organisation, part of our team and that I was given the chance to award you with that trophy my friend. Congratulations.
This left one class to go. The masters over 50 class which was 6 men strong.
Last year’s winner, our own Peter “Nobby” Clarke was joined onstage by newly crowned UK Champ Courtney Smith, who had actually dieted through his 50th Birthday to be here. Both men were in great shape and a shining example to the younger members of the team and the audience in terms of both the great physiques they had maintained and their mature, experienced demeanour both on and off stage.
However, both had their work cut out for them as amazing Swiss Champ Giovanni Arcadio bought a destructive package of rugged mature muscle and almost skinless condition to the stage. Not the prettiest of physiques, granted but nobody could deny this real “bodybuilders bodybuilder” the title, which he snatched from the grasp of an ever gracious and sportsmanlike Nobby who placed second. Courtney was a clear and undisputed third ahead of Americans John Vida, Kenneth Franco and Robert Jackson respectively and was delighted to reach such lofty heights of competition after so many years of slowly climbing the competitive bodybuilding ranks.
And that concluded the contest for another year. Another trip to Johnny Rockets followed, with food and drink consumed with just as much enthusiasm as the previous night before the “young ‘uns” headed off down the Boardwalk to hit the nightclubs, while Amy and I opted for a sedate stroll through the Trump Plaza Casino where we caught up with a few friends old and new, before once again falling almost comatose (through exhaustion, not the excesses of partying) into bed in the early hours of the morning to catch some shut eye before we bid our goodbyes the next day.
The morning came round all too quickly and after a few “post show” photos outside the Trump Plaza, we were back on board our bus and heading back to the Airport where we would be waving goodbye to those of the party who were off home. The scene on the bus was far different on the return journey with all sorts of junk food being passed around like some sort of mobile picnic, and the nervous and psyched up faces of a few days ago replaced with relaxed, happy and very tired members of Team UK. Some even managed to get a few hours of sleep (whilst hugging their newly won trophies like they were new-born babies) before the next leg of their trip.
Once we had done the airport drop off, we were New York bound with the remaining team members. It was a huge pleasure to see those of the team who had never been to NYC before marvel at the sights in the distance as we got closer. All of a sudden, excitement swept the bus, cameras were clicking away and nobody was asleep anymore! A short time later, we were disembarking the bus right outside Madison Square Garden to join possibly the longest taxi queue in the World before we finally waved goodbye.
It was at this point that mobile numbers were swapped, arrangements made to meet up with each other over the next few days and for some to meet up at the airport for their eventual flights home and also at this point that it hit me again…
We came here as Bodybuilders and team mates. We’re leaving here as friends.
And that, ladies and gentlemen is what it’s all about! And after a long, hard, tiring 4 days I slumped into the back seat of my taxi and began my journey to our hotel, and as I looked at Amy beside me looking just as tired as I was, as we made our way out of the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan, I thought to myself “we did it again”.
See you next year.