Rise of the New Olympians

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Bodybuilding is a sport that is demanding of time, energy, and will. The road to becoming an IFBB Pro can be long and grueling. Many competitors never make it past competing in the NPC and never become a pro. Even after obtaining the long awaited IFBB Pro Card, some may never be able to win a pro show and compete on the Olympia stage, the ultimate goal of almost every competitor.

The prevalent idea that you must pay your dues and be patient in the sport of bodybuilding is what makes the current trend of NPC competitors turning pro, winning their pro debut almost days later and then qualifying for the Olympia so intriguing. There are three recent cases of this happening in the Men’s Physique Division this year alone.

Thomas Bakke won the Northern California Pro earlier this year on June 3rd, qualifying himself for the Olympia. The win was an impressive one, as Bakke beat out four former Olympians, including the likes of 2x Olympian and veteran, Dean Balabis, and former Olympian, Jonny Bernstein. Perhaps the most impressive part of Bakke’s Pro win however, was that he had just won his pro card two weeks prior at the Junior USA’s, where only three pro cards were awarded in Men’s Physique. In an earlier interview with Men’s Physique News, Bakke said, “I was going to take a break but figured I’m in the best shape I have been in” and “I had also been eager to see how I compare amongst the pro’s,” when asked about why he decided to make his debut just two weeks after winning his pro card. This accomplishment is not seen everyday in the world of the IFBB. Then came along Anthony Woods and Anthony Scalza.

Anthony Woods won his pro card not long after Bakke at the 2017 NPC Jr. Nationals. Like Bakke, Woods decided to make his pro debut just two weeks after winning his pro card. And just two weeks after the dream to be a pro became a reality, Woods won the San Jose Pro and qualified for the Olympia. Another NPC competitor turned Olympian within a matter of weeks. In a heartfelt Instagram post with the other pro competitors after his first win, Woods said “From check-ins, to pumping up for finals… these gentlemen were NOTHING but supportive, helpful, calming, and encouraging.”  Woods said that he was honored to compete with, and against, men that he had been fans of since he started competing. Incredibly,  just two weeks after becoming an IFBB Pro, Anthony Woods was now signing his contract to compete in the Olympia – the biggest bodybuilding show of the year. Could this just be a case of two men that were in the best shape possible, or was this the beginning of a trend?

Similar to Bakke and Woods, Anthony Scalza accomplished the same achievement, but in even a shorter period of time. After winning the overall and earning his pro card at the NPC Universe Championships on July 1st, Scalza won the Vancouver Pro Show the following weekend on July 9th. In just one week, Scalza was an NPC competitor turned Olympian. When asked by Men’s Physique News about the trend of newly turned pros winning their debuts, Scalza said he was unsure as to exactly why but “maybe they (judges) want to start seeing some new faces on the Olympia stage this year” or “it could just be a coincidence that we showed up to our pro debut hungrier than ever.”  Scalza said he had “zero intentions” of competing at the pro level this year, but after some guidance from his coach and seeing the list of competitors, they thought Scalza had a “legitimate shot at doing very well” in Vancouver. Not only did he do well, he landed in the dead center of the first call outs, and qualified for the Olympia.

Were these men outliers or is this a new trend that will be seen around the sport of bodybuilding in the future? Could judges be looking for new faces on the Olympia Stage, or is it that each of these competitors just simply brought the best package week in and week out? Perhaps now that Classic Physique has been around for a couple of years, judges now have a different perception of what they are looking for in Men’s Physique. One thing that is certain is that each of these competitors have a common, undeniable passion and commitment to their sport. Their trajectory of turning pro and qualifying for the Olympia may have been rapid, but there is no doubt that they will be names to look out for at shows for years to come.

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