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Flashback In TIme: 1989 IFBB World Amateur Championships
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Flashback In TIme: 1989 IFBB World Amateur Championships - 12-27-2012, 09:52 PM


When the IFBB Bodybuilding Federation in Taiwan (or Chinese Taipei as it was referred to in those days) decided to stage the annual World Amateur Women's Bodybuilding Championships in 1989, they went all out to not only introduce this huge international event to the Asian continent, but at the same time convince the world they were fully supportive of it in a way this event had never experienced in its previous six-year existence.

The top three weight class winners: (L-R) Leny Tops, HW - Lynne Lemieux, MW - Ina Lopulissa, LW.

Think of the largest crowd you've ever seen at a bodybuilding contest. Then multiply that total by ten times or more. Believe it or not, you would still come up short of the masses that got their first collective look at the sport of women's bodybuilding during the week of April 9, 1989.

What the tiny island nation (formerly known as Formosa) had in store for those who traveled to this Asian destination was an unprecedented support by the national government and the impressive guidance of Chinese Taipei Federation President Yeh Jwei-Feng. Contestants and delegates for this seventh annual IFBB World Amateur Championships were treated to not only a grand welcome, but an eight-day stay for a competition that was irrefutably unique, and has since gone unmatched in the annuls of this storied contest.

The Logistics

It would be enough for any promoter to take on the daunting task of organizing an IFBB World Amateur Championships event with the many countries, languages, delegates and athletes to gel into a successful international event. But Mr. Yeh had prepared much more, and the hospitality he had arranged left everyone in a literal state of awe.

With Tainan serving as the host city, little did those who had made the journey for the competition realize that the city of 650,000 was about to play a major role as the official welcoming committee.

Here's ‘roughly' how I wrote it at the time

Everyone loves a parade. They are always festive displays of color and beauty that has become a way of life throughout most of the world. America is parade crazy. There are many big ones, traditional ones.....The Rose Parade, Macy's, Santa Claus Lane and so on.

But when the idea of a parade for bodybuilders - female bodybuilders no less - is considered, it might just stretch the boundaries of the imagination, or at least believability. Certainly there couldn't be anything quite like that on the grand scale of the above mentioned giants of Main St. USA street entertainment.

That's where Tainan was different. What Mr. Yeh had prepared for the participants of the World Championships in this city was no less than a miracle, and for those who witnessed it, the pageantry will be a memory that will last a lifetime.

You see, Mr. Yeh had prepared a parade. Not just a local affair for a few hundred of the newly acquired bodybuilding fans in Taiwan mind you, but a real live, honest-to- goodness, barnburner of a parade....complete with five flower-laden floats, a military jeep escort, and an estimated 200,000 cheering, waving citizens.

With little exaggeration, Tainan had come to a complete stop to honor the women bodybuilders of the world, and as the floats made their collective way through almost two miles of bustling streets, the competitors from throughout the world found sidewalks and street corners teaming with a friendly populace eager to cheer and applaud the flexing physique athletes as they moved slowly by. Further, the Tainan townsfolk also crowded office windows and rooftops in order to experience this first-time event.

The warmth of the huge crowd managed to make its presence felt virtually everywhere. The effort put forth by the contest organizers and city government was truly epic in its proportion. Epic. And as the floats and jeeps moved through the streets greeting those thousands of people, few may have realized at the time that they may have been riding into a little piece of Asian sports history. The only way any of those who road the floats that day could relate the sentiments of the moment would have had to be considered .....epic.

Logistics - Part II

As if the parade in front of 200,000 people wasn't enough to get everyone's attention, the promoter followed up his grand intro with a contest schedule that had all good intentions, but would test the strength of will for competitors - especially the lightweights and middleweights.

To further take women's bodybuilding to the masses, the contest was split into four separate days of competitions in four different cities with the grand finale on the fourth day. So, for example, the lightweights kicked off the event by completing their prejudging round in Hinshu City on Wednesday, the middleweights in Taoyuan City on Thursday, the heavyweights in yet another city on Friday and the finals of all three classes held back in Tainan on Saturday.

Amazingly, the grand stage and all decorations were torn down, moved, and re-built in each city for every prejudging (a grand feat of engineering in itself) - and at each prejudging stop the event also included cultural dances, acrobatics and martial arts performances before and after the official judging. Thouands attended at each city venue.

Obviously, this grueling schedule presented a challenge to lightweight and middleweights, as they were faced with the test of maintaining their highest level of condition until the finals on Saturday night. No easy task indeed.

All the while, the athletes were bused to each location with police escort, as more than one journey took at least two hours each way from the Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport Hotel. It was safe to say that by the end of the week's events, the athletes knew as much about Taiwan as the citizenry knew about the contestants.

The American team executes its Team Posing routine.


Another Dutch Treat in the Lightweights

With the first round of prejudging scheduled for Hinshu City and featuring the lightweights, the field of 14 was treated to a sizeable crowd. Unlike the unabashed throngs who welcomed the competitors on parade day, audiences at the actual events were somewhat more subdued and offered little more than polite applause. They did, however, possess an intense curiosity about how the women looked and watched intently as the contestants moved through their compulsory poses and comparisons. It turned out that the lightweight group would be set with the strongest challenge of the contest when it was pointed out that the finals would be held on Saturday evening, and considering the fact that the lightweight prejudging was on Wednesday, 14 women were faced with holding their contest shape for almost three days before they would compete in the final round.

A tribute to their tenacity, the competitors did hold their form, and when the final results were in Holland's Ina Lopulissa was crowned World Champion. During these years, Holland was a juggernaut in producing star bodybuilders, and Lopulissa joined a superb Dutch trio of former World Amateur lightweight champions that included Erika Mes, Ellen Van Maris, and Juliette Bergmann. The World Amateur victory for Lopulissa was especially satisfying considering she had finished third in 1986, second in 1987 and third again in 1988. Lopulissa would later move into the pro ranks and competed at the 1989 Ms. Olympia.

American Sharon Lewis claimed the silver medal behind Lopulissa adding to the United States' annual successes at this event. The bronze medal went to Veronique Balma of France.

Canada Gives Middleweights a One-Two Punch

The 1989 World Championships would be Canada's glowing moment in the history of this World Amateur event. Never had the Canadians placed so strongly before or since. The dynamic duo - who out-flexed a relatively small field that totaled eight contestants - was left in the capable physiques of Lynne Lemieux and Laura Binetti.

With Lemieux and Binetti making for a popular decision with the audience in Taoyuan City on Thursday, the one-two punch was a certifiable rarity at the competitive World Amateur Championships. Binetti would later move to the pro ranks and compete in several Ms. Olympia and Ms. International contests as well as win three IFBB pro shows during her distinguished pro career. Oddly, the Canadian duo's effort would be the last time Canadian bodybuilders would win medals at the World Amateur Championships until 2006 when Johana Dejager finally ended a 17-year draught and earned a silver medal in the lightweight class.

Winning the bronze medal was Germany's Bettina Kleiber, followed by American Carol Mock in fourth. Rounding out the top five was Austria's Hermine Klinger.

Tops is Tops in Heavyweights

Holland exerted still more pressure as the bodybuilding bully when impressive Leny Tops claimed yet another gold medal for the tiny European country. In a field of 11 contestants, Tops was an easy choice over runner-up silver medalist Susanne Steurer of Germany, with American Kathy Unger taking home the bronze. To bookend this class of placers, Holland's Elke Poter placed fifth to further establish Holland as Europe's top bodybuilding country of the 80's.

The USA's Kathy Unger.

Due in part to her striking resemblance to familiar Ms. Olympia Cory Everson, Kathy Unger was a very popular competitor among the Chinese, and when she displayed her chiseled and highly-defined ab***inals, crowds were awestruck.

Overall, the heavyweight class offered a broad range of international muscle with Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei representing the Asian continent, with additional contestants from Mexico, and Zimbabwe adding to the field of strong Europeans. But it was when hometown favorite Lien Kuie-I earned a sixth-place finish and standing with the top finishers in this class, sheer bedlam broke out.

The entire world of women's bodybuilding had come to Asia, and the long held cultural beliefs regarding a woman's body would now change forever.

The 1989 IFBB World Amateur Championships was truly a contest for the ages.
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