Review and Photos by Mark Mason
Ivan Ribic and Paul Hughes did it again, in a big way. This year’s 2007 Empire Classic broke records in attendance, competitor numbers, and excitement. From the phenomenal guest posing of IFBB pro Marcus Haley to the over the top strongman exhibition by Jesse Marunde everything was done in larger then life fashion.
The glitz and glamour of the Northern Quest Casino was the setting for one hundred of the best competitors from all over Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana. Throughout the day the casino was jam-packed with fifteen hundred muscle starved fans who expected the best and were served a feast of bodybuilding, fitness and figure on a silver platter.
Kolbie Best was one of the star performers of the event. Best, the recent fitness winner of the Vancouver USA show, was in perfect form winning the Empire Classic fitness overall title as well as the figure overall award. Amy Keppler came out of nowhere to take the second place in fitness and a very respectable fifth in the short figure. Third place Melissa Mitchell has been the epitome of persistence the past month in her fitness competitions. Keep it up Mel!
The figure classes had some great competition. But even more refreshing this year was the camaraderie between competitors. Each contestant seemed excited to just be on-stage and genuinely happy for each of the winners.
In the masters it was Dawn Helmuth of Republic, Washington taking home the first place award. Helmuth is no stranger to Northwest figure stages and is always a strong competitor. Second place Elizabeth Spohr fought the good fight and was only three points shy of upsetting Helmuth. Carrie McKenzie rounded out the top three masters.
As mentioned earlier, figure short first place winner, Kolbie Best was unstoppable. Best is certain to receive national recognition in the near future. Second place winner Alicia Strohl had one of the best v-shapes of the evening. Shea Mulmoe is another lady who has been persistent and consistent this season. Mulmoe, who placed third, has great potential in the figure division.
In the figure medium class it was a single point that separated first place Heidi Nuttman, and second place Jenifer Rogers. Both ladies had classic physiques and presented well. Taking home the third place trophy was Lauri Faraschuk.
Holly Childers the figure tall class winner has made some great improvements on her physique, particularly in the shoulders and back. Second place Jill Van Atta journeyed all the way from Aurora, Oregon and Emily Elsey took the third place award back home to Walla Walla.
One of the most consistent divisions in the Empire Classic is the Junior Men. Each year a whole new crop of contestants arrive to experience, first hand, the thrill of physique competition. This year’s Junior class brought ten boys who were excited to complete their rite of passage into bodybuilding manhood.
Billy Guitard stood out in the class not only in conditioning but in presentation as well. Guitard easily took the first place award. The battle for second resulted in a tie between Jacob Corporon and Joshua Sasaki. In my opinion it was Corporon’s symmetry and wide shoulders that got him second after the tie was broken.
Masters Women Bodybuilding:
Theresa Maine was back to successfully defend her masters title from last year. Maine came in with even better conditioning this year. Katherine Garcia placed second and Janie Antoine third.
Masters Men Bodybuilding:
In the over forty class is was crowd favorite Buck Rogers, fresh from his Emerald Cup masters win, taking home the gold. The number two man was Colville’s Kelly Edwards and Matt Failing placed third.
The over fifty class Ed Cook came out swinging at hit one over the centerfield flag pole. Not to be out done by Cook’s on-stage antics, hipshakin’ Sirosy Borja danced his way to the second place award and Team Kindred’s Carl Ballinger claimed third in a tough class of five.
Tommy Wyant showed why “handicap” is an obsolete word. The youngster came out in a state-of-the-art stand up wheelchair and displayed an upper body that put him in a class of his own. Wyant was one of the highlights of a stellar evening in the Lilac City.
Women’s Open Bodybuilding:
Masters? Open? You never know where Ann Gannon is going to show up. This year she chose the lightweight open class and took top honors over second place Canuck Victoria Morgenstern, and third place Samantha Read. Gannon, like a fine wine, continues to improve as time goes by. A consummate poser, Gannon presented one of the most exotic routines of the spring season and took home the best poser award.
Heavyweight Merry Harris posed her way into first place and the women’s overall by defeating newcomer Bonnie George. With continued diet and training George’s night in the winners circle is not long off. Spokane’s own Peggy Willis placed third.
MC Kim Farrison called masters winner Maine, lightweight winner, Gannon, and the heavyweight Harris center stage for overall comparisons. Harris towered over Gannon and Maine. Through the quarter turns and mandatory poses Harris’ wide shoulders and sweep to her quads made her an imposing figure. Gannon possessed great symmetry and better conditioning. It was definitely one for the judges to decide. And decide they did. The sword and the title of the 2007 Empire Classic open women overall went to Merry Harris.
Men's Open Bodybuilding:
In the open men class James Shumpert made it two in a row adding Empire open lightweight winner to his Emerald Cup bantamweight first. Second place winner Eric Whitefield displayed some impressive musculature for a lightweight bodybuilder. One of the best posers of the evening was third place, Jaques Pitcher.
As the middleweights lined up one could see that the battle for the overall was going to be a dogfight. Wayne Green, after eight years away from competition showed that he forgot nothing while he was gone. David Stantucci displayed one of the most well rounded packages of the night. Veteran Empire competitor Mike Moody looked tough and had his eye on the first place prize. After an entertaining round of free-posing it was Green, first, Stantucci second, and Moody third.
It was the light heavyweight class that drew the biggest number of competitors. Hometown boy, Kyle Stevens came in bigger and harder then I have ever seen him. He took first with first place votes across the board. Ditto for second place Mike Best. It was the best condition I have seen Best and he received unanimous second place votes. Third place Warren Willy displayed incredible conditioning and vascularity.
Someone let the big dogs out in the heavyweight class. Marcell Scott came in great shape and his eclectic posing routine brought the crowd to its feet. Scott took first place nudging out former Junior winner Phoenix O’Connor. Ken Flowerdew went home with third place in a tough class.
Battle For Overall:
The excitement built as the class winners filed out for the overall comparisons. The high caliber of open men classes left so many great bodybuilders behind. Kyle Stevens was as wide as a battleship and stood out. Middleweight Wayne Green was more sleek and in peak condition. Masters Buck Rogers looked threatening and was standing by as the spoiler.
Kim Farrison took all six class winners through several rounds of comparisons. As Farrison prepared to read the judges decision the cacophony of shouts from the crowd dropped to breathless anticipation. The 2007 Empire Classic overall men’s champion: Wayne Green.
This year was a milestone for the Empire Classic. Under Ribic and Hughes’ promotion the show has come along way from its humble beginnings at Schadle Park high school. The early sellout proves that the Empire is a highly anticipated event in the tri-state region. If this extraordinary success is any indication of next year prepare yourself for an extravaganza deluxe.