One year. One year is all it took for the USBF Liberty State Natural to almost double in size. 75 competitors with close to 600 screaming spectators rocked the Binghamton Forum Saturday, May 12.
Coming back from a devastating flood that destroyed and damaged so much, Binghamton NY welcomed competitors from all across New York State, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, even one via Texas. This year’s Liberty State also featured the 2007 USBF Figure Nationals, the best of the best in ladies figure.
The stage was set early on when the NYS crew was greeting and registering the stream of athletes, groups had come in full force to take the biggest prize yet this year. The backdrop was down, Hank the mascot was displayed center stage, and it was time to get it on.
First class up, teens; 8 teenagers, yes, 8. This division was made up of Mike Zuger, Matt LaPlanche, Ben McKinney, Eric VanDyke, Jon Anthony Gallo, Casey Kazan, Ryan Boatman, and Mike Shaffer. Some first timers, a couple who had learned some previous lessons, all proudly displayed their intensity and worked like pros.
While all were top-notch, there can only be one first place, that honor was earned by “Big” Ben McKinney, the boy wonder. Ben came in at an incredible 193 pounds of lean muscle, and, yes, he was tight. We will be hearing this name, count on it.
Juniors looked to keep the pace. This class was also a mix of rookies and those looking to show their gains. The rookies didn’t look the part, with the likes of Eric Nicholas showing strength in all areas, this junior has the balance of muscle, conditioning, and presentation to take him as far as he is willing to go.
In the end, it was Liberty State veteran Raian Virgil Racazza taking the class, a very impressive showing from these groups of young athletes.
From the juniors to the master’s, the 35 to 40 class was up next. A bit of everything in this class. Sam Constantino was sharp, showing he picked up a few things from even two weeks prior. Robert Hosner making his return from a 15 year lay off, he didn’t miss a beat. Local Steve Potenziano…what can be said about Steve, everyone must run into a guy like Steve at some point in their lives, incredible, and the Best Arms of the night.
Delaware’s Mike Duffy took the class, Mike showed amazing improvement in his back, and even managed not to injure himself prior to this year’s show (Mike is famous for the accidental nail gun wound in the leg).
The 40 plus master’s had some true veterans, soon-to-be promoter of a USBF show in Olean, NY, Paul Eade had an impressive showing; Paul is a class act with any proceeds from his show going to send care packages to troops overseas. This class was well fought, with Darryle Lee, looking sharp and on-point, earning the first position. Darryle used his experience from two weeks earlier to hone in during the Liberty.
Perhaps the posing highlights came form the master’s 49 plus. Melvin Ware, the “Grandmaster” totally brought down the house with the most entertaining routine seen by the NYS crew in 7 plus years??"needless to say, Men’s Best Poser. Billy Dee Ames brought his posing style and class and showed how it is truly done.
Ben Randazzo had more cuts than Barry Sanders did on the field; Ben was shredded, and was awarded Best Quads. In the end, Dale Baker went straight from a backstage nap to the first place trophy, slippers and all, way to go Dale. The Liberty was honored to even have master’s 60-70 with two model athletes.
Ed Cole and Ned Slangan gave us all something to aspire to, while Ed may have the first place trophy, both Ed and Ned are truly the winners on a much bigger stage.
Men's Novice Divisions:
Men’s Novice Light, 9 first-rate competitors. The judges put these guys through their paces, with three call-outs to separate and fairly judge this class. Sweat and heavy breaths greeted us backstage following this class; these guys got their workout for the day. SUNY Cortland’s, Brandon Bergen was muscular, conditioned, and presented like a champion earning first place.
Novice Middle was just as tightly contested, with “Boy Wonder” Ben McKinney earning first, Novice Heavy is making a comeback. Big Bashir Brigman displayed some serious muscle, with Bill Irons and Chad Austin making up the class of big men. Bill and Chad put off a strong fight, but Bashir was not to be denied.
Believe me; with a little more seasoning and preparation, the day of the dominating heavyweight will be back. In the Novice overall, Brandon stepped up his game, took in as much advice as he could get, and put it to work. Brandon took the novice in impressive fashion.
Men's Open Divisions:
Men’s Open was full with 5 divisions. The Bantam was taken by Darryle Lee, the lightweight by Raian Virgil Racazza, middle by Josh Griswold, lightheavy winner was Ryan Boatman, and Bashir Brigman earned first in heavies. These men battled it out for the men’s overall.
Each had a different look and style, Darryle is classic with style and stage presence, Raian Virgil is the sport’s car of the group, smaller, stuffed with power, but will run right passed you. Josh Griswold is intense, he demonstrated determination and let it be known his goal was the open win from the moment he started training for this show. Ryan is an up and comer, he more than held his own against the best of the night.
And Big Bashir represented the heavyweight class, between Bashir and Ben McKinney, the rest of natural bodybuilding had better keep an eye out, these guys are coming. Following a grueling judging round, Josh “Griz” Griswold was not to be denied, he made sure that he was the one that all were compared against, a very well earned Overall Title for Josh---will Josh be ready for the Pro division? My guess, yes, he will keep them on their toes and better keep them on their game.
In a night full of highlights, perhaps the biggest, was Kent “The King” Bierley making one of two guest posing appearances of the night. Kent made his way through the crowd, and showed was a true champion is made of. As an encore, Kent came back out, and back in the crowd, and thrilled every section of the audience, getting high five’s and pats on the back as he moved, even getting a big double bicep pose from a young fan. Kent, you are the man.
Nam Le gave us our second guess posing honor. Nam was in top shape, with perhaps the best symmetry in the USBF, he gave the competitors and the crowd a rush and prepped us all for the rest of the night.
Women's Bodybuilding Divisions:
The 2007 Liberty State was an enormous forum for the women of the USBF, bodybuilding making a strong comeback, and the Figure Nationals bringing the best and brightest in all figure divisions.
Women’s bodybuilding master’s was a large and tough class with Barb Prouty edging out Karen Murdock for the win. Julie Bishop, Denise Hochul, Marie Sidna, Jean O’Toole, Lynn Bridges, and Dawn Nathanson filled the class with high caliber competitors. Barb took the Open Lightweight class, and Donna Crosby earning a well deserved first place in the Open Heavy. Barb and Donna battled for the Women’s Overall, with Barb edging out Donna. Both women are champions.
Figure Novice Divisions:
Figure, all it needs is one word, Figure. What a night and what a group of athletes. All women were beautiful, conditioned, and all made an impact. Figure competitors all have varied goals and motivations, for some it was a reward for finally reaching a goal after having children, for some it is reward for their hard work in the gym and diet, and for some it is a passion.
Regardless of the road taken to the stage, these women were on, I personally stood face-to-face with each one right before the walked the stage. Never before have I seen such grace, poise, and elegance, and shining through above a level of nervous energy that had some quivering up to the moment passing the certain; then they hit the lights, and it was like a switch. Amazing.
Figure Novice had two classes, their was a figure maters, two open classes, and the Figure Nationals. The masters was an impressive class, each having their own style. Dr. Beth Beidleman walked out to “Go MOM!” every time she hit the stage, Denise Hochol was cerebral; I truly think she (and Dr. Beth) might have had the best time of the night??"though that is a tough one??"read on.
Jodi Leach was unflappable; her physique was a great balance of muscularity and shape, maybe the best abs of the night. Jean O’Toole is as steady as they come, taking care of business. Kerrie Carey from NJ was awarded first place in the maters, it was apparent that she put in an incredible amount of work.
Figure Novice is misleading, these ladies made of the best figure line-up seen to date. The likes of MJ Klein, Jennifer Corris, Nita Castillo, and Jennifer Sulkowski joined in on the novice short class. The novice short win went to SUNY Cortland’s Ashleigh Rajkowski, very impressive. The novice tall saw very close scoring, these ladies made additional walks, and went through several comparisons.
The class added Cassandra Dwyer, Erin Bosford, Melanie Kornblatt and Kristen Donahue to some cross-overs from the masters (who also added to the short division). You probably noticed a theme, SUNY Cortland made a name for itself. From bodybuilding’s Brandon Bergen and Jon Anthony Gallo, to now, the figures Erin Bosford, with one of the most natural smiles on stage, Melanie Kornblatt, who made incredible changes in only 6 months and garnered yells from the crowd and compliments from the judges, and Cortland brought us Ashleigh Rajkowski as well.
The figure tall was awarded to Leah Calitri, Leah had that look about her, she was confident, collected, and her beauty simply flowed along the stage. Ashleigh and Leah, who could pick? Both had their points and had their fans, they would have to wait.
Figure Open Divisions:
Figure Open short and tall were also won by, you guessed it, Ashleigh and Leah. The “Girl Next Door,” Kristen Donahue, Melanie Kornblatt made it a close competition, each of these ladies could soon be class winners, both making jumps in placement from their last competition due to their dedication and work. Ashleigh and Leah, this time, head-to-head. Glad I did not have to judge, after tabulating, Ashleigh takes the win, Liberty State Overall Figure Champion, did I mention SUNY Cortland?
OK, that brings us to the finale, Figure Nationals. Unreal, the level of competition and quality of athlete, again, each with their own style. The competitors were: Toinette Bango, Yetta Bednarz, Heather Bracco, Raelynn Griffith, Lisa Johnson, Sheila Mettler, Terri Mancabelli, and Heather Payne.
All of these ladies are champions, no question. We were here to name the best of the best, and in true form, even had a tie into the night. Which athlete could hold form throughout the day? Goes without saying (but, obviously, I am) that all the ladies were incredibly beautiful, had unmatched grace, and honed presentation.
The top-three was so close that several moves, turns, and comparisons had to me made. Sheila’s strength was her physique, Heather’s, her overall balance, and Lisa has the presentation and grace all should strive for. At the end of the night, and after another round of comparisons, Lisa Johnson edged out Heather and Sheila for the Title of USBF Figure Nationals Champion.
Overall, a huge success. Practically doubling in size in both competitors and crowd, the USBF Liberty State sets the bar for NYS spring shows. Not only is it growing, as I heard from competitors and spectators, the quality of athlete is unmatched. If want to compete against the best natural bodybuilding and figure have to offer, you have to bring it to the Liberty State in the spring and the NYS Natural in fall.
A huge thanks goes out to all sponsors, Vitaglo.com, Nutrisports, Gaspari Nutrition, Bodybuilding.com, Met-Rx, Maximum Fitness, and all the supporters and fans. A big thank you to all the support from the NYS Crew, the great support in spreading the word by all---you know who you are!
See you at the NYS Natural, see www.nysnatural.com for updates and the latest.