It's 2017, and while there are several champions positioned to defend their titles, the odds may favor the slew of challengers. There are 15 athletes qualified in fitness, 31 in figure, 40 in bikini, and 28 in women's physique—all poised to make this interesting.
With the Olympia only weeks away, here's your rundown on the movers and shakers to watch in each division. Mark your cards—and forgive me if I mix my gambling metaphors.
There's more going on in this lineup of long-limbed lovelies than you may think. For one thing, last year's Olympia was a coup for Courtney King, who seized the top title as three-time winner and defending champ Ashley Kaltwasser fell to fourth.
Angelica Teixeira, who slid up to second at the 2016 Olympia, picked up energy in March and passed King to win the prestigious Bikini International at the Arnold Sports Festival. That trend continued the next time they met onstage, and may very well continue under the Las Vegas lights.
The Predicted Champ: Angelica Teixeira
My prediction is Angelica Teixeira will continue to trend at the big show. I prefer her presentation and brand of sass to King's, so for me the upset is an easy call. What makes it fun is whether the judges agree. It's worth noting that neither of these ladies brings it in too hard or conditioned for bikini, and that often finds favor with the Olympia judging panel.
As mentioned, Courtney King will be in the mix and is the most likely to take second if she doesn't win. But don't discount India Paulino, a veteran competitor whose look never goes out of style. Ditto for Jennifer Ronzitti, who moved into the top five at the O and took third at the International. Ashley Kaltwasser is reportedly hanging it up after this season and, once again, doesn't appear to have the focus. I say she'll look good enough to finish fourth.
Speaking of what the judges prefer, brunettes with long, smooth hair continue to do better in the bikini division. Certainly, all of the above contestants meet that description. And when Paulino went reddish, she dropped to fifth at the Arnold—just saying. A final competitor not to be overlooked is Janet Layug, another standout onstage. But more recently her showings have been uneven.
Michelle Sylvia failed to make the cut at last year's O, but she's come back with three big wins in 2017, including the Pittsburgh Pro, a May contest for big players and judges who will be at the Olympia. The vivacious Sylvia took fifth at the Arnold and could easily claim the judges' attention for a top-six spot.
A long shot is New Zealand's Sheena Jayne Martin, another competitor who didn't make the cut last year. Martin has streamlined her physique and won the equally prestigious New York Pro—I call that being on a roll. I also like Breena Martinez, but she is a very-long shot.
The figure division is another contest poised for a takeover at the top, involving defending Olympia champ Latorya Watts and longtime contender Candice Lewis-Carter. This was the year Lewis-Carter passed Watts for the win at the International. With the hourglass shape currently favored by figure judges, symmetry and balance are key—and these ladies have what it takes. That goes for Cydney Gillon as well, the third member of the revolving top three, all of whom sport aesthetically desirable X-frame physiques.
The Predicted Champ: Candice Lewis-Carter
Candice Lewis-Carter beat Latorya Watts twice, and she'll do it again in Vegas. Despite having plenty going on outside of the gym, including a move to another state, I'm betting Lewis-Carter did not spend all those years getting it right to blow it now.
Latorya Watts and Cydney Gillon will round out the top three, with four-time Olympia champ Nicole Wilkins, Camala Rodriguez-McClure, and Swann De La Rosa also in the hunt.
Rodriguez-McClure, another long-time competitor, barely missed an automatic qualification for this show last year and made it into the lineup “on points,” meaning she didn’t actually win a contest. But she’s poised to move up, since Gennifer Strobo, an athlete you can normally count on, did not make the cut this year.
Also keep an eye on Heather Dees, yet another familiar face you can't ever really exclude from the race.
The X-Factor: No surprise newcomers in this prediction. The only long shot in this battle is whether Wilkins, no slouch in the V-taper department, can pose her way to the title again. Her most recent win was 2014, followed by a second-place finish a year later, and fourth-place finish just last year, having been edged out by bodies with flaring lats and roller-coaster curves.
Wilkins, who's still only 33 years old, has kept a low profile, focusing on her business and hitting the gym. She's got enough size to keep up, but can she find the flow and conditioning to crack the lock the others have on the top prize? Probably not, but second or third is a distinct possibility, if she brings it.
Less uncertain but equally charged, the fitness division features two retiring champions, so expect emotions to run high. I for one am bringing extra Kleenex!
The first is Russian sensation Oksana Grishina, winner of three Fitness International titles and three Fitness Olympia crowns. Grishina hopes to round her titles out to four and four before she hangs up her posing suit at the end of the season.
The other is Regiane Da Silva, a competitor in every Olympia since 2006. She finished as high as second place in 2014. This contest features unique opportunities for athletes to move into the top due to the retirement of Tanji Johnson and the absence of Whitney Jones, who is injured.
The Predicted Champ: Oksana Grishina
No surprises here. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Oksana Grishina will pick up that fourth Olympia medal in Vegas. She's unveiling a new routine—goodie!—and her physique has been refined to about the best she can be. A bet on Oksana pays very little money, but, oh, what a good time you'll have at the show!
Count on Regiane Da Silva, who's strong in both routine and physique rounds, for a top spot. Ditto for Myriam Capes, who came back after a break to win the recent Tampa Pro. A fabulous performer, reportedly with a revamped upper body, she could easily edge out Da Silva for second.
Bethany Wagner should be in the mix as well, along with Ryall Graber and Ariel Khadr. Don't be surprised if Khadr finishes as high as fourth. A young talent with a polished routine, she got sixth at the International. In only her second Olympia appearance, she has nowhere to go but up.
Something to consider: The difference between fifth and sixth place is more than numbers on a check. The top five finishers in all the divisions earn automatic invitations for the 2018 Olympia. Everyone else has to qualify again.
The X-Factor: Emma Paveley
Emma Paveley of the United Kingdom came out of the blue to beat Graber in Vancouver. It was her pro debut, and her Olympia debut could be equally electrifying. The former elite gymnast has a strong routine, but her cute physique may not be enough to get the judges' attention in round one.
Even so, the routine counts for two-thirds of the score in fitness, and she could make a lasting impression at the finals. I'm not suggesting that Paveley could win, obviously, but she's my long-shot pick to knock one of the previously mentioned athletes down to seventh.
Women's Physique Olympia
Speaking of crapshoots, the battle for the title in this division is intense. There's a big winner to be sure—but a lot of players are betting on the second and third rolls. It all adds up to risky bets and—possibly—bigger payoffs.
The Predicted Champ: Juliana Malacarne
Juliana Malacarne has dominated this division since its pro debut in 2013, and even though she didn't win the first year, nothing is going to change now. No one else can compare to her structure, symmetry, development—and all the little details that make for the total package.
Malacarne consistently nails her presentation, and few have the total package to match her astonishing genetics. I'm not saying someone with the right combination won't come along, but not this year.
Here's where it gets interesting: The top placers from the first few Women's Physique Olympias have mostly retired from competition. The newcomers are all still jockeying for position.
The list of those who can give Malacarne a run for her money starts with Dani Reardon, last year's runner-up, who took advantage of her automatic qualification and is saving it all for the big show. Daniely Castilho jumped from top five at a small competition to win the International this year. I like her odds as well.
I also like Sheronica Henton, Kira Neuman, and Heather Grace for top-six spots. Henton is the rising star here, a little smaller but with a beautiful package. If she can nail her conditioning, she can finish even higher.
Shanique Grant…no, I didn't forget about Grant. She's got back-to-back wins at the New York Pro but did not do the Olympia in 2016. She's also got a shape similar to Latorya Watts and the other figure toppers: shoulders, lats, and a killer V-taper, with the legs to match. If she brings it, the judges may find they like that style of body in this division, as well. At the very least, she'll knock one of the above challengers down to seventh.
Another long shot is Autumn Swansen, who has all the ingredients to crack the top three. A couple of disappointing placings followed her win at the 2016 International, but her big win in Chicago this year put her back in the running.
That's the lowdown on the women's competitions at the 2017 Olympia. Disagree with these picks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!