Nothing can stop Juliana Malacarne—except, perhaps, herself. It appears that the reigning queen of the Women's Physique Division (WPD) may call it quits after four consecutive Olympia wins. Malacarne won the title in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, but is hinting that she may call it good after the most recent win.
"I'd like to have five wins," Malacarne said, "but I still haven't decided if I'm going to compete next year."
And with those few words, the 43-year-old athlete, trainer, and posing coach from San Paulo, Brazil, who has lived in New York since 2007, changed the conversation from "when would Juliana compete next" to "will Juliana ever compete again?"
A Twisting Path To The Podium
Malacarne was 20 years old with a sales job in finance, a boyfriend, and other plans for her life when she first took up bodybuilding training. At the time, she had a very practical degree in business—but no passion for it. Attracted to fitness, she'd tried a number of sports along the way but hadn't excelled at any of them. She'd come to the disappointing conclusion that she just wasn't good at anything sports related.
Fast forward more than two decades. After her early wins, Juliana became a photographer favorite, and her pictures beginning to appear in all the bodybuilding magazines. It helped that she chose to live in New York City instead of a more tropical but off-the-beaten-path place like Florida. She was in the heart of the action and, before long, established herself as a sought-after trainer and athlete at the "East Coast Mecca," the Bev Francis Powerhouse Gym on Long Island, New York.
Onstage, it was a different story. Though she'd won many amateur competitions in South America, she couldn't get a break in the pros. Those beautiful Brazilian curves of hers were just too mesomorphic for the pro figure criteria and kept her outside the winner's circle.
Undaunted, she continued to compete. Her visa required it, and her self-confidence and determination made it impossible for her to do otherwise.
"I never thought I wasn't winning because I wasn't good enough," she said. "I knew it was because I didn't fit the standards."
Malacarne did 15 figure shows between 2006 and 2011, never making it to the final stage. She stopped after she had secured her green card to become a permanent U.S. resident, and after Steve Weinberger, a top official and the co-owner of Bev Francis Powerhouse Gym, told her it was beneath her to continue competing in figure.
"It's a shame for you to step onstage and not do as well as you deserve," she recalls him saying.
A New Division And A New World
Weinberger may have known something. Over the next two years the NPC and IFBB introduced the new WPD. They designed it specifically for athletes like Malacarne who were just too naturally big for figure. In fact, officials often cited Malacarne as the ideal candidate for the new sport.
They were right: She was ideal and the rest, as they say, is history. Malacarne won her first WPD competition, the 2012 New York Pro, and almost every one since—including another New York Pro title, a victory at the Arnold, and those four Olympia crowns. The one notable exception occurred at the first Olympia WPD, in 2013, when she overshot the mark, size-wise, and paid for it on the score sheets.
The popular Dana Lynn Bailey took home the trophy that day, while Juliana languished in seventh. It was a small bump in the road for her and, more determined than ever, she made some suggested adjustments and came back as an unstoppable force.
Success Brings Time For A Change
Which brings us to the present-day champ, still savoring her 2017 Olympia WPD victory and enjoying life as she heads into the 2017 holiday season. For the first time in a long time, Malacarne is not even thinking about the next contest prep or the body parts she needs to improve. Other things occupy her mind.
"I'd like to have a baby—that's what I'd like to try in this next phase of my life," she said. As for the 2018 Olympia, she says, "That's my next goal, to decide."
She said she hadn't planned on ending her career so soon, "but I'm in my 40s already, so if I'm going to have a family, I need to get started." She was leaning toward going for one more Olympia title, but, she admits, "Either way, my professional career is coming to an end."
Why Didn't Anyone See This Coming?
Malacarne admits she isn't one to share her innermost thoughts. Ask her to name something people would be surprised to learn about her, and she replies, "I'm a Brazilian who doesn't drink coffee." It's a fun fact, but hardly a revealing admission.
And don't look to her social media accounts for any telltale signs. Her posts are all about the gym, her clients, and food. No soul-searching about her struggles, and no I-love-my-boyfriend photos.
"It's not that I try to hide anything," she said. "I just don't like the spotlight. I know I am an Olympia champion, but I am more of an athlete at heart than a celebrity."
Off the stage and out of the gym, she's also a self-declared food lover.
"I like to go to restaurants, eat good food," she said. "Seriously. That's why I work out hard—to be able to eat. I like to travel and see my family when I can. I also like to read books, and I love to dance."
Building A Successful Life
What's the nicest thing about being Juliana Malacarne these days?
"I've reached the goals that I set," she said. "It's just a proud feeling that I worked hard for and got there."
This one-time finance major left her home in San Paulo to build a new life in another land and may soon set sails for a new horizon. If she retires now, she'll leave a record that will be difficult to top. If she wins her fifth Olympia, she may be unbeatable.
Not that she agrees with that judgment.
"No one is unbeatable," she said. "I worked so hard to get where I am now. It's been my job to be the best I can be, and I've done my job well. If I decide to compete again, it will be to show that I still can bring something better—not just in my sport, but in my life."
Whatever she decides, you can be sure that before the new year is very old, Juliana Malacarne will have a plan in place, and an assured place in history.