Female bodybuilding is a sport that already is on life support. It has been nearly abandoned by the IFBB with the deletion of the Ms. International (2013) and Ms. Olympia (2014) – the top two prestigious competitions on the annual calendar – and the category is only included in a small handful of shows anymore. The one company that appeared to be in the corner of the muscular ladies was Wings of Strength, sponsoring a number of shows that included female bodybuilding leading up to the Rising Phoenix on September 10, which became the de-facto replacement for the Ms. Olympia.
This year’s event was reported to even include the comeback of 10-time Ms. Olympia Iris Kyle, who retired following her final victory before the show was dropped two years ago. No other competitor in IFBB history – male or female – has been as dominant as Kyle and it appeared to be a coup for Wings of Strength to have her involved.
But this is bodybuilding we’re talking about, so unprofessionalism and miscommunication seem to go hand-in-hand with it. Just when it looked as if this weekend’s WOS Rising Phoenix would be the one to put women’s bodybuilding back on the map, an entire mess of a situation came to a head and resulted in Kyle not headed to Arizona after all.
Once Kyle decided to make her comeback and that the Rising Phoenix would be the show, she contacted IFBB Pro League President Jim Manion and was issued a 2016 pro card. Some time after that, Hidetada Yamagishi (IFBB 212 competitor and Kyle’s boyfriend) was contacted by Tim Gardner (who is the Rising Phoenix promoter) and told that Kyle needed to qualify for the show.
A follow-up call from Kyle to Manion’s office resulted in Kyle being told that she does not have to qualify, as per IFBB rules, which state that any former Olympia is automatically qualified to compete in any IFBB show. Apparently there was a lack of communication or knowledge of the rules because Kyle was still fielding calls from Gardner and e-mails from Jake Wood (co-founder of Wings of Strength with his wife Kristal) informing her that she still needed to be approved by them and that meant to compete in another WOS show in order to qualify. Kyle continued to do her contest prep and wasn’t concerned with the above since she was told otherwise by Manion, who calls all the shots in the IFBB.
Another confusing aspect was Gardner contacting Kyle on two separate occasions informing her that she didn’t have to display the same physique that she did at the Olympia, that she can win the show based on her shape, not to worry about coming in with shredded glutes and she can come in soft, as per an interview Kyle did with RX Muscle’s Dave Palumbo.
Where do we start picking this apart? Kyle rightfully felt disrespected by Gardner and Wood and they both should have been ecstatic that she was going to be headlining their main event of the year. A perennial champion making their comeback doesn’t occur every year, so it would have behooved WOS to embrace Kyle and use her in their show promotion. But it appears that both of them initially made it more difficult for her and either didn’t know or feigned ignorance of the federation rules. Then once that appeared clarified, Gardner gave Kyle what can only be construed as bad advice. However this came to be is debatable, but many mistakes were made along the way. All of this resulted in Kyle not being included on the competitor’s list and that is a big loss for the fans.
“No sour grapes here; more (like) disrespectful grapes,” Iris said to MuscleSport Magazine. “My duty as an athlete is to prepare myself to be my ultimate best. Calling and familiarizing myself with a promoter is what I call kissing ass hoping to be the chosen one. Fraternizing should never be allowed; us athletes should not have the option to contact a show promoter other than for business related concerns and issues. I have always allowed my physique to speak for me.”
For anyone who has ever seen Kyle before, they know that she never comes in out of condition. And judging by the photos and videos posted online recently, she would have easily won this show. She was once again on top of her game and looked fantastic as her prep went along. No disrespect to the other competitors, but Kyle is in a league by herself.
We reached out to Gardner for a comment and our request went unanswered. So without any input from the WOS side, we are left to speculate why this occurred.
Could Gardner and Wood want to keep Kyle away in an attempt to set a new precedent for the type of physique they want to be identified as the winning one? Female bodybuilding has been criticized over the years for the size of the competitors, but they were just bringing to the stage what the judges were rewarding. Two separate attempts at downsizing them via rules/memos were for naught and fewer promoters were including the division in their shows. The women’s physique division was created and that was basically the death knell for female bodybuilding.
But Wings of Strength may be sending mixed signals if they are in fact looking to set the standard with a smaller physique being the champion. That body style is already rewarded with WPD and there have been female bodybuilders who have ‘dropped down,’ per se, by switching to physique. So trying to become the savior of female bodybuilding should also come with not changing what it is.
No matter how you view this, it is a black eye on the bodybuilding industry. Gardner is a veteran promoter and should have shown better judgement, as should have Wood. Collectively, they handled this situation terribly and the end result will not be the fans speaking about how good the show turned out or who the winner was, but rather how much better it all could have been with the addition of Kyle.